Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
I could easily write this story more tragically, changing details to make the situation seem very dire and emotional to make it seem like I have a right to be messed up by what happened, to justify to my readers my nightmares or anxiety. But then it wouldn’t be the truth. The reality of war is very different than the movies. And the person watching the movie knows that something is coming because the directors make it obvious. My readers know something is coming because otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this story. There is a built up sense of apprehension in the movie or the book. In the war movies during tragic scenes, the camera moves slowly, trying to capture the “fog of war” that each person experiences. There is confusion and destruction everywhere, and the sad music plays while the dust fills the air…
I think that is what messed up my perception of war, the damn movies with their slow-motion scenes filled with sad instrumental songs. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to look back at my experiences with tragedy and realize that, “Oh, that right there; that is when the director would cue a sad song.” Because in the moment, there is no sad music, there is no aerial pan-out of the destruction. There is the moment as it happens, no different than the last moment as it is being experienced. It is unexpected with no real build in apprehension. During the first convoy, of course I was anxious. I was scared shitless. And nothing happened. So after enough moments of being scared shitless with no tragedy, you forget to expect tragedy. You have to forget. You can’t live for six to fourteen months feeling like you’re going to die any minute. You’d go crazy. So you joke around and laugh, you tell stories, you insult each other, you play spades, you chase each other around playing tag, you do everything to reassure your brain that you are not going to die.
When tragedy occurs on deployment, you are both in shock and also not remotely surprised. The moment is happening, you are shocked, but you are living. And there is no end scene. There is the moment of tragedy, and then the next, and the next, every moment flowing together until this is your life and that tragedy is just a thing you experienced.
Perhaps that is why directors tend to end scenes after tragedy happens. They don’t know how to capture the emotion of the moment never actually ending. It seems like the tragic moment never ends because there is no black screen- roll credits. There is the cleanup, and the shock, and the shock will exist until months or maybe years after the event. After speaking with my friends and Marine buddies, I have come to realize that people who have experienced tragedy become very good at compartmentalization. We have to create our own “end scenes” to properly lock up the experience into a tiny box until we, if ever, need it again.
PTSD symptoms occur constantly and unexpectedly because that moment of tragedy never ends; the moments in your life are strung together. This is your life. That is the tragedy. And we lock up the events into that tiny box until the tragedy rears its ugly head and escapes, causing us to scream in the night, to drink until we are numb, or shoot ourselves in the head during an argument.
There is no end scene.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
For assistance with addiction, please call the professionals at 844-778-1026 or visit www.drugrehab.com.
For Marine Corps related stress assistance, please call DSTRESS at 1877-476-7734 or visit http://www.usmc-mccs.org/services/support/dstress-line/.
THESE RESOURCES ARE CONFIDENTIAL.