Hypervigilance and the trip home from D.C.


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Union Station in Washington, D.C.

After trauma some people, including me, experience hypervigilance.

Increased awareness of my environment. I have always been observant, though sometimes spacey.

I have been grounded.

I noticed a teardrop on the floor of the synagogue at Gerald’s funeral. I noticed more teardrops on the back of a man’s suit jacket at Wendi’s.

What can I notice on the average day? Quite a bit.

I notice the beeping from a crosswalk button outside Union Station in D.C. I notice how it sounds like the heart monitor I asked them to disconnect at the hospital after the shooting. I didn’t need it. I wasn’t dying.

The station is filled with sights and sounds, as it should be.

The clicking of gears as a man walks his bike through the atrium.

The sound of hard luggage rolling over tiles.

A woman with balloons laughing and wiping away tears of joy as she greets two children.

A homeless woman in the same spot I saw her five hours earlier.

I notice two songs playing inside a card shop as I wait for my train – Mozart from a music box in the window and Buffalo Springfield on the speaker overhead.

“Stop. Hey, what’s that sound?”

I notice when the music box falls silent and the classic rock is left out of place among colored pens and stacks of thank you cards.

I notice a pigeon swoop down from the rafters on my way to the train.

On the train to Baltimore I notice a symphony.

The humming of a woman next to me, the distant beat spilling from a pair of headphones, the clanking of train cars, the spinning wheels, quiet conversations, loud conversations. I hear them all as one, but pick them out and name each.

I notice the conductor speaking — it is hard not to, that is his goal. The stop is Penn Station. The last train already left Martin Airport for the day. If you don’t get off and continue to Martin Airport, you won’t be able to come back by train. So get off.

I do.

I notice the sound of the exhaust, or maybe it’s the engine. A familiar rumbling from the locomotive either way. I feel my exhaustion.

I hear the footsteps of my fellow passengers walking up the stairs.

I notice the screech of the another train leaving.

I stop to write more in my notebook and lean against a pole. I notice the scratching of mechanical pencil against paper.

I notice a woman who comes up to ask me: what train are you waiting for?

I’m not waiting for a train, I say. She leaves, on a scooter of all things.

The train I climbed off of leaves. The platform is empty now.

“The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes plays above me from a speaker.

I walk up the stairs and through the station and before the exit I look up. I’ve been to this station many times. For the first time, I notice the intricate, circular stained glass windows above me in the atrium.

Hypervigilance. Hyper awareness. Hyper sensitivity. Whatever you call it.

Sometimes it is hearing a nail gun fire while walking through a crosswalk. It is dropping my water bottle and stepping backwards into another woman. It is someone picking the bottle up for me, and another person guiding me to the curb. 

Still, I think it’s a superpower. And I hope I never lose it.

The stained glass windows inside Penn Station in Baltimore.


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