Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2013

When I have your wounded

Having a hard time tonight.  I can smell the dust, hear the rotors.  You can smell blood too when there’s a lot of it.  I’ve been digging through all kinds of shit trying to find connections to my illnesses and I came upon some pictures of my old unit that I wasn’t expecting…including a group shot.  It suddenly all came back.  My heart has been racing out of my chest for a couple hours and I feel like I’m going to vomit.  Roaring in my ears.  I’ve described all this to the VA…2 doctors said I have PTSD, one said I did not, so the VA denied my PTSD claim.  I’m still fighting that one.  I can not STAND for anyone to be behind me without me realizing it.  I jump out of my skin sometimes over the silliest things.  I’m afraid of the dark…I seriously can not sleep without at least a little light.  It was so dark over there…some nights you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face without a flashlight.  I woke up in the desert one night, had slept walked out of my tent.  I sat down on the ground and cried until it occurred to me that when I was that close to the ground, I could see my footprints.  I was barefoot and had pretty bad cuts to my feet that took weeks to heal.  I went to medical about the sleep walking (had NEVER done that in my life) and they didn’t do anything.  They ridiculed me when I said I’d cried.  A couple weeks later, I fell down the steps in the shower tent while sleepwalking and dislocated my hip, my wrist, and my shoulder.  Its all in my records.  Only then did they put me on valium, but I couldn’t fly if I took it, so I only took it the 3 days a week I wasn’t on flight duty.  It wasn’t even really the stress of picking up horribly wounded and dead soldiers…we were stressed all the time because all they did was talk about chemical weapons.  SCUDs blowing up almost every night, sometimes almost over our heads, being intercepted by the Patriots outside KKMC.  Sleeping in full MOPP gear and wearing gas masks so that when the alarms went off, we could just roll over and go back to sleep.  I found my unit coin…and it reminded me of our unit motto, “When I have your wounded.”  My unit was THE original DUSTOFF (air ambulance) back in Vietnam.  We had a rich history that was drilled into each of us when we transferred into the unit.  Jumping out of my window when we landed in a recently secured airfield, only to be screamed at by my pilots because just as the medic jumped out his window and I jumped out mine, the flight control informed the pilots that we’d landed in a grouping of Bouncing Betties.  Not sure how to get back in the helicopter without blowing our legs off (ended up being nothing, the BBs were actually a couple dozen yards away, but we didn’t KNOW that).  Medic and I staring at each other through the open doors, trying to figure out what to do.  He had to take two steps, I had to take one.  It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do up to that point…take that step and put my weight on my foot.  It was my left foot by the way.  Funny what you remember and what you forget.  We weren’t actually in danger…but for a few minutes, we thought we were.  I still have nightmares where if I move, I will die.  My best friend from AIT and Ft. Bragg (part of 82nd Airborne) dying in my arms.  Picking up the bodies of another crew that had laid out in the desert for two days because Command wouldn’t let us go do search and rescue when they never arrived (typical clusterf*ck…no one in command could get their stories straight), so every single helicopter that could fly in our battalion went on “training flights” one day and my bird was right behind the one that spotted the crash site.  I still have nightmares about that one.  All of us on board those two birds never said a word while we were doing what we had to do…maybe something here or there like “get that door…here’s a bag” but nothing else.  We all knew that it could have been us.  Resenting the two dead Arabs that our crew was forced out in bad weather to take to a hospital.  Resenting having to recover their carcasses.  Relieving our frustrations.   Feeling so much hatred and anger towards Muslims to this day.  Memorial services and playing Taps because before the fighting started, I was fooling around and playing on the grave diggers’ (I forget the actual unit designation, but that was their job) bugle on a dare, so when someone in our battalion actually died, I got called in to play a couple of times.  I can still play it to this day, I found out a couple years ago.  Answering present when my name was called during a Memorial service because one of the people who died was alphabetically after me (you vets will understand that one).  Being fondled every time I walked into a store, restaurant, whatever where Saudi men were gathered.  Punching one after the cease fire because I couldn’t take it anymore, and being handcuffed and dragged out of the restaurant by US MPs so the Saudi SPs didn’t get me instead, thrown into a hummer and driven away to “protect” me.  Thinking I was a badass and could handle a public punishment when I first arrived in country…only to find out it was nothing like what I was expecting or prepared for.   Having every freaking Arab over there think I was a slut because I wore pants and no veil and took my blouse off when it was hot (the outer BDU blouse worn over our brown t-shirts) and drove and laughed and joked with the men.  I don’t talk about it much…I did when I first came home and my Dad said I was exaggerating or lying, so I just shut up.  I thought he would understand since he was in the Army, but no.

And its not over.  The nightmares come.  I never know when.  Something will trigger me and I’m overwhelmed by sounds and smells and even tastes.  The constant fear I experience.  Trepidation and uneasiness that never goes away.  Irrational bursts of anger.  Cutting.  Crying.  Having to keep alcohol out of the house, not because I’m a responsible parent of teenagers, but because on nights like this, I would so easily drink myself into oblivion.  Alcohol was my outlet when I came back, to the point that I ended up in the ER with alcohol poisoning.

The bitch is that I loved the Army.  I didn’t know I was bipolar until after I’d been in for a while and they diagnosed me, but once they got me sorted out mentally, I thrived.  I loved the strict regimen…the schedule…knowing that almost every minute of my day was planned, never having to wonder what to wear the next day lol.  I was happier than I have EVER been in my adult life.  I thought I was invincible and so smart…I got busted down a couple notches when I found out I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was and had in fact been played for a fool, but used it as a learning experience.  I never made the same mistake twice when I was in the army.  I fought for respect every step of the way…even in the early 1990s, it was hard to be a woman in an aviation unit, but I loved every minute of it.  I miss flying.  I used to ride motorcycles too fast because it was as close as I could get to that rush.  I should have died back then, all the crazy ass shit I did, to keep up with the boys, or just to feel free and uninhibited for a few glorious moments (think getting totally hammered and jumping off the top of a rapelling tower with no one on belay and flying towards the ground full-speed, laughing insanely all the while).  Overcoming the resentment and harassment suffered because I turned in the NCO that sexually assaulted me (beating the crap out of me in the process because I fought back).  Walking across the flightline as Retreat sounded, stopping to salute the Flag, and tearing up because the wind every.single.time would catch the Flag and cause it to flutter during Retreat.  Going in “hot” to pick up patients because its what we did.  Outlasting all but one pilot on a particularly nasty mission, puking only after the end of the mission and getting off the bird the final time…having that pilot tell me he was so grateful I’d finally puked so that he could without losing face.  The smells from that day are forever with me.  Getting hit in the face with engine wash because I wasn’t paying attention.  Being crammed into the tail cone on top of the fuel cells by the guys because a)I fit and b)they thought it was funny.  Practical jokes every day, sometimes every hour, over there.  Watching the sun rise while I sat cold and alone on guard duty.  The sun rises were my favorite because the horrible inky blackness faded away.  The stench of camels.  The STUBBORNESS of camels.  having my wrists zip-tied to the main rotor.  Falling off my helicopter while attempting to descend to get water because I realized I was dehydrated, and landing on top of my open toolbox, breaking a rib.  Learning passable Arabic in three weeks, enabling me to get to drive Col. F around so I could translate here and there.  Remembering only enough Arabic now to get myself killed lol.  Being thrown into a hummer with strange officer and NCOs when our vehicle broke down on Tapline one day, to “go get help”…arriving at what turned out to be Schwartzkoff’s compound (I saw the man from a distance…and he was a lot bigger than I thought he’d be).  Having to stay there for two days with no personal effects because the ground war broke out and everyone kept forgetting about me…sleeping on a cot outside a tent because there was no room for me inside the female tent, and the men were afraid something would be said if I slept in one of theirs (they didn’t realize I was the only female in my tent in my unit)…I’d seen and heard it all by that point.  Getting reprimanded for leaving my vehicle when I finally got back to my unit (I was the driver that day), even though an E-8 ordered me to do so.  Finding out I was allergic to bees when I got popped on top of my bird at Bragg one hot summer day.  My last memory was walking towards the medic shack for some Sting-Away.  I woke up on my own helicopter, strapped to a litter, intubated and panicking because of it.  The smell of the pine needles in the hot sun as we ran the broken road that was the perimeter of Simmons Army Air Field every afternoon, to “condition” ourselves for the heat of Saudi Arabia before we deployed.  Standing for inspection.  Feeling pride when a child would come up and ask me what it felt like to be a soldier.  Being held by my commander as I sobbed hours after my best friend died in my arms.   Having the battalion commander (a full bird) give me a bottle of contraband scotch on my 21st birthday…drinking it with some buddies out in one of the helicopters, losing track of time, and deciding that since the gates were shut, we would “crawl carefully” through the concertina wire.  The laughter of the guards that night as they took pictures of us all caught up in the wire, drunk and bleeding, because some critter crawled up the leg of one of my compatriots who was directly in front of me.  I so wish I still had my copies of those pictures…even with the cuts and the blood and the pain, that was a damned good night…the most relaxed I ever was over there.  Breaking my thumb when I took my driving test on the Deuce and hiding it from the tester so I wouldn’t fail (seriously, who breaks their damned thumb on a DRIVING TEST??).

I would do it all over again.  Even knowing what I know now about depleted uranium, the nerve agent pills, the vaccines, the weapons depot demolition, the oil fires, the chemical alarms.  I would do it again because never in my adult life did I ever feel such a sense of accomplishment…because I KNEW my job, and I was damned good at it.  I was good at it because I loved it.  I lacked the people skills I needed to stay completely out of trouble, but I loved it nonetheless.  I would do it over again for the lives I helped save.  I would do it over again for the sense of pride and joy I felt at being in uniform…serving my country.  I dreamed of joining the military as far back as I can remember.  I had every rank of every branch of service memorized before I was out of elementary school.  I was HAPPY.

I haven’t been happy since.  I’ve had happy moments, but I’ve not been happy.  I’ve not been at peace.  I’ve lost a child to a horrible birth defect that I’m unofficially told is related to Gulf War by people at the VA, but they won’t say it on paper.  I’ve had another child with health issues similar to those of children of other vets.  I have a child on the autism spectrum.  My health has been destroyed over the past several years, through countless bouts with cancer and countless radical surgeries.  I look in the mirror and hate what I see.  I can’t stand showering or getting dressed every day because I have to look at what has happened to my body.  I despise myself…I despise my body, and I despise my weakness.

I live in the past.  I recount the “glory days” of successes in band, successes in the army, joys during both.  I can’t look to my future, because I can’t see a future for me.  I can’t imagine watching my children grow up, have families.  I can’t picture my daughters getting married.  I can’t picture a golden anniversary with the love of my life, Justin.  I dream of my own funeral so often I have it memorized.  I have the exact same nightmares several times a month…several times a week, sometimes nightly, when I’m having a really bad week.  I’ve woken my husband up, screaming and flailing in my sleep.  I’ve tried to punch him in my sleep when he tried to wake me.  He’s learned to grab me suddenly in a bear hug, restraining my arms and legs at the same time.

I’ve thought of suicide so often its scary.  I’ve planned it.  I know how I will do it if I go that route.  I fear Hell, so I’ve not done it, but how long will that fear continue to outweigh my personal torment, weakness, and pain?

I don’t sleep.  I haven’t slept more than a couple hours at a time since the 1990s, unless I drink myself to oblivion or take sleeping pills…and Justin won’t let me have the pills anymore because I wake up only a little while after passing out, and do things like…DRIVE.  And have no memory of it.  I would literally kill just to have one undrugged, unboozed night of peaceful, restful sleep.

Pain never leaves me.  Physical.  Mental.  Emotional.  I have a horrible flaw in that I can’t let the past go.  I dwell on the bad things, in addition to remembering the good ones…and the bad seems to outweigh the good as more and more time, more and more illnesses, and more and more pain creep up on me.  I remember the people I hurt…the bad choices I made.  I want to apologize, to make up for it, but I burned those bridges so thoroughly that no contact is accepted.  I don’t remember the faces of the people I helped save, but I sure as hell remember the faces of the ones I didn’t, and the faces of the ones I hurt.  I fought so hard to not become my father or my mother, that I went down my own road at a reckless pace and ended up in a ditch just as deep as theirs.  I’ve climbed out of the ditch (most days) but other days I’m still wallowing down in the filth.

Oblivion.  It would be lovely.  I wish I could have gone out like Major Kelly…”When I have your wounded.”  When I’m gone, no one will remember me for anything good I accomplished…only for what I didn’t…the mistakes I made…the wasted potential.  I was smart…the sky was my limit…and I threw it away.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

Read Full Post »

Monkey Trouble

A fine WordPress.com site

High Gloss and Sauce Recent Posts

A fine WordPress.com site

Daddy Papersurfer

A fine WordPress.com site

Bring the Rain

Angie Smith

www.5minutesformom.com/

Bringing Moms Together

4tunate4tunate

A fine WordPress.com site