Driving Mr. Jack

jack's chevy.
Jack’s first car was a ’47 Chevy. At sixteen, he’d work all week at the creosote plant, cash his paycheck on Friday, load the car with friends who were still attending Americus High School, and they’d head for Panama City. Get back at dawn-thirty Monday morning, just in time for his buddies to get back to classes and him to get to work.
After Vietnam, when he was driving 100 miles each day, back and forth between work and home and Sacramento State, he had a conversion van. As I understand it, a lot of adventures took place in the back of that van. He had a Porsche when we started dating twenty-five years ago. He drove another conversion van on a stumbling-four-breakdown trip the length of Mexico pulling a thirty-five foot trailer with me in the captain chair beside him and a wrinkled Sharpei dog on his lap. Traded the van for a Dodge Ram when we came back to the states. Traded the Ram for a 4×4 a year later, and, at that vehicles first oil change, traded the 4×4 for a Diesel four wheeler.
Two years ago, against my ranting protests, he nearly ended the marriage when he bought a blood red Lexus. Eighteen months later, he swapped the Lexus for an Audi convertible which he bombed around town in all winter with the heated seats cranked up to cook and the icy wind blowing through his white hair.

Jack and Audi 11
The man has a history with cars is what I’m telling you here.
This week, after yet another near miss, he accepted that he could no longer drive.
PTSD, TBI, some other neurological problem the docs haven’t yet found? Whatever the cause, he was consistently pulling out in front of cars, crossing into the oncoming traffic, and weaving between lanes. And true to form, he stepped up, gave me the keys, had the courage to say, “Behind the wheel of a vehicle I am a danger to myself and others.”
Big change for both Jack and for me. I teased him that he could get me a chauffeur’s hat for my birthday.
Jack attends four support groups a week, a weekly evening meeting of Soldier on Service Dogs, has at least two VA appointments every week, and meets with other vets and good friends for a few more meetings and gatherings. I work full-time as a writer and speaker. Have commitments and contracts to fulfill.
We inquired at the VA about shuttle buses or help with transportation.
“Well, honey,” I was told, “that’s why they say for better or worse.”
So, we made a plan, Jack and I. I cut back on a few things. He cut back on a meeting or two.
Yesterday, I took him into town in the morning and dropped him off at the VA for his support group. He called a few hours later, about an hour before our agreed upon pickup time and said, “Come get me.” He sounded tired. I immediately worried that he’d fallen again.
He hung up.
I was in the middle of one of those chores where I had four screens up on my computer and was jumping back and forth between them, juggling the info in my slow brain. It took less than a minute for me to close out the computer and head into town. At the VetCenter, I found him talking to his guys, big smile.
“Hey there,” he greeted me. “It’ll be another half hour before I’m ready. Something came up since I called you.”
Jack and I had a little discussion. Yes, we did.
Turns out I will not be needing that new cap after all.
He is to think of me, not as his personal chauffeur, but as a friendly, busy, shuttle bus driver.
Sometimes he will have to wait for the bus and, like all good shuttle services, the bus will not wait more than five minutes for him before pulling away.
I learned that when Jack calls and says he’s ready to be picked up, it’s okay for me to say, “I’m right in the middle of something that’s going to take me an hour to replicate if I walk away. I’ll be there in a half hour.”
There’s a learning curve with change. Thank God, Jack and are familiar with making mistakes together, feeling our way along life’s twists and turns. Hell, I might even get another book out of this newest adventure. Driving Mr. Jack.
What do you think?

Advertisements

Aha moment

soldier

When Mutual of Omaha sent me an email inviting me to participate in their Aha Moment, I knew exactly which moment I wanted to share.
But sharing that moment in a thirty-second commercial? Holy smoke, you all know me. I have no problem exposing my emotional vulnerabilities but it takes longer than thirty seconds for me to say good morning, let alone draw back the curtain verbally to reveal an epiphany.
Still, I put on my makeup, combed my hair and trotted down to Mutual of Omaha’s cute little Airstream trailer set up on the Fayetteville town square. Now, I do a bit of speaking in front of large groups and I’ve long ago gotten over any stage fright in front of crowds. But this was a whole new experience.
The technicians, a friendly young woman and man recorded my information and brought me inside the Airstream. Told to take a seat in a tiny, curtained alcove surrounded by equipment, I perched my butt on a narrow stool and wished I’d lost those twenty pounds I keep promising myself to lose.
“Just relax,” the lovely young woman said.
Two giant lights came on, and the temperature instantly leaped twenty degrees. My carefully applied makeup began to run in little flesh-toned rivulets. I blinked my eyes. Swallowed. Reminded myself that squinting would intensify those two gigantic vertical wrinkles between my eyes.
“Tell me your story.” A gentle voice said from between the two blinding lights.
Well, here’s the thing.
When I do public speaking, I count on, feed upon, desperately need eye contact from individuals in the audience. Inside this tiny trailer, I was looking into blinding lights. It felt a bit like talking to God. I took a deep breath and remembered the power of the experience I wanted to share. Sank into the strength of the individual man, and the incredible men in general, who gifted me with that moment.
And then I started to talk.
Jack and I were at the VA for one of his appointments. Married to a Vietnam vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine just outside Danang in ’65, I spend a good bit of time at one VA facility or another. My Life with a Wounded Warrior, my latest book at that time, had just been released and was being used by the local VetCenter to help combat vets in our area of the world.
I was tired and hungry and at that point in a day of VA doctor’s appointments when I felt as though I’d been there forever and there was no hope of ever leaving. Seriously, there comes a point at the VA when I can actually hear Rod Serling’s voice in my head.
A very large man made eye contact with me from down the hall and his eyes immediately crinkled at the corners. Long, salt-and-pepper beard, hair tied in a leather thong at the back of his thick neck, black leather jacket with a small skull on one side and a 1st CAV patch on the other – this grinning man strode directly to me. It was crowded in that VA hallway, but folks got the hell out of his way. He never slowed, came directly to me and wrapped me in a hug.
“You wrote that book.” His breath warmed my neck.
“I did.”
“Thank you. Thank you for writing it and thank you for accepting and understanding us.”
He gave me one more breath-stealing squeeze and then turned and walked away.
I’ve written a lot of books. God willing, I’ll tell more stories and entertain more people as the years go by. But that day, standing in that crowded VA corridor, I understood that in writing that particular book, in exposing my own vulnerability– the pain and joy and challenges and rewards of living with a combat veteran with PTSD – I helped to heal both myself and others.
That was my Aha Moment.
Please click here and watch the video. I’m the one with the purple streak in her hair. Vote, of course vote every day from now until October 10th so that this thirty seconds can air on national TV and people will pause for just that brief moment and think about how we might all do a better job as individuals to welcome our warriors back home, to accept and love and understand them for the remarkable men and women they are.
Think too about how we all spend so much of our lives trying to look good to others, when really, it’s sharing our flaws, our imperfections and struggles that help best to heal ourselves and others.
I think that friendly young man and woman from Mutual of Omaha did a fine job of squeezing all that into thirty seconds, don’t you?

Wounded Warrior Project Guest Post

Guest Post.

The Growing Role of Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs)

National issues can deeply divide a country. The economy, healthcare and national security each cause political gridlock. The debate over these broader policies has specific effects on subjects most of us agree on.

Providing adequate care for wounded veterans is a cause that nearly all politicians and citizens voice their support for. However, how services are delivered to vets and the budgets available to provide care remain in question.

Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) play an important role in helping returning soldiers transition to daily life. VSOs provide programs specific to the needs of military families. This includes the unique physical and emotional aspects of combat related experience.

Here are ways that VSOs offer common benefits for different vets:

Healthcare:

As more vets return home, shortfalls in care could become more severe. Healthcare beyond the V.A. will likely be needed for returning soldiers. A new deal that gives vets access to Medicare doctors and government healthcare programs was just approved.

There are unique physical and emotional aspects to combat related injuries. How limbs, sight or hearing were lost is also a critical part of recovery. The trauma of injuries from gunfire or bomb blasts affects emotional health as well.

VSOs offer custom options for military families. These include:

Service Dogs: Assistance dogs help wounded veterans on several levels. A guide dog helps soldiers who have lost their sight while hearing dogs serve as the ears for deaf soldiers. The trust of a PTSD service dog gives assurance to soldiers dealing with anxieties.

Car horns, standing in line or shouts across a room are daily noises that cause anxiety for some vets. VSOs select service dogs for their ability to provide physical and emotional support for injured veterans.

Multiple VSOs provide or help veterans find service dogs. This includes national and local organizations. The Los Angeles branch of Hounds for Heroes 1 is a recent example of local support for vets with national resources.

Adaptive Sports:The loss of mobility is a profound change for injured soldiers. Adaptive sports, such as sled hockey, track and surfing, all help wounded vets regain an active lifestyle. These meetups also restore the camaraderie that many vets miss when returning home. Many VSOs team with hospitals to improve injury recovery. Warfighter Sports 2 is a group that works with military hospitals through over 100 local chapters.

Economy:

A changing economy affects the job prospects of some returning vets, who have not had the time to learn newly in demand skills. Physical injuries, PTSD and other trauma may also limit an injured vet’s job search.

Skills Training: Education and skills programs for wounded vets helps narrow the gap. These programs are tailored to military veterans of all abilities, whether injured or not. VSOs provide most, if not all services, free of cost to veterans. The support system of other soldiers helps overcome past and present academic hurdles.

Wounded Warrior Project features the TRACK Project, which brings vets to Jacksonville or San Antonio for a 12 month curriculum. Job and life skills are taught, along with internships at local employers to gain work experience.

Job Placement: Many VSOs build a network of companies eager to hire returning soldiers. To prepare for interviews, vets learn to communicate how their military training has value for employers. Vets also get help crafting an effective resume that links their military experience with civilian jobs.

Changes in Military Goals and National Security:

Since national security threats are dynamic, how and where soldiers are needed quickly changes. Many military members have been stationed on multiple fronts. Veterans Services may have trouble adapting to changing military climates.

Conversely, smaller VSOs can quickly shift resources to meet changing needs. For instance, basic toiletries for departing soldiers or personal care packets for returning vets in military hospitals. The nature of the conflict may also affect what type of support is needed.

Summary:

Veterans care is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘how’. The recent controversy over V.A. care will spark more reforms. Whatever the changes, VSOs will play a role in supporting wounded veterans.

Credits:

(1) Founded with support from Elliott Broidy, the Los Angeles office of Hounds of Heroes matches services dogs with wounded veterans.

(2) Warfighter Sports is a program of Disabled Sports USA.

Brittany Deatherage , WWP / Wounded Warrior Project

 

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