I also figured a way to temporarily block the entrance of the driveway to
allow them to graze the yard.
Once I actually encountered another Iraq War vet. He was several
years younger than my husband and had a large, irregularly shaped dent
in his skull where part of his brain should have been. The verbal abuse
that this soldier hurled at his nurses traveled easily through the thin
walls to where I sat waiting for my husband in the MRI waiting room.
“Bitch,” he spat. “Cunt.” He didn’t want to get on the exam table. “
Michael,” one nurse’s voice cut through the wall, “you lie down—and then
tell me if you want Johnny Cash or Elvis—I’ll give you headphones.”
A no-choice choice. A fake choice. Designed to redirect someone’s attention away from what he really wants, which is always the one thing
he can’t have. In Michael’s case, I imagined it was to have his mind
and body back the way they had been before the war. In my case now,
my husband is dead and never coming home again. So my no-choice
choices: Burial or cremation? Family cemetery or Fort Snelling? Coach
Traumatic brain injury is tricky because every injury is different, and
so is every brain. VA doctors had concluded that the blast that took out
my husband’s eardrums also sent a concussive force through his head.
Combined with the sustained stress of living in a combat zone for two
tours of duty, each an entire year in duration, this had caused him to
come back from his last one with short-term memory problems, severe
neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and a sincere desire to kill people
who irritated him: mostly strangers but sometimes his boss. At the National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) in St. Paul, he
worked as an electronics mechanic on Black Hawk helicopters, but his
boss, a first sergeant, had never deployed to a war.
To cope, he didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol. Instead he built a castle
out of wood, set it up on the floor in the middle of the living room, and
he and our three-year-old son staged epic battles between Transformers,
X-Men, vintage GI Joe action figures, and all the Marvel superheroes.
They played for hours at a time. Day after day. Until one evening, as I
washed the dinner dishes and listened in, it finally hit me: this wasn’t
normal. What appeared to be a loving, engaged father was a loving, engaged father but also a man who wanted to avoid paying bills, helping
with farm chores, making decisions, and having an adult relationship
with his wife. He would wake up at night and not know where he was.