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

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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.

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