Veteran Gets Pulled Over, But Not For The Reason He ThoughtBy Aileen D
Even if you haven’t personally seen or experienced it, it’s common knowledge that PTSD strongly affects those suffering from it. They feel like re-living the moment when the trauma happened, and not intentionally. Various stimuli, some logical and others seemingly out-of-the-blue, can trigger flashbacks. Sights, smells, touch, and especially sounds, can send someone right back to the traumatic moment.
For example, police sirens could be mistaken for a mad explosion of debris, soil, and steel. Try as they might, they can’t force their minds to stay in the present. They become more and more afraid that the next attack might happen soon, and that they might inflict damage on others when really, they’re just emotionally scarred.
This veteran nearly lost it when a cop pulled him over. And you won’t guess what for!
Out for a Run
William Jazwinski went to run some errands after his wife told him they were out of snacks. “Shouldn’t take too long. Be back in an hour,” he yelled from the open front door. With a list in hand, he drove to the nearest grocery store. He was done in 15 minutes tops.
He shielded his eyes from the sun before flipping back on his sunglasses. Then, he headed for his car, put the bags in the back, and then started the engine. It was a humid day, so he decided to roll the windows down. “Home, here we come!“
Meanwhile, this police officer was drinking his coffee, when he saw William’s car exit the parking lot and enter the public road. He felt like someone punches him in the gut. It’s like he had seen the driver before. He had to make sure.
Maybe it was a doppelganger, or maybe he was just imagining things. His sane mind knew it was not possible, but maybe, just maybe, he thought wrong. He followed William’s vehicle at a leisurely pace. The cop made a note of the car’s license number.
Too Close for Comfort
The cop might have followed the car a little bit too closely because William noticed that the car had been on his tail for the past 20 minutes. After seeing the police car in his rearview mirror, William’s pulse quickened, and he felt his palms sweat.
He was a grown man, and he had served in the war. But this wasn’t enemy lines. It would be quite a shame to break the very laws of the country you have sworn yourself to defend. But try as he might, William couldn’t understand why the cop was following him.
He checked his speedometer. He wasn’t going past the speed limit, so that couldn’t be why he was being followed. Nonetheless, he eased his foot off the gas just to be sure. But the cop didn’t speed past him. Maybe the cop’s siren was broken or something.
“Come on man,” William said exasperatedly. There was nothing like a police car tailing you to make you feel like a criminal. “Just get it over with.” William made a right turn and, sure enough, the police car followed him on the dirt path.
“What could it be?” He ran through a list of what could be cause for being pulled over. He didn’t have any window tints. He was sure that his lights were working. His license was up-to-date, and he was certain there wasn’t a body in the trunk….or was there?
William had a knack for making untimely jokes, but it helped ease his stress for a moment as he pulled over. He anxiously tapped out a rhythm on the steering wheel and then stared at the police car in the side mirror. “Come on man, do what you’ve gotta do!“
Taking His Time
The cop didn’t get out of the vehicle immediately; William felt like he was being taunted. “Maybe the cop thinks I’ll finally do something worth a ticket.” He ran a hand across his forehead to dry his sweaty brow and waited. He felt his mind teetering on the edge.
Until he finally saw the cop get out of his vehicle. William eyed the gun in the cop’s holster and tried to keep himself steady. He had to remind himself that he did nothing wrong. He took a couple of breaths and then waited for the cop to tap on his window.
What Have You Got There
William looked over his shoulder and decided to greet the cop as the latter approached the car door. “Hi, officer; how’s it going?” Instead of getting a reply, the cop cocked his head and then clicked his tongue. William was met with silence.
Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the cop said, “Hello, son.” William tried to remain calm as he asked just what he’d done wrong. “Am I in trouble?” The cop shook his head and smiled, telling the young man that his driving wasn’t in question. The cop’s eyes rested on William’s dashboard.
His eyes locked on the flag. “Did you ever serve?” William nodded. “Yeah, did my time as a heavy-wheeled vehicle operator for the Army. Also served in Iraq.” The cop rested his hands on his belt and then nodded. “2003 huh?” William bobbed his head.
William had always wanted to become a soldier for the U.S. Army for as long as he could remember. He couldn’t imagine himself as anything else; wearing that camouflage uniform and either taking orders or shouting them to his squad felt right to him.
Didn’t Know Any Better
To break the silence, William explained his history. When he was only 10 years old, William told his mom he wanted to serve. She laughed it off, assuming (hoping) he’d change his mind. Over the years, when it became clear he was serious, she tried to talk him out of it.
“Maybe I should have listened to her. I was drafted during the Iraq war in 2003.” William ran a hand through his hair and drew a long breath. He admitted to having second thoughts about his service. If he was more well-informed before signing up, he probably wouldn’t have gone.
The cop reassured William, reminding him that he was still a kid when he was drafted. William smiled. “Yeah, I was one of the 177,194 troops deployed into the war zone. I was willing to leave everything behind, y’know, my mom, the family, my girlfriend, all so I can fight for the country.”
The talking put him at ease a bit, but anyone could see that he was under a great deal of tension. The cop still hadn’t told him why he had been pulled over. “Only 4,000 of us returned home.” The cop looked at his feet.
For How Long?
William served for a year…one long year. The constant uncertainty with each new morning was overwhelming. How would he return? On his own two feet, or in a bag? “You just…” William’s thoughts drifted away. He let the cop fill the silence.
“You tried to survive.” The cop smiled at him reassuringly, and his face softened. He praised William for his efforts for the country and those who call it home. Whether he was deployed for a year or ten years, he would always be a hero.
The cop couldn’t fathom what it would have been like to serve in the war. Sure, he also had a job that involved risk, but nothing compared to what William went through. The burden of caring for your comrades every second of every day…
…was unbelievable. The cop reiterated that he only pulled over William to thank him for his service, especially at such a young age. William thought he saw a tear, but he couldn’t tell for sure. The cop looked at a distant spot.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Hesitating a bit, the cop asked William to share his story. William hoped the cop didn’t see his reluctance as he granted the request. He told his tale of his 15 months spent in Ft Benning. For a little over a year, he hesitated to close his eyes.
Instead of a business suit, William dressed in a Kevlar vest every morning. He found that his water and ammunition held equal importance, especially as the situation grew more dangerous. Attacks and ambushes waited around every corner as they progressed forward.
Sleep never came easy. They turned in every night in hastily built tents. And there was always someone on guard to protect their sleeping comrades. Sometimes there’d be a change in scenery if they slept in bombed-out office buildings. Every night, they hoped to sleep soundly, without gunfire or explosions waking them up.
William drew a shaky breath. “There were some who, uh…” He regathered his strength to continue speaking. “When you see a serviceman in uniform, all bloodied up or burnt, it hits you differently. You’re lucky if you can still recognize them as a human being.“
People often associate soldiers with well-built physiques, but that’s not true on the front lines. Unbearable desert heat and hard work, sustained only by bland army rations, could easily lead to weight loss. And the unrelenting stress certainly didn’t do them any favors.
Even if they were woken up by the sounds of explosions, they might not treat it as an immediate threat. The ambient sound of the battlefield sometimes made it hard to distinguish when it was time to don their gas masks and bolt before the fire got to them.
Whose Side Won
“And when you’re in action, you can’t help but feel sorry for the other side. You could feel that everyone was avenging the death of a comrade or the innocent locals. It was them unleashing a controlled fury…doing what they were trained to do.”
“The worst wait was just after the firing. You’re never really sure which side had won or if you needed to go at it another round. Everyone can’t wait to hear the platoon commander report in to say that we were safe.“
The cop’s eyes gleamed. “Your family must surely be proud of you! We know we are.” William chuckled. Sure, they’re proud, but the companionship wasn’t always welcome. “I’m afraid that I might do them harm after I was sent back home.”
The cop’s eyes widened. “You, uh, suffer from it?” William nodded, knowing what the man meant. Yes, he’d been receiving treatment for it. It took a lot of time, and he still had flashbacks, though they had lessened. “You’d be sitting on the couch with your family one moment…”
Reliving the Past
“…then you would wake up in cold sweat hearing the ear-splitting ‘thump, thump, thump’ of the brass shell casings flying out of nowhere. You can feel the heat and the chaos of everything happening all at once.” It left him frequently on edge.
William admitted that his sleep had been light and restless. And even when he could find escape, his dreams were of the war. His wife would wake him from distressing nightmares as he struggled to find his feet in reality again.
Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder
The horrors of war don’t stay on the battlefield. PTSD lives in one’s head. Any input into your five senses can trigger a flashback, making you relive the worst moments as if they took place in real-time rather than a memory.
The cop asked, “just cause?” William slowly answered, “just cause friends and family can’t understand. It’s either that or I feel emotionally numb.” William admitted to being a wreck when first returning home. In those first few months, he didn’t think it would get better.
But the hopelessness didn’t stop him from trying. With the help of a psychiatrist, he’s learned how to deal with it. Rather than keeping his mouth shut, the doctor encouraged him to speak about his experience. Without the openness, he’d never get past the flashbacks.
The cop got the message and abruptly mouthed an apology. He didn’t mean to cause any distress. The real reason he pulled over William was personal. Other than thanking William for his service, the cop wanted to say something else to him…
The Big Secret
The cop wasn’t the only person in his family who wore a uniform. He had a son who was also drafted to serve in Iraq. Sadly, he didn’t return. The cop couldn’t stop his tears. Just thinking about him was painful.
That’s why he had to stop William. Seeing veterans who put themselves on the front line, just as his son did, made him eternally proud. “He died fighting for his country.” William could see the sadness and longing in this cop’s eyes. But he knew all too well that there was no use wishing for a different ending.
Felt Like I Did
Whereas William kept a flag on his dashboard, the cop kept his son’s flag at their house. “It’s one of the few things to remember him by. My boy. A hero, just like you.” William let the man grieve for a couple of minutes before asking, “I remind you of him?“
The cop smiled and nodded his head. William didn’t just remind the cop of his son; he looked like him! That’s why he tailed William. He wanted it to be true, that his son was driving home with fresh groceries. Speaking to William, the cop felt like he got the chance to speak to his son again.
The cop kept his composure and asked William for a hug. Though he couldn’t hug his real son, William would fill that gap, for even a moment. At the sound of that, William willingly obliged. “Of course.” He looked at his rearview mirror and then stepped out of the car.
The two awkwardly shuffled near each other, wondering which side they should lean into, until the cop decisively took a step forward and gave William a hug. William embraced the old man and clapped his back. “I’m really sorry for your loss, Sir.”
A Father’s Love
William felt the man nod his head and heard him explain, “when I pulled you over it was because you looked so much like him. I thought you were my son. I still don’t believe he is gone most days.”
William let the man hug him for as long as he wanted. If this was the only means of comfort he could provide this police officer, then so be it. He couldn’t imagine his parents reeling from the same loss if he had died in the war.
William couldn’t help but wonder how his other infantrymen were doing, and how far they had progressed in their therapy. He shared in their plight both on and off the battlefield. Frankly, he didn’t know who had a greater impact and struggle…
…those who had died in the war, or those who had gone back to their families a changed man. William knew that some part of him died when he was deployed to fight the war in Iraq. And he grieved part of himself whenever he was with his family.
William also thought that, if he could, then this hug would also be a brotherly embrace to this cop’s son. The man was a hero, and he was sure that his actions had contributed greatly to keeping their family and friends back home safe.
If William could, then he would have given this cop his son back. But this was all he can do in his human power — to give this man a hug just the same way his son would have if he had come home from the war.
Better Than Therapy
Eventually, the cop loosened his hold. He pat William on the back and mouthed a thanks. They both had tears in their eyes. They had been talking for over a couple of minutes, down to their knees, crying. The whole experience was a cathartic release.
William quipped, “felt better than therapy, I’ll tell you that!” Both men felt a little lighter, as though a weight they hadn’t notice before had finally been lifted. Who knew that it only took a chance encounter with a stranger to work through grief?
William knew that the cop felt indebted to him and all the other veterans, but it felt like he was indebted to this cop for pulling him over. William hadn’t felt as much at peace since his deployment as he did at that moment.
William thanked the police officer and promised to keep in contact. He got back behind the wheel, turned on the engine, and gave the cop one last smile before driving away. He looked at the old man from his rearview mirror, wiping his tears away and then getting into the police car.
William arrived home way past the time he had told his wife. He spotted her in the kitchen and then hugged her with her back turned to him. “You won’t guess what happened just this afternoon.” She turned around to face him.
“What?” Concern was etched all over her face. William alleviated her fears and calmly told her, “nothing to worry about,” and went about telling how this chance encounter with the policeman had soothed him mentally and emotionally. By the time he was finished, his wife was shaking her head.
“I know right?” His wife was shocked by her husband’s story. “Well, how was he when you left him?” He replied, “last I saw he was drying his tears and then he got into his car. I promised to keep in contact with the guy.”
His wife agreed. “Well, of course, we could have him and his family come over some time.” His wife rubbed his shoulders and smiled at him. “That’s a relief. I might see more and more of the old William I met in high school.”