Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sometimes you aren't paying attention

I guess I slept on my shoulder wrong last night. It's been bothering me all day. Well, at least most of the day.

But then again, I could be wrong.

I was in the first relief unit into Baghdad. The first troops hit, boots on the ground, on March 20, 2003. My squad had already been mobilized at that point, all our equipment was set up, and we got on the plane on July 3, en route to Baghdad. Between holidays, brainless bureaucracy, and flying into war zones, we eventually ended up in Iraq on the night of 8 July.

We were Security Forces, the infantry of the Air Force. Our purpose was to guard the military side of the flightline of Baghdad International Airport; we were armed troops, but we were also surrounded by a large, comforting womb of Army forces. We never took any direct fire - the only bullet that came through our camp (that we knew about) was when somebody, after responding to a report of gunfire, didn't clear his weapon before coming back to camp. He walked into a bunker, put down his rifle a little too abruptly, and fired a round through an innocent case of water bottles.

We did have hostile fire to deal with, though. We were located right off of the flight line - rockets and missiles were being fired at our planes all the time, mortar rounds landed all around the camp, shells would fire off over our heads all day and all night.

I started to block it out. In direct violation of Darwin's laws, I learned to sleep through things blowing up around me. It's still true - I sleep through loud noises that bring my wife sitting straight upright in the bed, like a car crash directly in front of the house that left a Geo Tracker upside down in my yard.

Good times.

We eventually got back to the states, I volunteered for the Kerry campaign (you see where that got us), and eventually, on the day that John Kerry conceded the election to George W. Bush, I filed my retirement papers.

After shopping around a little, I made a conscious decision to avoid any job where I might eventually have to shoot someone; this meant I was stuck with essentially entry-level positions, but I could live with that. It's a much lower-stress job, I'm not in charge of anybody, I do my work and everybody's happy.

I'm a fairly private person, but that's only because I get bored with the minor, petty problems of the majority of people. But overall, I think I'm a pretty cheerful guy.

Just this week, when people would ask me what I was doing for the Fourth of July, I've been telling them that I'd be curled up under the bed peeing myself as the fireworks went off. Then we'd all laugh, and I'd explain that, even though I knew people who had problems with explosions, I wasn't one of them.

Meanwhile, my body was telling me what my brain was too stupid to see.

We're in New Mexico, where fireworks are sold by people smoking cigarettes in flammable tents, because that's the American way.

I was watching TV tonight, and during a commercial, I got up to get the Trophy Wife some ice water. Halfway down the hall, my foot cramped up. I don't know why - I guess I was sitting too long in one position. But between that and my shoulder, I ended up limping back into the room like a bad Igor parody.

I think I made some stupid joke at that point, about how I wish I was under enough stress to justify all this. The Trophy Wife took that moment to tell me that I was always irritable on the Fourth of July. And on New Year's Eve. Any time fireworks were shot off.

I like to think I'm a fairly introspective guy. I've got a pretty good handle on my emotions and how I react to other people.

My shoulders are so tight you could bounce a quarter off them. My head feels roughly like I've got a clamp attached to my temples. And I've got tension forcing my muscles to seize up at random moments.

The Trophy Wife tells me that it's like this every year; I've just been blocking it out. I've been telling myself that I'm in my forties, and this is what I can expect as I'm growing older.

Outside the house, another bright red explosion has just lit up the sky, along with a loud crack. It startled me and I misspelled the word "older." Twice.

I'm in good shape. I don't even want to imagine what they're going through at the VA Hospital tonight.

And tomorrow night is the Fourth.


Anonymous said...

It is July 5 and I've just come across your blog and this entry. I am extremely touched. Thank you and be well. All the best to you.

k8 said...

NC, your post about your muscle cramps brought tears to my eyes. May I please make a suggestion? Hire a strong male massage therapist who is experienced in dealing with PTSD. Use recordings of fireworks or battle to bring on that tension, and have the guy work on your muscles as you listen.

You'll probably start crying as you let go of those associations, but your body will thank you. Just do it once a month or so, because you'll be working on your emotions in other ways between sessions.

A couple of references:


timr said...

Went to Vietnam as a 301 AF electronics repairman, spent my year at Phu Cat AB. Missiles, morters hit quite often. Spent 1 nite working on a C-7, come morning EOD swings by and tells the 2 of us that a missile landed about 3 feet off the nose of the AC, but did not go off. Being just 18 and thinking that I would live forever, I paid little attention, the fellow working with me, who was an E4 like me but over 30, went crazy, stayed drunk for a week. Yep, being 18 in a war is a whole lot different than being over 30. OTOH, I do get startled at loud noises, but sleep really good at nite. Fireworks are just nice to watch, no problem.
Always thankful for AF security at the base. Even tho we also had a company of ROK troops-I met the brother of my wife here, spent a 30 day leave in the ROK, got married 2 years later got out of service after 12 years with 100% disability due to work related accident in Korea. So it goes. Welcome to retirement-I retired from the PO in 1998-age 48, have zero stress, love my retired life.

Anonymous said...

Earbuds that block sound as they play soothing music always help me. For bad days with harsh loud winds or firework nights, I find the most soundproofed room, usually the basement, I set up a nice chair or mattress, play white noise (a fan or static on the radio). I also use something with a base sound to drown out the low booms.

Then I either watch videos on my laptop or read good books and indulge in every good food I love and just act like it's some kind of winter power outage situation where you camp out by the fire in your own house. It's weird but I come out of it happy and relatively stress free.

Shaw Kenawe said...

I can imagine--only imagine--what the 4th of July is like for someone who has been through what you have been through. I do not do well in loud, violent thunderstorms or fireworks displays--been like that since I was a kid. Be well, my friend. Peace.