Tag: family

The Origins Tour

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I spent a few days in the San Antonio area to visit an ailing aunt and celebrate the 84th birthday of my uncle. More than that, I spent time with my parents. They had asked me to help them…help them make arrangements for the hotel and drive them around, but in the end, they are the ones that helped me.

I have not been to Texas and to see family for over twenty-five years. I have lost uncles and aunts in these years…cousins, too. Work, finances and even a little of what I would call disconnect, contributed to my not making any effort to travel back to the state where my relatives live. None of that was relevant, as I found out in my journey back.

My first impression upon visiting the area in Lytle, Texas, where we stayed, is that I have not seen so many brown faces since I left California to move to North Carolina. Everyone who waited on me in the HEB stores or even Starbucks was brown, like me. It was heartening in a way I can’t completely articulate, but nonetheless, I was inspired at all the shades of brown Hispanics are. Seeing the Spanish influence in the names of the streets and restaurants reminded me again of California and how strong the Spanish legacy is in this state, as in California.

My cousins laughed at me, because I kept calling the wild bluebonnets, bluebells. That was the other thing, the wild flowers were in full bloom, filling meadows, bordering the highways and roads, and dressing up the orchards of mesquite trees. I kept teasing my mom, that I was going to get her pillow and sit her in the middle of the blue bonnets and take a picture.

I will write more and post pictures in future posts. The emotions are still pretty strong, not just the visit, the reunion with my cousins and seeing the elders, but the significance of traveling with my parents, the contrast of traveling when you are a kid versus when you are an adult, and the bittersweet aspect of the journey of life. They say you can never go home again, but I know you can get pretty close to it.

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Mom in the Mirror

“Mom in the Mirror”

My mom is from Pleasanton, Texas, a small town south of San Antonio, Texas.  She is one of five sisters and four brothers.  I remember as a child, when we would visit my grandparents, I would go out to the chicken coop with my grandma and get eggs.  The roads leading from the main drag in Pleasanton to their house were dirt for the longest time and my grandparents did not have indoor plumbing until I was a teenager.   My brother and I still talk about that outhouse and how we didn’t want to go out there in the evening, but didn’t want our cousins teasing us that we were afraid to go out there. Another vivid memory, was in the late sixties when we returned from the Philippines, where my Dad was stationed, my mom’s family butchered a pig in the backyard of my grandparents house.  I don’t know why this didn’t seem out of the ordinary…it just wasn’t, it was the way of our family.  

My mom had been a Navy wife during the 50’s when women’s lib had not even hit the news.  But, even as she was a traditional wife, at home mom and homemaker, she took on the responsibility of paying all the bills and handling the household, the car and my brother and I, while my dad was at sea for 10 months at a time.  She drove us from San Diego to my aunt’s apartment in San Francisco in the early sixties so we could visit and go to Candlestick Park to see the Giants play.  My Tia Jane worked for the front office back in those days and we were a baseball family.  My memory of this visit was driving at night through China Town and visiting the Golden Gate Park…not the revered Candlestick Park.

My mom gained confidence from these responsibilities and experiences when my Dad was on deployment and it translated to me.  As a young wife and later, a single mom, I had to rely on this confidence to thrive in a workforce that was not tolerant of single moms.  I always thought I was so unlike her, she is petite, cool and collected…I am plus sized, emotional and demonstrative…but as I got older and had kids, I learned we had more in common than I realized…she instilled in me the value of education, whether formal or self-taught; to pay attention to the world around you, appreciate sports and politics and find a faith that speaks to you.  She dresses, to this day, impeccably, and only said to me, “always look your best, because you never who you are going to run into…” and that echoes in my ear when I have looked less than my best when running into one of the kid’s teachers or the principal of their school.  Now, my kids tease me because I am always “overdressed”…but I am old school and make no apologies…it is what it is.

Bottom line is that my mom is my mom, and she is my also my best friend.  She has been through a lot this year worried about me being laid off, about my brother working too hard, her struggle with her own health issues and tragically, losing her younger brother, my Tio Johnny.  Through it all, she has dealt with it as best anyone can…but my mom is strong and will not let you see her sweat.  My mom’s living legacy to me, my children and their children, is that family is everything…through the good, the bad and the ugly, family first…

“God Did Not Give You To Me, To Let PTSD Defeat Us”

Chet and I

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.

 

The Dark Side

Last night while watching local news, there was a report of an Veteran who served in Afghanistan who killed his 10 month old daughter, because she was crying. I looked at my husband, who was shaking his head. He had told me early in our marriage and when he was first treating for his Post Traumatic Stress Syndome, that he could not handle babies crying.

I remember dismissing it to a certain extent…but saw evidence over the years of the affect of babies crying, or loud crashes or backfires affect him. Anger, flight mode, fight mode, fear…I have seen it all with him. He has never acted out, but my husband has had fifteen years of counseling. He has developed some tools to handle these emotions and reflex responses.

We, as a Nation, have to make sure our Veterans are receiving the care, the counseling, the backup they need from doctors, civilians and family. It’s the least we can do.