*This is a work in progress. I publish knowing there is a distinct possibility my time will run out. Unedited. If I actually did, there’s little doubt I’d erase it completely out of sheer embarrassment.
I’m not a writer. I do, however, respect and appreciate good writing. With that said, I feel compelled to share some of the challenges confronting me in the wake of military service, despite the real possibility that virtually no one will ever consume this work, benefit from the effort, -besides possibly myself- or give a good shit in general. This, in my humble opinion, is the modern paradox of Terror War Veteran’s: That the lip service “we support our troops,” buttresses up to the edge of doing virtually nothing tangible to effect said support. Put less ephemerally and more succinctly; Largely, society is willing to “support our troops” only up to the point where physical effort and/or financial burden become commiserate.
I’m certain many would associate my opinion with ingratitude, or maybe even childishness. That’s okay, I may have interpreted those words similarly? Yet, after five years of service deployed in two war zones, followed by ten years struggling through a fraught transition to civilian life, my outlook on things, both political and spiritual, has been modified somewhat. You could say that my perspective has shifted. Yes, there are beautiful, kindhearted folks out there among us, often, families of fellow Vets, but in my travels, these genuine patriots make up a shrinking minority. To them I say, “thank you for your service.”
Who knows if I will find the time to write more? Life today is a iffy proposition, at times hour to hour. I only say it to be honest, not for sympathy or attention really, but most of the time I could picture the world a better place minus my above room temperature, rotting carcass, wondering alone in the dim light of my future disasters. Nobody would care at this point if I were to jump off a bridge or swim to the middle of a cold lake and sank. And it should be my choice anyways, right? Have I fought for at least that much?
So if I write for anything, it is for the possibility my words might shift the narrative of even one person in this country, or world, who could do more than offer lip service? That maybe this one person might save the life of another before it’s too late? That maybe a politician so hell bent on war for the sake of war, might actually consider the decision on a level deeper than pandering to an electorate for personal gain, and provoke a broader discussion considering a possibly flawed mission or repeated error in geopolitical assessment?
Not very likely though, I know. As long as brave, albeit generally ignorant, young men rush forward and sign up to fight the enemy, for reasons patriotic, financial, or of desperation, the madness will undoubtedly continue. Or as the writer Andrew Bacevich wrote succinctly in one of his incite-full books on the U.S. Military writ large, -I think?- “as long as war is profitable, we’re going to see a lot more of it.” Again though, if his decimation of American military power and our follies post WWII hasn’t shifted the narrative, let alone policies, I am fully aware my own folly in the arena.
I’ll finish up my thoughts with a recent experience that has supported my general opinion on these matters. It’s a story that certainly includes many of my own faults as a man and not only the misgivings and disingenuous nature of others who purport to care for Veteran’s. If I come across as little more than a sniveling victim, I understand. Nevertheless, from my perspective today, the series of events sums up quite impressively the challenges many fellow Vets who may have lost their way. And like most things in life, how things might appear, direct and simple, often misses much of the undertow that secretly directs another. The world is not black or white, it’s not even a couple shades of grey. Life, and how we enjoy, love, hate or manipulate it, is mostly the color you want it to be, even if you have little choice, and our fellow man, or woman, paint the landscape for themselves using these blended colors of emotion and spirit. What I’m trying to say with all the BS of that poor analogy is that, just because a few bad, maybe even rotten apples appear in the following story, by no means should the impression be left by me that every single person involved is soured, some were actually quite professional and kind.
- On a separate note; I wonder if my reduced self-worth and general hatred for my present condition is causing static in the signals I interpret from day to day? Could I just be completely raving mad and like the insane seen in movies or television programs, I just am oblivious to the fact? Like my need to go back within this essay and change veteran to Veteran, Vet to vet, unsure whether the words should be capitalized? Could it be that I am the one so mentally ill, beyond depression and anxiety, but full out loony? That 90’s pop song just came to mind…”I’m not crazy, just a little unwell.” Okay, I am fucking lost! It’ll be over before I know it though. The rationalization confirms my condition and calms me, somehow.
I would have never believed or been able to picture being homeless and broke(n) in my 40s while in my 20s. -I didn’t consider myself homeless at 22, living in South Lake Tahoe, Skiing and Boarding, despite the fact I lived on couches and was technically homeless- But to be over 40, would have been unimaginable considering all the advantages I enjoyed. Roughly two years ago I moved to a property and cabin left to me by grandparents. The location was extremely rural, without phone, internet, even radio. Because of this and not despite it, I moved, did the work over the summer to improve the cabin and prepare it for the punishing winter ahead. Life was unraveling by then and I imagined the quiet would help my mind to slow down, to recuperate, as it were.
From July through September things were actually quite peaceful and refreshing. By mid October winter was ramping up and the solitude, combined with the increasing darkness, began feeling sad, depleting my “sun-ergy,” as an ex girlfriend use to say, slipping doubt into my brain occasionally, yet, I soldiered on. My closest neighbors, and practically only neighbors, had a sweet setup with satellite TV and Internet, which was offered on an open invitation that by mid December, I accepted at least twice a week. A few days into February, on the two mile walk home from their cabin, I caught a whiff of smoke, which was unusual. As I neared the property the source of the smell became clear. My little 12 x 16 cabin, with nearly anything and everything of value, both personal and sentimental, had been incinerated. A candle left burning on a antique roll-away desk my grandmother bought in 1938 must have tipped over, caught the edge of a paper or something, led to more flammables, burning without notice for up to five hours. Even my car, parked near the structure, suffered enough damage to become inoperable. All I had, besides my nasty attitude, was a small bag I carried, the clothes on my back and $34.88 cash and coin. It was a long night. In fact, like the Army, I have yet to find the right tool to leave either behind.
It was about negative 15f by the time I hitched a ride to the closest town, about 75 miles away, a small city of about 30 thousand, of which, I knew no one more than to say “hi.” That night was my first in a homeless shelter. If I would have had access to a respectable way of ending it all then, I no question wouldn’t be sharing the miserable experience with the world -none of who will ever actually read this- today. Alas, I was on a sort of sullen autopilot, going with the flow of the shelter, and trying to put a good face on. After a day or two I saw a flyer advertising a program, run within the shelter, for homeless Veterans. What the hell, I thought, let’s see? With this decision, I began a series of negative decisions, all against my intuition, leading me effectively, to this Barnes & Noble tonight, still homeless, still alone, and still far from anywhere I’ve ever called home.
The program was a VA funded grant that advertised case management, transportation, counseling, food and exercise. It actually sounded pretty good at the time, providing me with the space to regroup and not be forced to ask family and friends for help. Even today, about a year and a half on, I’ve stubbornly refused to ask for help. I don’t want to leave this world owing a debt I knew at the time of borrowing I would never pay back. Those years home, off and on, after the Army, were an escalating world of disappointment. I couldn’t get right, no matter what I seemed to try, do or say. More than one person I’d known my entire life told me, in so many words, even exactly once, “I don’t even know you anymore.” It’s so cliche, yet so true and devastating. How can you ever face love not knowing who you are, who you were, or who you want to be? So no, asking for money because of another failed venture, was out of the question. After sending off for a new copy of the DD-214, I signed up.
Going from the cabin to the shelter was the epitome of starkness. From solitude and quiet to zero privacy and constant noise. From only personal space to the top bunk in a 100 man dorm. The benefit of first concern provided through the Vet program was a bed in a much smaller dorm that included a lock box and occasional peace and quiet. Beyond these creature comforts, and despite a reminder of mine to be grateful, the so-called program quickly began to show its cracks. The advertisement I had picked up on the second day there was clearly for publicly, it had almost zero relation to the facts on the ground, so to speak. These bullet points, listing off the program’s offerings, were requirements of the grant and its revenue, not requirements of reality. The story on the ground looked much different than the image drawn up from far above.
This is not to say it couldn’t work for me. My goal was finding a job, saving enough money to travel south, and then doing so, all without blowing my own head off to silence the screams and kill the regret of my lot in life. Early on, I literally kept my head down and did what I was told. We were required to get signed passes to leave facility, return by 10pm, attend a group each morning for an hour and do what they called “work therapy,” which was basically jobs employees at the facility were supposed to work, but hey, if you can get the clients to fill in for free? A lot of this made me feel like a criminal. It was what I pictured a halfway house being. The paperwork, the schedule and passes, UA’s, groups, and searches. The Vet program was housed in dorm with the Addiction program, which wasn’t great, but made worse by the staffs proclivity to treat us all like we were in the Faith Based Recovery Program, irregardless of my, and some others lack of addictions. Many were on probation or parole, again, not a problem if those not on legal conditions being handled the same.
My initial queasiness with the environment arose from the climate created by the program staff. I had been a social worker, working 4 years at a long term drug treatment program so my expectation for an environment like this was quite different from actuality. It was a suspicious, police like attitude, permeating all aspects of the place and staff. Cameras were everywhere, and in the creepiest of ways, some staff would continually remind you they were watching, asking strange questions they already knew the answers to because they replayed the camera files seemed outrageous, only later did that become but a minor indiscretion. Literally, to a man, no one trusted the main case manager. A self admitted wanna be police, this person was completely wrong, uneducated, and unsupervised. A Vet program funded to help Vets rebuild after homelessness, mental illness or legal issues, the environment was exactly opposite of ideal.
If I sound ungrateful or petty, believe me, I know. It doesn’t negate the truth though. Eventually, I started asking questions, politely. This was the beginning of the end, the moment I even subtly questioned the way things were. For the next 6 weeks I was under the sickest kind of attack by all 3 on sight Vet program staff. I am not going to go into detail, it doesn’t matter and I have little time left to post this much. My last night there the police were called on me by a staff member who came at midnight when no one else was around. I had done nothing. It sounds crazy right? It was, and I am being truthful. I was told “someone” claimed I had threatened them and showed them a firearm. Both completely made up lies in order to dump the squeaky wheel.
I was put on the street at 2am with only a small bag of my things with no where to go. The cop asked me what I had done to be treated like this? I was actually intensely angry and could have hurt someone after being evicted, but didn’t.