I was recently diagnosed with PTSD. It really blew my mind because when I think of PTSD, I think about my brother Andrew.
Andrew did two tours in Vietnam and left the Army in 1976 after twelve years of service. He returned a different person from the young man who enlisted at age 17. He used to be the life of the party, always saying something everyone wanted to hear, but now he was quiet, introverted. His love of cars, his way of dressing… He just wasn’t the same. My sister-in-law said a car would backfire, and he’d snatch her out of bed and pin her to the floor beneath him. He drank like a fish. I recall a day in 1991 when a family acquaintance joked about my brother riding the buses at night and falling asleep like the drunks did. Just riding. Riding until they got put off before the bus turned into the station to shut down for the night. My brother? Certainly not my brother. I found him and cried. I remember begging him to go to the VA hospital to get help. I said, “Junior, they f*#ked you up, make them fix you!” I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I knew it had to do with what he experienced in telling me things.
At the time, we didn’t even know what PTSD was. I’d heard of “shell shock,” but what was PTSD? Well, we learned. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It ruined his marriage, his relationships with his children, his jobs… it ruined his life.
I remember begging him to go to the VA hospital to get help. Instead, he’d get drunk, and sometimes during the night when he couldn’t sleep, he’d tell me things. He always prefaced it with a whisper, “You can’t tell anybody this…” Years later, he took my advice and went to the VA hospital in Los Angeles. He realized he had a lot of company and went through treatment with fellow vets. He became an alcohol counselor to vets.
My brother had PTSD, but my brother – my hero – was the one who helped me escape from Peoples Temple the day before I was to leave for Jonestown. But the damage was done. My psychiatrist says I have PTSD. I have what my brother had. I’m triggered by past traumatic and terrifying experiences. Like my brother, I’m sure I have a lot of company. But who am I supposed to join with to go through “treatment”? Who can I share my “night whispers” with?
I can’t even remember how I found this website. Thinking back, I realize that this was the ear to hear my “night whispers.” This was the place I could sneak into and preface with my own, ”You can’t tell anyone this…”
I always come look at the site when everyone in the house is either asleep or not here. I tried sharing it with my kids, but they have no interest or curiosity about Jonestown. They still can’t wrap their heads around how I got caught up in such a place. They get angry that my family allowed it to happen. They get angry that I shut down every time I come on this site. Anytime I’m in a “mood,” they attribute it to me looking at pictures on the Memorial List and remembering.
They beg me not to. They tell me to stop going on there if it makes me feel like this. But going on there isn’t the cause of me feeling like “this.” “This” was there long before I found this site.
So I sneak on. I wait until no one is home, or everyone is asleep. Even as I write this. It’s 9:15 am and my youngest daughter just asked me what I’m doing. I tell her. She and my oldest give each other “the look.”
I probably do have PTSD. Sometimes the photos I see, the remembrances I read, the memories they stir, they all play like a loop in my head. Still, I kinda feel like my writing about them turns the loop off. At least for a while. I hope so.
I can’t say why others might be hesitant to come on the site. I know it used to be heart-wrenching for me. It was like a knife in the heart every time I looked at a photo. Like visiting the mortuary. I used to feel guilty. Guilty for being alive. Guilty for enjoying life. Guilty for actually living to experience a “what if”…
So I sneak on. Creep on in the night. Looking at faces and whispering things I can’t say to anyone. Things no one understands. Night whispers. Thank God someone’s up at night to hear. To listen. To remember…
So yeah, I probably do have PTSD. Thank God this place is here to vent my trauma, to unleash my terror. To allow me to say what I wish I could say to someone else. Maybe one day my kids will understand why I whisper in the night…
(Glenda Randolph Bates is the sister of Darlene Ramey, who died in Jonestown. Her other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are Shirley, The Middle Picture, The Joy of Cynthia’s Dance, A Sunday Drive, An Empty Jungle, The Summer of ‘72, and White Nights, Black Paradise: We Deserved Better. Her previous articles appear here. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)