In December of 1982, I left the armed forces. I accepted a general discharge because I was very disheartened by behavior I had seen in military personnel and our politicians. I moved into a very cheap apartment in San Antonio, Texas across the street from San Antonio College (SAC) and San Pedro Park. At that time of year, the area was all but abandoned. The weather was very clear, but, for San Antonio, it was bitterly cold. The college was the primary employer in that area, and it was shut down. There were no dormitories. SAC was a commuter college. The campus was empty. San Pedro Park was empty. Somewhere in San Antonio, life was vibrant and active, but for blocks around my apartment, the cityscape was cold and empty. It was Christmas morning. I was alone and broke. I had cut my ties with virtually all of my supports for political reasons. My family was thousands of miles away, and I had no phone. I knew nobody yet in San Antonio.
I was standing in my kitchen looking out the window over the sink. My loneliness and isolation were almost overwhelming. The sky was cold, clear and blue. There was a dry, wispy patch of clouds far away. I watched a crow fly across the empty parking lot and suddenly an air raid siren ripped the air. I have never known what that siren portended, but on that morning when I was so lonely and depressed, it signaled the end of the world. I thought it was a civil air defense warning of an impending nuclear attack. I had been expecting it for years. Now, it cut through my heart and stripped away my last feeble connection with the world. I was terrified. I stood with my hands on the edge of the sink, gripping the counter and staring out the window while that siren screamed in my ear. Sheer, unrelenting, blinding terror came and demanded my soul. I felt it wash into the room like a cold, black ocean. I felt it rush between the counters and flood my whole life. It rose cold and wet and terrible over my feet, then my knees. It pressed against my stomach, and rose over my chest. I felt it cover my mouth and rise over my face and over my head. I stood there pushed and pulled by that cold, black, wet ocean as it covered my body and flooded my life. I stood there, and stared out the window and fought the panic. Every fiber of existence demanded that I scream. The world itself seemed to demand that I open my mouth and let that cold, hateful ocean fill my lungs.
I stood there against the sink and lowered my head. I listened while that whistle ripped at my soul, and I took it. I held onto my humanity while the terror washed over my body and tried to force its way to the core of myself. I stood there, and I waited, and I refused to die.
The siren finally ended. That cold fear receded. That dead ocean seeped back out of my kitchen. I stood there at the sink. I gripped that counter and I stared out the window. I waited, and I listened to my soul. I felt the tentative fingers of panic and self-loathing reach out to make one last bid for my self-respect. Slowly, I laid claim to all the bits and pieces of myself. I dismissed the panic and the shame of panic. I reclaimed my heart and my mind. I re-claimed my opinions and what they had cost me. I accepted my poverty, my loneliness and my isolation. I let go of the sink. I raised my head. I looked out the window, again. The world and all my choices had tried to destroy me, and I had never even left the safety of my own kitchen. I turned to one side or the other. I walked away, and I got on with my life.