Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an interesting condition. It’s best described as a pathological response to trauma, the brain’s faulty way of dealing with something it wasn’t meant to deal with. When someone develops PTSD they frequently re-experience the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares. They generalize their trauma to the rest of life with the result that normal situations feel unsafe.

I didn’t know what to call it then but I felt scared by all black people. I sincerely believed that black people as a whole had something against me and sought to do harm to me. It seemed logical to my young mind. When I’d walk down a hallway at school and a group of three or four black guys would approach I’d begin to tense inwardly. As they grew closer I’d want to shrink into the walls, make myself invisible. When they’d pass me by I’d feel a sense of reprieve. I’d escaped this time. This time. But there would be a next time. And another time after that. It was only a matter of time before I was assaulted by black people again.

I spent most of my Junior High avoiding black people. My initial hate had faded and what was left was fear. I didn’t want to go through another experience like that again.

If I had grown up around white supremacists I think the hate could have easily returned. But it didn’t. And I guess I moved on in some ways. After awhile my fears weakened but never quite went away. I still am subject to the occasional nightmare, to the fear of going down a dark alley and meeting one or more assailants. And in my mind they are always black. Always. I know intellectually that whites commit crime but in my mind – in the back of my mind where the fears lie – I struggle with the thought that criminals are black.

I go out of my way to make sure that my irrational, traumatic fears don’t get passed on to my children. They’ve had black friends and I’ve been okay with that. I’m nothing but friendly to my coworkers who are black. I’ve even embarked on a journey to find hip-hop that I like. I’m not completely colorblind but I’ve certainly made some progress. Part of growing up in a household filled with prejudice is that when my teenage rebellion began, it moved me away from my parents’ racist views. I’m still moving.

I only saw Tony, the one who spoke to me while he took my watch, once more after the meeting in the pricipal’s office. I knew he’d been suspended and I assumed also expelled. But about a year later I was at a football game and I saw him on the sidelines with some friends. They were all obviously older and I suppose had been held back in school. They were smoking and laughing and I looked closely at Tony and could make out that his t-shirt had a picture of a cat trapped inside a bottle. The caption on his shirt said “Happiness is a tight pussy.” For some reason I was fascinated by him while also feeling terrified of him. I’m sure he saw me walking by looking at him but I also don’t think he really saw me. I don’t think he had any recollection of me at all.

I still think about him. I wonder where he is, what he’s doing. Now that I’m older and wiser I feel sorry for him. Perhaps he came from a painful family background. Maybe he came from a loving family and maybe he just fell in with the wrong crowd and made bad choices. Perhaps he’s living happily somewhere raising a family and working hard at his job. Perhaps he’s in jail. He might even be dead. I hope not. I really hope he has the chance to experience the love of Jesus in this life and the next. I don’t bear him any ill will. I even think I might be able to forgive him if I ever saw him again.