I was 9, and we had just come back from running (I think I complained a lot) around the track at the elementary school. It was grey out, and chilly, but humid. My mom was wearing an off-white sweatshirt. I was hungry. I was content. The air was full of promise.
I was 15, and I'd just been scolded off the phone by my girlfriend's father. I had to finish an American History chapter outline and I laid down on the high pile carpet, notebook spread out in front of me. My brother was watching TV. Twilight was blooming outside the cracked window and the first crickets of the year had started chirping. I was contained, focused, and safe.
The moments that precede trauma are crystalline in their normalcy. We play back tragedy and remember in stark contrast the way we sat before we found out, morbidly amused by the way we acted in ignorance of what would come directly afterward. While we grieve we convince ourselves that we should have seen it coming, that nothing happens without warning, that we have agency to affect the way tragedy plays out. We feel guilt, anger, self-hatred, and a hefty dollop of irony. Some of us learn, some of us drown. For all of us, every tragedy has a preceding moment lent significance through proximity.
We grieve, we move on, and we reminisce. Our memories are imperfect and we embellish through the lens of our semi-omniscience. Our guilt blossoms into chronic micro-reactions to situations laced with the odor of our tragedy. We harden our skins, become mindful, and accept our imperfections. The tragedy is played back in more detail, then less. Preceding moments fade as the comparative hurt of trauma dulls with time. We grow older and moments repeat. Some of us, those of us still aware, feel that familiar twinge of pre-trauma and smile at the arrogance of self-determination. There is no agency to change the next moment through this one, at least not as our younger selves sought.
Pregnant moments come and go and we extract meaning from many of them. New traumas arise and the cycle repeats. Cognitively we are more prepared, but there is no preparing for trauma. There is no protection afforded to those who hide from moments that feel pre-traumatic. We can only stay open to grief, the welcome opportunity to fully experience the places that scare us, born from moments of normalcy.