This may shock some of you, but I can be difficult. Now, now, no protests please, just know that underneath what I think we can all agree is my sunny, sweet demeanor lies the kind of crazy temper only a forty-something Italian woman can bring to the party. Hard to believe, I know, but just ask El Cap – I offer a special kind of irrationality. Let’s just say the next time you see El Cap around town, thank him for taking the brunt of things so I don’t rant and rave like a lunatic at city council meetings or in this column. Maybe buy him a drink in silent thanks or something.
This Saturday night was a great example, although “great” probably isn’t the best adjective. I’d washed clothes, and then neglected to put the warm sheets on the bed. I was tired. He was tired. Of course, his “tired” comes from working on a boat all day and mine stems from whatever it is I do inside an air conditioned home, but that’s the same, right? Trooper that he is, he offered to help me make the bed. And that, of course, is where things went wrong. The man tries, he does, but really, it’s probably best if he sticks to putting on the fitted sheet with me and then moving on to pillowcases.
Which is exactly what he was doing when I must have given him a look. I say this because he looked at me and said, “Fine, you do it.” This made total sense, so of course, it upset me. What he said next was not, “You’re right, I’m a jerk for not just letting you sigh and roll your eyes at me while I tried to help you, please forgive me” – which I can admit now was probably an unrealistic thing to expect – so the night did not end well.
This happens to all of us, and we know, at least in hindsight, it’s ridiculous. It’s a bump in the road you move past.
Sunday morning I watched the VetSports softball team practice at Hoyt Field. I talked to some of the military wives and partners in the stands. I wanted to get an Independence Day-themed Gabs, so I asked them to tell me the hardest part of having a partner in the military.
We give little thought to the partners of those who serve. The women who talked to me? Putting the sheets on wrong, or rolling their eyes, isn’t on their radar. You know what is? Their partner getting deployed, sometimes not knowing where the government is sending them, and getting killed overseas. The person they will love until the end of time physically coming home but emotionally staying at war.
I don’t think anyone disputes post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a real thing. But we tend to think a lot about the veterans suffering without considering the other victims: their families. War, it seems, is hell not just for those who fight.
Sunday morning at Hoyt Field, I started to understand the hell their families endure as well. These soldiers can’t tell their loved ones about where or how they received the emotional scars that threaten to swallow them. They can’t tell their partners what’s hurting them, not just because they may not be that sort of person, but because they aren’t allowed to tell anyone – often, not even a therapist – what torments them. They can seek therapy, but many fear it will keep them from being deployed again. If they do seek therapy, they can’t talk freely because anything they say could put their brothers and sisters overseas in jeopardy. Their partners can’t help them, but they suffer alongside them.
“I hear women complain about their husbands not matching their socks with their shirt, and I’m like, really? That’s not a problem,” one woman explained to me. That stopped me cold.
I started a fight over sheets when her husband wakes up screaming some nights. Telling her why he’s screaming would mean betraying our country. This will be their life until we can find a way to help these men and women.
This doesn’t mean I won’t get upset over stupid stuff again. I’d be lying if I said any different. But I’m lucky and I know it, and perhaps the next time I have hormones surging through me at the speed of light, I’ll take a deep breath and think of these families.
You know that saying, “Freedom isn’t free”? This is one of the costs. As we celebrate our independence this weekend, I’ll try harder to remember that. And the next time I see a veteran, I’ll be sure to thank him or her – and the person standing next to them.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.
Originally published online and in print for the July 3 edition of the Gabber Newspaper.