From a journal entry dated 21 April 2005 – Last night he came to bed not long after I, because he had not slept much the night before.
He said, “It’s like I’m on duty – four hours on, then sleep for four hours, or four hours sleep, then up all night.” All day long.
Yesterday was when members of his troops were shot. Next week on the 28th was when he was shot. He said “I saw that guy’s face.” I asked him, “Was he killed?” He said that they told him they heard screaming all day and into the night and then one shot and no more screaming.
I asked him why he hated the Michael J. Fox character on “Platoon”. He answered “Because he had a conscious…he had not gotten to scared, mad, don’t care. He never got to don’t care and not at don’t care stage will get you killed or others killed. I said that “Platoon” was a movie. That character was just that, a fiction character. “Calley wasn’t fiction”, he answered. I told him I had forgotten about Mai Lai. Calley wasn’t fiction.
He then told me the reason he didn’t have flight mode was because I didn’t put pressure on him when he was sleepless, or fragile. It made it ok for him to go through these rough months. He said he’d gotten better over time, to the point, it bothers him now to be like this. (That was the first time I remember him every saying this.)
He said, “I need to tell you that you got a compliment. Our guy Ray, the group leader, said to him ‘Your wife really cares about you because she is involved.’ I said to him ‘Because I am in the wives group?’ He answered, “No, not just group, all of it. Salem. You came to Salem, all of it.”
“Well, why not?” I asked him. “I am crazy about you. And when I met you I didn’t know what you had, the extent of the PTSD. When I realized the extent of it, I wasn’t going to let it defeat us. God did not give you to me to let PTSD defeat us.”
When I met my husband, I was forty-two and he was forty-seven. We both had been married twice. I met and knew I wanted to know him. He met me and says he knew he was in “so much trouble”. Trouble, because he had been diagnosed with PTSD, was going to counseling, was on medication for depression, and he found a face he was drawn to, but he was so very gun-shy.
We were married nine months later. It was the beginning of our journey with PTSD and the journal entry I posted above, is indicative of how far we had come in seven plus years of marriage.
2005 was a big year for us for several reasons. Megan, who had been eleven when we married, was in the Navy and had been for almost a year. I had been going to a six-week session of the wives of the PTSD group my husband was in. At the time of the journal entry, I had pretty much given up on us getting a house, but in July of 2005, we would move into Evansridge.
I am sharing this journal entry with my readers because it the beginning of a turning point for us. Chester was at a point where he wanted to be better, but his “anniversary”, when he received his trauma on April 28, 1969, surfaced every year. Every year from 1969 to this day, he relived his troops being wounded, he relived his own wounding, he relived and is reminded of his own role in taking life. It was distressing to know that after a year of doing fine, he would approach his anniversary and anxiety, or anger, or flight mode would set in.
I realized from the group session I had been in, that spouses and family members were not equipped with the tools to manage the stressors their veterans were going through. The group counseling merely scratched the surface of the second-hand PTSD wives and loved ones were experiencing. I didn’t know what was needed. All I knew, was in that group setting, I wasn’t the only one going through anniversaries with my husband, I wasn’t the only one suppressing my own emotions, I wasn’t the only one waking up at three in the morning to hear the TV or the Playstation going, I wasn’t the only one going through the day, in the same house with my spouse, with only a handful of words being exchanged… if I could have used that group meeting for an extended period of time, I am sure others did, as well.