It's hard to gauge what soldiers go through in battle, what they give up, what they suffer with forever. The chemicals they end up ingesting with and without their consent. I read most of Cherry by Nico Walker this week. He is an Iraq war veteran. It was a visceral experience.
An old friend of mine was sent to Iraq a few weeks short of retirement, in his early 50's when he was activated. One day he was going to work at his government job, a few years into a new marriage, and the next he was in a blazing hot and very hostile country dressed in fatigues carrying 70 lbs of gear while being shot at, the sun so hot it could burn the retinas without sunglasses.
His wife told him she did not sign up for something like this, which made him call me from Iraq, to tell me how fucked up something like that made him. What do you do? You can't call his wife and reach through the phone to smack her stupid face until she comes back to consciousness. Short of listening, that was all there was to do.
He was stationed at Camp Anaconda, living right alongside the burn pit. When he got home he developed lesions all over his brain. Half his company died from weird cancers. He was not right. The VA took good care of him.
John Cochran VA Hospital is packed with good medical people. My father in law was sitting in the chair by the bed yesterday trying to come out of the anesthesia, feeling dizzy and unwell. He sat forward and put a napkin to his lips and then he threw up.
The nurse showed up a few minutes after that and noted how many times he had thrown up in the last few hours and decided to expedite something with the doctor to help him settle down.
She returned a half dozen more times over the next hour to tend to him. He kept dozing off while she was explaining how they were going to tackle his medication and treatment that evening, and as he would nod back to consciousness, she would repeat what she had been saying. Like, who does that 5 times in a row without losing patience? That nurse.
The surgeon showed up, shook 4 sets of hands, explained what he found while he was on the inside, and politely left to continue his rounds. A porter dropped in and set two lemon-lime Shastas on the table "Thank you for your service," he said, leaving. In fact, everyone there was polite and respectful of the veterans. They were upbeat and funny, but quiet enough to keep the place restful and calming.
"I just don't feel right until they do," the nurse told me in the hall.
The snow whipped up out of nowhere a little later. It left a white dusting and a bitter wind. The botanical gardens were beautiful today, the last of the Fall leaves straining to hang on, everything a golden wonder.
I have to go to the wake for my cousin on Monday and I am going to bring my mother-in-law because my wife has to work and my mother-in-law takes no prisoners if someone attacks her family. I need her to be there and I told her why, tonight. I am not good at asking for help or expressing my distress or anything else around knowing what's good for me most of the time. On top of that I am ridiculously headstrong and into my fourth decade, based on my own inability to get out of my way, it is a miracle I have made anything of myself at all.
She was thankful I asked. I do not understand why, but I am thankful I am not going alone. It gives the little fella time alone with his grandpa, too, because even in pain, that guy makes an effort to mentor that kid.
What else? My father is a veteran of the Vietnam war, too. He did not see combat like my uncle.
My uncle is a stand up fella whose presence I cannot be without. He is a good writer, someone who can capture a scene perfectly pictured in the mind's eye. He's a tough old bastard, crusty as they come, and he likes to drink his coffee around 5am, the same time I'm up, and we are close, we have an ease in our conversation. We talk a lot about PTSD. We come at it from 2 different angles. PTSD all the same. Real as real can be.
It is with a sense of dread that I embark upon these years in my life. Every person I know in my parents' generation has already gone through this, they have lost their family slowly, the seniors all disappearing. I'm not depressed about it, I realize the way things work out for us, riding on our one-way ticket. And being gay, growing up in the 90's, I have had to select a family of choice a long time ago. But lately, I have had another family.
We go after it - searching for the right fit for us - and when we find it, when it shows up, a-blazin', then comes the time to deal with the Everything. Everything you have been for every year before you met your significant other. Go plow through that mountain. A fleet of luggage later, you are trying to weed through blending your family, which is volcanic, at the best of times, considering you are blending it with a teenager who is apt to burst into tears or a fit of total panic at the prompting of any advice around not wearing the same hoody for 3 days in a row. It is enough to send everyone teetering to the edge. This being alive is a big bet, every single day.
It is good to have a group of people you can rely upon, whoever they are, they're yours. My friend told me she freaked out about something a while ago, tried calling 7 friends, and was beside herself when none of them answered (me included). Then, she reminded herself that she had 7 friends to call, and that alone was enough to celebrate. Take that, self-doubt!
There's a cool old song from a movie called Georgia called Hard Times worth a listen. Give it a whirl.