I’m putting this all under a cut, because it’s supposed to be a nice holiday today for people.
This is not a nice post.
This, in fact, is something of a recollection of very misguided patriotism.
TVTropes.org has a concept called Nightmare Fuel.
Nightmare Fuel, as we mean it here, are those things that scared the pants off you as a kid, though it wasn’t meant to: something that was meant to either amuse, entertain, or be only slightly scary to the audience. In execution, they’re so trauma-inducing that they may cause even adults to void themselves in terror. For young children, media can be a minefield of this kind of stuff, as unexpected or over-the-top scary moments can crop up out of nowhere in everything from grade-school plays to beer ads.
This is July 4th for me. Is it the fireworks? Is it simply that it’s a holiday? Well, yes, but there’s more to it, as always.
On TVTropes.org, Nightmare Fuel is further expanded into High Octane Nightmare Fuel, which is stuff that is supposed to terrify you, and over-achieves.
This is definitely July 4th for me. This is why:
My father always spent a lot of time during the holidays, every holiday, trying to provide a natural, Americanized experience. That was one of his tics; he loved America, he fought for America in the Vietnam War, and, in spite of everything, he passed his love of America down to me.
But America rejected him—it was after the war, after all, when Vietnamese were, well, you know or can guess the rest. Those attitudes persisted for years after the war, and I meet it again sometimes when I run into Vietnam veterans; something over a decade ago, one of whom told me that if I didn’t love America, I should get the hell out of the country. Fortunately, I love America; I just, perhaps, don’t look like I should.
Nowhere was my father’s unrequited love for this country worse than July 4th. It would have been better if he understood more about America, I suppose; his understanding was superficial for reasons I can only vaguely imagine (or rather, reasons I don’t want to imagine). For instance, he always thought the White House was named that way because only whites would ever become president. 1 And he never watched sitcoms, which, while being a bit misguided themselves, would have helped. Also, documentaries were really messed up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s with respect to the war, and he watched those pretty reliably, maybe to try to find out what he did wrong.
He’d try to do the usual American July 4th holiday things… barbecue was among them, and to this day I, while I love it, it’s hard for me to eat it alone because the memories show up like bloodthirsty and unrepentant ghosts. Going out to see fireworks was another such action. Both were fraught with his instability and his psychosis; he was trying to live up to something beyond immediate family, and because he never got it right, he took out his frustration—constant, extreme frustration during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th—out on somebody else. Usually veiled threats about how he would kill immediate family members one day, when they weren’t careful. Well, not so veiled, because my father was never all that subtle.
My dream centered around his fascination with death rituals, by which I mean, the elaborate ways that people bring about the murder of others. The Holocaust. The horrors that we associate with Hannibal Lecter. True crime stories both in the past and in the present. He loved to watch shows about parents who murdered their children, and sympathized strongly with the parents, unless they were mothers, in which case he would show the stories to me as a lesson about how much I should trust my mother. Similarly for murder-suicides between husband stalkers and their separated wives. It was all… one big obvious threat.
He was a horrible man.
Long weekends for July 4th are always brutal to me, because the lack of work meant that he’d not have something to take his mind off his inevitable failure to do the 4th right, and for his perception of my disobedience in not making it right.
Probably the worst parts of my nightmares aren’t the replay of the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. And probably I’d have to count forcing me to keep the bedroom door open even when I needed to undress and go to the bathroom and so on as a kind of distant sexual abuse. (It’s hot right now, and guess what I did last night, thinking that those memories wouldn’t hurt me anymore? Right. Bedroom door open.)
But anyways, none of that is the worst part. The worst part is that I have to solve problems with my father. For instance, a poisonous snake showed up that was really pissed off because it had just shed its skin, and it chased us around a conglomeration of all the shitty apartments that I ever grew up in (and, if I must tell the truth, the bad apartment I had lived in just up until I bought my nice little house). I had to save my dad.
Yes, that same dad who had just a few minutes before been musing over what he would do with my bones after he had skinned and butchered me.
It’s very strange, how I react to certain things. I have threatened to kill him before, during one of his murderous rampages, in an attempt to make him stop; but I could never have done it. I confused my friends a few years ago when, during—yes, Thanksgiving, another really bad American holiday—a dinner at their house I suddenly had a flashback, and went into every defensive mechanism I knew, including death threats, throwing things, and running away screaming from their house.
I don’t remember the flashback; I only know the aftermath of it, and from what my friends told me afterwards.
Oh, PTSD, what a fright you can be to everyone I love. 2
I isolate myself on holidays these days, which makes everything that much worse, but at least doesn’t bother friends. My medication, while it holds off the bipolar disorder I inherited and grew up with it triggered on a daily basis…. Gods, if I ever lost it in front of co-workers… which is why I never attend the lame holiday office functions either. 3 Though I think that would help, because those kinds of parties are a great example of Nightmare Retardant—unless, of course, the flashbacks get triggered there too, in which case they just become Nightmare Fuel.
Anyways, the dream ended after what felt like an hour of mental torture.
So here I am, typing it up, because I don’t know what else to do, except maybe go out and try to find a restaurant that’s open. But then I have to go home at some point. Going home during Nightmare Fuel holidays is a trigger all by itself.
I should be thankful this is all I feel on the 4ths of July’s. Birthdays are five times worse. Thanksgiving, ten times. Christmas, 20 times easily.
Despite all this, I still love America. Which is either encouraging or disturbing.
High Octane Nightmare Fuel. I haven’t, in all these years, found a phrase that so well describes what holidays are to me.
I’ll be better on the 6th.
- An idea which was also passed down to me, both subconsciously and consciously, which is why Barack Obama as president means so much to me, and the alternate history of Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President appealed to me so much. [back]
- The best part, and by that I mean the worst part, of PTSD for me is the loss of touch with reality, and everything that implies about your memory during these episodes. It’s strongest during a flashback, and persists in a lesser form for days afterwards. One of the reasons I cannot, just cannot, read A Slight Trick of the Mind. [back]
- As Josh Lyman, a fictional sufferer of same, in the show West Wing said, “[PTSD] doesn’t sound like something they let you have when you work in the White House.” [back]