Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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.
SYMPTOMS OF COMBAT STRESS REACTIONS AND PTSD
Continuing to think about combat or feeling as if one is still in combat
2. AVOIDANCE AND NUMBING OF EMOTION
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
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thanksgiving Day, USA, is over. Remains of the feast crowd the refrigerator and . . . my tummy. It is a much-loved holiday for many reasons, and all it requires is that I take a moment to count my blessings.
Around Thanksgiving, teachers often ask younger students to make a "thankful list." As a new teacher I remember feeling disappointed by their answers.
"I'm thankful for my family, my house, my pet, my friends." And here their lists stopped. All identical. All common things that everyone was thankful for.
I tried to elicit more, something different, something broader, more expansive. But they couldn't add more. Their world was what they could see from their front porches, and that's what they were thankful for.
The view from my front porch extends farther-- it's global-- and I have a long list of things to be thankful for, things I could never have imagined when I was young.
But when all is said and done, it is my family and friends I remain most thankful for, like I have since I was a little kid.
To my friends: work friends, school friends, neighbors, old friends and new, up-close friends, and cyber friends I've come to know through the Internet, and to my family, I'm thankful for all the pleasure you add to my life.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. ~ Meister Eckhardt
Monday, November 19, 2007
When you are deprived of it, sleep takes on monumental proportions. It becomes a goal, measured down to the minute, protected by earplugs and rules that warn friends and family not to call until ten on weekends.
Ten? Ha! I wish. But I hold to that rule just in case, because you never know: one morning I might wake, and instead of seeing the sun's horizontal rays creeping across the frosty grass, I'll see a golden noontime glow.
Time Magazine's November 26 issue has a section called: "One Day In America." It's devoted to the average American, who of course is a mirage. Still the article is interesting.
I'm above average in some ways. I have four tenths more of a child that the average family, and I'm 20 plus years above the average age.
I'm below average in the exercising department due to the over achievers who exercise for more than an hour every day and make my exercise stats look sick . . . maybe because they're nonexistent.
When it comes to sleep, I'm pretty average it turns out, which means I'm part of a large group of groggy women. We should call each other up at 3:17 a.m. and talk about it since we're awake anyway.
Average when it comes to sleep stats isn't a good thing, though. It means I'm going to bed at the average time women across the country do--11:02, but not getting the required sleep time. Time magazine says, " . . . only half of us will have a good night's sleep-- 8 hr. 38 min. on average." So sadly, I'm average.
Counting on my fingers, because I'm too groggy to do real math, I figure I sleep about two hours fewer than eight. And I'm only counting "in bed" time. If I subtract the two or three times a night I wake to kick the covers off (sweating) and wake to pull them back on (freezing), I'm in sad shape.
The article goes on to say 67 percent share our beds with another person or pet-- in my case, both, which probably makes me above average here too. Studies find that men sleep just fine in these conditions, but women don't.
Solutions? Go to bed earlier . . . alone. Or get older when sleep time is said to increase, maybe because of retirement. Hey! There's something else I can look forward to in 120 days, but who's counting?
Read To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. You'll see the pet I sleep with.
Read Time Magazine's article and find out how average you are.
O GENTLE SLEEP! do they belong to thee? These twinklings of oblivion? O gentle Creature! do not use me so, But once and deeply let me be beguiled. ~William Wordsworth
Friday, November 16, 2007
Oh what a far-reaching web we weave when first we . . . join an Internet group.
When I realized that I was getting to the age when I needed to stop saying, "Someday I'm going to write" and actually put fingers to keyboard, I looked for an online writing community.
My usual good luck led me to the Internet Writing Workshop. With encouragement and help from this warm community of writers, I began getting my essays published.
But even nicer-- the frosting on the cake-- were the friendships that developed. If you'd told me three years ago that I'd talk daily with people from all over the United States and Canada, not to mention, England, Australia, India, and Costa Rica . . . I'd never have thought it possible.
Carter, a friend I share administrative duties with on the IWW, noticed a trend-- book review space in newspapers was being cut back. He figured he could pick up the slack, and he invited Bob, Gary and me to join him in a new publishing venture.
In less than six months from his initial inspiration, we published the first issue of the Internet Review of Books, and now the second. Please take a look, read the reviews, leave your comments and opinions. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions to help us grow in a way that will benefit our readers.
And I hope you'll be one of our readers. Maybe you'll be willing to review, or know someone who would.
In any event, thanks for letting me promote he Internet Review of Books. I find it very uncomfortable to blow my own horn, but this isn't mine. It's a group effort, editors and reviewers, and it's for you.
As with many good books, I found the ending disturbing and comforting at the same time. If you've seen the movie, you definitely need to see the book because the movie left a lot out. (unknown)
Monday, November 12, 2007
My husband was twenty-four in the spring of 1967 when the Army drafted him during the Vietnam years.
Finished with grad school, he was teaching in Connecticut, and had plans to marry in three months. Not to me; I was a sophomore in high school then.
Deciding that he'd rather be the one giving the orders than taking them, he enlisted in the Marines and made plans to go to Officer Candidate School.
He told his fiancée what he'd done, and gave her the option of postponing the wedding, knowing he could be killed or maimed. They married as planned. Their son was born at Camp Le Jeune when his tour in Nam was complete.
The thirteen months he spent in the jungles are not something he's said much about. I've seen his medals. I've seen a Vietnam flag he pulled from somewhere. I've read letters from superiors praising the job he did.
But I know little. It was hot. He made sure his men were taken care of. He made decisions for the greater good. He gave orders that impacted lives. He saw his men get killed. He wrote letters to parents back home.
The rest he's buried deep inside somewhere. I don't know if he thinks of it much, but he winces at the whir of helicopters overhead, recoils sharply at the sound of gunfire and is moved to tears watching war movies.
"Did any of your men commit the atrocities we heard so much of," I asked once, naively and perhaps in retrospect, thoughtlessly.
"No." he says simply.
"How do you know?"
"Because I was with them," he tells me, the implication clear.
He didn't ask to fight in that war, but when he was drafted he gave more than was asked by enlisting and becoming an officer, pretty much insuring that he'd be in the thick of things. And he was.
As a veteran, what does he want? Absolutely nothing . . . except maybe acknowledgment that he did what he was trained to do to the best of his ability. He followed orders, and in turn gave them. He served his country as required.
He was spit on in San Francisco Air Port when he returned from Vietnam.
He cried at the memorial in Washington, DC.
It was war, and what was it good for? Absolutely nothing!
Memorial Day Tears
When the soldiers came home from Vietnam, there were no parades, no celebrations. So they built the Vietnam Memorial for themselves. ~William Westmoreland
Thursday, November 8, 2007
What me worry?
Maybe I should, especially after the scare I had when I found a LUMP in my right breast years ago, big enough to detect while innocently soaping up in the shower. The speed with which the doctor moved to do a biopsy was fear inducing in itself.
It proved benign, but I had to get frequent mammograms at first until I was cleared for the standard once-a-year protocol. I was faithful for a while, but after my physical this spring I ignored the doctor's instructions to schedule a mammogram along with my first ever bone density test. I guess I've reached the age, or is it the stage, where osteoporosis is a concern.
I remember thinking I'd never again let so much time go by that something could grow undetected inside my body until it could be too late. Still, I never do breast self-exams, even though my doctor patiently instructs me "how to" every year. I let her tell me again, and again. She must suspect.
But here I am, six months overdue for a mammogram, maybe more. I lose track of time.
Today when I got home the voice mail message was blinking on the kitchen phone.
It was Christine from the doctor's office telling me I needed to schedule a mammogram before the end of the year. She left a number for me to call.
But I didn't call. Or haven't yet.
I suppose I will. I should, anyway.
I have this secret thought that yearly mammograms are excessive despite what JAMA says. Some doctors say every two years is fine. And even though the radiologists always tell me, as they flatten my breasts and shoot x-rays through them, that the radiation is minimal, it's cumulative.
But radiation is not why I don't rush for my mammogram. I'm really not worried about that; I don't like the idea, but I don't worry about it.
The results of a survey by an international research firm showed interesting cultural differences in what adults fear about getting older. Germans worry about failing memory, the Dutch about gaining weight, and Thais about diminishing eyesight.
People in the USA worry about all of the above, and more, including loss of energy and trouble caring for one's self.
We are a people full of fears, worries, what ifs, and statistical data. We fear greatly what is not likely. The constant stream of pharmaceutical ads makes us believe we're doomed to be doddering, mental incompetents. We're not.
That said, I will schedule my mammogram, worried or not. It's about early detection; it makes sense.
Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen. ~James Russel Lowell
Saturday, November 3, 2007
I had a dream. Very weird.
I was wandering in a field when I realized that birds, small ones, were somehow snapping off the flower heads of Queen Ann's Lace and flying off with them. It took great effort to lift off with the flowers in their beaks. The higher they flew, the bigger the flowers became, dwarfing the birds that struggled on against the laws of aerodynamics. There was something eerie about this, and I knew it needed to be recorded, captured for others to see.
I didn't have my camera. And I was trying to decide if I had time to get it before the birds were gone. But in the optimistic way of dreams, I realized that I did have my old Sony point and shoot in my truck.
By the time I pulled the camera out of its case and turned it on, there were only two birds in sight, very high and rapidly growing too far to see. The flowers they had in their beaks had grown to the size of Frisbees.
I could hear the birds gasping, a chirping moan, and I knew they were struggling but determined. It was both inspiring and chillingly strange that they would do such a thing. I had no idea why they would.
I aimed the camera, but they were flying quickly and I had trouble finding them through the camera's eye. When I did sight them in the viewfinder, they were out of focus, but I snapped anyway, again and again just hoping to get a lucky shot.
Then I woke.
I believe in luck. Not so much the childish rabbit's foot luck, but the kind of good fortune that is visited upon those who expect it. I don't know what the birds' struggle symbolizes, but I know I got the photo of a lifetime-- in my dream.
According to Dream Moods,
"to dream of a chirping and/or flying birds, represents joy, harmony, ecstasy, balance, and love. It denotes a sunny outlook in life. You will experience spiritual freedom and psychological liberation. It is almost as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders." So how come my birds were biting off more than they could handle and gasping? Hmmmmm . . . I think I can guess.
Edgar Cayce wisely insisted that one should "interpret the dreamer" and not just the dream alone. Trying to understand a single isolated dream without any life context or a look at other dreams can be like trying to understand a weekly show from a single episode — not pointless, but quite often incomplete.