Glenn, My Veteran Hero

I had a neighbor for several years. We became good friends because he felt that I, as a single parent, in a less than perfect neighborhood, was a vulnerable and an often sitting target.

As we got to know each other, I noticed the limp in his walk, endless hours on the phone he would spend, pacing back and forth. And I would hear is seemingly agonizing nightmares he would live through at night, even when all windows and doors were tightly fastened. He was a mystery to me.

Until one day, needing to borrow a tool that he had, I walked in on him crying, and looking through a box of memorabilia. It was then that he told me his story. He showed me his double Purple Heart medals from Vietnam. He showed me pictures of the day he enlisted. He showed me newspaper articles celebrating his heroism.

I assumed his limp was from the heroic injuries he sustained, and applauded him for his service. I assumed the phone calls were to a long lost lover or child. I assumed his nightmares were due to his poor health habits.

But it was then that his face grew dark, and the demons flitted across his countenance like the nightmares I heard him relive at night. His body froze in a twisted position of terror. He then started convulsively sobbing, reliving his victimization, as a first year enlistee, of being raped and sodomized by his commanding officer, leading to destruction in his body that would never heal properly. His hours on the phone were with the VA. For years he had drank his agony away, and only then had the VA doctors and counselors finally begun to address my neighbors experiences. His nightmares harkened him back to that night when not only were his innocence and idealism ripped from him, but every semblance of trust in authority, trust in himself, and trust in his ability to ever be lovable or love again. I sat and just absorbed who he was, what he was saying, what he was saying when he didn’t speak at all, and I walked away from his house that day, forever changed.

I then became his defacto advocate, driving him to the VA, talking to necessary parties on the phone for hours, all while seeing this gentle hulk of a man who often shadowed into a fetal position, a shell of who he once was, slowly start to stand straight, a semblance of a smile flitting across his face, a strain of laughter filling the air.

As the years of opioid addiction racked his body a second time, due to the constant pain he experienced, the VA decided to use medical cannibis to treat him; so I was asked to be his medical marijuana caregiver. I took him to his doctors appointments as he was on full disability and couldn’t drive. He started bbqing and would often feed us, and we gardened in our shared plot together, what was once very clearly a delineated line between my thriving garden, and his weeds, became a single lush space.

Once he shared his story with me, and I believed in him, this whole other side of his personality emerged. It was like I was seeing him whole, unbroken, like the young boy he once had been. He would keep the neighborhood nasties away, and I would make sure he took all of his meds, ate on a regular basis, and would sit silently with him and just “be” when he needed to talk.

Then one night, after a couple of harrowing weeks of conflict with a friend of his, who had betrayed him in a business deal, I woke up to lights and sirens and commotion outside. Sheer mayhem. Found out the next day that my neighbor had 51-50’d himself, the grief of losing that friendship being the straw that broke this camels back.

So remember, we don’t celebrate today simply for those who never came home, for those for whom we know why the flag is lowered to half-mast. But we remember those who DID come home, but will never be the same. And we need to remember those whose lives are a daily struggle, often lived at a half-mast capacity, because they did the most heroic thing of all; they lived to tell their story, and owning it has almost destroyed them.

Glenn, I don’t know how you’re doing, or where you are anymore; but if I could see you, I would tell you thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for protecting my kids and I when we couldn’t protect ourselves, thank you for allowing me to bear witness to your story, to hold space with you, to help carry your grief, and know that your brokenness and survivor stance kept me from going off the deep edge in addressing and owning my and my children’s own story of trauma and violation. Your struggle was not in vain, and even while you struggled to maintain a sane and living relationship with reality, you played a pivotal role in me staying rooted and grounded in mine. I will never forget you.

#ptsd #veteran #woundedwarrior #sexualassault #memorialday #owningyourstory

Reminiscing A Year Ago

A yearblog ago today, my divorce was final from the marriage that lasted less than a year….. a marriage that, unbeknownst to me, was being strangled from within before it ever even caught it’s first breath. Infidelity is the most incidious of thieves… and multiple robberies, veiled in silence, secrets, and sudden sedations, steals the very core of who you are. You find yourself grasping for anything that’s not a murky mirage. Nothing is as it seems. Nothings is what it looks like. Nothing is what you believed to be real.  I wrote this poem a year ago today. And while much has healed, and much has been restored, much remains broken. Grief changes you. And while you heal, the scars will always remain. On  International Women’s Day, to those women who choose to remake themselves whole when others have done all they can do to break them.

Ironic, or perhaps providential. Definitely a justified juxtaposition. Today, on International Women’s Day, my divorce is final.

And while I rejoice and I am relieved, I grieve and I am sobered. I laugh through my tears. I shake through my strength. I sigh through my exclamation. I celebrate through my silence.

I pause, breathing deeply, exhaling the toxins of the recent, inhaling the blossoms of the next. It’s the day of closure. The moment of the dream deferred. The door locked, key thrown away. The promise severed, ripped away. The skin scarred, marked forever. The body swelled in death’s final blow.

I don’t grieve the person, who turned out to be, no one that I ever truly knew. My heart instead aches at the need to once again be strong; the resolute one, the barrier between the war zones; the hope-filled one, the warrior one, the bearer of all prophetic news. My soul is tired and weary, and wanting to quit, my arms are heavy and laden, and dense from traversing through all the bull****.

So now, I pause. Be still. And wait. And retie my loosened threads. Now I slowly gather strength, like the slow rising of the bread. I will draw from all the storminess, the raging gales that roared, to be the eye, where calm rises, showing it’s wholly humble side. From my depths, my pain, my deep angst of what if’s, I muster courage, and focus, a resolve to transcend my fists’ tight grip. I rise. I reckon. I make the wrongs be resoundingly right.

I am woman. A she. A her that won’t quit. I am female. A daughter. A mother that won’t sit. So yes, on this women’s day, I understand the fight. I understand the rift. I understand the reasons why women’s backbones’ are curved and quick. I respect deep down the importance of celebrating the “weaker sex”. For those who aren’t valued and treated with an equitable view, the fight is not just corporate, with salaries in view. No, this fight is personal, with families in full review. My son will be raised, with honorable wit, always expecting worthy and equal women by his side. My daughter will know, that more than her shape, there is a reckoning power in her eyes.

One day, when my being quits, it will not be for naught. I will stand before God one day, as He welcomes me to his lot. He will say well done my faithful child, for though with iron you were wrought, you stayed the course, you didn’t defeat, you never caved in your pursuit. Your love for Me is how the world will know how deeply they are loved; that when the world order around Me screamed to sift the “lesser we”, I stood in quiet, stealth defense, to show Myself first to thee. And that against the violent norms of social orders of the day, I stood in stark contrast to honor women, and respect for them I will always portray.

So today, I am free. I am unshackled, I am torn. I am woman. I am warrior. Through my strength yet I will soar.

Grief, Exhaled….. Tattoo

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This tattoo took me over the edge from being a person who had tattoos that were “cute”,  to a half- arm- sized tattoo on my left arm.

For a while I often wondered if it was “too” big, or “too” out there, or “too” much, quickly covering it up whenever I was around someone who maybe I  thought would judge me as having gone “too far”….

It even caught me off guard at first, startling me into thinking I had black marker on my arm from teaching…

But then…. as I’ve slowly evolved and grown as a person over this last year, this tattoo has become not only my life’s mantra, motto, but it’s the embodiment of how I’ve chosen to see life.

The impetus for me to formally verbalize my thoughts, cohesively turning them into the deeply etched phrase here, was in living through  the most recent of traumas in my life.

Without going into detail, after being a single parent for over 10 years, I remarried, only to find out that my husband of less than a year had been serial cheating on me during the entirety of my knowing him…. friendship, dating, engaged, married. To sum up one of  his mistress’s words, which he corroborated, he married me because I provided a good reputation for him, and I loved his children.

A whole different trauma. A while different betrayal. A whole different grief.

And from these ashes, these words took shape. While I created this for MY life, I choose to treat everyone who comes into my life with these life affirming beliefs as well,and pray that I can pay my pain forward, through being a vessel of transformed grace and hope.

So here is what I think….

BEAR WITNESS….Do you see injustice? Do you see abuse? Do you see oppression? Do you see evil? Don’t turn your head. Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t silence your screams. Don’t ignore the pain. Face the storm. Sound the siren. Summon the jury.

REVEAL TRUTH….The truth can’t set you free until you first unwrap it, unhide it, and uninhibit it. Truth speaks for itself. Don’t drown it out. Don’t shovel it over. Don’t bury it in and slam the door. Lay it down, and out, for all to see. Bare your naked soul. Call it for what it is. It is not YOUR burden to carry the sins of someone else. Lay blame where blame is due. And then step back, unburdened, and fret not anymore, the shadows no longer hold you captive.

HOLD SPACE…..Sometimes there is nothing to do, but sit with the grief, let the tears flow, tend to the shuddering silhouette. Grief bottled in is no mourning at all. Don’t rush. Don’t downplay. Don’t compare. Don’t rebuke. Simply……..be.   Light the candles. Rest in the refuge. Be silent in the sanctuary. Stand down.

EMBRACE PAIN……Life causes all of us pain. We either allow it to shape us, or we spend our lives fighting, as it swallows us. Before we can heal, we have to simply acknowledge it. Weakness isn’t in being betrayed, or in losing, or in being ripped apart. Weakness is in acting like it never hurt us to begin with. Let yourself feel all of the bitterness and rage. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. Let yourself be real. It’s ok to not be ok.

CARRY GRIEF…..Never let someone tell you that you EVER heal whole again, unscarred, unblemished, unfractured, back to who you once were. You don’t. And don’t try. A part of your grief will go with you for the rest of your life. Own it. Respect it. Carry it. You are who you are because of the heartache etched on your heart. Make grief your ally so that, rather than embittering and imprisoning you, it creates a compassion for others you meet on your journey who need to know they aren’t alone. Because no one can walk this road solo. And no one is untouched by grief. And the darkness doesn’t discriminate, but it DOES fade to the corner when we light the path together.

HONOR JOY……There WILL be moments, even amidst the worst of the storms, when laughter will bubble over, the sun will beam bright, and life will kiss you with joy. Don’t downplay it. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t disgrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t destroy it. Don’t disown it. Honor it. No matter the cards you’ve been dealt, you’re  bound to draw an ace at some point. Hug it. Enjoy it. Grasp a hold of it. And….even if it’s just the eye of the storm, and the clouds are drawing nigh again, engrave those moments as memorial stones of what can be, what has been, and what will be again. Because the darkness and storms may rage for a night, but even the gloomiest midnight ends. And the sun comes up. And joy…..joy….. joy…. always comes in the morning.