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

My Son’s Tattoo

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I almost didn’t get pregnant with him. Abuse and drama grew to an all-time high.I had almost left my ex.  We had gone to marital counseling at our church, where my ex had finally acknowledged that he had a problem that he needed to fix.  We decided to give our marriage, and family, one more try. We went away for the weekend to “save” our marriage. And yowzers….. I was pregnant.

The “saving” died a quick death. With a cocaine addiction of his  that began spiraling out of control, so further did our lives. During this pregnancy, I was pushed down a flight of stairs ( 7 months pregnant), and held at knife-point, arched back over our washing machine ( 8 months pregnant).

I was under so much stress during these months,  that our son was born a month early. His eyebrows were nonexistent. His eyes were still sealed shut. His tongue hadn’t detached from the bottom of his mouth yet. He was born with bronchiolitis, a condition that has major ramifications to this day, manifesting in serious sinus allergies and asthma. He was also born with a skin condition covering much of his tiny body, a mix between eczema and hives.

Even though he had been scheduled for a routine c-section, he ended up being delivered emergency c-section, without initial medicine because it was too late in the process to give me the regular labor medicine.

I had to literally pump my milk through a special attachment, and then feed him through a preemie tube, in order to breastfeed. I did this even after I returned to work at eight weeks, pumping every recess and lunch break, for the final months of school. At home feeding him took twice as long. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed.

And yet, through all of that, he was my relational child. I remember the first time he laughed; the sound filled the room with joy. He enthusiastically participated in life. He gave love. He gave compassion. He gave fun, all from the moment he was able to communicate. He was full of hilarious antics and humor. His very personality screamed,” Love me! I love you!” He wanted to be held and he wanted to touch. He wanted to play and be played with. He was always on the move, rarely still, unless he was asleep.

He was also the child to see his father punch his mother in the nose.

He was the child to see his father push his mother into a bookcase, shaking loose the books.

He was the child to see his father spit in his mother’s face, block the door from her escape, and throw a glass cup at her head.

He was the one that could never live up to his father’s opinion of what it meant to be “a man”, even as a young child. He was called “sissy”, “mama’s boy”, “weak”, and every other form of derogatory  term a father could call his son.

It was this child of mine that didn’t want to be a boy, or black, when he was 4, because to him , male and dark were people who were mean, and scary, and hurtful.

It was around this time that he wrote this note to me, seen here on this tattoo. He was always writing notes, drawing pictures, leaving little gifts, reminders of his full-hearted love for me…..

It was this child, at 8, who told me that he had an anger management problem because of how mad he was at his father, and that I had better get him into counseling. Which I did.

It was this child that, unbeknownst to either of us, would establish at bond together, that would define how we each interacted with the other sex, for all future references.

It was this child that told off his father repeatedly in later years, telling him that he would never forget how he saw him treat his mom;  and, while he could forgive his father, he could never forget his actions. He would honor him, but never trust him.

He was also the great encourager, with a hero mentality far deeper and intense, than belied the youth in his years.

We would often go on walks together, and he loved to blow dandelion seedlings with me. His favorite colors were bright and strong and vivide, full of life like him, orange, red, and yellow; hence, the colors in the tattoo.

He is also my child that was diagnosed with depression, and who yet carries himself with pride, shoulders back, bringing awareness to the fact that boys can suffer from anxiety just as much as girls can.

He is my child who, now at 15, stands taller than me, his voice deepened, who calls me to always first pray when I’m upset about something; telling me that I taught him how, and I better walk it myself if I talk it.

His depth is far more complex than  his age.

He is an old soul in a young body.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist, who, having been raised by a mom and sister, fiercely guards the privilege of women to be seen as equals to men.

He’s the one who thinks I should take care of myself first,  before I can take care of anybody else, and reminds me of this when I forget.

He is my yin to his yang. And, like I always used to tuck him in at night, saying the same little phrase tattooed here…..the day he wrote it to me, this mommy heart was healed in places that I hadn’t even realized were ripped open .

The bond between a mother and a son is often a precious gift; mine has been a priceless lifeline of light in a journey darkened by shadows.

I love him, deeply, heart and soul.

 

 

Reluctant Warrior

I am not a confrontational person by nature. I don’t like arguments. I’ve never been in a fist fight. I’ve never swung a punch. I don’t like loud voices. I physically shake when I feel threatened. In fact, I’ve repeatedly been known to do the worst thing possible DURING a disagreement; rather than fight or flight, I freeze. I grew up middle-class, where you talk, or give the silent treatment, to show your disdain for something; stubbornly changing the topic rather than every raising your voice… Heck…  I didn’t even say my first swear word until well into my third decade of life.

I was raised with this unspoken assumption that, when people around you are violent, you try to become invisible. You shrink yourself so that, if even only in your own mind, you get out of the way. If the rage is directed at you, then you acquiesce, you passively defer, you make yourself little, so that the other person feels powerful, in control, so that the bully can reign unchecked. You simply say “I’m sorry”, and “You’re right”, and “I’ll do better”, and “Please forgive me”, simply to diffuse the onslaught, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. I basically believed that, if I lost myself, I would at least save myself, right?

I adopted this perspective, in part, because I believed that true peace was the absence of confrontation; that submission was the absence of a second voice (mine); that being “nice” meant that one had to justify another’s venom and wrath; and that people who hurt people, were “hurting” people, that simply needed to be loved enough, so that they would become loving too.

This personal dogma led to the series of unfortunate events wherein, for 12 years,  I was punched; pinched to broken skin; hit;  kicked; spit on;  pushed down stairs at 8 months pregnant; pushed out of a car; scratched; had glass cups thrown that shattered on my head;  arms and face bruised; and suffocated in bedsheets….just to name a few  of the ways I was physically abused alone. I put up with all of this treatment ALL in the name of “keeping the peace” and “loving my significant other”. I had forgotten my own worth, vehemently denying any foul play even when various loved ones questioned the bruising they saw,  or the riotous rages they heard. So full of shame and disbelief was I , that denial was my only form of survival.

Then the day came that my six year old came home from preschool and said to me, “Mom, we played husband and wife today. And I told the boy that if his “wife” didn’t do what he told her to do, he could slap her in the face. That was ok, right? That’s what love is, right? That’s what daddy does to you, and you guys love each other, right? ”

Time stood still. My heart momentarily ceased beating. A reality check of a mirror had just been held up to my silhouette. My life changed forever in that freeze frame of time. I realized, in that instant, that whatever I was willing to put up  with for myself, for my own life, however much I had lost my own compass to reality, and that however dangerous of a home life I had shriveled up my psyche to live in, this was NOT the life I envisioned for my children. This was NOT the legacy I intended to leave.  I was instantly drenched in a pail of ice cold water. The frog had gone from slow roasting in the meanderingly rising heat, to being scorched by the broiler.The struggle had just been jarringly brought into focus. This mama bear had finally found her fight.

That day, I made a pact with myself. I refused to raise my children to ever believe again that a war zone for a home life was normal. And I grew into the paradigm shift that day that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the snuffing out of injustice; that power is not legitimate unless it’s shared and garnered through respect; and that your voice is something that no one should ever have the where with all to silence….  That was the day that, at under 100 pounds and my hair falling out due to unchecked prolonged stress,  I became a reluctant warrior  That day, I took up my shield and my sword, and I have never been the same.

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