Good to be back with you all.
A date is approaching, next month actually. Seasons move forward through the years, yet certain ones halt us, if only temporarily, reminding us again of what once was, of who was once.
It has almost been three years since I stood with my hand upon a young combat vet’s coffin. To this day, I cannot watch a Harry Potter movie without, at some point, feeling his presence. These next few days, I ask your leave to remember him again with you as well, from prologue to epilogue, with encores of blog posts from March 2012 through October 2013.
As a psychiatrist, I often come upon spots in my heart where certain patients have trod, some stealthily, some ploddingly. This one young former US Army soldier did both and more, through passageway after passageway, still now in memory leading me back to spots where we laughed together, even shed a tear together, always with that smile on his face that made me roll my eyes and smile as well.
There were once, you see, Three Musketeers: Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, united not in Dumas’s France this time, but in the United States Army, in a hot land far from home.
Two have since fallen. One is making the life he can. Here are the times we traveled together, in body and in spirit.
From March 11, 2012 comes the prologue, No Trouble at All.
Today I was in contact again with one of the veterans I work with, one who has struggled almost incessantly since coming home. He’s a dashing rake, by anybody’s measure. He comes from a well-educated family. He’s smart. He’s intense. He was once a bit of a bad-boy, but he’s working now to pull his life together, to find love, to find a place back in his family, back in this world.
In a matter of days after landing in the Middle East, this man’s dearest friend—his brother to the core—was dead. Others in his unit soon followed. He wakes up in the night screaming, sweating, panicked. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of his friend, often-—usually-—with tears. To this day, when he promises me something important, he does so on that man’s memory and on his grave.
He’s been trying to get back to school. It’s been anything but a cakewalk, to say the least, though that says absolutely zero about his talents and his potential, both of which are quite abundant. He endures the lectures that many of us remember in those 100-level courses, trying to stay focused, trying not to wonder what these kids around him are thinking about him, kids who are just about the age he was when he walked off that plane.
When he sent his buddy’s body back home.
He’s trying. He’s trying his darndest.
It’s the courses with the papers, though. They’re the ones that get him. Too much time to sit in front of a computer. And remember.
He tries not to overuse his medications. He’s put his family in charge of them. Yet there are the times that he wakes at night and can’t stop shaking, can barely move, barely swallow. He knows a pill won’t save him. But, God: it’s so awful. A war raging, smack dab in the middle of his bedroom. In the middle of his soul.
He always apologizes when he contacts me. He’s so ashamed to do so. But he gets so desperate. And he hopes against hope that I won’t hold the contact against him, one more time, another, another.
Honestly, they’re indeed no trouble at all. He knows the drill: if I can get back with him, I will. If I don’t right away, he knows that I’m with family or with other patients. He knows I’ll get back to him eventually, even if it’s just a “hang in there.” He knows he’ll have his time later that week to come see me, to try somehow to find that devilish smile of his one more time, to remember when it was all easier, to borrow as hope what is my certainty: that he will find a better day. One day. Not today. Most likely not soon. But one day.
I can say that because he’s a warrior’s warrior, through and through. Behind that Abercrombie facade (albeit a brunette one), there’s a force of nature. He was a handful as a kid. He’s a handful now. He won’t give up. Never did. Never will.
All I can say is: good for him.
We took care of today’s matters in short order. He thanked me quite genuinely. “I’m sorry,” he said again, “to mess up your weekend.” I heard the break in his voice, quick, but definitely there.
“No trouble at all,” was my reply. I had a few minutes on the way to the Starbucks, after all. I have a few minutes now on the porch, absorbing this quite pastoral Sunday afternoon for mid-March in Indiana.
What else do we have, really, except time, a future.
He doubts he has a future, of course. My job—our job, as professionals—is to disabuse him and those like him of that notion one day at a time. No guarantees of any particular outcome. Just life, with its joys, its challenges, its months off, its back-to-works.
We’ll see each other tomorrow.
And so the story went on.
Until tomorrow, be well,