On Veteran’s Day
This sort of thing is hard for me to write, because topics involving veterans and the military hit too close to home with me, too often. I know way too many people affected. And sometimes, my varying degrees of closeness has caused me to become affected, too. I think that is one reason why I’ve avoided writing to the Warriors And Kin. There is so much I could say, but saying it is like pulling teeth without anesthetic.
There are two people I remember from childhood. One was a sometimes-playmate, sometimes-neighborhood bully (children form very odd, and not otherwise functional relationships sometimes). Another was a classmate of mine. Both were brothers, and lived across the street from me. I remember clubbing C. several on his head with a vocabulary book, of all things, for calling my younger brother a “fag” on the school playground. I remember romping with his brother K., scurrying around on the roofs of houses and popping open storm grates in the street to hunt for frogs. Flash-forward many years, into adulthood. I am standing at K.’s funeral. I see a side of his brother I’ve never seen before, far divorced from the boy I once knew. He stood there in his Marine dress blues, over the flag-draped coffin of his brother. They both joined the Marines. They both went to Iraq. K. was seriously wounded by an IED. His brother watched him die in the military hospital in Germany.
Flashing forward again, I witness my father’s first stirrings of PTSD after he returns from his first rotation in Afghanistan. Violent outbursts. Panic attacks. A religious man, he could not even enter a crowded church, when before such things weren’t a problem for him. He would run the vacuum for hours on end, going over the same location, over and over. One day I came to him to express a problem I had–only to be answered with a violent outburst, as he described a bad day he had in which there was blood. Too much blood, that he had to clean away. He described it in such a way that the image stayed in my head, and has ever since.
A close friend mourns the loss of his friends and comrades he saw die. I drive to work, and see a homeless Vietnam veteran on the side of the road on my way to a McDonalds. I didn’t know what to do, so I bought him a sandwich. Thank you for your service, here, have this cheap fucking sandwich. I wanted to do something good, but I drove down the road feeling empty, sad and angry. No one who has given of themselves like that (willingly or no) should be standing on the side of the road, hungry and cold with a cardboard sign.
It all doesn’t end there. There are other stories I could tell, from the volunteer work I have done. But I’m already stretched too thin, and I could not breach the privacy I’ve been entrusted. But the letters, sent from those APO addresses, tucked into my main altar, they tell stories. I cherish each and every one.
Today people take the time to say “thank you”. I don’t know what to say. Somehow it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. We as a country need to do more than just say “thank you”. I look now to my statue of Sekhmet, sitting serenely beside my laptop. Goddess of warriors and of healing. Oh, how do we need You right now.