Today I was able to have a pleasant chat with one of Virginia’s finest State Troopers. The man was doing his duty and found me in violation of using the HOV-2 lane on I-264 West as I headed into work this morning. I didn’t get upset and was polite to this officer and did not make excuses to him to try to weasel out of the ticket even though I could have. However I know that such excuse hold no weight with the officer writing the ticket, unless you are a good looking girl which I am not and I can say from past experiences that lady cops don’t take BS stories from guys they just glare at us and write the ticket, but I digress….
Any long term reader of this site knows that I am an Iraq veteran and have dealt with a pretty serious case of PTSD since my return from deployment in February of 2008, a condition that got a lot worse before it started getting better. If you are curious my journey since that time please click the “PTSD” button on the subject list. It has affected a considerable amount of my life, emotional, physical and spiritual and I am only really beginning to emerge from the nightmare. However it still has an effect on me in crowded or unfamiliar places, airports and in bad traffic where I feel boxed in and vulnerable. My problems with nightmares, flashbacks and sleep problems are not as bad as they were and my life is on the uptick again, however bad traffic is a trigger.
I got started a bit late to work this morning, not real late to be late for work late, but late in the sense that the traffic was heavier than I normally deal with on my commute. As I got on the highway the first thing that happened was that I got cut off and almost runoff the road by some idiot and once I got out into traffic things did not get better as people cut me off and boxed me in. Anyone who has been on a lot of convoys in Iraq or Afghanistan can understand, congested areas are dangerous and for me and a good number of other veterans that I know when we get in a congested area it triggers the same hyper vigilance and need to get to a safe place or defend ourselves as similar situations in the combat zone. There are times on the road here if I had a turret gunner I would have him put a couple of rounds from the .50 cal or M240 series machine through the offending vehicle’s engine. My hyper vigilance is keen on the road, it is among the places that I never relax and I can almost sense when someone is going to do something dangerous.
This morning was one of those kings of mornings, I had barely gone a mile down the road and I was looking for safety in an open space where I can get out of danger. I found this today in the HOV lane and just as I thought I had gotten out of the danger zone I noticed a blue unmarked police car to my right. I immediate slowed down and moved back into the regular traffic lanes and moved toward the right anticipating that he would come and get me. Once again I was right, he slowed down and worked his way behind me and just before the I-264 and I-64 interchange the pretty blue lights mounted in the pretty blue unmarked Chevy Impala came on and I pulled over. The trooper asked if I knew why he had pulled me over and I acknowledged that I was in the HOV lane. He took my license, registration and insurance paperwork as well as my military ID and about 7-8 minutes later came back with a ticket which is more like a sheet of paper and gave me the pink carbon copy. He explained that signing was not an admission of guilt and informed me of a court date as well as how I could pay the fine early.
Was I guilty of driving in the HOV-2 without another passenger in the car? Yes. So by the letter of the law I am guilty. However I do believe that I had mitigating circumstances so I will go to court not to claim that I was not where I was but to explain the danger that I felt that I was in and how I needed to get out of the danger zone. I thought that the “Danger Stay Back” convoy sign sticker, the Multi-National Corps Iraq and “IRQ-I Served” bumper stickers would adequately identify me as someone who might be vulnerable but alas this was not the case. The trooper was professional, polite and businesslike. I could not find fault in anything that he did. I felt stupid that I had let myself get into the situation but at the same time knew that I was basically acting on instinct from my time in Iraq.
I will go to court to explain the mitigating circumstances and if I need to either bring a letter from or drag along Elmer the Shrink to explain this. Who knows maybe the judge will have mercy on me, if not I pay the fine and until the state legislature passes an exemption for military personnel to use the HOV, which they are debating I will have to get blow up doll to inflate if I feel like I am in a danger zone and have to jump into the HOV. On the way home I was able to hold it together.
So there it is, guilty as charged but with mitigating circumstances. I know that I am not alone. I have heard countless stories of Iraq and Afghanistan vets doing the same thing in traffic. It is no fun to feel danger. I am an excellent driver, have driven thousands of miles on the German Autobahnen and in crazy traffic in a lot of countries as well as some of the worst traffic areas in this country, but that was before Iraq and PTSD. I’m glad that I’m getting better but days like today show me that I still show the wear and tear from my time in Iraq and PTSD. At least I did not have an emotional crash or anger rage that well could have happened just a few months ago. The grace of God is good.
If you know any veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan or even those from Vietnam who suffer from stuff like this feel free to share this with them.
Pray for me a sinner,