"Sit on your mom's lap, close your eyes, and tell me what you see when you hear the loud noises that scare you," Norman gently instructed Chase. I looked down at Chase's freckled face. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear.
Young Chase immediately began describing himself as a soldier--an adult soldier--carrying a gun. "I'm standing behind a rock. I'm carrying a long gun with a kind of sword at the end." My heart was pounding in my ears, and the hair on my arms stood up as I listened. His 9-year-old sister Sarah and I glanced at each other in wide-eyed amazement.
"What are you wearing?" Norman questioned.
"I have dirty, ripped clothes, brown boots, a belt. I'm hiding behind a rock, crouching on my knees and shooting at the enemy. I'm at the edge of a valley. The battle is going on all around me."
I listened to Chase, surprised to hear him talk about war. He had never been interested in war toys and had never even owned a toy gun. He always preferred games and construction toys; he would spend hours at a time happily building with blocks, Legos, and his wooden trains. His television watching was strictly limited to Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, and none of the Disney movies he had seen depicted war.
"I'm behind a rock," he said again. "I don't want to look, but I have to when I shoot. Smoke and flashes everywhere. And loud noises: yelling, screaming, loud booms. I'm not sure who I'm shooting at--there's so much smoke, so much going on. I'm scared. I shoot at anything that moves. I really don't want to be here and shoot other people."
Chase drew this battlefield scene after his second regression, when he was eight years old.
Although this was Chase's little-boy voice, his tone was serious and mature--uncharacteristic of my happy five-year-old. He actually seemed to be feeling this soldier's feelings and thinking his thoughts. He really didn't want to be there shooting at other men. This was not a glorified picture of war or soldiering; Chase was describing the sentiments of a man in the heat of battle who had serious doubts about the value of his actions and was terrified, thinking only of staying alive. These feelings and images were coming from someplace deep within him. Chase was not making this up.
Norman sensed Chase's distress with his role as a soldier who, in order to survive, had to kill other men. He explained to Chase, talking slowly, "We live many different lives on Earth. We take turns playing different parts, like actors in a play. We learn what it means to be human by playing these different parts. Sometimes we are soldiers and kill others in a battle, and sometimes we are killed. We are simply playing our parts to learn." Using simple language, Norman emphasized that there was no blame in being a soldier. He assured Chase that he was just doing his job, even if he had to kill other soldiers in battle. As my son listened to Norman's assurances, I could feel his body relax and his breathing become more regular. The anguished look on his face melted away. Norman's words were helping. Young Chase was actually understanding and responding to these universal concepts.
When Norman saw that Chase had calmed down, he asked him to continue telling us what he saw.
"I'm crouching on my knees behind the rock. I'm hit in the right wrist by a bullet someone shot from above the valley. I slide down behind the rock, holding my wrist where I was shot. It's bleeding--I feel dizzy.
"Someone I know drags me out of the battle and takes me to a place where they took soldiers that are hurt--not like a regular hospital, just big poles, like an open tent, covered with material. There are beds there, but they're like wooden benches. They're very hard and uncomfortable."
Chase's picture of a horse pulling a mortar, drawn after his second regression.
Chase said that he felt dizzy and could hear the sounds of gunfire around him as his wrist was being bandaged. He said he was relieved to be out of the fighting. But it wasn't long before he was ordered back into battle, and he reluctantly returned to the shooting.