As the story of former Navy Seal Chris Kyle and another veteran being shot and killed by a fellow vet unfolds, some may rally further for gun control. I however believe the issue here is mental illness. Specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A disorder common to many military personnel returning from war. These individuals return home ill equipped to deal with the transition back to civilian life. It saddens me that our government has let these people down. The lack of support and immediate assistance available is a travesty. The Army confirmed that the suicide rate among their personnel is the highest ever. I wonder what the other branches would report? Yet we continue to speak of gun control as if that is the primary issue. I could not disagree more. The majority of these killings and suicides are among military and non-military people alike who suffer from a variety of mental health issues. Our government needs to step up and take some responsibility and help these people. Stop treating these individuals and families as if they are disposable.
Below is a fictional short story I wrote for a class assignment. This story could represent just about any military family out there.
I have been walking on eggshells ever since Michael returned. I thought since his surgery last month that he would have been able to put things into perspective. Sure, there were more surgeries to go, and it was – even at this stage- questionable as to whether he would be able to keep his leg, but he is alive! He is here to watch his children grow, here to celebrate our anniversary and holidays, but all that seems lost. I find myself wondering, worrying, how will today turn out? Will he talk to me or yell at me? Will I need to send the children to their rooms to play because Daddy is not feeling well or will he scoop them up filling them with hugs and kisses letting them know he loves them oodles and oodles, bunches and bunches, here to heaven and back? Perhaps he will ignore us all as he thrusts his chair toward the kitchen ramming the door frame as he heads to the fridge to grab a beer. “Breakfast of freakin’ champions!” he would shout out with biting sarcasm. Time will tell which direction today will go in, but one thing is for certain, a bad mood seldom turns good and a good mood often turns bad.
There’s drama, always drama since Michael returned from Afghanistan. The prospect of losing one’s leg is inconceivable, but couple that with the daily doses of post-traumatic stress and one has the makings of potential chaos; chaos at the grocery store, chaos at the VA hospital, chaos at the dinner table, chaos without warning. The war overseas has come home – indefinitely. I am not saying it is his fault or anyone’s fault for that matter. I am just saying it is there permeating the atmosphere of any environment we happen to find ourselves in. Like the smog that suffocates an asthmatic, the tension in the air chokes the very life out of everyone who comes in contact with Michael.
As I get ready for the day I wonder what I will wear. Last week Michael lashed out at me claiming my jeans were too tight, his face reddening as he demanded to know why I needed to wear make-up to go to the damn grocery store. Lately there is no winning. The yelling was always worse when we were going to be around other people. Today, I was certain would be no exception. I did not know how I felt about attending a group meeting at the VA. I really did not want to hear any more explanations as to why the man I sent off to the Kandahar desert was not the same man who returned. I want answers, how are we going to ease Michael’s pain? How are we going to get rid of all his rage? Would we ever be able to bring life back to those baby blues that once shined so brightly or have they just seen too much? Where has my Michael gone I wondered as I absentmindedly wiped a tear away? Taking a deep breath I rose and decided upon a pair of baggy jeans, a simple navy blue cotton pullover, and Gor-tex hikers. There is no way Michael could find fault with this outfit. It was modest in appearance and not exactly feminine in style. He could not accuse me of dressing up to catch the eye of another man.
As I enter the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee, I cautiously eye Michael who was at the table with a can of beer in one hand and a bottle of jack in the other. So it’s gonna be like this, I thought to myself. He sat silently not acknowledging my presence. At this point I wasn’t sure if going to the meeting would be wise given that he was already at the alcohol. But, then again why shouldn’t we go? They need to see what I live with. They need to see what he’s like, maybe then they can get Michael to face his demons. Just the thought of reminding him of the appointment caused my heart to race and palms to become sweaty. I never used to have issues with anxiety. I never used to be afraid to talk to my own husband. He was the gentlest man I knew, a kind, giving person with a silent strength about him. “Michael,” I said softly, “we have that meeting today at the VA hospital and have to leave in about an hour. Without making eye contact he simply said, “yah, I know. I’ll be ready to go.” I was surprised by his lack of emotion. Typically the mere mention of the VA resulted in angry tirades about the American dream laying in ruin over there in the Middle East. For God and country he would shout. Well, where the hell is God now? The people of this country are dying slow miserable deaths in the VA hospitals because of a belief in God and country! When you walk into the VA and see the faces of the wounded look in their eyes and tell me if you see the American dream. These people will not be able to keep their homes or take care of their families, hell-they can’t even take care of themselves! I didn’t have to look into the eyes of other veterans; I only had to look into Michael’s eyes. Eyes that once shined brightly are now either empty or filled with rage. He was now a man of extremes. Whatever emotion he felt on any given day, he felt intensely. Today he seems tensely unavailable.
“Michael honey, maybe today they’ll have answers for you. Maybe today you will be able to talk to someone who has gone through the same thing. For the first time this morning he looked at me and then only said, “maybe.” Well, at least it wasn’t a flat out no. He was open to the possibility of help. He was not rejecting the idea, a glimmer of hope appeared. Just as I began to refill my cup Mom arrived. She announced loudly as she entered, Grandma’s here! Who wants to go out for ice-cream? At that moment the boys came tearing out of their room, screaming with delight as they ran up to their grandma, wrapping their arms around her legs. I swear if she wasn’t leaning against the counter she would have lost her balance! My mother glanced over at my husband. “Hello Michael,” she said. Michael looking up, always respectful of her replies, “hello Ma.” Mom then turned her glance to me with one eyebrow raised. “Ok honey,” she said in her best uplifting tone, “we’re going out for ice-cream and then to the park, call me when you get home and I’ll bring the boys back. What Mom really meant was, call me when you get back and if Michael is not in a rage, I’ll bring the children home. She knew going to the VA was always difficult for him, so many triggers. “Alright kids, let’s go, there’s a table at the ice-cream shop with our name on it,” and with that they scrambled out the door.
I watched them pull out the driveway, thankful for my mother and her willingness and ability to keep my boys smiling. I closed the door, turned to Michael and as he was taking another swig from of Jack, I asked him if he was ready to go. He looked over at me and said, “I’m ready to go now,” and with that raised a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
© 2013 Deb Correia