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.