My Dearest Love,
I really don’t know how you’ve done it all these years.
“Done what?” you would probably smile and ask me. I’ll tell ya.
I recall noticing your contagious and beautiful smile the first time we met, October, 1985. You were 16, I was 18, and once we started falling in love, I became aware of how your eyes would light up when you saw me. Nobody’d ever looked at me like that before, and it was the best feeling in the world.
Fast-forward a few months; my mask began to slip a little and you found out I had…”issues.” Chronic pain issues, anger issues, self-esteem issues, depression issues. I know I’m not the most screwed-up person you know, and on the flipside, I understand I’m not a raving lunatic. I’m good at hiding my issues, and while they have been a problem, they haven’t turned me into some unrecognizable beast.
It couldn’t have been easy. But, you married me, and then our beautiful daughter was born: Jessica LeeAnne. What an amazing child.
I felt fully incompetent as a father, but something inside said, “Just love that baby. Do your best, and just love her.”
So we did, and she began to grow into the amazing, strong, confident woman she is today.
But it must’ve been difficult watching me emotionally limp along, trying to get my footing in this world. Jess was a toddler when I went into the Army, and we both thought I was going to make it a full-time gig. What we didn’t know is I had a dependent personality disorder (long story for another blog) and that I was gonna crash’n’burn six weeks into Basic Training.
And crash I did; I went to my locker and started taking pills. I had several painkillers and a small bottle of ibuprofen, and took them all…nearly 60 pills total. I know it must have been hard not taking it personal, but whatever your struggles, you worked through it.
You must’ve been thinking, “Why would he try to leave us?” As you now understand, though, I was having a mental breakdown, and wasn’t thinking specifically about death or leaving anyone. My only thought was, “These are painkillers…I’m in pain…these will kill the pain…these are painkillers…I’m in pain…”
Round and round the mantra went in my head. When I woke up the next morning and told ’em what I’d done, they rushed me to the hospital at Fort Jackson to have my stomach pumped. After that fun experience, they took me to the psych ward on 7-west, aka “The Looney Bin,” as dubbed by all of us wanna-be soldiers who had crapped out and were going home early.
I recall the first phone call I made to you when I got to 7-west. You were shocked, but SO supportive. You could’ve walked away, labeling me a “basket case,” but you didn’t. You stuck around, even forwarding me a letter from my dad. In part, it read:
“You done your best, son. You gave it a shot, and it didn’t work out. Now it’s time to come home.”
I’ll never forget that. In the midst of padded rooms, nurses and “crazies” like me, your love was my saving grace. You were in full agreement with my mom and dad as I told you I was gonna come home, get a job and begin my life again. While I’d “failed” in the Army, they toughened me up, and I returned home with a steely-eyed determination you’d not seen before. But before I could be sent home, they said I needed three signatures by some of the higher-ups at Fort Jackson.
I assume they thought of people like me as “losers,” so they didn’t get in a hurry to get those three signatures. I was in limbo for two weeks waiting to be sent home, spending 16 hours a day in the “CQ,” or “Company Quarters,” answering phones and being mocked by Drill Sergeants.
I remember one of them, with a cocky smile, asked me what I’d done to earn a one-way ticket home. “I took a bunch’a pills,” I mumbled, embarrassed. “Suicide attempt.” He laughed and said, “Well, next time ya wanna kill yourself, ya no-good S.O.B., throw yourself off the d@mn roof!”
When I told you how they were jacking me around, you got angry, and took action.
You’ve always been so tough, and didn’t take this lying down. No, you called Congressman Ike Skelton and told him what was happening.
That very afternoon I received an apology from the Company Commander, and the next morning I was on a plane home. Amazing. This sounds like sappy rambling, but when I saw you and my little baby girl at the Kansas City airport, after going through such hell, I felt, as Aragorn says in Lord of the Rings, that I’d slipped into a dream. I suddenly knew, as long as you were by my side, I could do anything.
Ha, why you stuck around through all my crap, I’ll never know, but you did.
(More to come)