It shifts from one domain to another. It shifts to and from my thoughts, actions, and words. It is the friendly remnants of the past. Without it, I would feel lost, but with it comes consequences. It was bestowed upon me long ago. It was an unfamiliar feeling that grew with every physical blow, emotional volley, and humiliating neglect. It was uncontrollable. It was consuming. I covered its holes up with posters. I hid it behind late-night mistakes and fermented grain. With every passing day the Phantom grew.
I wanted it all to end, but the Phantom wanted more. It wanted a death worth something. It drove me to a world among giants. In that world, I leaned to harness the Phantom. I learned to give it a purpose. I learned how to make my pain and suffering a blessing. The Phantom was willing to consume the pain of others. It drove me to live and gave me a purpose. It drove me to the edge of existence to show me something more.
As I left and began to understand what it was, it became restless. It drove me to be the best I could be, but it was restless waiting for me to find the answers. It would lash out without an escape. It wanted that lost purpose. As I sought the answers, I began to understand the Phantom. I began to understand its origins, its blessings, and its curses.
My life now is a delicate balance. It is just enough to manage most of the side effects but not enough. It drives me to want so much more. The world I live in now challenges the Phantom. Those around me poke at it without realizing what they do. They poke and they poke. Through the years I have learned to control it, to channel it, but some days I let him loose. I let him flow from thoughts to words to actions. I let him show those who are supposed to stand by my side what happens when they try and put the cold steel in my back.
The Phantom was once a coping mechanism. It became a savior. Now it is my driving force. It has grown with every loss, with every hurdle, with every challenge. It is what makes my mind race, my body restless, and my brain thirsty. It is what motivates me to be my best, but it also makes me my worst. It can manifest in happy thoughts, productive actions, and meaningful words. It can also manifest in anger, resentment, and paranoia. For better or worse, the Phantom is a welcome friend.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.