Excerpt from Out of the Mist, Memories of War
—Excerpt from Out of the Mist, Memories of War
These thoughts came to me in the night and awoke me, demanding release. I shared them with my vet buddies and have been shocked at their universal impact. I worry that our soldiers today are aimed in the same direction due to the criticism that is pouring out now, and the approach to this war.
My Disturbing Dream:
I had a hard time going to sleep. I knew I would. I stayed awake longer than I planned... by a little. I knew my night would be checkered by intrusive memories. A book I'm reading has brought back the old pain. Every day I get a morsel of the old animosity as our government is pulled away from the ghosts of those who died to make our country great. I feel the anger I've buried inside as our troops are disrespected by not letting them do what they can do. Ambitious officers are more concerned about their own promotions and how the politicians view them. When that happens wrong decisions are made and wrong deeds are done. Morale is destroyed. "Why are we even here?" echoes as the will to serve and fight is eroded.
I was awakened early by visions that were created by resurgent ideologies. They had taken the form of people I know attacking my credibility, doubting my participation in the 10 years long ordeal that wasVietnam. They said I was not there. That I did not act like so many vets they knew. That I did not strike out or suffer as they do. It made me killing mad. I turned over the table where we were. The vision transformed into someone I knew sitting across from me with face skewed in derision. He stomped on my self-doubt, my belief that I had not done enough, had not bled enough, had not wept enough..had not won as my heroes had. I had not suffered enough. Here I am, surrounded by people who do not know how many times those thoughts belittle and torture me. They do not know my bottled-up shame which is so unlike the proverbial genie which grants wishes for its savior. My genie sneers at me for not having been heroic enough.
Am I supposed to suffer more now to excise my evil genie? Am I to get angry and deliver a killing nose-bridge strike to my acquaintance to prove that I have been there—have done a little of what my more involved comrades have done? Must I rip off the vision's ear to show my training? Will the smell of blood convince them or me? Should I kill one of them to prove I have PTSD, that I am angry, that I feel what others feel? I offered to go get a gun and shoot at them. I have been shot at so I want them to feel what I felt. It will do no good. Bullets can't kill dreams. Bullets can't riddle doubt, regardless of where it resides. I am too much in control they think. I am too jovial. I am too cynical about the politicians and that is something shared by my brothers. I write about others because I did not do enough to write only about myself.
Am I angry at the forces that comprise my night visions? I sit here on my toilet typing with tears in my eyes begging the heroic ghosts of the past to forgive me. Am I angrier at myself for all that has been released?
I want to strike out and feel the vindication of inflicting pain on someone else other than me. I did serve. I did my job. I felt the anguish and pain of war—but I did not do enough. I lived.
I may be surrounded by those who quietly question that I did anything at all. I have the wrong demeanor. I can show the scar on the back of my leg, painted there by flying concertina. I can show them the fading scar on my hip, pressed there by the rubbing of a loaded, wet web belt, grinding my flesh day after day. I can show them the almost invisible tiny scars on the backs of my hands, burned into my flesh by tiny shards of shrapnel. I cannot show them the scars on my heart. They are the only ones which remain unchanged. No. They are larger. Maybe they caused my blockages. My by-pass can never avoid them. More by-passes will not.
I survived. I did not do enough. I did not pay a high enough price. I must keep paying installments. I am not a hero. Really I am not much. My guilt and self-doubt are alive and well. They have joined forces perhaps, to become paranoia.
Ask the psychologist at the VA. He will tell you I don't suffer. I've tried too hard to serve since the war and I have done it well. I am in control and well adjusted. I am until the visions that destroy my sleep escape and attack the cages where I've kept them and then I give them real faces so I can hurt them as much as they hurt me!
Control is tenuous and everyone has a button. Shall we pray, for them and me, that it never gets pushed? My demons won tonight. They attacked me at the start of sleep and scraped off the scabs. I am bleeding freely from my emotional jugular. Even though I have nearly killed myself with tobacco—my weapon of choice—I am going to go smoke a cigar and try to re-load. I have to speak about Memorial Day to some little old ladies tonight.
Who the hell am I to be speaking to anyone?