******Trigger Warning********– (graphic violence, homicide)
I’m so tired. I lay in bed for 2 hours, but didn’t sleep. I’m on vacation, so I’m allowed to goof off right now. That was directed at the guilt I’m feeling because I haven’t written any code today. Last night after I set up my new Xbox One, and waited forEVER for Halo 5 to update, I started shaking. This has happened before. It sucks. I broke into a sweat, and my vision started to go black. Then I fainted. I was halfway to the floor by then because I knew it was coming, so I wasn’t hurt. It’s called a Vasovagal response.
It’s no big deal. But in the brief time I’m experiencing it, it feels pretty bad. I’m assuming this was due to a combination of lack of sleep, forgetting to eat, and being triggered. It’s kind of ironic how I got triggered. I was watching PBS, and they were doing a show about veterans for the holiday. I paid attention to the beginning when they followed a few soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and were home and trying to get on with their lives. One was attending university, and another was reunited with his wife. Before I clued in on the fact that I needed to change the channel, they started showing extremely graphic images of dead bodies in Iraq. I was looking right at the TV when they showed one.
When I regained consciousness probably moments later, my cat was sitting beside me on the floor. Anytime I’m on the floor, it’s a signal to her that I’m open to playing with her, so she must have wondered what was up. I sat up slowly, and then got up and made something to eat. I sat at the counter and started eating my peanut butter sandwich, with my cat under my chair. I didn’t change the channel, I shut the TV off completely, so it was quiet.
As I sat there, I made the mistake of wondering what caused the episode. Bad move. My mind threw up the graphic image again, and I pushed it away as fast as I could. Then my mind started to wander back to when I was in the service. My first permanent duty station was where I was stationed the longest. I did a lot of growing up during the five years I was there. I was pretty naive. People I worked with directly used to say, “Earth to Special K, come in Special K”, a lot, because my Sergeant said it once, and they thought it was hilarious. Special K was my nickname there.
I was kind of in my own world, I suppose. I also would sing without realizing it, and the guys I worked with would join in to bring it to my attention. Again, they thought it was hilarious. I got on well with them, though. My Sergeant was from Panama, and had 2 little boys. I spent a lot of time with her and her kids. She was one of the senior NCO’s in my unit, which meant she had a lot of responsibility and power. She was like a second Mom to me in many ways. She was the most amazing person I had the pleasure of meeting while serving, and that’s saying a lot, as I met a lot of amazing people during that time.
She was strict, demanded your best at all times, and looked out for her people like a lioness with her cubs. She made you want to do a good job, because getting praised by her was a rare but wonderful thing when it happened. I had trouble making friends in the Army too. I had a lot of friendly acquaintances, but a lot of the women considered me too young to hang out with. I was one of about 4 people on the entire post who were under 18, which was the legal drinking age there. So going to the club was out at first. I spent all my free time at the education center, or with my Sergeants kids.
After our first field problem, I met a woman from Jamaica. She didn’t like me at first, because I kept following her around, asking her to pronounce words, then giggling when she complied. She was a medic and was super feisty. She was married, and had recently given birth to a son. I must have grown on her, because before long, we became good friends. She lived off post in an apartment complex. Her younger sister was coming to visit for her 18th birthday, and I was invited to attend the party. Our unit had a parade that day, and she was covering it with the ambulance.
As was always the case, about an hour into the parade, I fainted. I just can’t stand at attention for long periods in 90+ degree weather. When I fell out, the ones standing around me in formation saw it coming and propped me up until the medics came and dragged me away. While I was recovering with an IV in the ambulance, she told me her husband was coming home. He was in our unit before I arrived, and had since been sent to Korea. Often, if you marry someone in your unit, one of you gets orders to go somewhere else soon afterward.
I rode with her back to my unit and changed into civilian clothes for the party. I rode with a guy in my unit, and on the way there, we stopped for a bucket of KFC. When we arrived, my friend was upstairs with her husband, and her sister was sitting on the sofa holding the baby. I sat down beside her and started playing with the baby. I don’t know where the guy I rode with was. Probably in the bathroom. A few minutes later, I heard some shouting coming from upstairs. Then a really long, horrible moan from my friend.
Her husband came down the stairs really fast, and ran out the door. My ride went after him. I had a really bad feeling. I knew something was wrong. My friends sister grabbed my arm tightly, and we both started to cry. I felt so numb. I got up and started to climb the stairs. Her sister started to follow me, and I told her no, stay with the baby. I went up to the landing, and looked at the bloody handprint on the door. For some reason, I couldn’t hear the baby crying anymore. I felt like I was far away, and my body was an avatar I was operating. I walked into the bedroom, and saw my friend laying across the bed. Her head was bashed in, and her brain was showing. There was a hammer on the floor that had blood and hair on it.
I turned around and started to walk down the stairs. Her sister was in the process of coming up them, and I physically fought her back down the stairs and forced her out the door after taking the baby from her. I still couldn’t hear. I just remember it was so bright outside. Her sister was still crying, but I don’t know if I was anymore. My friends car was gone, and an ambulance was pulling into the parking lot. I held the baby in one arm, and her sisters arm in my other hand. It was the most surreal moment of my life. And inside, I had a thought that still makes me feel ashamed.
I thought to myself, “She can’t be dead, she promised to braid my hair”. I hate that I thought that at the worst possible moment. I felt like the most selfish person who ever existed. The police seemed to just appear out of nowhere, and one of them was a woman. She came over and took the baby, then some other police started directing us to the back of the ambulance. I was thinking they were confused, because I was fine, I didn’t need an ambulance. Her sister clung to me, but I couldn’t feel it. They took us back to the barracks. It was on the news on TV that night. Everyone in the barracks was so shocked.
It turned out that my friend was cheating on her husband, and someone in my unit wrote to him in Korea and told him about it. He got leave, came home, and beat her to death with a hammer. Then he took off when I saw him storming out of the apartment. The guy I worked with ran after him. Her husband confessed to him what he’d done, then drove into the canyon in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The guy I worked with called the police at the apartment office. He came to check on me later that night, and explained things to me. I never even knew she was cheating on her husband.
It had never occurred to me that someone could sleep with anyone other than their spouse. This is what I meant about my being naive. The murder divided our unit pretty much into men vs. women. The guys thought he was justified in what he did. The women thought it was monstrous. He was arrested that night, and it went to trial. Some of the guys had to testify, but I was never told the details. He got 40 years in prison. The sister took the baby home to Jamaica where her parents decided to raise him.
We were marched in formation to the chapel, where a pair of her combat boots, her dog tags, her medic arm band, and a photo sat at the altar. We all filed up to it, one by one, and saluted. The guy she was cheating with was weeping so hard a friend had to help him walk. I was the other person weeping the entire time. I was still in shock, and the crying just wouldn’t stop. It wasn’t my first experience with death. Some of the foster babies died in our home when I was a kid. But this was the first time someone died when I was an adult. It leveled me.
I started losing weight because I was too sad to eat. I went down to the supply room in the basement to exchange my linens, and to my horror, the bloody mattress was propped against the wall near the armory. Apparently, the supply people had to go to the apartment and pack up her stuff and clear out the apartment. This is a typical example of how the mission always comes first, no matter what, in the military. It didn’t matter that they all knew my friend, and were shaken up by what had happened. It had to be done, so they did it.
I took one look at the mattress, and started screaming. It was really weird, because I couldn’t stop at first. It was like someone else was screaming. My sergeant came and got me, and I stayed at her house for a few days to regroup. Playing with her kids was just what I needed. The sadness has always remained, but I’ve learned how to live with it. I still have her medic arm band. I think about her sometimes. I have nightmares about it sometimes. As far as I know, her husband is still in prison. I sent letters back and forth with her sister for a few years, and in the last photo I got of the baby, he looked adorable.
It’s a violent world, the military. There were 3 murders connected to my unit during my 5 years there. But this is the one that continues to haunt me. Maybe I’ll be able to sleep now that I got it out.