A Glimpse Into One Spouse's Life Post Deployment I've heard this a number of times. When deployed soldiers are asked how they feel, when they know combat is imminent, they answer matter-oh-factly, "I was planning on dying." I think it is the way that they can keep going through it, and not let fear paralyze them. They don't plan to come home. They don't/can't imagine a life beyond the deployment while they're in it. Ask them. The deployment is all there is until the bullet or IED takes you. ... The strange thing is, that in a distant remote way, I get this. Even though I talked about my husband coming home. Even though if asked I would have said confidently, "He's coming home." ... Deep down, I believed that every goodbye was the last one. Every email was the last one. Every phonecall was the last one. ... After a time, that messes with you. You get broken. I grieved the loss of my husband even when he wasn't dead. I grieved alone. Who would understand my grieving the living? I didn't even understand it. But it was real and it happened and something inside of me broke. Like losing a finger or an arm, I'm missing something and it won't grow back. I don't understand it. I'm learning to live with it now. My husband will attest to the fact that I still believed I was going to lose him even after he came home. I had a very difficult time saying goodbye so he could go to work for the day (for months), because it was "the last time" all over again. Drill weekends were another exercise in anxiety and depression. There were days I paced back and forth in our living room because I didn't know what else to do. I wondered if perhaps I was losing it. Perhaps I had. I have finally begun to understand that something in me broke and I can't just go back or "find" what used to be again. I have accepted this, but wonder if there is another side, if one day I will come through, if this brokenness, this empty feeling inside will eventually fade. I still struggle to connect with my husband. I still find myself thinking of a future without him, even though I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him. I struggle with being too independent. But perhaps the hardest thing is that, few other people can understand. Who "plans" on their husband dying. Who understands grieving a living person? It doesn't make sense. It's not logical. But, for some of us who send our husbands away, that is what deep down we have accepted. They will not be coming home and we will survive. And, at least for me, it wrought changes in me that I could not have foreseen, nor fully understand today.
As part of preparation for my first MFA residency this coming January, I am reading the books of potential mentors. I just finished Sterling Watson's "Fighting in the Shade." While some of the setting seemed older, and perhaps too familiar in a way (I've seen it in movies) the style of writing made it entirely fresh and new. Michael Koryta summed it up pretty well, "Sterling Watson's polished prose carries this coming-of-age story smoothly from the enthralling to the unsettling, from the poignant to the disturbing, leaving the reader in emotional knots. An uncompromising look at sports, secrets, sexuality, and the South that makes a commentary on relationships ranging from personal to universal." The only thing I would add to that, is the theme of power, physically, financially, relationally, etc. Perhaps this would be overlooked by male readers, as it may seem natural? As a female reader, I noticed it. Looking forward to meeting the author.
"After a while I realized that, even if I hadn't directly experienced war situations or similar situations, there was a reason people were bringing their lives and stories to me and wanting me to create poetry out of their testimony, although it took a long time to figure out that that's what was going on. I feel like I'm from a generation of people who didn't live through these experiences, but at the same time I'm a repository of these experiences. And I'm called on periodically to carry on the legacy or the memory that these people had. That's really a big part of my role as a person and as a poet, and I can't really get around it."
- Cryus Cassells
(Interview in the October/November 2014
The Writer's Chronicle)
I'm not a poet, but Cryus' words clicked with me. Even though I'm not a veteran, even though I'm not the survivor of a horrible tragedy, even though I haven't lost someone dear to me, somehow deep inside, I know that I hear these stories and give them voice for a reason. Perhaps to bridge a gap between those who have experienced, and those who need to know. We all can become just a little more human.
Photo Originally Property of the Federal Government
"I drifted after leaving the Corps. At age twenty-six, I feared I had already lived the best years of my life. Never again would I enjoy the sense of purpose and belonging that I had felt in the Marines. Also, I realized that combat had nearly unhinged me. Despite my loving family, supportive friends, and good education, the war flooded into every part of my life, carrying me along toward an unknown fate. If it could do that to me, what about my Marines? What about the guys without families, whose friends didn't try to understand, who got out of the Corps without the prospects I had? I worried that they had survived the war only to be killed in its wake." "I took sixty-five men to war and brought sixty-five home. I gave them everything I had. Together, we passed the test. Fear didn't beat us. I hope life improves for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, but that's not why we did it. We fought for each other."
- Nathaniel Fick, "One Bullet Away"
One thing in this book that really stands out to me is Fick's attempts to explain why he did what he did. But, yet, you can feel his regret in the words. He doesn't ever condone evil. But he shows so clearly, that sometimes the only choice he and his men had was between wrong and wrong, and he just did the best he could with what he had and hoped and prayed that he could live with the results. Perhaps the most evil thing about war is not only all the death and tragedy, but rather the demands it places on those who survive.
Fallujah, Iraq, November 9th, 2004 Gunnery Sgt. Ryan P. Shane Trying to Recover a Fatally Wounded Team Member
Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Military
We know we're human, because we feel. When we stop feeling, we must begin to question, what has happened to us? Feeling does not mean slogging through every day overwhelmed by the burden of grief and horror at the evils and pain in the world.
Though some days may be like that.
But rather, feeling means, that we look, we see, and we act. We don't just glimpse and walk on by. Something in our heart hurts when other's hurt, when we see the desperation that they lived. And we must do something. Prayers. Writing letters. Sending packages. Getting together with those left behind. Financial Contributions.
Seeking to understand.
Offering respect and gratitude.
Anyone who looks with anguish on evils so great must acknowledge the tragedy of it all; and if anyone experiences them without anguish, his condition is even more tragic, since he remains serene by losing his humanity.