Tuesday, December 30, 2014

PTSD for Christmas—The Boredom, Dispatch 6

This dispatch is way overdue but thanks for bearing with me.
Catch up with Dispatch 4 and Dispatch 5.

An Afghan policeman stands with a British mercenary
The 24th day of The Boredom was a lovely, sunny Sunday in Southern California.  I woke up with plenty of time for leisure and knocked through a chapter of Erik Prince’s book Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.  It’s a dynamite read so far, and as a libertarian I like reading about the ups and downs of the military’s private sector.

Later in the morning I took my mom with me to the Christmas service at the First Baptist Church of San Dimas.  The First Baptist Church is the oldest church and building in my town—118 years old.  It’s always been a small congregation—thirty or fewer people usually come to Sunday morning service, and there may be ten or fewer at evening service.  However, it’s the small congregations where I feel most at home.

It’s written that “…if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:19-20).

The mostly-white church interior was lined at the front with pine garlands and bright red poinsettias, all running along the piano, pulpit, and communion altar.  It was simple but tastefully elegant.  The highlight (other than the Salvation message, which is open to ALL people, regardless) was the Christmas music.

In the first twenty minutes the congregation sang Christmas songs from the old hymnal.  Then, several members either sang or performed on instruments in front of the whole congregation.  Kudos to the Santana siblings and their killer saxophones!  The pastor rounded the service out with a sermon on Luke chapter 2 (the Nativity story).

Later that night, I met the older woman from Riverside for a date at the bookstore.  I honestly don’t know why I like to go on bookstore dates; that’s the one venue where I’m guaranteed to pay more attention to inanimate objects than to the woman.  Nonetheless, this one went fine and we ended up shooting the breeze til nearly three in the morning in the parking lot.

Monday, Day 25, I spent most of my free time hustling and bustling around town, trying to finish up my Christmas shopping.  I had another date with the same lady at night.  This time I went to her home where she surprised me with hot chocolate and marshmallows while we watched old movies by the fire.  Great times!  I ended up making it home around 4 AM, but I still rose and shone at 9.

Tuesday, Day 26, was an interesting mix that reflected a lot about the people I care about and the times in which we live.

We were calling it May Day—Havok’s birthday celebration.  (What is it with all my Navy friends and naming days after themselves???)  Anytime Havok hosts a birthday celebration—or any kind of celebration other than friends just getting together to drink—people know it’s going to be crazy, and it’s going to be fun.

Interior of the Yardhouse
I linked up with Havok—the Navy vet and buddy who trashed Karaoke at Lake Arrowhead—and a few other friends at the Yardhouse Bar and Grill in Chino Hills.  I’ve had nothing but good times there!  After wolfing through a giant plate of California roll—it’s one huge role, kind of annoying, but freaking delicious—and gulping down a Dr. Pepper, we officially started a bar hop.

It was about as fun as it could get for someone who doesn’t drink, but ultimately I was there for Havok’s company (and to see if he had anything to say for himself after ruining a previous Tuesday night).  It was at the second bar we were at that Havok began to get visibly trashed—he always gets cross-eyed and starts conversations about wildly inappropriate topics.

The guys and girls were all huddled around a game of pool, leaving Havok and I alone at a nearby table.  With the others gone, he started reaching deep down again.  I don’t like it when he does this.  If he were honestly getting things off his chest, that would be one thing.  But when Havok reaches down into that deep, dark place, he’s either jumping on the Woe-is-me Wagon, or he’ll look for whatever horrible things he can say to shock his listeners.

He opened up about his depression, his emptiness, his feelings of helplessness.  He talked about feeling like he was absolutely dead inside, and just wanted to get back to his brothers on the special ops teams.   Despite how upset I was with him for getting so drunk, so fast—I knew it was only a matter of time before he’d torpedo the night for everyone—I really couldn’t blame him for hating civilian life.

Here he was, telling me that he lived for the adrenaline rush, lived for being out in the field, out with his fellow operators.  And there I was, packing my days and nights with fun or time-consuming activities and projects, just to distract myself from the fact that I slowly was—and am—going crazy not being back in the desert with my teams and my brothers.  Except I knew I’d be back on base doing what I love soon, whereas Havok may or may not be hired by the private firm he applied for.

However, Havok and I have very different ways of dealing with our boredom and… that nagging feeling of emptiness.  And his is worse, that I’ll admit.  But his coping mechanism has been to drink copious amounts of liquor.  It used to be that getting drunk and partying helped him get his temporary fix.  Nowadays, he gets as drunk as possible, as fast as possible, because passing out and not being conscious for hours at a time is preferable for him over facing his demons.

And then there’s the PTSD.  Picture yourself in this situation: it’s your best friend’s birthday and you’re explaining why it would be wrong for him to kill himself.  “You have every reason and every right to be depressed,” I told him.  “I know you have nightmares, and I know you see that shit in the daytime too.  But the fact stands that you survived.  You’re alive, still here, and our other brothers aren’t.  We owe it to them to live a long and happy life, because they no longer can.  You can’t quit, because they wouldn’t want you to.”

And I’m terribly, terribly afraid that he might quit.  I’m an ex-wino; I know how quickly alcohol can break a good man down into a sub-human lifeform.  The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa shattered my best friend, and he doesn’t know how to put the pieces back together, and alcohol turned this once-proud, accomplished operator into a pathetic drunk.  The worst thing for me is I don’t know how to help him.

He somehow held on until we got to the third bar—where he promptly needed to be marched to the car for trying to pick a fight with the one dude who was going out of his way to be nice to our group.  I got into the driver’s seat, Havok climbed into the backseat, and a pretty friend of his climbed into the front passenger seat.  As we talked, I lit up a cigarette.

Havok asked for a drag, took a puff, and started to puke in his mouth—the girl barely reached back and opened his door in time.  After hurling, he passed out in the back seat, face naturally angled to the side.  He was done for the night.  Satisfied that his airway was still open, I gathered the rest of our group, tabs were closed out, and we all went our separate ways for the night (Havok was taken home by our buddy Joker).  It was 11:37 P.M.

Wednesday, Day 27—or should I say DAY ZERO IN MIDDLE EARTH TIME!!!—my dumb ass got carried away writing copious research notes so I missed The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on IMAX 3D.  I looked at the listings and saw a regular “Real-D” 3D show in the next town a half hour later, so I jumped at that one.  What a fun movie!

I spent most of Day 28, Thursday, with another close friend, Aqua Bat.  He picked me up from home in his brilliant, deep orange Volkswagon Beetle and we went Christmas shopping for our families.  I happened to find the Extended Edition of the second Hobbit installment, The Desolation of Smaug, and I jumped at the chance to buy it.

Aqua Bat loved the Lord of the Rings Trilogy but had never seen the Hobbit movies.  Wrong thing to say to a geek like me!  We promptly finished our shopping trip, swung by my place to grab An Unexpected Journey, and thus began our Hobbit Trilogy marathon.  We powered through both of the films on DVD and then caught a 10 PM show of the third one; I was totally game to see it again!

Around 1:30 in the morning was when Aqua Bat dropped me off at home and my numb, tingly ass went to bed lying on my stomach.

Day 29—Friday morning—I put a gun to my own head and forced myself to write Dispatch 5, despite my overwhelming desire to set up the old PlayStation 2 and play Star Wars Battlefront.  I spent most of the day researching for the Vietnam War project.  In the evening, Aqua Bat threw a kickback with a sweet bonfire in the back yard.

I made good company with a pretty local girl and we hit it off for a good minute.  There was only one problem: she’s a terrible kisser!  I feel guilty as if this makes me shallow or something, but… it was really bad!  I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good kisser—good as any man who’s been at it for a few years, I suppose—but I really didn’t feel like getting her up to speed.  I guess wedding bells aren’t chiming in this town any time soon.

Saturday, Day 30, I went to the gym and hung out with family.  I stayed home on Saturday night—I was just too damn tired to go out.

* * *

Afghan police and mercenary photo by the U.S. Marine Corps and in the public domain; obtained from Wikimedia Commons.  Yardhouse photo courtesy of Roadtrippers dot com.  Hobbit poster is the property of New Line Cinema, was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and used in accordance with Fair Use.

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