Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Battle scars~

The phone rang last night, a call for my husband, who wasn't home.

The caller, Al, said he'd been in Officer's Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia with Bruce in 1967, then Basic -- five months of training after OCS. They never saw each other again; these were Vietnam War years.

Al had been looking up former platoon members to notify them of an upcoming reunion at Quantico in May. I gave Al our address, and Bruce's email address.

Then, never being one to miss an opportunity to chat, I floated a thread. He grabbed it and we were off, two of the most unlikely people to be speaking so intimately: a Nam vet and the wife of a Nam vet.

The wives talk, we are desperate to talk-- we have battle scars of a different sort-- but the vets are closed like clams. But Al was not, anymore.

I said, "Actually I didn't know Bruce during those years. I'm his second wife. I know very little about that time. He doesn't talk much about it."

"I understand that. I don't either. Or I didn't," he said.

"Didn't? You do now, though?"

"I'm trying," Al said.

He went on to outline his life since he returned: jobs, kids, retirement. He, too, was in a second marriage. His wife is a decade younger than him, the gap between Bruce and me.

"I have PTSD," he said. "I'm getting treatment. It's a long tough climb out." He acknowledged that it was tough for his wife too.

"Sounds like my house," he said repeatedly after comments I made.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder used to be called shell shock or battle fatigue. Nobody studied it or listed symptoms or offered help back during WWII. Now they do.

But one has to reach for the hand.

Bruce won't. Or hasn't yet.

"Can you have PTSD and seem perfectly normal, have a good job, be productive, respected, and all that?" I asked Steve.

"Definitely," he said.

Through the years of my marriage to Bruce, I've occasionally looked up the symptoms of PTSD, searching for a reason, THE reason for Bruce being BRUCE, as David says.

"Mom, That's BRUCE," he'll say, when I get upset, frustrated or just plain damn angry at his way: closed, uncommunicative, irritable, easily angered.

"I'll talk to him," Al said.

He called back tonight and I heard them talking, laughing, catching up on the forty-one years since they'd seen each other. Neither could picture the face of the other, but that didn't matter. They understood a shared experience, and they understood what it did to them, how it made them who they are today. For better or worse. For better and worse.

Maybe the reunion will be good for Bruce. Maybe it will be good for me.

Continuing to think about combat or feeling as if one is still in combat

Not wanting to discuss the traumatic event, feeling detached from others, feeling shut down emotionally

Having a hard time relaxing or feeling “on guard,” feeling jumpy, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, excessive concerns about security, getting angry easily.

(From the National Center for PTSD)
You can't say that civilizations don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way. ~Will Rogers


Janice Thomson said...

Oh I so hope the reunion will help - both of you too. I understand how hard it must be for Bruce. In boot camp you are taught to be tough. It become such an innate thing that after war it becomes difficult to know you need help and even more difficult to ask for it. It also is difficult for the spouse standing by unable to help, unable to reach the man she once knew. War is such a tragedy in so many ways. You are in my thoughts always Ruth.

Wanda said...

What a wonderful post, Ruth. You write with such feeling I get pulled in by every word.
I think this sounds like a wonderful reunion for all.

Josie said...

There was a segment on Good Morning American recently about vets and PTSD. I would imagine it's very common. I had a good friend who was a vet from the Vietnamese war. He lived in California, but he moved to Canada because of the way he was treated at home, just for having served his country in Vietnam. He, too, had PTSD.

And now you guys will have another round of young men (and women) coming back from that horrible, ghastly war in Iraq. When will it stop?

Lisa said...

I'm sure the reunion will be very emotional for Bruce, but it sounds like something he really needs. My heart goes out to him and all veterans struggling with PTSD.

rain said...

What a heartfelt and personal post. Thanks for sharing. I hope it is a wonderful reunion.

Barbara said...

Those of us who weren't there can never understand the memories these soldiers continue to carry with them.

Ruth D~ said...

Thank you all for listening, or reading as it were, and for your support.