Life is a beautiful thing. It’s precious. A gift that many take for granted and just toss aside like a pair of dirty gym socks. I have always cherished life and the blessings that come along with it. Family. Friends. Music. Green grass. The smells from a cool lake breeze. I love every minute, every second of every breath of my life. I used to be adventurous, cunning and always chipper and happy. In high school, I rode bulls and most of my friends were complete opposites of me. In college, I read poetry and drank lattés as I wore my dark rimmed glasses and an out-of-style turtleneck by day; at night, I wore preppy clothes and went to fraternity parties. In my professional life, I dazzled clients with words and then tutored second graders from broken homes. In Iraq, I cared about my soldiers and every mission I was given and the cute little Iraqi kids who handed me flowers or cutely asked "mister, mister, picture, picture."
Now, I am broken. Not in a sense that I cannot walk or move my arms. Rather, my insides feel as if a large bubble surrounds them, and I can’t escape. I receive probably three or four emails a day from folks, telling me how much my writing has meant to them and wondering why I don’t post more often. Once, a reader wrote me saying she saw a soldier in Wal Mart and recognized his uneasiness because of me sharing my "readjustment" experiences.
I mainly stopped posting as frequently not because I had nothing to say, but rather I had nothing positive to share. I wish I could write you and tell you how wonderful my life is and that it’s like I never left, but I can’t. Some days I feel like I’m on top of the world and nothing can bring me down. Other days, I hit the snooze button 20 times and don’t want to move… I just want to crawl in a hole and hide. But most days, I go through the motions, trying to joke around and saying all the right things. Most people would look at me and think everything is OK. But those who know me see it. They see the difficulties I have remembering things and how I don’t have the same desires to set the world on fire. In counseling, I find myself embarrassed to share my problems and the dreams. And then when I do, I start sobbing like a little girl and I feel worse. My counselor says I’ll never be my old self; that I am forever changed.
I’ll say. I get dizzy when I’m in crowded areas. I go to Brewers games – who by the way are two games over .500 – and I see the potential for mass casualties. The drop of a plate in a restaurant scares the crap out of me. And while I try to consciously not react to sudden noises or not feel this way, it only worsens. When I’m alone in my apartment, I sit on the best leather recliner ever made and listen to CSNY or Marvin Gaye and just relax. I love those moments, because it’s just me and my thoughts. My lifetime memories and the soothing sounds of great melodies.
If only life were like a song or a movie that ends on a happy note. But it’s not. Life is filled with sad stories like the two little Illinois girls killed by a sadistic father. However, there are good memories. Like all the times, my father took me to Texas Ranger games and OSU games. And the first time I met Samir in a guard tower. He said the Iraqi soldiers were afraid of me. "They say you look mean. Let’s play a joke on them. Make me do push ups and yell at me. That will scare them real good, sergeant." Samir’s portly frame could only muster one or two push ups, but the soldiers were really afraid of me, that’s for sure. We later had a good laugh with them and shared a Miami, Iraq’s most popular smoke.
I had a good time that day. And those will be the stories I share with my kids. The stories that make you smile and feel warm inside. That’s the thing with life. You cannot choose which stories or experiences that randomly pop up in your head. They just surface. If I could, I would delete the sights of dead bodies and craters from car bombs. But my brain isn’t a hard drive. And there’s no telling what pop up window will come up next.
I now have three reoccurring dreams. The latest is of me standing in the mirror and rather than seeing my own reflection, I see my friend who was killed in November. I’ve only had it twice, but it is the hardest of all dreams. Do I feel guilty for still being alive?
I certainly do not write this for attention or to get it off my chest. Rather, I write it to inform you. To let you know that if you have a soldier or you know a soldier who just returned, that there are days he or she would probably want to lay in bed and do absolutely nothing. I wish it were different, but it’s not. Soldiers are strong, determined people, but also very human.
I am trying and doing everything I can to regain my old ways and routines, but my life has changed and I have a lot of experiences that will never go away. However, my perspectives on life have not and will never change. I love baseball more now than ever and laughing feels better than before. And most of all, life will always be a beautiful thing. Except now, I have to work a little harder at realizing that.