Freedom Dog

Chesty

My Life with a Wounded Warrior, a collection of expanded essays from this blog, is due to be released in a few weeks.  A Special Author’s Edition of Clueless Gringos in Paradise, the humorous account of moving to Panama with two enormous service dogs, will be available at just about the same time.  That’s a big deal.  Too me, anyway.  Two books out within a day or two of each other.  Yippee Skippy, awesome possum, and hot damn, as they say in Arkansas.  Or, as they say where I come from, damn fucking straight.

Kim Pennell at Pen-L Publishing came up with the concept of donating a portion of the sale of each book to a Veterans Organization.  I loved the idea.  Let out a little squeal of joy when I read her email suggesting it. 

I’ve spent some time the last few days looking around for a worthy veteran’s group. 

But, before I tell you about that, here’s what you need to know about me.  I’ve never, ever, been in a position to donate money to. . .well. . .to any cause.  I married at eighteen.  My husband received his draft notice on our wedding day (I didn’t have time to wear the new off him before he was in basic).   My first son was born on my twenty-first birthday.  Two more boys followed in joyous succession.  Then, I was a divorced mom trying to decide which son got new Payless tennis shoes and which two boys had to go another month with rubber bands around the toes of their old ones. 

Then I married Jack, and while Jack gives generously to individuals, he does not give to groups or organizations.  Not ever.

So, I was pretty damn excited about the idea of donating my own money to a cause of my choosing.  I knew immediately I wanted to help unite veterans with PTSD service dogs.  That much was a no brainer.  Chesty saved Jack’s life.  That’s not hyperbole.  Chesty, beautiful PTSD service dog that he is, saved Jack’s life. 

There are several good groups out there training dogs to assist vets with their PTSD.  I investigated a few.  Sat dead-still in front of the computer with a giant grin on my face when I found Freedom Dogs. 

I’m still working out all the details, but I’m trying to arrange things so Freedom Dogs receives about $3 on each copy of My Life with a Wounded Warrior, and $1 for each copy of Clueless Gringos in Paradise.   I’ll keep you posted on the details, but, for right now, please, join me in my joy of being able to give a little something to a cause that is dear to me. 

Having my own money and being able to give that money to a wonderful cause, now that’s freedom.

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Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

Angel

Jack, like many combat veterans has a strong , often immediate and instinctual, attraction to emotionally wounded women. 

Jack is a rescuer and I believe this need of his to be the savior of fallen angels, while complicated psychologically, is, at its core, nothing more than the search for that old battlefield adrenaline charge of being God.

There’s no shortage of wonderful, emotionally damaged women in the world.  When Jack and I met, I fell easily into stereotype.  He and I were a perfect fit.   One of the big reasons I’m a lot less damaged now than I was twenty-five years ago, is the lessons I’ve learned from the big galoot of a Marine who shares my life.  Combat veterans cut through the bullshit, slough off the inconsequential, and they hate, I mean HATE, injustice. If you’ve been wronged, you want one of these guys at your six.

One of the ghosts in my novel Ridgeline says it best.  Our hero is Jeremiah, a civil war veteran, saddle preacher and all-round badass.  The speaker is a Yankee sergeant that Jeremiah shot and killed in battle. 

  “Truth be told, preacher.  You could a put that savage’s clothes on this child without removing that soft cotton dress a hers.  This here need a yours to rescue, it aint’ nothing more than that old war-time need to play God.  With a mighty fine twist.  Between you and me and Gil, here?  We know what you been up to with this gal from the get go.  Like them giants of old that lie with the human womens, this here interfering, playing God, this here has a mighty mix a lust.”

Jack, like many men with raging PTSD, connects strongly with what Willie Nelson calls angels flying too close to the ground.

Here’s the challenge that inclination brought to our marriage.

When I, Jack’s very own fallen angel, began to heal, and remember this healing was in large part due to the protection and care given by my wounded warrior.  When this healing reached the point where I began to confront head-on the past events that had left me dazed and bleeding emotionally.  Well, at that point, every instinct told Jack to run.

Here’s how that looked to me.  For twenty years, I lived in the sticks because he couldn’t stand to have neighbors around, dealt with him fighting with whatever authority figure was available, held his hand through the black depression that settle over him like a goddamn blanket for six months of the year during combat anniversary dates. . . well, you get the idea.  I accepted his PTSD as part of who he is and stayed with him.  Then, when I needed him to be understanding of my emotional needs, he panicked.

What on earth would a whole, well, happy woman want with him?  That’s the way his mind worked.  Still works.

He did eventually, step up, display a huge chunk of courage, and do his best to be supportive.  I healed and prospered.  Part of Jack was happy for me and part of him (I’ll let you guess which part) looked around for some other woman to rescue.  Because that’s his way of playing God and, I suspect, that’s his way of healing himself.

During those long years of our marriage I often hummed to myself, misquoted a line from the old Roseanne Cash song.

I played the victim for you, honey.  But, not for long.

Those days too have passed.  Mostly they’ve passed.  Jack is sixty-seven.  Age blesses us with some restraint.  Or restrictions.  Depends on how you want to frame things.  Marriage is a constant search for balance on the beam of life.  Marriage to a warrior sometimes feels as though the beam has been replaced with a high wire

Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar

chimps fighting

 

We’re having an issue at our house right now with what I call inappropriate behavior toward women and what the old Marine calls, the entire world picking on Jack when he means no harm and is such a lovable character no one could possibly take offense at his off-color remarks and too tight, too long hugs.

It’s a very old battle, prone to stalemates and standoffs.  Like every battle ever, there are lots of losers and never any winners.

But the issue popping its head up again this week does give me a reason to look at another point about living with PTSD.  Here it is.  Big, huge, shocking revelation.

Not everything in every freaking day is about war trauma. 

Jack was a misogynist before he ever pulled on those snazzy dress blues with the sexy red stripe down the outside of the leg. Though, in fairness, most all seventeen year old boys are mesmerized by boobs and the possibility, no matter how remote, of getting between some girl’s legs. Did participating in a war that blew him apart, physically and emotionally, end his emotional growth and freeze him in that seventeen year old mindset?   Does he now use offensive behavior as a blockade against emotional intimacy.  I don’t know.  It’s possible. 

But I suspect the man is simply un-trainable when it comes to women.

I tell him (here read shout, rant, rave) it is NOT acceptable to call my friends or the wives of his friends and breathe into the phone, “What are ya wearin’, you sexy thang?”

“What?” he blinks.  “Sure it is.  They know I’m kidding around.”

“No!” You’re right, I’m shouting and my face is almost certainly the same color as a baboon’s ass.  “It’s predatory behavior.  Don’t do it.  Ever.  Again.  Not.  Ever.”

“Huh.”  He shakes his head.  “Well, that may be how you feel, but most women enjoy that kind of witty banter.”

“No woman.  Ever.  In the history of the world.   Likes answering the phone, safe in her own home, to some jackass asking her what she’s wearing.  Not ever.  Everevereverever!”

“Well,” my jarhead says, “that’s your opinion.”

Or, how about this conversation. . .

“Full body hugs complete with running your hands along women’s backs and sticking your tongue in their ears is NOT appropriate.”

He glares, tries intimidation. 

“A lot of women like it.”

“NO WOMEN EVEREVEREVEREVER LIKED IT.  Except maybe on Patpong in Bangkok and even then, those women GET PAID TO LIKE IT.”

“Well,” he says, “you’re entitled to your opinion, I guess.”

Which leads to this conversation:

He scratches his beard, eyes like a puppy after a bully has aimed a boot at his ribs.

“What do you mean I can’t go to Jane’s birthday party?”

“Last week you called when I was over at her house.  I had left already but you did your stalker thing.  That whispering nonsense that so many women just adore?”

He glares and I admit it, I own it.  I’m a sarcastic shrew.  I exhale, draw a deep breath, unclench my fists and drop my shoulders.

“Well, I love you,” I say through gritted teeth, “and there are consequences for behavior. Jane is now uncomfortable around you and therefore you are not going with me to her party.”

Or

“How come I’m not allowed to stay alone in the house with your sister?”

 Or friend, daughter-in-law, niece, or any women, really, between 18 and 80.  And I’m being very conservative here with those ages.  There are exceptions on both ends of that scale. 

I shake my head. 

“Because last time she was here you made her uncomfortable, consequentially, you now have to put on your shirt and ride to the Wal-Mart with me.”

“Hey!  The second she told me to knock it off, I backed away.  And now, because you have hang-ups about affection, I’m to be punished?”

“Yep, that’s right.  Marriage is a bitch of a compromise, ain’t it?”

FIREWORKS

fireworks

Last night was the sixth of July.  The sixth.  Not the fourth. The sixth. 

The neighbors behind us set off booming, roaring, popping fireworks from 9:30 until about three seconds before midnight or, as the time was counted in our house, at three seconds before Jack went off with his own explosion.

It’s ironic that, as a nation, we celebrate our independence with Chinese fireworks that mimic war.  Great fun for children and people who have never been in any actual battle.  Not so great for warriors. 

We had four combat veterans at our house for an informal barbeque on the fourth, the actual date when fireworks exploding again and again and again into the night sky is acceptable and expected.  All four vets ate steak and potato salad on our deck on Independence Day and watched the afternoon sky closely.  They fidgeted as the day wore on, startled when the kids next door set off a small string of firecrackers, and all left well before dark. 

For many combat veterans The Fourth of July is the worst day of the year.  Civilians love the color blooming against the stars, the flash and beauty of pyrotechnics.  Those who have been in war often see something else entirely in those flashes of color.  The combination of the light like tracers and the booming noise is far too much like war itself.  I suppose that’s why those who play at war love fireworks and those who have actually been there do not.   

One guy’s celebration is the next guy’s flashback.

The Little Mermaid. Sorry, The Big Tough Marine Mermaid

Image (10)

 

This last weekend I left Jack and Chesty home and drove to St. Louis with another writer, my good friend, Ruth.  I spoke at a great group called Saturday Writers, who just as an aside have a core collection of writers with a hands-on familiarity with combat.  If you’re a vet and looking for a writing group in the St. Louis area, this organization is well worth checking out. 

So, while I played all weekend, Jack stayed home and cleaned house for the arrival of our good friends from California who will be visiting for a week.  I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts that each time I leave the house, Jack assumes I’m never coming back.  Oh, I don’t mean he THINKS I’ll not return.  But in his gut, he doesn’t expect to see me again.  Ever.  Combat can do that to a person.  Teach them to never,  not ever, rely on the return of anyone.  The absence of expectation is valuable in war.  It’s less so in civilian life.

And thinking about that lesson, it occurred to me that while I refer to Jack and other warriors with PTSD as wounded, they are not.  They are like fish out of water, struggling to figure out how to suck oxygen from air when they’ve just invested years learning, and learning damn quick, to develop gills.  If you throw them back in the waters of war, they’ll swim off good as new. 

They’ve been taught lessons that allow them to survive in an environment that no longer exists for them.  They’re hyper vigilant, obsessive about control, prickly with authority figures who resemble the REMFs that got buddies killed, nervous in a crowd, and extremely protective of those in their care.  All these traits kept them alive in war, made them good warriors.  Now, they’re civilians and these imprinted lessons are less useful, sometimes downright detrimental.

In a way, and I just KNOW this analogy is going to THRILL my Marine husband, they’re like The Little Mermaid in the Hans Christian Anderson tale, dragging themselves out of their true environment and limping along on bloody feet in order to be with those they love.