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A military wife reflects on how her husband handled his struggle with post-traumatic stress.

Jumping to the Wrong Conclusion

As I stood on the bridge looking out over the sun-glazed waters of the ocean, I couldn’t help but wonder what had possessed my dearest to make this fateful jump.

He had been in agony, to be sure. After his return from Iraq, all seemed lost to him. He said as much – often and to many. Still, there were the visits he made to those who were physically wounded, his attendance at group meetings with those who also suffered with post-traumatic stress, the volunteer time he put in at the library reading to small children, and the many lawns he mowed for the elderly.

It seemed like enough, but obviously it wasn’t. As the waves broke on the columns below me, I didn’t know whether to scream out with his joy or my pain.

To be fair to him, there were also seemingly endless nights of drinking, nightmares, and almost seizure-like recollections that would paralyze him, temporarily and mercilessly robbing him of the ability to get past it all and move on. He would tell me he felt like a child looking into a dark closet, wondering what horror would next stalk his sleep.

He would ask me if it would ever be over, and if so, how would he know. “When you love your life and life loves you back.” I felt glib saying it, but it was all I had.

The sun started down behind the horizon and the ocean waves did not tell on him. The water crashed against the rocks, but gave up no secrets. I was left to guess, a dynamic of our relationship that had forever been lose-lose. I could only stand there, still confused, still puzzled by his strange reclamation of self.

How would I have asked him “Why?” What would I have done with the answer? Would it have opened the door to understanding and acceptance, or would it have been just another wedge in what was clearly a lack of communication between us?

His friends approached me, their faces deftly reflecting what his actions had provoked in them, they who also knew firsthand the pain with which he struggled. The platitudes were endless, if not irritating, starting with “It’ll be okay,” and going downhill from there.

When finally he was brought back up to the bridge rail from where he’d tied his feet to the bungee cords, I felt a wave of relief and not a small tinge of anger that he’d even put me through this. He hadn’t hit a pylon or any of the rocks below. He hadn’t been repeatedly dipped and drowned in the water or hit by a rogue wave, but how dare he take my heart for yet another roller coaster ride?

He high-fived his buddies, exchanged encouraging hugs with those next in line, and then walked toward me.

He smiled the smile I fell in love with some 20 years ago, the smile I hadn’t seen anytime recently. He hesitated, but not like the day he could only slowly tell me he wanted to die. His eyes were wet – with discovery and reawakening. I must admit, so were mine, as I peered into the eyes of the man I had dearly missed, the one who hadn’t quite made it back from war.

I asked him sincerely, “Do you feel better?” I really did want to know. His was a fleeting glance at the setting sun as he softly but excitedly confirmed, “Life loves me back.”

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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