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PTSD (full text)

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PTSD

by Tommy Smith

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“The titular post-traumatic stress disorder turns out to have less to do with the soldier’s nonexistent battle experiences than the shattered relationships he left back home. The coda to this rich playlet contains only about six lines, yet is one of the most eloquent pieces of theater I’ve seen in a long time.” — VILLAGE VOICE

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© 2015 Tommy Smith. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, performed, produced or distributed without the express prior written permission of the copyright holder. For permission, please click this.

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DAD, fifties

RILES, his son, twenties

MER, his daughter, twenties

CINDY, twenties

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A living room in a lower-middle-class household.

2000s.

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Notes:

Since someone is always sleeping offstage, dialogue should default to whisper, but occasionally rise to normal conversation depending on the context of the conversation.  Actors should find this variation for themselves.

The family may be played by actors of any consistent racial background.

An / indicates where dialogue overlaps.

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1.

Early evening.

Near darkness.

Dad and Riles enter.

Dad flips on light.

DAD

Your stuff’s all the same.

RILES

Yeh.

DAD

Your stuff in your room. Your room’s the same. Similar. I did some things. Put up some new curtains.

RILES

Thanks.

DAD

You can put your stuff in your room if you want.

RILES

Okay.

DAD

You don’t have to do it now or anything.

RILES

Nice couch.

DAD

I found it on the street.

RILES

What’s this?

DAD

A hot plate.

RILES

You cook in here?

DAD

The stove’s not really working and Mer and I spend most of our time in here anyway.  The heat’s gone out in the rest of the house and we can’t pay to get it fixed and we have no money to fix the stove so pretty much this is where we live.  Your sister comes in and sleeps most of the time in here so you’re welcome to pull out a cot if your room gets too cold.  Though I imagine you want some privacy.  You like your privacy, right?

RILES

Yeah, sure.

DAD

So do you want anything to eat?

RILES

No.

DAD

There’s some meat in the mini freezer, some ground beef we could makes tacos from.  We’d have to thaw it first.  Or maybe the microwave.  There’s some chips in the back there.  Ah shit, we got all these groceries here, I forgot, you know, put them in the fridge, I should have –  Ah, everything’s okay, everything’s okay.   Maybe you want some salsa or chips or maybe we should go out?  Do you want to go out to eat?  I don’t know how much money I have left.  I’d have to check my bank statement.  You don’t have any money, do you?

RILES

No.

DAD

I didn’t figure it but I thought I’d ask.  Wallet moths eat them up.

RILES

DAD

You know the moths in your wallet.  Wallet moths.

RILES

Yeah.

DAD

Like when you were a kid.

RILES

Yeah.

DAD

You ask me for money and –

RILES

Wallet moths.

DAD

Yeah.

RILES

Moths that came from your wallet.

DAD

Yeah, remember?

RILES

Yeah.

DAD

RILES

So how’s she doing?

DAD

How’s Mer?

RILES

Yeah.

DAD

It’s up and down.

RILES

Is it bad?

DAD

Sometimes.

RILES

I want to see her.

DAD

She’s sleeping now.  A beer?  You want a beer?

RILES

No.

DAD

You quit drinking?

RILES

No.

DAD

Just not now.

RILES

Yeah.

DAD

Maybe later.  Maybe later we can go down to that Indian bar.

RILES

Nah.

DAD

Come on, old Indian bar?

RILES

I’m all right, dad.

DAD

Oh hey.  At the store, there was that girl working, who was that girl you dated that worked at the supermarket?

RILES

Cindy.

DAD

Cindy still works there.  If it’s the same girl I’m thinking of.

RILES

She still works there.

DAD

Yeah, that was her.  She looks good.  I mean, she’s held up.  Some women, you know, don’t so it’s good that she’s taking care of things.  I told her to come by if she wanted.  She said she was working.  I bought a peach pie if you want a slice.  I thought, I haven’t had peach pie around the house.  In case someone wanted to have some.  I should put this stuff away.  Does cheese go bad?

RILES

I don’t know.

DAD

Do you need anything?

RILES

No, dad, I’m fine.

DAD

You’re looking sort of funny.

RILES

Well I’m fine.

DAD

Well, I’m just checking.

RILES

What’s this?

DAD

We’re doing a puzzle.

RILES

(mumbles)  Trade Center.

DAD

Your sister found it in the basement from like the 80s.  Your mom liked those puzzles though I don’t really get puzzles.  Putting something together.  Like you already know what it is.  The box shows you.  That used to really piss me off.  Your mother doing puzzles.  I guess there’s nothing else.  There’s really nothing else to do around here.  So yeah, we’ve been doing puzzles.  No one really comes around anymore.  Me and Merri.  We pass the time.  Your mother knew how to handle it.  You were good with your sister.  She’ll be happy to see you.  We took Mer back.  Took your sister back for treatment. Yeah, it was all right.  She got better.  She slept more.  She made this face.  Her face froze in this face.  Lost all expression in her right side.  From the shocking.  Then she couldn’t go out.  She didn’t want people seeing her.  She stayed inside for a month or so and by that time she was so used to it that she just … stayed.  So we’ve been doing fine.  We didn’t bury your mother.  She’s in that gold thing on the table.  Her like, ashes.

RILES

DAD

I’ll make dinner then.

RILES

I’m not hungry.

DAD

Not eating these days?

RILES

Not really.

DAD

Well, I’ll make some spaghetti and put it in the fridge.

RILES

Yeah, I’ll be back in a little, dad.

DAD

Where you off to?

RILES

I don’t really know.

DAD

RILES

Well.  “Catch you soon”.

DAD

Hey?

RILES

What.

DAD

Hey, son.

RILES

Yeah?

DAD

Just … son, hey son.

RILES

Hi dad.

DAD

You’re home now.

RILES

Yeah.

DAD

You’re home.

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2.

Evening.

Darkness.

Mer sitting on sofa.

Riles enters through door.

Flips on light.

MER

Hey fuckhead.

RILES

Hey girl.

MER

I’m a lady.

RILES

Yeah, right.

MER

No, it happened when you went away.  I became this like total lady.

RILES

Of course.

MER

Where have you been?

RILES

I went out.

MER

Where?

RILES

Just walking through the neighborhood.  Where’s dad?

MER

Sleeping.  So like, give me a hug.

RILES

Hey sis.

MER

Welcome back, Bro.

RILES

Yeah.

MER

Jesus you’re thin.  Like a rail.  You fasting?

RILES

No.

MER

You should eat something.

RILES

Nice bathrobe.

MER

You like it?  Yeah, I’ve taken to wearing it all the time.  It suits me.  Like a skin made of towels.

RILES

What are you doing, Mer?

MER

I couldn’t sleep.

RILES

No, I mean, why are you here again?

MER

I don’t know how to answer that.

RILES

Why are you living with dad again?

MER

A little direct, right?  A little too Right Out Of The Gate?  Dad usually waits like a half hour of bullshit.

RILES

Well, I’m not dad.

MER

No, you’re a fucking warrior, right?

RILES

You had an apartment.

MER

Well, I went fucking crazy, okay?  Crazy people can’t pay rent.  And they came to the conclusion, the doctors, the lab guys in white coats concluded that I’m always going to be like this.  Neat to know, right?  Neat to know for sure.  That it’s not ever going to be different.  There’s the shocks, sure.  They gave me like shocks this time around.  So I should be fixed.  I totally thought of you the whole time.  Like shocking me, they hook me up with all this shit and shock the fuck out of me.  I kept thinking of you prisoner.  Like you’re someone’s prisoner and they’re beating you but you’re like cool.  You’re not giving anything up.  You’ve got this smile, like your smile, man.  And you’re just bloody.  You’ve got teeth out like a mouth full of blood and that’s the sort of shit that got me through.  So thanks I guess.

She cuddles into him.

MER

My desert warrior …

RILES

It’s not like that.

MER

Everyone’s all sensitive, right?

RILES

About what?

MER

Everyone wants to know stories, right?

RILES

Yeah.

MER

Same with the hospital.  Everyone wants to know what you saw in the hospital.  How it changed you.  Gets annoying, yeah?

RILES

Yeah.

MER

I’m empathizing with you, doofus.

RILES

MER

So like … mom.  Right?

RILES

Yeah.

MER

Her funeral kind of rocked.  I mean I was on my drugs.  My experience was sort of filtered through the heavy medication.

RILES

What are you taking?

MER

All sorts of things the doctors think will solve something.

RILES

Are they working?

MER

They don’t really work they just … keep you here.  And I’m on these things all the time.  I walk into church.  And the haze is on me.  I’m smiling, or I think I’m smiling at everyone.  I’m happy to see everyone.  Our whole family is there, you know, and I haven’t seen them in years.  It’s nice to see everyone all in the same place, so I start shaking their hands and saying things like thank you for coming, you look lovely.  And dad’s pulling my arm and crying.  But I didn’t see what there was too be sad about.  I didn’t get what everyone was crying about.  It wasn’t like there was a lesson to be learned here.  A woman died.  My mother, my mother’s dead.  And there wasn’t any reason.  There wasn’t any reason.  And I don’t realize I’m saying all this aloud.  I’m telling all our relatives she’s dead for no reason, no reason.   Because I’m an optimist.  I’m an optimist, my brother, so then there’s her body in front of me, her dead body in the dead casket, I’m an optimist!  I’m an optimist!  Pretty funny, right?  I mean, look at her fucking ashes.

Mer picks up ashes.

MER

These are like priceless.

RILES

Be careful.

MER

Mom’s all right here.  We should use mom like sweetener.  Mom sugar.

RILES

Yeah, you can put that down.

MER

I’m hungry.  You want anything?

RILES

No.

MER

Right.  You’re not eating.

RILES

Yeah.

MER

You’re not eating because you’re sad.

RILES

No.

MER

Why are you sad?

RILES

I’m not sad.

MER

You loved mom.

RILES

Yeah.

MER

You fucking loved mommy.

RILES

Shut up, Mer.

MER

She left you stuff.

RILES

Like what?

MER

Her jewelry.

RILES

Why would she do that?

MER

You used to play with her jewelry.

RILES

I never did that.

MER

Yeah, that’s what she said.  She wrote in down in the will.

RILES

Never played with it.  Just … looked, just looked at it.

MER

Well it’s yours now.

RILES

I’ll sell it.

MER

You can’t sell it.  That’s like our family.  That’s like selling your family.  You should give them to me.  I’ll start wearing mom’s jewelry.  I’ll wear her rings and her necklaces and her bracelets.  I’ll snag a husband with mom’s jewelry.  I’ll steal dad’s ring.  I’ll marry my husband with dad’s ring.  I’ll marry dad.  It would be funny if I married dad.  Or if mom came back from the dead and married you.  And we lived here and fucked each other, me fucking dad and you fucking mom.  Just fucking dead mom’s pussy.

RILES

Mer?

MER

What?

RILES

Your nose.

MER

Huh?

RILES

You’re bleeding, you nose –

MER

Oh fuck –

Mer falls.

Riles catches her.

He carries her to sofa.

Lies her down.

Puts blanket over her.

Wipes blood off her face.

Sits.

Waits.

After a very long time, Mer wakes:

MER

Where are – Oh, you mean I’m –

RILES

Mer.

MER

I’m not like – What did I, what did I do to wake up here?

RILES

You did it again.

MER

Oh, man.

RILES

It’s okay.

MER

I’m dying.

RILES

No.

MER

I really think I’m dying.

RILES

You’re not dying.

MER

I went camping with my friends.  This desert landscape.  These dogs circling our tents.  Their shadows circling our tents.  And these hunters shooting these dogs and flashes of their shadows blown apart on the walls of the tent.  And these flashes come back.  When I close my eyes they come back.  These shadows flying at me.  The shadows flying at me in the dark.

RILES

MER

Are you really here?

RILES

I’m really here.

MER

Are you really?

RILES

Yeah, I think I might stay a little bit.

MER

We could really use you.

RILES

Let’s go to bed, okay?

MER

Okay, my brother.

RILES

In your own room

MER

Okay.

RILES

Here we go.

MER

I missed you.

RILES

I know.

MER

I missed you.

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3.

Later night.

Darkness.

Tapping on door.

Riles gets up from sofa.

CINDY

(outside)  Hey.

RILES

Hey.

CINDY

(outside)  You want to let me in?

RILES

Yeah.  Yeah.

Riles opens door.

RILES

Hey.

CINDY

Yeah.

RILES

You wanna … ?

CINDY

Come in?

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

Yeah, I’ll come in.

RILES

Cool.

Riles closes door.

Flips on light.

RILES

Cindy.

CINDY

That’s what I’m called.

RILES

We should be quiet.

CINDY

Sure.

RILES

My dad and my sister.

CINDY

(makes “mouth zipper” gesture)

RILES

Right.

CINDY

I’ll take off my shoes.

RILES

No, no, that’s –

She takes off shoes.

CINDY

Whoo.  That feels good.  Double shift.

RILES

CINDY

I heard about your mom.

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

My grandmother had the same thing so I know.

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

I sent flowers.

RILES

I’m sure they were nice.

CINDY

They were, actually.

RILES

CINDY

You gonna offer me something?

RILES

Like some … ?

CINDY

Something to drink.

RILES

You want some water?

CINDY

Maybe a beer or something?

RILES

I think we have beer.

CINDY

Your dad bought some earlier unless he drank them all.

RILES

Yeah there’s three left.

CINDY

Join me?

RILES

I’m not drinking.

CINDY

Gone all boy scout.

RILES

Here you go.

CINDY

Thanks. Cheers.

She clinks his imaginary glass.

CINDY

We’re like drinking age.

RILES

Weird, right?

CINDY

And fighting age.

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

We can drink and fight.  Totally legal.

RILES

CINDY

You look like shit.

RILES

I just got back.

CINDY

But you’re like really dangerously thin.

RILES

I know.

CINDY

I’m not seeing anyone.

RILES

Me neither.

CINDY

Obviously.

RILES

Right.

CINDY

Gotchya.

They begin making out furiously.

She pulls him onto the couch.

They dry hump.

Hard.

And Long.

Then:

CINDY

Whoa fuck whoa fuck.

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

Gotta like –

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

Ease back in.

RILES

I’m really sorry.

CINDY

I’m really confused.

RILES

Me too.

CINDY

You haven’t even fucking – I haven’t heard from you and you dry / hump the fuck out of me.

RILES

/ Yeah, I don’t know what’s –

CINDY

You didn’t say you were coming home.

RILES

I’m sorry.

CINDY

You have to (punches his chest) tell me things.

RILES

Ow!

CINDY

A whole year.  An entire year.

RILES

I know.

CINDY

I’m writing you all the time and get back one-word answers.  Caveman talk.  I’m good.  I’m fine.

RILES

I’m really good.  I’m / really fine.

CINDY

/ I’m not your girlfriend, you don’t need to report, you just need to – I don’t know, talk maybe?

RILES

I’m talking.

CINDY

I don’t even know what you did over there.

RILES

I didn’t do anything.

CINDY

I’m not like waiting around for you.

RILES

I really didn’t do anything.  People think I did something. I have a uniform.  I never saw anything.  I was never part of anything.  We were in this base.  They had these bases in the middle of the desert.  Like outposts for troops.  These little cities, really.  A gigantic fence surrounding gray buildings like a mall in the middle of the desert.  But nothing grew around them.  It was too hot for anything to grow by itself.  So we had to bring in water.  We had to bring in food.  They set up stores.  These chain food restaurants in the city.  It was like here.  They had all the same stores, like the same exact shit you see at every truck stop.  And just buildings and buildings full of soldiers not leaving their apartments, going out maybe occasionally for a bite to eat at some fast food joint in the complex.  Sneak a beer down a corridor.  Maybe smoke some weed out back by the turrets.  And these massive conveys rolled across the sand to bring us our provisions.  I was in charge of logging the newly arrived shipments of goods.  These gigantic trucks guarded by armored vehicles and tanks, these tanks full of soldiers shooting anything in their way, blowing up anything that looks like it might threaten the cargo.  They killed people.  They shot people.  But I never saw any of it.  I just watched them come back.  Sometimes one was shot.  Sometimes one of them would come back dead.   So I did see that.  There was that guy.  That guy I knew and once played football with him?  Jeremy?  Jerry?  They shot his guts all over some prepackaged salad mix.  So I guess that was pretty disturbing.  We cleaned it off.  The salad mix.  It was still usable and taco night was coming up so we could use all the lettuce we could get.  And I was eating these tacos, these crunchy lettuce tacos, and all the soldiers at my table were grinning.  I didn’t know any of them.  They all seemed possessed.  And that night I sliced open my wrists in the bathroom but the guard caught me before I could die because my mother told me not to go and I should have listened to her.

Cindy flicks off light.

The room is filled with dim morning light.

CINDY

It’s morning.

RILES

CINDY

Do you hear that?

RILES

What?

CINDY

Those birds.

RILES

I don’t hear them.

CINDY

Listen.

They listen.

Birds.

RILES

Sparrows?

CINDY

Swallows.

RILES

CINDY

Can I stay with you?

RILES

Yes.

CINDY

I’m sorry these things are happening to you.

RILES

CINDY

You’ll get older.

RILES

I don’t know…

CINDY

I had dreams about it.  Back before you went off.  This is really fucking cheesy.

RILES

Okay.

CINDY

I just want to let you know straight out that it’s cheesy.

RILES

I’m ready.

CINDY

Okay, like, you and I are really old.  We live in a big white beach house.  I’m wearing these flowing clothes and a big turquoise ring.  And then you show up in a white linen shirt and it’s unbuttoned and your belly is hanging out.  You come over this dune and these two happy dogs are following you. You’re carrying this large painted canvas.  And you shout over at me.  You shout, Look at this piece of shit! I made it for you!  And I smile with one hand over my eyes, like shielding my eyes from the sun and you go inside to make dinner.

RILES

Pretty vivid.

CINDY

I study poetry.

RILES

Yeah?

CINDY

When I’m not bagging groceries.

RILES

When was this?

CINDY

Like when did I dream it?

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

Right after I first … met you.

RILES

CINDY

Do you want to sleep?

RILES

I want to go to sleep.

CINDY

Then let’s sleep.

RILES

Yeah.

CINDY

Let’s go to sleep.

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4.

Morning.

Riles asleep on sofa.

Cindy curled around him.

Dad enters from door with carton of eggs.

DAD

Good morning.

CINDY

Oh, hey.

DAD

Don’t get up.

CINDY

Okay.

DAD

I’m making eggs.  You want coffee?

CINDY

Sure.

DAD

You should stay.

CINDY

Okay.

Mer enters.

MER

I smell coffee.

DAD

Right here.

MER

Morn, dad.

DAD

Morning.

MER

Hey.

CINDY

Hey.

MER

You’re the store girl.

CINDY

Cindy.

MER

Morning, Cindy.

DAD

Your brother.

MER

Right, shh.

Dad makes eggs.

Cindy makes herself coffee, sits at Riles’ feet, stokes his leg.

Mer makes herself coffee, sits near Riles’ head, strokes his hair.

They all sit like this for a long time.

They sip coffee.

Eggs cook.

Riles slowly opens his eyes.

RILES

Morning.

MER

Morning.

CINDY

Morning.

RILES

Morning.

DAD

Breakfast’s ready.

Dad hands Mer a plate.

MER

Thanks.

She takes it and begins eating.

Dad hands Cindy a plate.

CINDY

Thank you.

She takes it and begins eating.

Dad hands Riles a plate.

He takes it.

Dad begins eating from the pan.

Riles stares at the plate of food in his hands as the others eat their meals.

End of Play.

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