Content Warning: This post contains descriptions of graphic violence and grief. Please practice good self care when deciding whether or not to read it.
I didn’t work today, due to another kidney stone. In my case, they tend to move back and forth between my kidney and bladder before passing, so the pain is intermittent. I can’t handle prescription pain meds, so I use Advil, cranberry juice, and water. I get reflective and thoughtful when I’m between bouts of writhing pain. I’m aware that there are people who live with this level of pain on a daily basis. That knowledge humbles me. I’m grateful for my health. My body rarely lets me down.
My sister returns tomorrow. I’m mostly relieved by this because I’m feeling a hug deficit that she’ll immediately alleviate. She gives good hugs, even though it took a long time before I could appreciate them. My therapist texted me to see how I was feeling earlier, as she knew of my recent lower back pain. Her response unsettled me at first. She commented that I have a lot going on right now. It landed me in deep thought. I don’t allow myself to focus on the negative, especially in a cumulative manner. I know my therapist well enough to understand that she was merely acknowledging a fact sympathetically.
She doesn’t minimize my struggles, nor does she tolerate wallowing in negativity rather than doing something about it. I don’t want to disrespect her by ignoring what she’s already taught me. She reminds me of my Mom in some ways, despite being far younger. I wasn’t allowed to tell my Mom I couldn’t do something. The word can’t was basically a swear word in our house. Instead, I go directly to pondering ways I can do something until I figure out a way. I’m grateful that my Mom taught me this thought process, as it’s been working for me my whole life. Life is a lot less scary when you truly believe you can do anything if given the time to devise a plan to pull it off.
One of the reasons I joined the Army is because I strongly suspected I was too arrogant and spoiled to survive as an independent adult. I haven’t shared this aspect of my decision much, because I’m still a little ashamed. I was a cocky little smartass, and I knew it. I also knew that if I didn’t change my attitude, I was headed for serious hardship because of it. I assumed the Army would help me overcome this attitude, and I was extremely correct in my assumption. Painfully correct. It wasn’t a quick lesson, either. I got promoted and demoted more times than I care to admit, initially. The turning point for me was a strong female leader who assisted me in seeing the world beyond the end of my own nose.
She tapped into my intrinsic need to make my Mom proud of me by doing my best. My Mom never let me get away with surrendering to a challenge, and SGT Charles didn’t either. I went from being the perpetual Private Fuckup to being an excellent soldier. My rank and responsibilities increased as I grew, and before long I was training to become a leader. It was an intense time in my life, and it set the tone of my adulthood ever since. When I was told that my attitude was the only thing standing between me and success the first time, I thought it was ridiculous. When I realized it was true, it helped me recognize how much control I have over my life.
I’m almost certain that had I not joined the Army, I would be dust by now. I was too much of a child to succeed at university when 17. I would have ended up convincing myself that I was too disabled to support myself, and live independently. That lie would have led to depression and eventually self destruction. I didn’t know how to express feelings back then. I didn’t know how to bond with my peers beyond the superficial. I was aware that I was on a path to self destruction. My desire to serve in the Army as enlisted was strong since I was 5. I understood at a young age that serving meant surrendering myself to my country, come what may.
I had no idea what to expect. I saw a few movies that poorly imitated the military lifestyle. I had no idea that I was entering an extremely violent world. I thought the potential violence was only related to war, and between the good guys (us), and the enemy (not us). I was clueless, but I learned. It was traumatic, and I still find myself reeling in my nightmares from certain incidents. I’m haunted by the murder of my best friend by her husband, while I sat on a sofa below, holding their infant son. It was the first time someone I knew committed adultery, and I was oblivious of this fact, despite spending all my free time in her company.
Her husband, also a soldier, returned in a rage after being sent a letter informing him of her actions. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. We had a parade that day, and were released earlier than usual afterward. We had planned to pick up some food and meet her at her apartment off post to celebrate her little sisters birthday. But after I arrived with another friend, and a bucket of KFC, her husband showed up and immediately confronted his wife in their bedroom directly above us. I mostly interact with the world on an auditory level, so my memory of sounds is strong. I remember hearing my friend make a loud, high pitched, strange sound. It alarmed me and her sister. It made the baby cry.
I remember the sound of her husband rushing down the stairs and out the door. The sound of him speeding away in their car. The silence of my friend in the bedroom above. I remember fighting her sister to be the first one up the stairs. I remember clutching the baby, who was crying, but I could no longer hear it. Most of all, I remember what I saw when I stood in the doorway of the bedroom. I didn’t linger because my focus was on preventing her sister from seeing what I saw. I didn’t really process what I saw. I just memorized it and stored it for later. I remember pushing her sister down the stairs and out the door. I saw that she was wailing, but I couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear anything.
I held her sister firmly by the arm with one hand, and clutched the baby to me with the other. I felt like I was far away, watching a film that was too intense. I stopped hearing, but kept watching. I watched an EMT help her sister into the back of an ambulance, and I remember wondering why I couldn’t hear anything. Another EMT took the baby and had me sit on the bumper of the ambulance. I could see them talking to me, but heard nothing. It was surreal, and too much for me to process. A guy from my unit came and walked me to his car, then drove me back to the barracks. I remember him taking me to my room and telling me that my friend was dead.
That’s when the sound came back. I immediately broke down and cried. I’d seen her dead body lying on the floor next to her bed. I saw the bloody hammer with hair on it. All I could process at that time was that this was something her sister couldn’t be allowed to see. Something inside me knew that if I allowed her to see that, it would break her. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that it could possibly break me too. Protecting those more vulnerable than me is instinctual. I don’t know if this is a common human trait, or if it’s something that some people do and others don’t.
It was the first time I lost a loved one that was close in age. I was shocked, and the first thing I said was how she couldn’t be dead because she had promised to braid my hair. I felt horribly guilty for saying that for a long time. I didn’t know she was cheating on her husband. I thought her lover was only driving her car because it was a manual transmission, and she was learning how to drive it. That’s what I was told, and I believed it. It never once crossed my mind that there was more going on. Someone else in my unit wrote to her husband in Korea, and informed him that his wife was cheating on him. Several in my unit felt he was completely justified in murdering her. Texas law disagreed, and he got 40 years in prison (civilian). He’s there now.
I remember when we were marched as a unit to the chapel to pay our respects. There were 2 people who wept the whole time. Me, and the man she was cheating with. Neither of us was disciplined for weeping in formation. He was inconsolable, and had to be assisted to walk up and salute her photo, boots, and dog tags. I was able to walk up and salute, but I saw her medic armband, and took it with me. I still have it. Nobody said a thing to me about taking it. I exchange xmas cards with her sister, and she always includes a photo of my friends son. Her parents are raising him.
I tend to avoid sleep when this incident makes it’s way to the forefront of my mind. I know intellectually that something triggers it, but I’m still learning how to recognize triggers, and I don’t know what caused it this time. I’m also not trying terribly hard to figure it out just yet. I need a little time to feel less shaken first. I wish it was the only time extreme violence rocked my world while serving in the Army. Unfortunately, it’s only the first. There is something about living in a violent world where your own life doesn’t belong to you, that evokes a strange hysteria deep inside. We don’t know how to be sacrificial lambs for our country and experience inner peace simultaneously, it seems.
Being Autistic often makes it difficult for me to process situations that were previously foreign to me. I remember well, but if I’m confused by what I witness, I get stuck at the very least, and usually shut down altogether for a while. I hate the lessons I learned from that experience. Betrayal, lies, interfering in the lives of others, and the horrible consequences they lead to is a lot to process. I’m not sure I’ve managed at this point. Probably not, since it still haunts me.