Tina and Rick Thomas: Military Order of the
Purple Heart Convention, Portland, Maine (2002)Tina is the widow of a Vietnam veteran, Rick Thomas, who passed away in June 2005 from illnesses caused by Agent Orange. They had been together for 18 years.
She is the Webmaster for the Firebase Freedom Website that she designed and which is a site for veterans and information on the POW/MIA issues. She is also a past Department President for the Ladies Auxiliary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, 2000-2001.
When Rick passed away he was on the Advisory Committee of the Fort Custer National Cemetery; on the board of the Veterans Trust committee of Calhoun County, Michigan; a member of the Veterans Affairs Vision 2 board; State Adjutant for the Department of Michigan Military Order of the Purple Heart; part time Service officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart at the VA in Battle Creek, MI; and bingo chairman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 110, Battle Creek, Michigan. He was also a past Commander of the MOPH Department of Michigan, 2000-2002.
TO MY VIETNAM VET – YOU, ME AND PTSD
Rick Thomas in country Vietnam. The photograph was taken at Con Thien, where Rick served in the Marine Corps (3rd Btn 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division) for 20 monthsSome days are good. Some are bad. I never know from one day to the next what to expect from you. I sometimes don’t know from minute to minute how you will react to even the most mundane daily happenings. Your moods change from minute to minute and I have to make split second judgments on what I should say or do. It’s like walking on eggshells every minute of my life. Even the most innocent of remarks can send you off into one of your rages. The stress is sometimes more than I can bear.
Today is a bad day. They seem to come along just when things are going pretty good, or at least seem to be. I know that the anger isn’t my fault and that I did not cause it but I must bear the brunt of it until this current crisis passes. I am between you and the children. I am between you and society. I am between you and the world. But each time I am put in that position, I get a little weaker. I get a little closer to falling off the edge. I die a little more inside.
I love you. I know that deep down inside, no matter what is going on, you love me too. I know that these terrible times are caused by memories too painful for you to really remember but too traumatic for you to forget. Sometimes, at night, I watch you. I see you toss and turn, I hear you talking to those whose final moments you witnessed and can never forget. I watch you in your communion with your ghosts from Vietnam. I hear you cry and wish that the tears would wash your memories away.
Although you aren’t aware of me, I am there beside you through your most terrible nightmares. Each time I hear you cry out in anguish, it’s like I’m being stabbed through the heart. I cry with you sometimes and you don’t even know. Night after night I go with you back in time, to another place, when you were young and afraid. But I cannot let you know that I’m there.
When the nightmare gets too bad, and you wake up screaming, I pretend to be sleeping. But I still watch as you get up, light your cigarette and begin your nightly patrol. I see you checking behind the doors for unseen enemies. I see you check the windows. I listen to you go through the entire house as if some deadly adversary lurked in every shadow. I lay quietly, feigning sleep, praying that you will know who I am when you return to bed. I hold my breath as you reenter the bedroom, wondering if tonight is the night you will think I am the enemy and if indeed you will try to kill me. Some nights you stand over me, staring down at me as if you don’t know me. Those are the nights that I fear the most. I feel your presence and your eyes on me. That’s when I pray. It always feels like those moments may be my last. But I’ll die loving you.
I wish there was some magic cure for the disease called Vietnam. I wish the past could be buried and forgotten. But I know that it can’t be. I know that I will fight this war until death claims one of us. Sometimes it actually occurs to me that death will be our only release from this nightly hell we both go through… separately yet together.
Days are just as bad: the nightmares become the flashbacks. There’s nothing I can say or do to make you forget. All I can hope for is that you will someday be able to cope with all of the memories. But it scares me that you sometimes see our world through younger eyes. Those eyes don’t see the same world as I do. The world seen through them is far away… through time and distance. The people in that world are trying to kill you and I know you will try to kill them first. But what if it is one of the children that you are seeing as the enemy? Would I have the power to stop you?
I always know I am in for a particularly bad time when you start drinking. If you would only stop after a few beers, it might not be so bad. But you never do. It seems that when the alcohol hits you, the ghosts all come out of their hiding places to haunt you even if it isn’t night. I cannot even begin to count the holes in the walls and doors that have been patched over the years. I’ve probably gone through a dozen sets of glassware, not to mention the good crystal and china set that were left to me by my mother. Every pane of glass in the house has been replaced at least once after you have either punched it or thrown something through it. It’s a joke having a waterbed, really. I must have been crazy buying it. It has more patches on it than a patchwork quilt. But the broken things can be repaired. It’s the shredding of my soul that cannot be fixed. And every experience tears it up just a little bit more.
Why do I stay with you? Because I know that you are a good man inside. I know that the man I fell in love with is in that body and most of the time that’s the one I see. I know that you cannot help what this terrible affliction called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder does to you. I know it isn’t me that you’re mad at; it’s just that I’m available for you to vent your anger and frustrations on. And I pray that someday the effects of Vietnam will fade away although I know it just won’t happen. I must have hope or I couldn’t bear it. I love you and would want you to stay by me if some horrible affliction affected me. I married you for better or for worse. Even if it seems that there are more worse times, I get through it by remembering the good times. I am lucky enough to have friends who are going through the same thing with their Vietnam vets and are always there to give me the strength and support I need during the periods of crisis that come. God helps me, too.
I know that it hurts you when you face all the things that are out of control in your life, especially those times when you lash out at me, both physically as well as verbally. I know that you wish you could be different. Just know, sweetheart, that I will stand by you through everything, good or bad, and we can never give up. We are still fighting wars… yours was in Vietnam and mine is the Vietnam left in you. We will not surrender. We will fight for the rest of our lives, if necessary, but we will survive this TOGETHER. In the end, we will be the victors.
I will be your rock when things are shaky. I will be your listening ear when you need to talk. I will be your strength when you are weak. I will hold you close when you need comfort. I will be your friend when you have no one to turn to. I will be your DMZ when the pressure is too great. I will be your commander when you need direction. I will be your pointman when we face life’s highways. I will be your medic when your pain is too great to bear.
But, remember, my unsung hero, I will be your wife throughout it all.
©Copyright 1994-2008 by Tina Thomas