A Poem for Memorial Day

Lists and Scales
by Chantelle Bateman

I hate being alone with him again
Even in my mind
Trapped in his looney bin of an office
Suffocated by these four walls
Padded in frames full of bullshit
His accolades for a job well done
From people who don't know how to do their damn jobs

I can feel him staring at me
Counting my tics, fidgets, and sweat beads
Sizing me up to see if I’m a good fit for crazy

Talking to me very slowly
With small words
About things bigger than he understands
Asking me questions
And only listening for answers from his lists
That tell him how far up I am
On the “About to lose her shit” scale

We begin down the list
“Do you know why you’re here today?”
Because I'm fucked up
Because I want help
And I'm here today of all days
Because I couldn't get here any sooner
5 years of wandering
3 years of darkness
And 18 months of trying to get this stupid red tape to feed through your system properly
18 months of waiting for someone to say they are ready and willing to hear my story
"Yeah," I shrug "I lost my marbles somewhere between here and Iraq."
He moves me up the scale

Down the list
“Do you think about hurting yourself?”
I think about how I hurt myself with each piece of my humanity I gave away
Avoiding eye contact with people who look like my kin
Believing in enemies
Provoking and consuming fear
The pain of remembering is far greater than any I could inflict upon myself
I cut myself to find relief
“I think about stopping the pain”
Up the scale

Down the list
“What about angry? Do you feel angry?”
Do happy people come here?
Of course I'm fucking angry
I'm angry about your stupid questions
I'm angry that no one seems to notice people are dying in war
While everyone else agonizes, over which brand of bottled water to choose
And I'm pissed that I can't just go back to not giving a fuck about any of it “Yes, usually.”
Up the scale

Down the list
"Were you ever raped or sexually assaulted?"
Rape is sexual assault douche bag
And your question is reminiscent of the act
Penetrating and touching me without my consent
Whatever I tell you won't matter
I know you aren't here to help me find justice or peace
Where is the question that asks "have you sexually assaulted anyone"
How many crazy points is that worth?
Up the scale

Down the list
"How many times a day do you think about your triggers?"
I roll my eyes into the far corners of my mind
Into the memories that landed me in this chair
They appear sporadically throughout my day
When my bathroom suddenly becomes a port-o-john shaped death trap
A helicopter overhead converts my backyard into a flight line
Or the 4th of July turns the whole world into place rated for hazardous duty pay
But my memories aren't on his list
His questions are too one size fits all for that
"A lot I guess."
Up the scale

Down the list he continues
In an effort to get to know me
And ascertain how much less like myself I have become
How strange is it to get to know someone
whom you intend to forget

At the end
I feel at the top of his scale
The whole experience
A deployment déjà vu
Of unpacking and re-packing sea bags of crap
Just to make sure you've still got it
His questions forced me to open up my whole box of awful
And inventory its contents
But no one tells you what to do with what's inside
I guess I will just pack it all up
Haul it back home
And try not put any of it in the wrong place

(This poem comes from Warrior Writers, a non-profit organization that teaches and gives space for veterans to write and create art about their experiences. You can donate here.)