Friday, April 28, 2006

Blessed Among Men.

My wife sits in the big armchair, tooling around on our laptop. I'm leaning against the kitchen counter, smoking a pipe and taking sporadic pulls from a bottle of Leinenkugel. The windows are cracked a bit, letting in the sweet spring breeze I've come to associate with nights in the Rheinland. It's about an hour before the time we typically go to bed, and so our conversation is quiet, reflective, and meandering. We converse as she checks responses to a thread she posted on one of her forums.

"So," I tell her. "Wal-Mart and the guys from Sesame Street are putting together a video, right?"

Anne glances up at me from the computer.

"Yeah?" Back in college, like many local students, she worked at our area Wal-Mart.

I nod, chewing on the pipe stem and dragging sweet smoke. "Yep. For kids whose parents are in the military, deployed. Supposed to help 'em deal with separation."

"Very cool." She buries herself back in the screen, her fingers rattling over the keyboard like the staccato patter of gunfire.

I shrug, taking another pull of my beer. "Read about it today on this blog I check out, The Rude Pundit. Guy's take on it was pretty funny."

"What do you mean?"

I laugh. "He was going all Vietnam about it. Video's supposed to star Elmo and his father, so the guy was all talking about what happens when Elmodaddy comes home with PTSD."

Anne's eyes shoot up from the screen, staring at me in bemused shock. "What? That's horrible."

"I know, right? Guy's talking about Elmodaddy coming home from a twice stop-lossed tour in Iraq, like with a brain injury from an IED. Government didn't provide him with the proper armor."

Anne shakes her head. "That's so not cool."

"Oh no," I continue, "it gets worse. Like, you've got Elmo sitting on his dad's lap, and his dad has no idea who he is--"

"You're horrible--"

"And of course, he can't work with his injuries. So he starts drinking--"

"Milo."

"--And the flashbacks--"

"--Milo--"

"And Elmo grows to be all antiwar activist--"

"Milo!" She snaps shut the laptop and scowls at me. I freeze in my narrative, taken aback.

"What?"

"I don't like when you talk like that."

"Talk like what? It was a joke. I mean, sure, the humor's a little dark, but--"

"I don't care," she cuts in, "can you please stop it?"

I pause, slowly realizing I've crossed a line. "Um, okay?" Still scowling at me, Anne sighs and reopens the laptop screen.

"'S'okay. " She says this, of course, but her tone suggests just the opposite. After a moment, I speak again.

"You're still really worried about me going downrange, aren't you?"

Still staring into the computer screen, her scowl cracks a bit, and her eyes turn up at me sorrowfully. She chews on her bottom lip. "Yeah."

"You're not worried about me dying." She shakes her head.

"You're worried about when I come back... "

I trail off without finishing. Anne glances down at her hands, and nods. She whimpers, and her bottom lip trembles. The full magnitude of my words finally hits me, and all of a sudden I want to hang my head in shame.

"Hey," I whisper. I walk over to her, and kneel down, leaning over the arm of the chair. I stroke her hair, kissing her forehead.

"Hey," I say again. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize..."

She sniffles a bit. "It's okay." Her eyes are wet.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it. I love you." I brush her cheek. Her voice cracks a bit, and she mumbles, "I love you too." She looks at me, and the worry I see in her face wracks me with guilt.

"Hey. Come here." I wrap my arms around her, leaning forward and rocking her. "Look. It's okay. I promise you that nothing like that's going to happen, all right?"

She looks up at me. She sniffles again, and wipes her eyes. "You sure?"

"Of course." I kiss her forehead. "Look. Honey. I want you to listen to me. You're a strong woman, okay? I married you because you're strong. I love you, and I promise you that no matter what happens, I'm not gonna let us become like those other couples. I'm not gonna do that to you."

She doesn't say anything. She stares down at her hands again, seeming to collapse into herself. "I'm sorry."

"No. Don't be. I'm sorry, but I thank you, and I promise you I'm not gonna come back from downrange like Hauser." Hauser, or Texican as we call him, is an old mutual friend from the States, a young vet with bad memories of fighting in Afghanistan.

She shakes her head. "Hauser's one thing. Hauser's like an open book."

"What do you mean?"

"I talk to Hauser, and whenever he gets like that, it's easy for him. You know, sex, booze. Drugs. All the usual external stuff. But I still don't have you pegged."

I grin. "We've been together over three years, and you still don't have me figured out?"

"Not really."

"Why's that?"

"I dunno." A pause, and then:

"You're a lot more complex. You keep things in. You keep your baggage in.

"Part of it, you've got this system of behaviors, kind of difficult to read, that I think holds over from when you were a kid. You know, dealing with shit at school. Dealing with shit at home.

"I don't want to call it an inferiority complex, but still, I do think it has something to do with inferiority, and with your perception of yourself as inferior."

She's right, of course. She almost always is. I've always been a bit on the prideful side; always been emotionally volatile. I have a bad habit of fighting the current when I should perhaps be letting myself drift. I sigh, and kiss her forehead again.

"You're right," I say. "You're right, and I'm sorry. But I love you, and you have nothing to worry about."

"Really?"

"Really." I brush a blonde strand out of her face.

"Honey, I want you to know that I love you very, very much. You are a positive force in my life, and as long as I live I promise I'll do whatever it takes to be a good partner. You deserve that much. I'm not going to come back any different, okay?"

"You promise?"

"I promise." Glancing down, I spy a raised nipple under her tanktop. I tickle it slightly with my index finger. She shrieks, and pulls away.

"Honey," she says, laughing.

"Honey, I love you, but we can NOT have this discussion while you're tweaking my nipple. "

I throw my hands up in repentance. "I know, I know. I'm sorry. It was there. I had to. Forgive me."

"Whatever buster. Knock it off."

"Okay. I'm sorry. Friends?"

"Friends."

"Good enough." I move back to rest on my heels. It's getting late, and my contact lenses are starting to irritate me.

"You know I was serious, right?"

She nods. "I do."

"Okay. Just wanted to be sure."

"You sure we'll be okay?"

"As long as you're patient with me," I say, "and as long as I keep writing, I'll be fine."

"Okay." She smiles at this, and hugs me quietly. I draw in the smell of her hair. I sigh, and stare at our reflection in the window, and realize I am truly blessed among men.

5 Comments:

Anonymous BeautifulxxDecay said...

I see it as you are both blessed, you are both very intelligent, caring and loving people who happened to find each other in this mad world. My thoughts are with you and another friend of mine currently serving, god bless you both.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Milo and Anne,

Forgive me if I'm overly personal for a stranger, but I was touched by Milo's account; partly for my own reasons I need to respond.

Me? A reader from IBTP, also a geezer Vietnam Vet who's 100% PTSD.

I admire your determination to not let experiences in a combat zone damage your relationship. Nonetheless, your reaction may not be entirely within your control; PTSD isn't really a "disorder", though the medical model uses that term. It's more a psychological INJURY a a result of normal reactions to abnormal circumstances, like combat. One can no more control or stop it than you can will not being injured when hit by a truck.

Both of you may do well to be prepared for change. Expect the unexpected. It is vitally important that you find ways to talk and listen about the experiences. If you find you cannot, get help immediately. My own recognition & treatment began 16 years after I was an Interrogator in Vietnam. I am convinced, the sooner you start dealing with it, the better the results.

I gather from your signature "Spc. Freeman" you are an EM and are not planning a military career. What is your MOS? This should go without saying (but I'm in touch with others who did it anyway) but, if your assignment is inside a major base, stay there.

I wish you both well and pray that God protect you and richly bless your lives

JohnieB

7:12 PM  
Blogger Spc. Freeman said...

JohnieB,

We don't know each other, but let me begin by saying this: thank you so much for visiting. I am honored that you have decided to share your insights with me, and I heartily appreciate them.

To answer your questions: yes, I am an enlisted soldier. Between the Reserve and now Active-Duty, it's too soon for me to know if I will make this a career. I'm currently serving with the Corps of Engineers, but if I decide to continue my service, I will most likely reclass to something where I can better utilize my language skills; perhaps MI, Legal or Public Affairs (I was a Creative Writing Major in college.) I may also consider finishing my degree in the Army and pursuing a commission.

As regards your statements on PTSD, I know exactly what you mean. I understand well that post-traumatic stress responses are normal for soldiers, and I assure you that I would never look down on a soldier unfortunate enough to be afflicted. I know that I can never guarantee that I will be immune to such trauma, but for the sake of my wife, I certainly have to try.

Again, thank you for your advice, and I sincerely hope you will post again. I am glad to have been so counseled by a veteran of Vietnam, and if you would honor me with further such advice in the future, I would accept it gladly. Thank you, sir.

Sincerest Regards,

Spc. Freeman

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing, Milo.

I've been scarce for two reasons: 1) technical difficulties and, 2), the VA decided to fuck with me again this week. It's over (mostly) for now.

Engineers strikes me as dangerous in Iraq: maintenance of roads, blowing IEDs in place, etc. THen again, I have a online friend (who also posts at IBTP, if you can stand to go back) who was an Interrogator in Iraq; she got bored and started doing turret gunner on convoys. Now she can't drive or mostly ride in a vehicle. This makes it difficult to go in for treatment.

In closing, I suggest you share all you can with Anne (sp?) before, during, and after, even (ESPECIALLY) the bad stuff. Establish it now, before it gets real. For example, ever wondered what it'd be like to be forced to kill a child, even in error? Talk about the possibilities, the fears, etc. God forbid this happen, but there may be others that hit you. Holding your friend's brains in your lap, or wiping them out of your mouth?

I don't mean to be coarse, but these are realistic possibilites in combat. Train for this as you would with your equipment.

God bless y'all (yeah; originally from the South)

johnieb

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Milo and Anne:
After reading your entry with comments, it brings up so old shit with me. My brother was a "tunnel rat" . Did three tours in Nam , oddly enough returned home alive. Received lots of medals, in newspaper, blah blah blah... Didn't mean shit! He was never the same. My big brother whom I adored...Fucked!!!
.
I was twelve/thirteen then, only daughter - three brothers. So, of course when my oldest brother came home, needless to say I was ecstatic. There were 11 years between us, and of course I placed him on a pedal stool. Anyway, I snooped through his room one day, curious... and I peeked into his "trunk" - I screamed in horror, puked and ran for my brother. It was filled with the most horrific shit I will ever look at...and this man lived it. Lord, Milo, he was already dead!

We would sit at the dinner table having a meal, when he he would get up from the table, said I'll be back and in a year, two or three he did come back. That is fucked-up! He just disappeard - that is what is life was like for years. Come and go, come and go.

No Milo, I don't wish that for my boys, you or anyone else. So, Please Milo, for God's sake Milo - Be safe, take what you can now..take control - Don't allow them to destroy a wonderful, compassionate and intelligent man. Hold Anne close - work in this together as much as you can. Because, no matter how much we love our spouse, brother, sister - NO ONE will ever know what you experience, live and/or see except those that are right beside you in that hell hole.

God protect you and Anne Milo . God protect each of you!
Sandi

4:46 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home