To be honest, the book chose me.
It was the only one written by my new favourite author on the library shelf that day, and, since I needed a new book to read, home it came. An avid reader, I always have a novel on hand, and it’s rare that a book doesn’t offer me something to think about, a theme to ponder.
But I wasn’t expecting the narrative in this random selection to explore a theme I usually avoid at all costs.
By the end of the first chapter the protagonist, who had thus-far been in a long-term and contented relationship, is drawn to kissing another man. The author then sets up a parallel universe structure which follows her character’s competing futures.
And to clarify, it is this very suggestion of what a parallel universe might look like that I try avoid.
For years I have tried to stop my mind wandering down the path where my husband’s PTSD never eventuates, or the path where his PTSD arrives before the children do. Most dangerously of all, I know that to envisage a story line whereby I try and I try but ultimately get too tired of the heavy clouds of his PTSD and take a different path is to torture myself over and over within my own mind.
The whisper of a different future both intrigues me and destroys me.
Perhaps, I thought, reading the novel would give me some insight into how a single choice can lead to differing futures, both for the better and for worse. After all, I chide myself, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
My parallel universe is not perfect. Simply, no path will ever be. And there’s comfort in letting go of these expectations of perfection, because in doing so allows me freedom and security in my own imperfections.
But where have I drawn the line in the sand, and when? How drastically might our journey alter if I choose to redraw the line?
I have seen some who take an about-turn on their path and never look back. However I have also seen some who have bravely made the choice to move their line in the sand, only to find a whole new set of battles waiting for them on the other side.
It’s a curiosity I’m familiar with. In comparing myself and my situation with other couples, I’m not so much trying to measure up against them as watching how they handle situations unique to PTSD relationships and searching for new solutions on how to manage such an exhausting and isolating journey.
But no matter what I tell myself, I’m only ever privy to the outskirts of their lives. I can no more apply the observations of other couples to my own life and relationship as I can apply the competing futures of a fictional character to my all-too-real situation. My one future.
So I read the book, but not without reading more into it than I probably should. And I continue to observe the couples and families around me, but not without trying to decipher an answer I’m certain I’ve been missing.
But in a search for answers, surely there must first be a question.
Am I questioning how we would evolve as a couple without the pressures of PTSD? Or what type of father my husband would be without the burden of PTSD?
Do I need to figure out how much of our conflict and damage should be blamed on his PTSD and how much might just be a normal clash of personalities? Because even without a condition such as PTSD, every relationship will have its own complications.
This tangled mess of questions takes up too much of my headspace. A rhetorical waste of time, like asking a child why they scribbled permanent markers all over the kitchen wall. The wall will need repainting no matter what their reasoning.
Similarly, how would the answers – if they ultimately became available – alter my situation or my journey alongside PTSD?
Perhaps I’m not looking for answers at all. In imagining, and often fantasising about possible parallel universes, maybe what I’ve been searching for is simply the reassurance that an alternative path might have had just as many battles, PTSD or not.
Would that make this journey any easier to bear?
The book is now safely back on the library shelf, but each chapter is still tucked away in my mind. And I know the questions will continue to circulate until I am ready to accept this as my one future.
My only future.
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