Hold on to Your Ass.


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.”

Breaking Trail

rock climbing

This has been a rough week for Jack and me.  Not rough in the sense of scaling high emotional peaks or rappelling into deep psychological crevices, but rough in the sense of picking our way over old rocky ground.  Ground so old the stones shatter with our weight and we risk falling and not bothering to get back up.

This week, Jack said he wanted to walk with a friend but the guy wasn’t available.  I asked him to walk with me.  His wife. Jack explained that no, he couldn’t walk with me.  Said he just wouldn’t be able to enjoy that.

This week, Jack said he planned to sell our house and move us into an apartment so we could travel around the world with the money we’d save.  I asked him how we were going to travel the world together if we couldn’t even walk around the block compatibly.  He said his plan was to lose a hundred-and-fifty pounds and get off all his medication and then we’d travel the world.

I said I’d like to wait until then to sell the house.  He said I was, as unusual, critical and non-supportive of him.  Which struck me funny.  But then, admittedly, I do have an odd sense of humor.

This week Jack wanted to see a movie, so we went to Man of Steel.  We arrived in the darkened theater to a packed house.  The only two seats together were way down front, second row from the front.  Because of my trifocals, I have a hard time seeing up that close.  I said maybe we should just get our money back and come to a different showing.  Jack said, I could sit up top by myself if I couldn’t see from down front.  He sat.  I fumed. 

For about three minutes. 

Then I just laid down on the ancient bed of crumbling rocks and went to sleep.  Metaphorically. 

There is no point in taking his comments or actions personally when he’s in his anniversary period.  Better for me to go on alone and know we’ll meet up when he’s feeling more social.  Or maybe we won’t meet up emotionally.  Either way, it’s a huge waste of time and energy for me to pick my way along that old, crumbling path.  I already know where that trail goes.

This week Jack told me he loved me.  I said I loved him, too.  It’s true.  I do love him. But for now, he’s going to be treading that old, winding and familiar path alone.  I’m strolling in the sunshine.  A crick in my neck from forcing myself NOT to look over at him stumbling along the old path.  But, nonetheless, I’m breaking trail.