I’ve been meeting with a VA Psychologist since late September, just after Brian died, for PTSD related help. I can’t say whether or not this helps or works, but I can say that it is comforting and that I have been challenged with different thoughts and emotions that ask me to think. One of the things that Dr. M has said, repeatedly, is that we often hide behind avoidance.
Am I avoiding anything?
I’ve posted a lot of my thoughts on the internet for the world to see. Type my alias, or my name into a Google search and there I am. I’ve made it available, at the expense of privacy, for the world to see and read.
(I’m just one guy, right? Is my story any different than any other stop-lossed veteran?)
In early January, I was interviewed/filmed for ½ of one episode of a four-part Canadian mini-series documentary on “The Science of Behavior” with Dr. Ray Novaco and graduate student and veteran Oscar Gonzalez of UC Irvine. I don’t know if what I filmed will be in the final version, after edits, but there was a moment after my part was finished, where outside, before walking away, the director opened up to me.
He said something like, “Man, I don’t know how you guys did it, or what you went through…I just, I can’t imagine war.”
And then I blabbed on about… about what? What the hell do you say to something like that? Was he opening up to me? Was he trying to connect with me? Was it some sort of off-camera moment that he liked to use to get a more intimate portrait of his subjects?
Something Dr. M. said today reminded me about this. I thought about what I said to the director and how embarrassed I felt because I had no summation, no closing argument, nothing to make sense of it all in the moment.
I felt like a fool.
And so when I talked to Dr. M, I wondered, how do I make sense of this? There are plenty of students at school that I meet who ask me, “What’s it like over there?” “Is it hot?” “Have you killed anyone?”
I typically shrug these questions off.
But how do I tell someone who is really interested in how I feel, how we prepared for death? How do I tell someone what it was like in 2003/2004, when we had no armor on our Humvees, what it was like to roll out knowing we had no protection? How do you tell someone that your life depended strictly on luck, and that we had no official way to prepare for death?
We were young, nearly all of us overgrown children with guns and bombs. We fucking did what we had to because we had no other choice.
I remember leaving on patrol at night, jumping onto the back our Humvee in a convoy of four. The open road, west of Mosul in late 2003/early 2004, was desolate. I wore black leggings and fleece and a baklava under my KPOT. We couldn’t see anything, even with NVG’s on. If someone wanted to, they could have blown us up with a string of IED’s and we wouldn’t have known who or where it came from.
I had to face this thought every night: how the Missus would take it, knowing that every night, I rolled out knowing that I could die instantly? Even painlessly? That if I was lucky, I would make it to Germany, or to Walter Reed, a vegetable, and never again be what she remembered I was on the morning I left?
How do you relate this thought, this emotion, this flippant feeling to someone who honestly, heartfeltedly says they can’t imagine? How do you say that we were dumb enough to do this everyday? That we had no choice? That we were young and dumb? Or that we didn’t want to, that we were scared, but did it because we had to?
For no other reason than we had to?