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.

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