In my last job, we weren’t allowed to kill the bugs.
Okay, it’s a bed & breakfast, so they had an exterminator come out on a regular basis for the comfort of their guests, but if a wasp flew into the dining room, you called Bill. He’d show up with the bug jar, capture the wasp and set it free.
Which is all well and good, but in my house, you take out the Raid.
The mice were saved, too, whenever possible. One such soul, Rodney, kept coming back, even though Bill would capture him in one of those humane traps and take him far into the woods in back. I’m not sure how he knew it was Rodney every time, but they developed a bond of sorts.
I couldn’t help myself. I offered to bring over my cat, Walter, for a play date with Rodney. That suggestion was met with a wounded look from Bill.
Despite my jokes, I respect Bill’s philosophy. It comes as a direct result of his time serving as a Marine in Vietnam and a police officer in Little Rock in the 70s. He’s seen enough killing and death.
He tells stories of his time on the force, but never as a Marine in combat. Something true of many, if not most, servicemen and women. What they witnessed, and took part in, during war is not something they want to remember or repeat, in words or actions.
Instead, some, like Bill, try to make sense of what happened by protecting all innocents. Bless the beasts and the children, as they used to say. A phrase born of a country at war. Where are the protest songs today?
We become the people we are today in part by our response or reaction to what happened yesterday. Ideally, it is a response, a chosen way of thinking and being. But what happens when you are thrown into a situation for which you are never prepared, then asked to live with the resulting emotions? The guilt, the shame of an inexplicable experience may result in burying your thoughts and beliefs about what happened. You lose a part of yourself.
Believe in yourself, the person you know yourself to be in spite of the thoughts that hammer at your brain. Seek out the support of others. Never give up in your search for better.
This life is far from perfect. But it is what we’re given for a time, so never give in to the worst. Let the better part of life win.
Today at work the owner’s dog, Thelma Lou, wasn’t there to greet me in her usual overly-exuberant manner. We’d known there had been problems. They’d been going on for days, but weren’t clearly identifiable symptoms.
It started when she began running away from me and my colleagues instead of bowling us over with affection. She was fearful and timid, and we puzzled over the change in her demeanor. Perhaps one of us had scared her inadvertently? Or had something frightening happened on one of those days when she ran away while being walked? (Her mom agonized over those escapades, but her dad was pretty nonchalant about them, much to the chagrin of the entire staff.)
Then, yesterday, she refused her treats after her morning walk. She was lethargic and clingy, and we all knew something was wrong. Her dad took her to the vet, who diagnosed a pulled muscle or tendon in the right hind leg. When she came back, she was clearly better. We were relieved.
But overnight she lost movement in her hindquarters. Paralyzed in her hips and back legs, she struggled to move and understand what was happening to her. After a race back to the vet, a more experienced doctor determined she had a slipped disc. Emergency surgery was required, but he wasn’t qualified to do it. The best “pup surgeon” for the job was an hour and a half away. So Thelma Lou was loaded in the Jeep, and rushed down the Interstate to helping hands.
I got a call a few hours after I left work that her prognosis was surprisingly good. The veterinary surgeon, who wouldn’t operate unless there was reasonable hope, estimated she had a 70 percent chance of full recovery. The fact that they were able to get her in for surgery within 24 hours of becoming paralyzed was critical to the success of his work.
So now we wait, and her mom and dad have their work cut out for them. But it’s a labor of love, and they don’t mind doing it.
Thelma Lou came into her dad’s life when she was a puppy and he was severely suffering from the effects of PTSD, a result of his time as a Marine photographer in Vietnam. He’d left his wife and was living in a storefront in a nearby town, struggling day to day to survive his nightmares and the cumulative effects of the trauma. He had this energetic, simple soul to keep him company and give him love. Yes, his wife was always there for him, but he was suffering in a world he couldn’t escape and hadn’t yet gotten help to deal with properly. So Thelma Lou was his salvation.
I understand that bond. Twenty years ago I was alone and living in Nashville, dealing with the memories of sexual abuse. The pain at times was so overwhelming I wanted to die, just to escape it. I wasn’t suicidal in that I didn’t truly want death, I simply wanted to escape the burden that was weighing me down, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Enter Paco. He’d had his own share of pain in his short life, having been abandoned three times that I know of by the time I took him in. He came with troubles, some of which never went away, although I learned how to manage them. He bit everyone. He wanted love, but would become overwhelmed when he received it.
We quickly became dependent on each other. When I came home from work, he was at the window, waiting for me. He’d turn and run to the door, and when I opened it, he’d dash outside and run upstairs, where he’d be trapped, so to speak. He couldn’t get past me once he was up there, and he didn’t try. Instead I would pick him up and hold him close, carrying him back to our apartment, while he purred and buried his face in my shoulder.
When I wanted to die, I would reach out to him. I couldn’t leave this needy little soul. He saved my life just by being there, and I saved his by taking him in and giving him the love he so desperately needed.
As he got older I began to have dreams I’d be outside, perhaps with some friends, somewhere near my car but not right next to it. I’d look up and there would be Paco, waiting for me. He sat close to my Toyota, patient and loyal, knowing I would return. I’d wake up from those dreams and call his name, and he’d come running. As if he knew what had been playing out in my mind moments before, he’d stay by my side until I fell asleep again. When I woke up, he’d be a little distance away on the bed, as was his preference, but near enough to reach out and scratch behind the ears.
He died at the age of 16, just four years ago. Until the day he died, when I was driving home I would anticipate seeing him. I was twenty, ten, three minutes away from Paco. I miss him terribly, even though today I have the love of two wonderful kitties.
I pray Thelma Lou recovers completely. It isn’t time for her to leave us yet.
Update: I’m happy to report Thelma Lou came through her surgery as well as could be expected, and she’s now home. She has months — up to a year — before she is fully recovered, if in fact that ever happens. She may never run again, certainly not like she used to do on a regular basis. But she is loved, and love is healing.
Today I met a couple who are celebrating their 49th anniversary. That’s a long time of loving another person. Bill, the husband, is a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD. He and Joy were married before he left to serve in that war, and she’s watched the symptoms grow over the years since he got back. Like so many, it’s gotten worse as time has gone by.
It started with anger, a constant rage. Now it manifests itself primarily in nightmares, and a fear of going to sleep and facing them once again.
Hopefully his discussions with another veteran of the same war, another man named Bill, will encourage him to get the help he needs.
If you haven’t been there, you don’t know, I’m told, and of course that’s true. I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen the war played out in the faces of the men and women who served those many years ago. They are haunted, just as servicemen and women returning home today from the Middle East no doubt are or will be in the coming years.
My friend Beverly told me of a man she and her husband knew, who had also served in Vietnam. He seemed fine; no one, not even his wife, knew of any problems. Yet one day he shot and killed himself.
“I can’t take the nightmares anymore,” his note read.
Post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t limited to veterans. Victims of sexual assault make up the largest number of its victims in the United States, and like so many, they are reluctant to get help. Yet it can be treated, quite effectively.
Another woman visiting the bed and breakfast I work at is a retired psychologist, and she spoke of some treatments that seem a bit off-beat, yet they’ve had tremendous results in even the most jaded of individuals. I don’t know enough about them to speak effectively here, but they relate to eye movements.
There is help. There is hope. Local Veteran’s Administration hospitals have experts on hand, and rape crisis centers can also refer victims to someone who can change your life for the better. A friend of mine who’s a social worker for the VA tells me she sees even the most reluctant veterans improve dramatically once they’ve gotten some basic treatment.
If you are suffering from PTSD or any other mental disorder, let the nightmare end.