Thursday Thoughts: Excerpt, PTSD and The Mockingjay

pexels-photo-38892First–I haven’t put those trigger warnings on my books yet. I put in a lot of hours–like 12-14 hour days–into my website and needed some time off. Coming back from the time off into the real world was a huge jolt for me. The real world is not a great place right now. So it’ll be a little while before I get that done.

Second, I have put on and taken off my socks about 5 times today so far. For some reason arriving at the optimal temperature and clothing weight for my feet is a difficult thing for me to achieve. . .and I’m only telling you this because I figure sometimes people come to writers’ blogs to read about writers’ quirks. That’s one of mine. (I have a lot of ’em)

Now on to the stuff.

If you’ve read much of this blog you know I started The PostPlague Trilogy because of an obsession with The Hunger Games series. I read the books and watched the dvds so many times that the words pop into my mind all the time. So much good in that series! And yet, one of the things I had a difficult time with was the darkness in The Mockingjay.
This is when Katniss starts to pay mentally and emotionally for what she has done and most importantly for what the Capitol has done to all of them. She is experiencing PTSD big time. Because it was the last book in the series, I put the books down feeling almost defeated, even though Katniss & friends won. I’ve thought about it a bit, and the “fault,” if there is one, is not Collins’ writing. It’s the story–it’s the lives of these people and the situation they were in. Katiniss was always going to end up with PTSD and it was always going to be in the last book.

That might be difficult for readers to understand, that writers don’t always have a choice in their work. Let me explain it this way: Have you ever read a book and thought, “that’s not what this character would do?” Yeah, I think we all have. And while it’s entirely possible that we are interpreting the character differently than most because of something in our own lives, I would hazard to guess that a lot of times you feel that way because the writer is pushing the book into a direction that the story is not “supposed” to take. Writers will tell you, at least those of us who have done this for awhile, that our books don’t always go the way we want. We start them, we plot them, we outline them, but in the execution we often just follow the characters.

I don’t know if that’s hows Collins felt, but it’s how I view the series. Just based upon who Katniss is, the life she lives, the PTSD problems she had in The Mockingjay were destined to happen. Still it made me sad and depressed and so I decided when I started The PostPlague Trilogy,  I would consciously set it up so that Neri would work through those emotions mid-way through.

That is not to say that PTSD is something you get over. It’s not. You can learn how to handle it and it will lessen with time but it’s with you, probably, for life. At least that’s what I’ve read. I have never suffered from it, not the real version anyway.(the designation has been diluted over time so that now we say we suffer from it if we’ve lost a game of cards or something. The actual disorder is very difficult.) What I put in Children of Liberty was from research. Yeah, people say “write what you know” and I don’t know PTSD. But if writers only wrote what they knew, most of the novels we love would never have been written.

At any rate, Neri is destined, based upon her background (there’s evidence you’re more likely to suffer from PTSD if your childhood was messed up) to end up with PTSD. Although she didn’t have a violent childhood, it was hardly loving. Near the end of The Liars she is barely making it through the days. The rough way the book ends–no spoilers!–pretty much guarantees that the next book is going to have a harsh opening.  I worked it so that we could see Neri “recover” from it, or at least handle in ways that The Mockingjay could not. Collins told us how Katniss gets by, but we don’t really see it.

So here’s the excerpt, where Neri finally melts down completely. She’s been on this trajectory since the first sentence of the book. If it sounds a little choppy, it’s because I’ve removed parts that would give away the story. I’ve also filled in XXXXs for characters I don’t want you to know because Spoilers! This is one of my favorite parts of the book. I always love the emotional stuff. (Point: This reads more like depression than PTSD, but depression is common with the disorder, and the flashbacks and nightmares Neri has experienced has brought her to to this point)

“Fine! You want me to prove my loyalty? Have I not spilled enough blood for you? How about this.” I grab my steak knife with my left hand and before anybody can stop me, I draw it over my scarred right wrist. Helen gasps and I hear chair legs scraping on the floor.

“Good God,” xxxxx exclaims.

Evan, on my left, grips my shoulder. I pull away. Pain radiates down my arm as I hold my wrist out to Kyan, my blood dripping bright red on the white tablecloth. “Is that enough for you?”

“You’d have to bleed out for it to be enough!”

Stefan seizes Kyan’s arm. “Stop it! Now!”

Callie’s fingers curl around my forearm. “Neri, give me your wrist.”

“She’s crazy, Stefan!”

Because it’s Callie, I relax my arm enough for her to pull it toward her and wrap a napkin around the wound. Simultaneously, Evan gently, but firmly, takes hold of my left wrist. His touch sends a ripple over my nerves. Distracted, I turn to him. His brow is furrowed and worry lines are gathered around his eyes. “Let go, Neri.”

I’m trembling. From anger, from fear. I release the knife and it falls to the table with a tanging thud. Then I scan the other members of COL, who are all staring at me, at my wrist, in varying degrees of shock and wariness. Kyan forced my hand. I’m crazy. I’ve known that for a couple of months. Now they know it too.

Yanking my wrist away from Callie, I snarl, “To hell with you all.” I stomp out of the room, down the hall, and finally through the front door, slamming it so hard the house shakes. A steady drizzle falls from a dull grey sky. It’s not a problem. XXXX designed the shooting range for all-weather use. When I reach it, I retrieve a rifle from the vault, call up a military program and start shooting Inquisitors. I go through a clip. Two. Three.

Nobody comes for me.

Twenty minutes later the rain is falling in earnest, plastering my borrowed green gown to my body. Still nobody shows up. At first it irritates me. Then distresses me. Finally depression sinks in. They aren’t going to come. Once upon a time, when I was High Priestess, people cared if something upset me. Not Grayson, of course, but everybody else. Everybody went out of their way to please me. If I stormed out of a meeting—which I wouldn’t do, because I didn’t throw fits back then—somebody would chase after me. Bring me back. I mattered.

Not anymore.

I’m not High Priestess. I’m just another soldier in COL, and not a particularly good one at that. I can shoot, sure, but my mental state makes me a liability. They aren’t coming because they don’t want me. At best I can function as a figurehead to recruit more soldiers—lure people to their deaths—and they can probably find someone else to do that.

I am dispensable.

It takes another ten minutes for me to fully understand that. By then it’s raining so hard it creates a kind of whitish filter between me and the screen. Even with that, and even though I’ve crossed that imaginary border between normal and insane, I’ve hit every target. I should be proud.

My arms are too heavy suddenly and the gun falls to the ground.

I’ve killed people, on that screen and in real life, and I’ve endangered people, too many others to count. I can’t get to Grayson, so this mission may be my only shot at redemption. Saving XXXXX might mean saving COL, and ultimately the nation. All the better if I forfeit my life in the process. I could make it right.

Or I could until now.

I sink down into the mud and hug myself as tears morph into sobs. I cry for xxxx and xxxxx. I cry for the friends I’ve lost, the dead, and those here who’ve forsaken me. I cry because Kyan’s right. I’m a self-centered witch who married a sociopath and I knew it. I must have. How can I not have known it? I ignored the signs and I brought the beatings on myself. Me and me alone. I am the reason for my scars and broken bones.

(deleted spoilers)

 

I’m not sure. I do know I was ready to sacrifice myself, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t want to die for nothing, but I don’t really want to live either. It hurts too much.

“Neri.”

The rain is so heavy I don’t hear the squish of Evan’s boots in the mud until he’s standing next to me. His voice is deep and warm. He offers his hand, but I ignore it. I don’t want his sympathy. I don’t deserve it.

“Neri, it’s time to come in.”

I shake my head.

“You’re soaked to the skin. Come with me. Callie’s making you cocoa.”

Cocoa. Hot chocolate in milk, a treat among treats, reserved for special occasions like Forgiveness Day and Testing Day. Even that offer can’t penetrate my gloom. I want him to go away. I want to stay here and slowly become one with the mud.

Dropping his hand, Evan squats next to me. “Neri, we’ve worked it out. They’ll let you come on the operation as long as you promise to follow orders, okay? Now let’s get out of the rain and bandage that wrist.”

I gaze down at it. The rain and my blood have turned the napkin pink. The wound still stings, but I haven’t noticed it.

I turn to him and my heart takes a tiny jump. The rain has straightened his dark hair and is streaming down his face. He’s a rain-melted mess, but his eyes hold that beautiful, ever-present kindness.

God, I miss him. I missed him after we parted ways in school, and I missed him the first two years in Temple City. I missed him for six years after that even though I refused to think about him because I was married and living in Hell. And now, here, right here, even though we’re living together, I still miss him because he feels even farther away than he ever was in SouthMid. Distance isn’t always physical.

“I’m falling apart, Evan,” I whisper.

He reaches up his work-callused hand to push a strand of hair off my face. It’s been sticking to my cheek, giving the rain a conduit to drip off my chin. “Then I guess I’ll just have to put you back together.”

“I don’t think it’s possible.” The tears start again.

“Neri,” he breathes. Then he shifts to sit next to me. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me against him. “You’re not that broken.”

 

“Kyan’s right. I should never have married Grayson. I should have listened to you and never left SouthMid.”

He doesn’t answer, just pulls me tighter. I can’t seem to stop crying. I take a quivering breath now and then, and try to gather myself together.

“Oh God, Evan, it won’t stop. I keep trying but then I remember something and it starts again. I can’t get past it. How did you ever get past it?”

 

 

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