Tribute to PTSD Service Dogs

Chesty Puller, one of the first PTSD service dogs.

Chesty Puller, one of the first PTSD service dogs.

 

Jack is an idea man.  Big thinking.  Lots of vision.  Follow through and fitting together the ten thousand pieces necessary to go from mental image to successful event?  He’s not so good at the detail work.  So a month or so ago, when he told me he planned to put together a Tribute to PTSD Service Dogs on November 10th, the Marine Corp Birthday, I had some trepidation. 

Okay, I sort of shook all over.

But, one of the ways I survive marriage to the big guy is by doing my very best, trying my hardest, forcing myself not to take responsibility for his actions or decisions. 

For years, people used to greet me with, “Are you keeping Jack out of trouble?”

To which I always replied, “I’m doing my best, but not having a lot of success here recently.” 

Finally, one day, I just stared at the person asking the question and answered, “Well, no I’m not keeping Jack out of trouble.  Turns out that’s not my job.”

Who says ten years of therapy doesn’t work?

So, while I did agree to be his speaker at this Tribute to PTSD Service Dogs, I made it clear that he was in charge of everything.  This latest adventure began, as I said, about six weeks ago.  Today I could not stand it one more hour and I talked him into sitting down and putting on paper what he had so far, and what still needed doing in order for this event to happen.  It was a long list. We checked off two things as done. 

However, we marked another six must-haves in red ink with the words ‘tentative yes’.

To me a tentative yes means no.  To Jack, the same phrase means no problem.

Now, that might mean simply that I’m negative and he’s positive.  Really.  It could mean no more than that.  I tell myself this to ease the shaking and twitching when I think of two hundred veterans showing up for a barbecue of hotdog buns.  Well, to be fair, hotdog buns and tentative hotdogs and game hens and hamburgers and paper plates and soft drinks and six side-dishes.

The thing is, I’ve seen Jack at work before.  In the past he’s put together a formal evening of recognition for over 100 POW’s, a barbecue where 500 Vietnam Vets and their families were fed and entertained.  Hell, the man got me through relocation to Panama with two giant service dogs attached to our wrists. He often has no more than a vague image of what should happen right up until about two days past the last possible moment of salvation for his latest project.  Then, with some God blessed hail Mary pass, he succeeds in putting together a miracle.

The worry is that he’s not as young as he used to be.  Which, okay, none of us is.  But Jack hasn’t gotten the memo.  He still thinks he can bull his way through any challenge with Marine Corp grit, a loud bellow, and a huge grin.

I’m less sure of this tactic.

So, stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted.  Or, if you’re anywhere near Fayetteville, Arkansas, come on out to Wedington Lake on November 10th from 1-4 and see for yourself.  I hear there’s going to be a marching band.

Happy Holidays

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It’s the middle of September and I’m already thinking about the holidays.   Oh no.  Not in a where-did-I-store-those-holiday-decorations-to-make-my-house-look-like-Macys way. No, no.  Not in that way at all.  I’m anticipating the holidays by:

  • Thinking of Halloween when I’ll sit outside and pass out candy to adorable goblins and Ironman impersonators and princesses and whatever this year’s hero-of-the-day turns out to be, while Jack sits inside in the glow of the television, the blinds pulled, and headphones on to drown out the noise of the little home invaders.  To be fair, one year he did put devil horns on the dog and join me outside.  But, as the dog is a 150-pound mastiff, and Jack insisted on sitting so that he and the dog were hidden from view behind a holly bush, and the children didn’t see yellow-eyed dog or giant man until they were inches from the grinning faces of both, that little foray didn’t last long.
  • Dreaming of Thanksgiving by which time Jack is generally so far inside himself that I’m keeping a notebook of the words he speaks each day.  Just as a source of amusement for myself.  God knows, I have to entertain myself somehow in a house where silence is preferable to a rant on the commercialization of family or yet another story about how in ’64 he ate canned ham and lima beans and, as a special treat because it was a holiday, washed it down with a warm beer fresh from the belly of the chopper that hauled away that day’s dead and wounded.
  • By Christmas, I’ll be praying he makes it through without a trip to lock-down to escape cheery carols, and flashing colored lights, and the smiling, stupid faces of anyone who isn’t a combat vet.  Because Jack is large and white-haired, he’ll shave his beard because if one more person yells a happy ‘ho ho ho’ at him as he passes he’s going to lose it.  I’ll be counting the days until this, the worst time of year for my husband, is over and done for another year.
  • And then we’ll finish up the season with a great burst of fireworks to ring in the New Year, when Jack will go to bed as soon as it’s dark, wake up twisted in sweat-soaked sheets and begin to recover from the holidays.

Through all these days and nights Jack will do his best to tolerate the adorable costumed children, enjoy time with family, and live through a weekly trip to the Christmas wonderland that is Walmart.  He will shake off nightmares where green and red flashes of light in the dark bring not cheer but terror.   He will withdraw into himself so that rage does not spew forth and shatter me and the dog with shrapnel.  He will do his best to survive another holiday season.

And I will do the same.

Love and Vulnerability

PamJack2

 

It’s been an interesting week.  I’ve been busy promoting my newest book, My Life with a Wounded Warrior.  This little collection of essays is about living with and loving Jack, who in ’64 stepped on a landmine and got sent home early from his high school trip to the Marble Mountains outside Danang.  The book is proof positive, all printed up pretty, that I love and understand the stubborn old former-Marine to whom I have been married for going on twenty-five years.

And THAT scares the holy crap out of Jack.

Being loved makes him vulnerable.  Being vulnerable means losing control.  Which sends him running for the emotional woods.  So, here’s how my week has gone.

Jack puts down the book and wipes his eyes.  “I never knew you understood me this well.”

“Honey,” I say, “why on earth do you think I’ve hung around all these years?”

“I figured it was for the money,” he says, straight-faced. 

“You don’t HAVE any money.” I point out.

“I know,” he cries, “that’s what keeps confusing me.”

So, this little shared moment melts my heart a bit, reminds me of why I love the big lug.

Five minutes later he gets up without saying a word, and goes to bed.  For the next two days he says not one word to me that doesn’t involve what it is I’m planning on fixing him to eat.  At the grocery store he makes a crude remark about a woman one third his age, grins at me when he says it, dares me to love him.  I pat his hand, tell him, “Bless your heart.  Go wait for me on the bench out in front.”

On day three, he tells me he loves me and he’s sorry he’s been acting like a jackass and he doesn’t know why I stick around.  Then he doesn’t speak for the next two days.   Followed by, you guessed it, a remark so cutting it stops me in my tracks. 

It’s difficult, very, very difficult, to love a man with PTSD.  None of this behavior has one single thing in the world to do with me.  Or how much he loves me.  Or even what he wants from me.  It’s about him.  Period.  He’s adjusting to the knowledge that he is lovable. 

And it’s going to take a long, long time.

9e696_OldPeopleHoldingHands1

 

 

Death, Destruction, Pestilance, and Famine. Seriously?

four horsemen of the apocolypse

Nicknames fascinate me.  Each one is a mini-story, a tiny peek into the life of its owner.  I asked my Facebook buddies to share their nicknames and received a plethora of funny, apt, and some downright peculiar offerings. 

Fred (for a girl)

Peanut

Spanky (I raised three boys.  I’m not going anywhere near an explanation for that one)

Morningstar

Olive Oyl

Grub

The only time I’ve ever had a nickname was during the five years I was diving twice a day in Paamul, Mexico.  I was younger then.  Oh so much younger.  And thin.  And adored French cut one-piece bathing suits.  The boat captains called me Pan Dulce.  Surreptitiously.  And, as everyone knows, the best way to make anything public is to whisper in secret.  So, I was Pan Dulce for a few years. Twenty-years later, I fear a more appropriate name would be Big Buns. 

A few months ago, when Jack started hanging out with a group of three other guys from the local Vetcenter, I was happy he had the company of men who understood and supported him. But, my husband always, still, surprises me, catches me off-guard, and leaves me with my mouth just slightly ajar and my mind spinning.  Soon, I began to overhear phone conversations that went something like this:

“Hey, Death!  How’s it going with you?”

“Morning, Pestilence, are we still on for coffee at Ricks?”

“How’s it hanging, Destruction?”

After one of these conversations, I gentled up to Jack and asked the obvious question.

  “What the hell is going on?”

“Jim, Marty, Leo and I are the four veterans of the Apocalypse raining doom onto the heads of those who mean harm.”

I was sorry I’d asked.

And, it occurred to me that, in so many ways, both small and big, Jack’s world view is still different from my own.  Or, more accurately, my world view remains different from his.  Because, after twenty-five years, I’ve gone far further over to the dark side than Jack has swung into the light.  Still there’s a gap there. 

I call my friends Gypsy Jan, and Sweet Linda, and Witchy Woman Ruthie and The Gorgeous Patty. 

Jack hangs out with Death, and, Destruction, and Pestilence.