Thursday, October 27, 2016

I wonder.....

Dear Husband,
I remember the OD green bags sitting in the corner you had packed long before deployment orders ever came in to the picture. I never told you that walking past those bags on a daily basis gave me the cold chills up and down my spine. How I hated to hear you calling and asking the higher ups to just let you go. Lying in our bed at night, I would stare at those bags and pray that you never got the call. After hearing the news on tv which you had on constantly, I prayed that Uncle Sam would never need you. Selfishly, I wanted anyone and everyone to go but, you. In my heart though, I knew you would be going. 
I remember that sinking feeling as if the floors opened up to swallow us both when you sat me down to tell me that you had the orders to go to Iraq. I couldn't breathe as you looked across from me and said "I got the orders to go, honey. Please. Please be happy for me. I need you to support me and understand how important this is to me". I remember how bright your eyes were, how excited and terrified you were at the same time and how my hands shook as you held them. I knew were destined to go there and fight. I recall that moment as if it is suspended in time, the quiet way you said "Honey, I have got to do this. They need me". I knew then you would never come back home. I don't think you knew but, I was angry; angry because your family needed you and I needed you the most. At the same time, I don't recall ever being so proud of one person in my entire life as I did the day you left. You told me then, that if you didn't make it back we would be better off without you. I remember telling you that would be the biggest lie ever to leave your lips because no, we were everything together.
Days ran together; the hours dragging by as if some unseen hand was trying to pull back the second hand to keep the time slow. I remember watching the news all day and night trying to piece together where you might be and wondering if I would "know" if something bad happened to you. There were days where I never left the house; so scared I would miss a phone call from you. I remember the way unmarked black cars left me with buckling knees and making me unable to breathe, just sure that it was the military coming to tell me you were gone. I remember on the bad days where the news reported so many deaths, placing mirrors outside of our home to be sure I could see that ominous black car should they come down the road in front of our home. While you said I would never understand what you went through, I did understand that cold hand of dread, fear and the what if's; just on a different level.
I was in the city this week and saw the black car with two military members in dress uniforms pull up along side of me. To this day, I still feel that fear and my knees still go weak. 
I remember how you rarely got to call home but, that you always tried to find a phone that was available. Most of the time, you lied to me and told me not to worry because you were safe. You couldn't tell me where you were or what you were doing and I tried so hard to believe you when the incoming sirens went off and loud explosive sounds happened. I remember how we would always make the guys who monitored our phone calls chuckle when we said something funny or how they would suddenly black out the phones if we said something that was too much. I learned quickly not to ask about something news related that happened because whoever was listening, would always hang up the phone. I still shake my head at the times I recall where you made stories up just to make me think it was just another day on the job. You would always lighten things up by telling me about the horrible MREs, "Mullet boy" who was your sign that your unit was safe and how you bought a $5.00, handheld camera filmed movie off a Hadji that never played or how my handmade candle made six of you argue over who was going to light it first just because it reminded all of you of home. I knew though...what you weren't telling me.
Then there was that day about six months in, when you called home in the middle of the night. Your voice was so far away as if you were talking through a child made tin can phone with string. Your voice shook as you told me "Baby, I'm not going to make it home. I'm going to die here". No hello, no emotion; there was just hollowness in your voice. Something was terribly wrong. It wasn't you at all and I swear I felt that you somehow died inside that day. 
I remember that you had met another soldier with the British Army who had the luxury item of a cell phone. You called home desperate to hear my voice and to tell me that you had just picked up body parts and had to wash out a Humvee that had blood splatters everywhere. I remember how your voice trembled when you described seeing that blood being hosed out onto the ground; wondering if there could have been anything that you could have done differently. I still have nightmares to this day about that one picture you painted over a million mile away telephone call. I remember feeling so helpless. No matter what I said, there wasn't any words that I could say to take the pain away. I remember thinking it will all  be ok. You will come home, you will get back to your life and we would never have to think about that Humvee ever again. Little did we know we would be seeing the constant scrubbing of your hands and the blood never seeming to disappear from your mind.
I recall when you said you were having problems sleeping, suffering from severe nightmares when you could grab a few hours. I remember you telling me that something had gone wrong and that you woke up to smoke, someone shouting and how your head hurt so terribly bad. I remember you telling me that you had been seen by Charlie Med but, they sent you on your way to a 72 hour mission with Ranger candy and told to rest. You hadn't had any down time in months and your head hurt 24/7 for just as long. Little did we know then, just how bad you hurt your head. 
Coming home, you were flown by yourself. You felt like an outcast, suddenly unwanted and used up. No parades, no handshake, no "Welcome Home, Son", and no pomp and circumstance. I remember watching for you with so much excitement, scanning the people coming off the plane and not seeing you at all. Suddenly, you were standing in front of me. You had changed so much that you didn't resemble anything close to the person I knew and I had missed you walking up to me because you changed that much.
Unrecognizable, I looked in shock at your hair that had turned completely white, your facial hair had white throughout, the etched lines of horror in your face and.... the shadow. It's been almost eight years this October and I still can't find the right words to describe what I saw walking up to me. It was you but, it wasn't. There was almost this haunted distant look in your eyes, your embrace cold and empty, and a darkness that almost seemed alive under your facial expressions. I knew then, that the Army lied to all of us families when they told us you might come home with sleep issues but, not to worry.
I knew you would never be the same again. We would never be the same. How in the hell did eighteen months cause so much change in each of us?
The first night home you were distant. In bed, you tossed and turned as you slept with your gun beside you. I woke to find you wandering around the house as if on guard against unseen forces that I would never meet. I remember tears falling uncontrollably, wondering just what the hell you went through and how helpless I felt when I led you back to bed, consoling the demons that had followed you home. I look back now, and think "And here I thought those times were bad" because that seemed so pale in comparison to what followed the next seven years we had with you.
Seven years with you
94 months and 2,820 days we have lived a nightmare.
In all that time, I must have heard "You're better off without me" on a daily basis. I woke every morning wondering if this would be the day you died. I went to bed thanking God that we made it through another twelve hours and to please just bring sleep and peace for just that one night. I remember finding you outside many nights, sleepwalking and how I had to sleep with arms around you and legs over yours just so I could be alerted to any movements you made. I remember waking up every morning not knowing who I would be facing that day. I remember the drunk moments where you would tell me all the horrible things you saw and did just sure that it would make me run away. Those words still hurt to this day and I always wondered what made you tell me so many horrible things but, none hurt that much as the tears that were streaming down your face as you spit them out at me. I remember the night you drank so much you had to be pumped because you had alcohol poisoning.  
Still, throughout it all, I never once thought I would be better off without you. I never once gave up on you even though I think you gave up long before you ever got off that plane. Your first suicide attempt still lingers in my mind and I can still feel the rage and helplessness I felt when the VA emergency doctor told me that I was failing you and I wasn't doing a very good job. I recall finding the little things you hid in shoes like broken glass shards, razor blades, and guns hidden in the insulation in the basement. There are quiet moments that are shattered with the memories of the echoes of your screaming my name as they forced me out of the hospital room; escorted by security guards as if I was a criminal because I demanded they help you instead of leaving you to sit. I will never forget them fighting you on the bed, strapping you down with padded ties while I watched horrified at their treatment of you and in shock that you had fallen so badly. 
Still, I don't think I ever once thought that I would be better off without you. 
Man, did we fight. Somehow though, you would always come back around with a backhanded apology that was usually blaming everyone else and I would always give in and try just one more time; taking any little scrap of human emotion you could fake as a sign of hope. The drinking, the lies, the excessive spending, the fits of rage over the smallest of things, and so much more and still, you were the one man I would have done anything for. For years you told me angrily that I would never understand what you went through. For years, you never tried to see what was happening to our family and you never understood the pain and loneliness I felt or the tears I would cry late at night in the bathroom. I struggled daily with resentment, anger at the world, the government and, the feeling of helplessness because I just couldn't make it go away for you. But, you were right.....I would never understand what you went through or what you had to do although, God knows I tried. 
There was so much we hid from everyone we knew. So much that many never knew what happened behind closed doors; some so bad that I will never let anyone know. Some things I will share if it means saving just one more as you had hoped and some, I just want people to remember what a good person you were and how big your heart really was. I want people to know your story because I think it's important.
I wish you were here......I wish I could say how sorry I am for failing you. How I wished you hadn't given up on me. How sorry I am that the damn spaghetti plate I saved for you hadn't made you so upset. I still to this day struggle with making "sketti" because you know your boys love it so. If there is a noodle that sits out in the pot too long, how it makes me tremble and shake with the memory. I wish I had answers on what had upset you so badly that night to just lose all control. What could have been so awful that it made you sit in a cemetery, the one place you feared so badly, for months prior to? I wish I could tell you that I know all your secrets and the truth came out on how much you really had hidden from all of us but, somehow I think you wouldn't really care about that. In some ways, I shouldn't care about all that either but, it bothers me on a daily basis.
There wasn't a line you didn't cross in our time together. There wasn't a thing I wouldn't have done to help you. After your second attempt, I lived daily with the resentment you had that I hadn't just left you to die. I lived daily and still do this day, wondering if I made the right decisions to get you help. 2014 brought us false hope I realized. I am not even sure now if you really had been on the upswing and the plans you made had any truth to them. It was though, nice to see you smile more and be more positive. We made plans to take a trip, you had made fishing plans with your friends and you wanted to try and learn some new things. I sat down weeks after, uncovering more and more things that you had hid from your family.  I was stunned, shocked and angry but mostly, I was just sad. Sad, that you felt you had to live so many lies and cover so many ugly truths to the point I don't know how you kept up with all of it. Sad, because that wasn't you at all. Sad, because lying to all of us was the only way you had communicated with any of us. I feel so betrayed but, also just tremendous hurt for you because it was apparent that your world was crumbling apart. I don't know how you did it and it amazes me still, how you were able to do the things you did without anyone knowing.
What came home was a person filled with rage, dishonesty, revenge, hate, and immense guilt. These were the five things that I could never fight. Lord knows I tried but, it became clear that no matter what I did, it just wasn't good enough. Going home to close out our house, I discovered more secrets still hidden among your things. Going home, our community seemed to only remember that night and how you died. Not the person you were, not the person who gave his shirt off his back to help; it was disheartening to me to hear people bad mouth you. I didn't think I could bear anymore and while our love for each other had changed so drastically, I would always respond to your "I'm an asshole" with "Ahh but, you're my asshole!". That day, it ran through my head all day long that "he may have been an asshole but, he was my asshole!". I wanted to come up swinging, ripping them apart and call them every name in my book I could muster. But, all I could do was just stand there listening and being so disappointed in just being a human being. It hurt when they couldn't even get your name right and I wondered what you would say had you been there with me. It was so clear how much you tried to hide your wounds from the rest of the world.
Sometimes people will remind me about having hope. I have learned to smile politely and nod because I wonder if they know that I had a lot of hope. I had more hope than anyone else. I had hope that things would get better, I had hope that doctors would be able to help you, hope that one day you would lay down the bottle and walk away from it forever. I hoped we would find common ground between us that wasn't Wounded Warrior related or had anything to do with the military.  I hoped one day you would come home to us and see that no matter what you had done, we loved you and were there. All hope did was bleed us dry, left me feeling deflated and led to your death. It is so very hard  not to scream back "Hope? What exactly is hope? I hoped for a lot of things and it just got worse. Pardon me, if I seem to be slacking in that department due to past life experiences!". I know though....they would never understand and would just tongue in cheek, cluck and tell me I am wrong. I wonder if they had lived through what we had, would they still have that same hope they preach to me? I always walk away thankful though, that they didn't have to live what we went through but, also angry because it seems so easy for many.
I wonder if you watch over us, sorry for all the things you did and said, and I wonder if you're ok. I miss our friendship but, even today I wonder if that was all a lie too? Sometimes I sit and pick through the many lies and wonder what was true and what was just your way of trying to convince outsiders that you were normal and had no issues. I often wondered why I was the only one you showed the truth to when it came to your problems. I wanted to think years ago, it was because you trusted me enough to show all your cracks and faults. Now....I just wonder if you were still punishing me for things I didn't even do; angry at me because I was the one person who didn't judge you and wouldn't give up on you. I was the one person you didn't have to hide from but, yet you were always walking away. I wonder if you knew how much it devastated me you simply just gave up on me and walked away without ever looking back. I wonder if you knew how many hours I researched, looked, and how many people I talked to just trying to get some answers for you. Sometimes, I wonder if you ever loved me at all or if I was just someone there to fill the space.
The not knowing is killing me and the question of "why" hurts me everyday. Since being back home, my heart just hurts. I am mad because I had so much faith in the world, perhaps a little naive because my view was always through rose colored glasses. I am disappointed in a way, in so many people. I remember that night you died, you told me I was so stupid to believe everyone had a good side to them. How everything was my fault because if I had been smart, I would have left you long ago. I said I tried so hard, doing anything and everything I could to help you. You responded with "I never asked you to do all that". You were completely right and unfortunately, I learned the hard way. But, in a way you were wrong too, because I still try to see the good in people and I always, tried to find the good in you even when you were at your worst. I stayed because no one else was there for you and I promised I wouldn't let you fall. I feel like I broke that promise but, I kept you up for seven years after coming home and I think whether it was wrong or right in your eyes, I fulfilled that promise and it still counts for something. Yes, you are right. You never once asked me to do any of that but, you didn't have to ask.
I tried so hard to keep up. I sometimes sit and think about that night and the things you shouted at me. Angry at me because I was helping other Veterans; the ones you put into my lap and told me to "take care of it". Angry at me because I was so worn down, sick and tired when you left me there to take care of everything like I had always done. Infuriated because some of your lies were slipping out and that was somehow my fault. I remember standing there feeling devastated when you told me you wished I would hurry up and just die because it would have been so much easier on you. I wonder if you really meant that? I remember watching your face change back and forth between rage and just desperation as if every word that came out of mouth was a neon SOS for help. Some days, I just don't understand what happened that night or what made you say those awful things.

Perhaps I never will......and that's what kills and hurts me the most these days.
I'm glad you are no longer in severe pain.
I'm happy that you are where you needed to be.
But, I am angry that you just simply handed your pain to me as if our lives would be so much better without you.
I am angry because you thought all the pain and heartache would end for us once you were gone when it made it that much worse.
You left your pain to your family to carry for the rest of their lives.
I wonder if you know.....
I wonder if you even give a damn.
Why did you just leave us when we never once left you?

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