Heavy Traffic

tanks and bravery
A few weeks ago Jack and I went to our local National Guard Unit to renew my ID. The young man who took my picture and laminated my card was back from his third tour in the middle east.  He’s seen some stuff.  Had that coma-cool, laid-back vibe going on that so often scabs over a throbbing layer of PTSD. 

I admired the silver-framed picture of his beautiful wife and two adorable little daughters.  Asked how he was doing adjusting to being back in the states.

“Good,” he said with a practiced smile.  “Real good.”

“No trouble with being in traffic?” Jack asked.

“Ah, no sir.  No trouble.”  He stared off into the space just over our heads for a moment.  “I leave home an hour so or early each day to avoid the rush.  Stay on base a few hours after the day ends.  You know, give them roads time to clear a little.  Then, I’m good for the drive.”  He met my eyes.   “Most days I’m good for the drive.”

As I said, this young man had seen some stuff.

“You’re lucky,” I said.  “Blessed, to have a good wife and those beautiful little girls.”

“Ah, huh.  My wife she understands when I get the need for solitude, you know?  Just need to come home and spend some time in the den getting my thoughts lined up.  Mostly she understands.  We been to classes at the VetCenter, her and me.”

I nodded.  Kept my mouth shut.

“She knows I can’t do all that socializing she likes to do, you know?  She’s good with taking the girls and going on her own.  Used to it with me gone so much.  My wife, she gets me.  Don’t push for me to go with her to do the shopping in those crowded stores or to the parent/teacher deals at the school and such, you understand?”

“I do understand,” I said.  “Jack’s a Vietnam vet.  A Marine.”

“Ah, huh.  I seen that when y’all walked in.  He’s got the look.”

“You know that PTSD is a natural reaction to the trauma you’ve experienced, right?” I asked.

He met my eye, nodded.  “I get by.”

This little exchange left both Jack and me with a good feeling.  This young man wasn’t drowning his feelings in alcohol or repressing it with drugs.  He was getting on with his life, doing his best to be there for his wife and daughters.  He’d received some education on the symptoms of his PTSD and was using healthy tools to deal with his issues .  He was, indeed, among the lucky and blessed.

I shared this experience, of meeting this grounded and solid young guardsman, with several friends.  All had the same reaction. They were saddened, worried, upset by the limitations this man had on his enjoyment of life.  I’ve been thinking about this reaction for the last few weeks.

I’ve concluded that while civilians have a working understanding of war, they mostly don’t understand the central fact of coming home from battle.

Going to war changes a person.  Forever.  There’s no going into battle, doing your duty, and coming home good as new.  Not ever.  Post-traumatic Stress is a natural reaction to trauma.  The intensity and duration of the trauma determines the severity of the reaction.  War is intense.  War is every second of every day.  Even when the battle is done.  The potential for attack exists and therefore, the adrenaline pours into the brain and the body.  The world grays and dims and changes.  Forever.

This is a part of the true cost of war.  Civilians understand this intellectually. Warriors know this truth with every cell of their bodies.

Old Dogs and Banyan Trees

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We’ve been living in one place for going on four years now.  Both Jack and I have found our niche here in Northwest Arkansas. Made some wonderful friends.  Found activities we enjoy, causes to work for, favorite places to be during each of the area’s distinct four seasons.

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That’s scary.

Because, historically, the moment we settle-in, form relationships, and get comfortable, Jack gets antsy, sticks a For Sale sign on the house or palapa or RV, and off we go in search of the next adventure.

Did I mention that key symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress are fear of intimacy and the need for an adrenaline rush?

Well, now you know.

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Usually about three years into living somewhere, Jack begins to make tight bonds with other veterans.  Within a year after that, we pack up and leave. About three moves ago, an odd thing happened.   

I began to anticipate this flight. 

The moment Jack began to make friends, I began looking for a way to forestall the move.  This was followed by the realization that nothing was going to prevent Jack from doing whatever damn thing he decided to do.  My reaction was to begin to look around for the next place to live.  This provided me the illusion of having some control over my life, while allowing Jack the illusion that his wife was now an adventure seeker.

Except at some point the illusion became reality.  Or maybe not.  Wasn’t it St. Paul who said, “I do not understand what I do.  What I want to do, I do not.  What I wish to do avoid, I do.” 

My point is, I have no idea why, but I now crave adventure, hate routine, and love to immerse myself in exotic locations.

Plus, and this is a huge factor, Chesty, Jack’s old service dog, is coming to the end of his life and both Jack and I know our sadness over losing him will be long and hard.  Besides, it’s freaking cold in NW Arkansas right now and the only thing I hate worse than being bored is being cold. 

Still, I refuse to leave the life we’ve built here in the Ozarks.  Over the years, I’ve left far too many friends.  I have a good life here.  I’m dug in.

But, I think I’ve found a way to have the best of all worlds.

I’ve done the ciphering and, with a little scrimping, we can fly to Thailand and live four months a year in Chiang Mai.  That would be the winter months when, here in Arkansas, falling and breaking a hip on black ice is a reoccurring danger.  In fact, the cost-of-living is so much lower in Chiang Mai that saving for the very expensive airfare will only be an issue the first year, this year, while we are slipping on ice and paying U.S. prices for food and fun.  

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Does this all sound like the ravings of a crazy woman to you? 

Well then, I’m right on track.

Of course, we’re not going anywhere as long as Chesty is with us.  No amount of tropical warmth or ancient Asian peace or exotic locales is better than waking each morning to see the old boy’s wrinkly face looking up at me from his baby mattress bed.

Chesty

Still, it does help some to know that, when we do lose him, I’ll be able to sit under a banyan tree and meditate on the love of a good and loyal dog and that of a fine and complicated man.  I believe I’ll do a little contemplating on the teaching of St. Paul.