Most would call Bill a hero, but he would vehemently disagree. You see, to Bill, his life has been a series of failures. Since coming home from the Vietnam War, he has been married, and then, divorced. His career has been non-existent, as evidenced by the 39 different jobs he has held in the past half century. His life is a constant battle. He does not feel comfortable inside of his own home, and the insomnia eats away at the rest his body so needs. He does not consider himself ill, as an illness “presumably has a remedy”.
There is no remedy for what ails Bill. Every night since he came home from the war, Bill has done a perimeter check around his house, sometimes two or three times throughout the night. Something, or rather someone, could use the cover of darkness to attack him. He cannot take any chances.
In his journal, Bill describes a scene in which his Army unit was sent to assist a Marine company that had been pinned down inside of a mountain ravine. The reports were not good. There were many casualties expected and their orders were simple: go in firing and kill everything that moves. He describes the limbs of fallen Marines, the smell of the dead bodies, and the screams of war he encountered. Then he drops the mic:
”I CANNOT HOLD BACK THE MEMORY or the tears. I am not in Vietnam, and it is not 1968. It is November, 2010. I am sitting at my home computer, looking at the country of Vietnam on Google Earth. “How long have I been out, back there in my mind?” I wonder. Looking at the clock on the wall, I realize it has only been seconds, maybe minutes. My flashbacks are like dreams. Scenes that took minutes and hours in real time only take seconds to replay in my mind.
“When is this shit going to stop?”
Never, Bill. Never.
This is life for Bill. Not a few moments spread over time. Not a bad dream in the middle of the night. Not a few thoughts of past bad deeds. This is his life. Everyday for over 40 years, the battle that the pages of history say ended on that fall day in 1968, continues to rage on right here at home. Bill is not alone and, yet he has no company. Thousands of war veterans suffer from PTSD and for those in the pre-9/11 era, help is rarely sought.
His wife could no long take the sleepless nights wondering who this man was sleeping next to her, screaming in his sleep ungodly things: Kill them all. Fucking Charlie!
His employers would not put up with the constant fits of anger towards co-workers or the countless times Bill showed up for work unfit to perform his job safely. Alcohol on his breath. Unkempt.
It wasn’t until he ran into a fellow Vietnam veteran at an AA meeting that Bill finally had an answer for why he was the way he was: he was ill. The VA psychiatrists were calling it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Something his new friend told him had given him some relief was to write down all the things his mind was thinking That meant carrying around a notebook everywhere he went. If it meant interrupting the human resources manager of the factory he was interviewing with to scribble down a few lines, then so be it. Never mind that it might cost him the job (it did not).
Writing became his therapy, as it created a way for the thoughts inside of his head to be let out without the fear of hurting someone. Bill has dreams of turning his notebooks into a book or a blog. Something that he hopes would help his fellow Vietnam veterans find some sense in their post-war lives. Forget that it is 40 years too late.
Better late than never, right?
That is the only way life differs from war.