In a racially divided city a black cop and a white PI team up to solve a double homicide. What they uncover leads them closer to the truth, and to each other.
There were so many things I wanted to avoid when I started this book. I knew there would be violence and death. I knew I’d have to reckon with race, and I knew it would be difficult to get that part right, but I didn’t think I’d have an interracial couple on my hands. I was writing psychological mystery and deliberately decided from the first words on the first page that there would be no romance. Ha.
I knew there would be PTSD. What I didn’t know is that twice as many women suffer from PSTD than men. That shocked me. We think of PTSD as a war affliction, but cops get PTSD, rape victims, too. Anyone who suffers an overload of trauma is subject to PTSD. One of the effects of PTSD is extreme anxiety that can play out in many ways: panic attacks and mentally crippling phobias are the two symptoms I have personally experienced.
It was both difficult and freeing to write about these mental conditions that have shaped much of my life. For a long time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew I was different. Wired wrong. I did not know what the hell was wrong with me. Yes, sure, bad things had happened to me. As a teen, I’d been sexually assaulted by people I trusted, like my boss, like a close friend, like a relative. I was homeless a number of times from age 15-19. My parents, who had married in their teens, had their own complex issues and I was shoved aside, shoved out of the family home.
Many friends and relatives, including my dad, took me in for short periods of time. But I lived in an abandoned car for a few weeks, in my family’s garage for awhile. Slept on the beach in Key West. People wouldn’t treat their dog the way I was treated as a kid. Children who experience trauma at a young age are more likely to develop PTSD. I have never been diagnosed with this condition, but the anxiety and panic are nearly constant companions. Before I was diagnosed, I used to cool the stress with wine. Lots of wine. I was embarrassed by my inability to control my fear. I never wanted anyone else to know how it felt to be me.
Sometimes even wine didn’t help. I ruined parts of my beautiful honeymoon in Maui because I could not be a normal passenger driving up to see the sunrise over the volcano or winding up the road to Hana. My husband is the calmest person I know. I think that’s why I was attracted to him and married him. He was my opposite and I wanted to learn to be like him. I could tell how disappointed he was in Maui when I cowered on the floor of the back seat of the car with my eyes closed to the beauty surrounding us. Shortly after the honeymoon, I had a serious car accident. I’d had one just before the wedding, too. Now it wasn’t only high places, bridges, mountains, cliffs, winding roads, or closed-in spaces that made me panic, it was just driving down the road in a car. Any road. Any car.
My husband was eventually rattled by my actions. I would beg him to slow down, pull over, drive in the slow lane, take a back road, let me out of the car. One day he said “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we’re going to die?” And I thought about that. My heart was racing so hard I felt it would burst out of my chest. I said YES YES I DO! His reply was that I needed a shrink.
I’d had therapy before, in another marriage. But it was not about my phobias and anxiety. I hid those even from the therapist while I tried to figure out a way to save my marriage all by myself because my ex said I was the one who was unhappy so he didn’t need to go to therapy with me. I was ashamed to even tell the therapist about my anxiety.I’d been treated so horribly by so many people that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with his decision. I went to therapy alone for two years and at the end of it I learned that I should not be married to that person. Nothing was going to fix us because for him everything was fine.
But Al was different. He loved me enough to realize that everything was not fine and he wanted to make things better for me. He saw that I needed professional help for my acute anxiety and the sheer terror that is panic. One in ten women will at some point in their life will be mentally and emotionally damaged by trauma, especially if the trauma is sexual assault or rape. A traumatic childhood just makes it that much more likely the accumulation of damage will result in chronic anxiety, phobias, or even PTSD.
I got help with my problem and I’m fine. I use medication as needed, but meds are much better than a gallon jug of cheap wine or tiny bottles of emergency vodka for when only a shot will do. These damaged parts of me are also in Lily, although I’ve fictionalized everything except the way anxiety, panic, and PTSD feel.
Lily White in Detroit is available now.