I walked into my closet, sat on the floor, and grabbed my .38 caliber, Smith & Wesson. I’ve seen enough – I’m done. Goosebumps formed on my arms as I placed its barrel against my neck. My closet felt like the gates of Hell opened, and Satan himself walked between its clothes hanging neatly in their place. Why do these memories haunt me?
Deployments dug their ugly claws into my brain and wouldn’t let go. I could still feel my fellow soldiers’ hot blood trickling down my face. I blinked from the pain of it all as sweat ran down my forehead. My head was full of screams exploding like holiday fireworks – they erupted through my ears until their sounds spewed from my mouth like vomit. Or was that my screams?
I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I see my soldiers’ smiles as we laughed at stupid jokes before our missions. I remember every freckle-dotted nose and crooked tooth that stood in my formation. Their faces danced in my mind like a movie scene.
I counted the clicks the pistol’s cylinder made as it spun – seven. Seven does not scratch the surface of what I lost. I will join you soon, my brothers. The pistol felt like ice cubes as I placed it in my mouth. I could hear the barrel rattling against my teeth as I slid my finger into the trigger well. Soon.
“Daddy, what you doin?”
I dropped the pistol on the floor and turned to the little voice that beckoned to me like an angel from heaven. “Nothing, sweetie. What are you doing?”
“Findin you! Are you play-ding hide, Daddy?”
My four-year-old daughter’s voice jarred me back to reality. I stood and picked her up. Her little blonde curls tickled my face as she squeezed my neck and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, princess.”
It felt like I swallowed a whole orange as I fumbled through a stack of index cards on my desk. I watched my saving angel’s little blonde curls bounce as she ran to her room. I dialed the number from the card and thought. She is my reason to live – I need help.
“Memphis VA. How can I help you?”
“I…I need to speak to someone about PTSD.”
“Do you have an appointment?” the operator said while sighing.
What is her freakin problem? “No, but I need to speak to someone ASAP.”
“Next available time is June 8th.”
“That’s two months away! I need to talk to someone today!”
“These entitled assholes,” I heard her whisper. “Sorry, that’s the earliest ti…”
“Listen, you fuckin idiot, I’m headed that way now!” I slammed the phone on my desk.
I packed my daughter’s go-bag and took her to my parents. My mother smiled at me reassuringly. As I backed out of my mother’s driveway, my daughter’s little blonde curls bounced in the sun. She radiated the love I longed for – the release I needed.
I felt like I was storming the beaches of Normandy when I entered the VA hospital. My rage muffled the receptionist’s voice as she politely asked me a question. I found a directory board, traced my finger down its raised names, and stopped at room 404. 404? Is this an omen? What error summons to me now?
The elevator’s chime pierced my ears and made me jump. I found room 404 and told the psychologist I needed to speak to her.
“I’m sorry. My schedule is full today.”
“I need to speak to you now! I just about ate a bullet in front of my daughter!”
“Okay,” she said softly. “Sit here,” she said while pointing at a plush couch.
My first session ended with the psychologist saying, “You have the purest case of PTSD I’ve ever encountered.”
I walked out of the VA with a new prescription and follow-up appointments. These will go down nicely with some Jack and Coke.
The appointments failed to deliver, and the prescription and alcohol numbed reality. I felt like a zombie every day as I fumbled through routine tasks. The drugs weren’t working. I couldn’t live in a drunken fog – my little girl depended on me. That’s when I decided to pray. It worked for my dad.
“God, I need your help. I can’t do this anymore.”
I did not hear anyone respond, nor did the clouds part with blinding lights. However, each day I prayed loosened the grips of alcohol and PTSD.
“Daddy, what you doin?”
“Nothing. What are you doing?” I said as I picked her up and hugged her. She was warm, and her little blonde curls tickled my face.