This last week I spent a lot of time eating, visiting with friends and family and thinking about my blessings. Last night, one of my blessings breathed deeply next to me: my husband. Twenty-two years a Marine aviator, as many landings as takeoffs, no POW experiences, no visions of war keeping him awake. I fell asleep thinking about some of my friends and family whose lives had changed because of the military service of others close to them. They were collateral damage.
Some of you know part of my story. My brother was killed in a mid-air as a Marine fighter pilot. His son, then eight, has just turned forty and had a party. His brother and sister came to celebrate with him. Bittersweet. My brother would have loved the people they grew into. They would have loved to know my brother as adults know their parents. They all show wounds from an explosion they never saw coming thirty some years ago.
Five years ago, my husband and I attended the marriage of my niece to her twenty-two year old Marine corporal at the County Clerk’s office. He’d already had two tours to Iraq and was about to leave for the third. Their daughter is now four years old. Their marriage has ended in the rages of PTSD and TBI. I asked him if the military makes it easy to get help. He said he didn’t want help, he just wanted to go back to what he knew how to do--fight a war and protect his buddies. He doesn’t want to know how to get the oil changed on the car, talk to his wife, or shop for groceries. Those everyday activities are difficult and full of tension. My niece wanted a husband who talks softly, with respect, sleeps at night, never raises his hand against her. She doesn’t want her daughter to grow up seeing her daddy yelling at mom. His explosions here reflect the explosions he can’t talk about over there.
A fighter pilot’s wife from Korean War vintage has become a friend. She’s shared how her husband never really knew what to do with himself as a civilian, so he drank. He was not a good drunk or an easy husband to have and to hold. She stayed with him. The shadows in her eyes remain even though he died a few years back.
The receptionist at my hairdresser’s is married to a Marine in Afghanistan. He’s only been gone a month, she has five more months to get through. Her struggle? Getting used to not talking to him everyday. He’s in a remote area, no Skype, no realtime emails. She can send him letters that get to him pretty quickly through some sort of email to print option. She asked, “What am I going to do with myself? I’ve already redecorated the whole house!” I hope she learns how to be herself and then find joy in his return. I hope he returns without leaving who he used to be in the Afghan hills.
“Close is only good in horseshoes, hand grenades and pattern bombing,” is a gallows humor saying in the aviator world. Being close to those in military service results in collateral damage often coming as a sneak attack.
In this holiday season, I continue to count my blessings and look for ways to reach out and help out those who strayed into the bombing pattern inadvertently.