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.

 

 

Honest Love

Pam's front cover 2

September 1st My Life with a Wounded Warrior will be released out into the world, available with the click of a button at the great Amazon supermarket of books.  Now’s a good time to answer the question I have heard at least once a week since beginning this blog.

“What does Jack think about you sharing your personal lives with strangers and friends alike?  Putting the struggles and frustrations and joys of life with his PTSD right out there, for everyone to see?”

When I started this blog, this written exploration into my marriage, I had reached the point where, for better or worse, things had to change, or they had to end.  Now, because I’m as wonderfully flawed as anyone on this good earth, my assumption was that the changing was going to be done by Jack. Right?  He’s the guy with the raging PTSD.  Come on!  Of course, he’s the one who needed to change.

But a funny thing happened on my journey, the actual writing of My Life with a Wounded Warrior.

Gut-wrenching-bleed-all-over-the-page honesty very often left me remembering the love, the joy, the shared laughter that had once been the base of our marriage.  So, what started out as a kind of internet gripe session about the challenges of living with PTSD, quickly became a love song.  I did not mean for that to happen. 

My original goal for starting this blog was to give hope and understanding to other women who love men wounded emotionally by war.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That’s the label for what our warriors experience. 

Of course, it’s not a disorder at all.  PTSD is the natural reaction to going to war.  The body shuts down, concentrates on survival, and there is so much adrenaline flowing that the survival instinct becomes embedded in the brains and chemistry and bodies of the men and women who enter into battle.  Besides, like Jack, these veterans have seen and experienced images and events that we civilians can’t, in our worst nightmares, comprehend.

So, my goal in writing the book, in writing this blog, was to, through utter honesty, share my experiences with Jack and his PTSD in the hope of helping other women to better understand their warriors. 

And, judging by the comments, that connection with other wives of veterans did absolutely occur.  Which brings me great joy. But something completely unexpected happened also.

My arrangement with Jack is that he read every blog post before it’s published.  Over time, through week after week of posts, for the first time in our twenty-five years together, Jack began to comprehend that I know who he is.  He came to understand that I accept him.   He, finally, GOT that I love HIM, not the man he wants to be, not the man I sometimes wish he was, but HIM.

And, here’s the kicker, I finally GOT it, too.  Accepted that right here, day-to-day, with this big, stubborn, complicated, old Marine is where I need to be.  Where I choose to be. 

I love him.  It’s really, after all these words, as simple as that.

Stick with Me, Baby

my-pictures0162.jpg

Here’s another advantage to being married to a combat veteran with PTSD:

After almost twenty-five years of living with Jack, there are very, very few things in the world that frighten me.

Years ago, when Jack and I were harassed by police while towing a 35’ trailer the length of Mexico, I got a little afraid looking down the barrel of that gun.  I admit that.

The thirty-eight hours spent in a 10×10 cement building with thirty-eight Mayans, twelve truck drivers, and 3 Federales while a class five hurricane roared directly over us flexing the walls and filling the room with water?  Yeah, okay, that was a bit hairy.

Jack’s first med-induced psychotic episode?  Oh sure, that scared the bejesus out of me.

Riding a bus with no brakes down the mountain pass between Hue and Danang?  That was a little sketchy, I confess to a slight increase in heart-rate.

Coming face to toothy-face with a bull shark, a mako shark, or a hammerhead?  That was just good fun.

Emigrating to Panama with two giant dogs tethered to our wrists AT ALL TIMES?  Well, sure, I shook and twitched for a year or so after THAT adventure.

But here’s the thing, I’ve survived enough of Jack’s adrenalin-seeking adventures now that, unless somebodies shooting at me, I’m unlikely to take fear too seriously.

Which isn’t to say I don’t still worry and fret and second-guess myself about every inane and insignificant detail and make everyone around me slightly nuts.  Oh hell yeah, I do that. 

But that’s not fear.  That’s ego.  That’s my own need to be perfect, which, given who I am?  Holy self-delusion batman, has THAT train ever left the station.

Jack, on the other hand, is a big picture guy.  He comes up with the bright idea and lets the details fall where they might.  Which drives me insane.  More insane.  I’m coming to grips with this need of mine to hold life’s reins tight in my  hot little white-knuckled hands.  Each year I get a teeny tiny bit better at doing my best and then stepping back and letting life happen.  I accept more and more my glorious imperfection as a human being.

Jack is a master at this.  My favorite line from my big lug of a former Marine is:

“Stick with my, baby.  Who else would take you into the eye of hurricane?”

 And, maybe that’s another reason Jack and I are still together.  After all these adventures and miscommunications and just plain messes we’ve gotten ourselves into, I’m still learning from my stubborn jarhead.

Hold on to Your Ass.

PamJack2

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.”

Logic vs Emotion

jane fucking fonda

Well, mark your calendars, today I was wrong.  I’d mark mine but it’s already all scratched up with yesterday’s mistakes and the screw-ups of the week before and, well, you get the idea. 

I do my best to use the rational part of my brain rather than run a muck on emotion.  Usually I’m fairly successful with this endeavor, but not today.  This morning I clicked onto Facebook to browse around, see what my friends were up to on this fine Sunday.  An iconic image of a young Jane Fucking Fonda grabbed my attention. And by grabbed my attention I do NOT mean I rationally thought to myself, Hmm I wonder what political agenda has prompted someone to post this old picture of an long ago event?

No, no.  My initial reaction was the equivalent of a screaming rant consisting of many words my grandmother cautioned me never to utter in public.  (Grandma was a swell curser, but always within the confines of home.  Generally after the third drink.)  The funny thing is, just a few months ago, I was sharing this same Hanoi Jane story with a friend who’s just enough younger than me to not remember the accusations. 

“Lots of Vietnam vets think she betrayed the POW’s at the Hanoi Hilton,” I said in my calmest voice.  “I’ve heard vets say prisoners slipped her pieces of paper to tell their families they were captured and she turned those slips of paper over to the VC resulting in beatings and torture.  I don’t know if it’s true or not.”

Seriously, that’s how I ended that conversation.  I don’t know if it’s true or not.  Those very words. 

Well, so, today I click with my little mouse and up pops this story that seems to substantiate the old rumors.  Now, the story also claims that President Obama is planning to honor Jane F Fonda for her service.

Wouldn’t you think I’d have heard little alarm bells ringing? 

Well, I might have heard those bells if I’d taken the time think things through.  But, just the one picture of the bitch increased my heart rate and reduced my speech to sputtering and spitting.  Seriously, even my old dog raised his head and eyed me like he wondered if he ought to figure out how to dial 911.

To make a long and embarrassing story short: the article is fake.  No one has proposed giving Jane Fonda an award of any kind and many men who were, in fact, right there in the Hanoi Hilton when the bitch brought in her cameras, say no one slipped her any slivers of paper and no one was beaten and tortured any more than usual because of her presence.

And, in the rational part of my brain, I think I knew all this.  Yet I re-posted the article.

So I have to ask myself why.

And, here’s what I’ve come up with.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Hell, I wasn’t a lover of that war either.  But, Fonda supported the enemy while American service men and women were fighting and dying and sustaining wounds they have carried with them for their entire lives.  Men like my husband.

So, with no logic at all, no rational platform on which to stand, I say to you:

I apologize for sharing a post on Facebook without properly researching its source and, if I ever see Jane Fucking Fonda, I fully intend to pop the bitch in the nose.

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.

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