Chapter One

Coming Home

The events felt life-changing. As I was flung across the dark kitchen for the third or fourth time I heard a “crack”.  I forcefully spun around and hit the wall.

“Will I live or die”, I thought. “I have to get over to the light switch or over to that door. I’ve got to wake up John!”

At that moment I connected with the wall and my hand traveled over to the switch. The light washed over the room and everything stopped, both of us motionless for that moment. Then my son turned and walked into his bedroom and silently began to pack his rucksack. It was as if in that moment he was suddenly back, thinking this was a place where he would no longer be welcomed, while at the same moment I was in my bedroom, shaking my husband awake with one hand.

“What’s going on – what – what happened to you? What’s wrong with your hand?” My husband asked, as I quickly tried to get him up and out and keep an eye on my son in the next room.

“Just get in the car and let’s get him to the VA NOW!!!”

“But what…”

“Let’s just GO! We need to get him there NOW!”

As we started the car and pulled it out of the garage, I walked back into the house with John and called my son from the bedroom.

“Eric, we need to go to the VA now. Are you ready?”

Motionless and without a sound, he hoisted his ruck and jumped into the back seat of the car. It was a 35-minute ride to the VA on a good day. I thought as we pulled out of the driveway on that starry night that I was glad there was no one out; it would make the trip that much quicker. We all sat quietly in the car as we drove and I kept thinking about what he’d already been through in Anbar Province in 2006, and what this incident might now mean for him if he remembered it, or at least when it was brought to his consciousness. It could overshadow all that he had done and seen up to this point. And I thought about the knife I had seen when we were in discussion before the whole incident began. Where was the knife? I hadn’t thought of it till then. Did he still have it? Was he going to use it from the backseat? Why had I not thought to mention it to my husband in the rush of things before? It was too late now, and we were in too confined a space to draw attention to it at this point. We all continued to sit silent and motionless as we drove on into the night, and finally the Emergency room of the VA Hospital.

“Sir, I have a Veteran here who is home from Iraq. He’s just had a flashback and he needs immediate treatment.”

“What happened?” The security guard asked as he looked over at a wall to his left where a young man in camouflage was sitting with his dog.

“You see that man over there with the dog?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“He just rolled up here with his dog saying he felt like killing someone, so he thought he better come here. I got a ward full of them up on the 10th floor.”

Well. That didn’t sound hopeful. But I had nowhere else to turn. We were out of answers for my son at this point. There wasn’t a lot of information out there. The security guard ushered my son and I in, took a statement from me, which began again with:

“My son was in Iraq. He just had a flashback.”

“What happened to your arm?”

“I was injured in the process. My son was not there – let me explain. He was not there. I looked into his eyes. I did not see him. Just black. I only saw blackness when I looked into his eyes.”

“We’ll get him situated upstairs. You go get that arm taken care of.”

To this day I don’t know why I didn’t say to the man, “I, too am a Veteran. Can you take care of it here?” Probably because many still don’t think of women as Veterans, and often the last person we think of is ourselves. Besides, I had insurance, so I went down the street to the University Hospital. My son stayed at the VA.

We proceeded down to the University Hospital ER, where I again stated,

“My son was in Iraq. He had a flashback. I was hurt in the process.”

I was taken into a room (by this time the arm was throbbing pretty agonizingly. Funny, I hadn’t noticed it until now). I was asked to speak to a sheriff and explain everything that happened. This took about an hour. No one had bothered to look at my arm yet. My husband had said on the way over,

“Jeezus, I hope they don’t think it was me!”

Finally, an attendant came in, put my arm on a hanging stretcher to separate my jammed wrist bone from my left hand as much as possible, then he proceeded to run me over to the x-ray and see what we had.

“Broken wrist”, he said. “We’ll have to set it, then a doc can see it on Tuesday and decide if you need surgery or just another cast. This one will keep you immobile over the long Labor Day weekend.”

The sheriff came back into the room.

“I can’t take your statement because you live in Cass County. You’ll have to talk to the sheriff there when you get home. They’ll be coming to see you.”

Great. I was exhausted. Probably in shock. I hadn’t shed a tear yet, and I kept thinking of my son. How was he doing? Why were they getting law enforcement involved? I wasn’t asking for them. I wasn’t filing a report. I had taken my son in to get help for a flashback If they did not know how to handle this, we were in big trouble. If this was not the first time they had seen a returning Veteran who was struggling, it would not be the last. And I would tell them so. I was afraid I could see where this was going.

Home. Fourteen hours later. The sun was shining and two sheriffs were there to meet me. All I wanted to do was sleep. Definitely, I knew I was in shock now. And sinking into depression as I saw these two standing at our door. I gave them the same statement that I had everyone else.

“My son was in Iraq. He had a flashback. I was hurt in the process.”

After more of their questions and the two of them walking our premises, I went to bed. I woke up several hours later, poured a glass of orange juice with my good hand (this maneuvering with one hand was going to be an adjustment) and put on one of my favorite songs, which felt appropriate, really appropriate “I’m Alive” by Kenny Chesney, still trying to take it all in.

The phone rang, and as I answered it I heard my son’s hesitant voice.

“Mom, they’ve charged me with two counts of felony, one for terroristic threats and one for assault.”

My heart sank along with my glass of juice as it shattered on the floor.

What have they done to our children?

Never once did I hold it against him that there was a broken wrist that happened in the process of my being thrown against a wall several times, as my hoodie was wrapped around my head. Although I was hurled across the dark kitchen in our home at nearly 2 am, not once did I hold him in contempt or even fear at the point where I spun around to look into his eyes and say “what are you doing”, to see the empty eyes as he was mumbling about women and children. Not once did I blame him or me. My only thoughts at the time were that he has already lived through so much – will he live through the repercussions of this? And, how much worse will it make things for him? Will I live through this? It dawned on me at that moment that nothing would ever be the same again, for my son, my family or myself. I was only beginning to grasp the fact that the world as we had known it was gone. The only fear I had at this point became a dread for what would now come in the future, as lives turned from an innocence we would never know again.

It changed my life forever.

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