I’ve been thinking lately about the rewards of being married to a man who has survived battle and fought his way through the trauma of returning to civilian life. I’m not sure all combat vets are stubborn, but Jack is. I suspect if he wasn’t, he’d have died when he stepped on the land mine in ’64. Jack is loud and claims his place in the world. I have vet friends who are just the opposite – quiet and stoic and self-contained. I’m pretty sure both responses come from the understanding that not much in the world really makes all that much difference once you’ve seen the worst and the best of what man is capable.
“It don’t mean nothin’.” Jack says.
So, as the wife of a man who’s struggled with PTSD for fifty years, a man with the beginnings of dementia and the after effects of a stroke, I am often frustrated with Jack’s emotional numbing and his obsessive behavior and his paranoia and his depression. I cuss and moan and complain. That’s not a secret to anyone who follows this blog.
But I also remain in awe of Jack’s ability to grab life by the balls and demand to be recognized. Two years ago a stroke robbed him of strength in his hands, his left hand in particular, and slurred his speech. The VA said he wasn’t a kid anymore, he should age more gracefully and accept his limitation.
That response pissed Jack right the fuck off.
He bought an acoustic guitar and enrolled in a music class at the university. Walked right into a college classroom, just a few weeks after the stroke, and demanded a place with those kids. Day after day for a full semester, he struggled to position his numb hand on the neck of the guitar and keep the pick between his fingers. He’s Jack, so he made inappropriate remarks to the college girls and pushed his way into the blooming love lives of the kids. And, he gained almost full use of his hands and had a lot of fun in the class, too.
He also bought a karaoke machine. At the time, I was convinced he did this just to see if he really could drive me completely insane. And I’m still not convinced that may not have been part of his motivation, but singing country and western songs (very, very, oh god so badly) four hours a day, improved the hell out of his speech. The next semester he took an acting class and the elocution helped his speech even more. The memorization of his lines jump-started his memory.
The other day a friend asked me, “If a young woman came to you and said they’d fallen in love with a combat veteran, what advice would you give them?”
I’ve thought about that for a while and here’s what I’ve come up with:
“Hold on to your ass. If you survive you’re going to be stronger, braver, and closer to God then you’d have been married to anyone else. You’re in for a wild, wonderful, painful, heart-wrenching, and unbelievably joyous ride.”