Finally!!!!

I’ve written many times over the years about my struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Finally, one of my ongoing battles with the VA is coming to an end.  I’ve waited more than six years to get my foot fixed and it was operated on yesterday.  Better late than never I suppose.  But that was more than six years of extra pain to deal with.  Fighting with the VA about what you’ve earned and deserve can, and usually is, an exhausting undertaking. 

In 2013, I was in the belly of a plane loading bags for our trip to Ft Hood for pre-deployment training prior to heading to Afghanistan.  We were tossing bags to each other as they come up the conveyor ramp.  Toss, catch, turn, toss, turn, catch repeat.  As I went to catch one of the duffle bags, it hit my chest, slipped through my arms, and slammed my foot.  The Kevlar helmet that was packed in the top of the bag crushed my toe.  Turns out it wasn’t broken, but it was definitely not well.  It’s been swollen ever since.

After arriving at Ft Hood, “Doc” sent me to get it looked at.  X-rays showed it was not broken, but had in fact exacerbated an issue that I didn’t even know I had.  My foot had good days and bad days after the injury.  Sometimes it was bearable and sometimes it was excruciating.  And without a doubt, having to favor that foot created other issues.  Like when I injured my hip getting out of a helicopter and rocky ground. Now I was having to favor my right foot and left hip.  It was bad enough that the doctor at my little base wanted to send me to Germany for treatment then home.  I declined.  I wanted to finish what I started with my fellow Soldiers that we began the previous year.  But if I had taken the doctor’s advice, I wouldn’t have had to wait six years to get my foot fixed.  But I don’t regret my decision.

The hardest part in this battle with the VA had been getting them to acknowledge that my injury was service-connected.  Even with medical documents from the hospital at Ft Hood, the VA was denying that my injury was service-connected.  It wasn’t until 2018 that the VA sent me a letter saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “Oops, my bad, your foot is our problem.”  That’s what I’ve been telling you for years!  With the documentation I had, it really should have been an open and shut case.  But, being a reservist, sometimes we get swept under the rug.  And the Army didn’t do me any favors.  As we were out-processed at Ft Hood after coming back from Afghanistan, we were told that unless it’s a life-threatening injury we would be passed on to the VA.  I was examined before leaving Ft Hood and the doctor told me what needed to be done. He wrote it down.  It was in my records.  But the Army didn’t want to do it and the VA denied that it was their problem to fix.

Eventually I wasn’t able to get around like I used to.  Couldn’t run.  Couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test.  I was eventually medically retired, which turned out to be a good thing.  But all the physical issues and poor self-image I developed from my physical decline only added to the downward spiral I was going through in life.  That led to a failed suicide attempt and being diagnosed with PTSD, major depression, and all the wonderful things that go along with that.  The deterioration of my body played a big role in my mental health.  The Army not fixing me and VA denying me made it feel like an insufferable weight.  I hit rock bottom.  Thankfully I failed and am still here today.

Yesterday, the doctor cut open my big toe, shaved some bone, took some bone out, sewed me back up.  Not only is my foot fixed and on its way to recovery to where I can hopefully fully function again, the VA hooked me up with a civilian doctor.  Turns out the Covid problem shut down all non-life-threatening surgeries being done by the VA when I started this process.  My VA pediatrist asked me if I would like them to see if a civilian doctor would do it.  For those of you that have dealt with military or VA doctors I don’t need to tell you how fast I jumped at that option.  I know I painted that last sentence with a wide brush, but there are more bad doctors than good ones at the VA so it’s easy to lump them all in the same group of being subpar. 

I’m off for at least the next three weeks from work.  I’ve been saving my vacation and sick leave for this.  I can’t drive until after my second follow-up appointment when the doctor will remove my stitches.  I’ll just be sitting on the couch eating snacks if you need me.  I have 150 channels or so on cable, a couple streaming sources, and more DVDs than anyone should own in 2020.  Who wants to bet I can’t find anything to watch?  LOL.  I’m getting around well on my crutches.  Last time I was on crutches they were made of wood.  I guess I’m old now.  The surgery shoe is not comfortable, but I have to leave it on until the stitches come out.  I’ll be sleeping on the couch because I don’t want to climb the stairs to the bedrooms for a few days. 

I want to thank my daughter for babysitting me yesterday, getting me to and from surgery, picking up my meds, making me lunch.  My girlfriend is also taking care of me and spoiling me.  I’ll be back to doing a few easy things around the house in a few days.  But I’m taking advantage of this downtime for the time being.  I will rest my body and let it heal.

Healing is important.  And it’s all tied together, both physical and mental.  I had to learn that a few years ago the hard way.  And I do much better now in my understanding that you must take care of both.  Each has its own time table which can be frustrating because physical and mental injuries can’t always heal at the same pace but they can have a huge impact on each other.  Take care of yourselves.  Take time to let yourself heal when needed.  And go easy on yourself when it seems overwhelming.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Good day, God Bless.

Dave

The Wedding

My middle son got married last weekend, the first of six.  I should probably clarify.  LOL.  He’s the first of six siblings to get married, not the first of him getting married six times.  That would be bad.  My ex-wife and I had a daughter, then 3 boys in a row, then twin girls.  They’re all adults now, for the most part.  The twins will officially be adults next year upon graduating high school.  They are all wonderful, beautiful human beings.  But this is Nick’s time to shine, so let me brag on my boy and his new bride.

He’s smart.  He’s funny.  He has an entrepreneurial spirit and a heart of gold.  He’s one of the most loving and genuine people you would ever meet.  He’s a problem-solver with a calming demeaner.  Trustworthy, honest, kind, dependable.  He’s everything and more that I could have ever hoped for him at this point in his life.  I really can’t put into words how proud I am of my boy.

He married his high school sweetheart.  She is positively an awesome individual with a beautiful smile.  She’s the loud one, you can hear her laugh coming a mile away and it makes you want to smile.  She doesn’t know a stranger, as far as I’ve seen, and will befriend anyone she meets.  She’s very excitable and will go in a million different directions during a single conversation.  To say the least, she is very entertaining.  They are a perfect match.  They balance each other out nicely.  I love them both dearly.

To be completely honest, in the months leading up to the blessed nuptials, I asked them numerous times if they really thought they were ready.  Partly because I’m the dad and want to make sure and partly because I’m older and wiser and had my doubts.  I asked because I love and care for them.  It’s not that I doubted their love for each other, there is no question there at all.  It’s just the world we live in.  It’s hard and unforgiving.  And they are young, not financially secure in any sense of the concept, and don’t have the jobs that will provide for a spectacular future.  That sounds vaguely familiar.  Oh, that’s how my ex and I started out and we were married for 26 years and did very well for the most part providing for 6 kids.  I think that’s how most young couples start out; young, dumb, naïve, indestructible, and completely unaware of what the world has in store for them. But they assured me they were ready.

It was a nice ceremony.  Short, sweet, and to the point.  There was a little humor and a lot of love.  I was impressed with the vows they each wrote.  Very touching.  There was a best man and a maid of honor, that’s all.  Nothing flashy or extravagant.  No tuxedos, no flower girls, no live music.  The reception was “catered” by local fast food restaurants.  The whole event was low-key and easy.  I like it.  I think it shows that these two youngsters are just fine with not having a fancy lifestyle right away and can stay in a budget.  It’s exactly how they wanted it and I think it was awesome.

To my son and new daughter, I love you.  I’m proud of you.  Great things lie ahead for you both.  Not that I ever give the best advice, but let me leave you with some wisdom, learned from experience.  Stay focused.  Stay faithful.  Be honest.  Be giving.  Be forgiving.  Be understanding.  Be clear.  Spend wisely.  Save what you can.  Invest for your future.  Not just monetarily, but invest in each other and in life.  Be humble.  Be charitable.  Stay close to God.  Take things in stride.  Nothing is ever the end of the world and if something is too good to be true, it probably is.  So, be smart, the world is already planning on how to take advantage of you.  Most importantly, as I’ve said to you many times, be a decent human being, clean up after yourself, and make good decisions. 

I love you both. 

Dad

The Brick

I bought a house.  Way ahead of schedule for what my original plans were.  I thought it would be at least a couple more years before I was in a position to buy, but sometimes things work out.  It’s a great house, built in 1972, and had only one owner until I bought it last month.  The gentleman that bought the house almost 50 years ago passed away in January.  It does need a few minor things taken care of, but it got a brand-new roof and a complete electrical re-wire before closing.  The seller was extremely accommodating in selling the house she grew up in.

The move was a huge pain, not fun.  The closing had to be moved back a week, so I was worried about getting out of the condo I was renting by the time I said I would.  On top of that, Hurricane Sally was approaching the Gulf Coast.  And to make matters more stressful for me, I was the on-call guy at work for the week that my closing got pushed to.  We got our stuff moved in just before the weather deteriorated, all while working in between moving loads of stuff from one place to another.  And then the storm hit.  I worked a total of 17 days in a row.  I haven’t even come close to getting settle in yet at my new home.  But, I’m here, and I’m happy.  Things will fall into place as they will.  No hurry.

During my move I found many memories while packing.  It’s amazing to find stuff you haven’t seen in years and relive old times while going through closets and boxes.  One thing I found was a brick.  Just a simple, red brick.  It has no monetary value.  It’s not pretty or decorative.  But it might be the last one left of the bricks that were part of my grandparents’ house which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  They had already sold that house at the end of Beach Bayou Rd in Biloxi, Mississippi years before, but my childhood memories of it still remained.

Grandma had all the Tupperware you would expect in a house during that era.  She had a tan sugar dish with a lid that opened on both sides.  Open one side and it pours out from a small hole; the other side was big enough to put a spoon in.  Of course, she had the orange pitcher with the push down lid.  Is Tupperware even a thing anymore?  Grandpa had a music room where he composed.  I don’t know if he did his paintings in there as well, or just his music.  I have all his music somewhere in a box that hasn’t been unpacked yet.  I always loved his music.  I have a number of his paintings as well, at least one of which is already hanging here at my new house. 

From when I was a child visiting my grandparents’ house, I can remember looking at the stars with my uncle out in the yard and him taking me on the water in his blue fiberglass boat; only time I’ve caught a shark.  I remember my aunt and cousins living in the next house up the road.  We had way too much fun as kids jumping ditches up and down the street.  Grandma would always fuss at us for that because of the snakes in the ditches.  We never got bit.  I remember the times my sister and I would spend the night at the red brick house on the bayou.  So many wonderful memories.  And all that’s left from that house is a brick. 

In 1969, Hurricane Camille devastated the Mississippi Coastal area.  At that time, it was one of the most intense hurricanes to make U.S. landfall.  It was a Category 5 storm. Camille brought 7 ½ feet of water into my grandparents’ home.  When the water receded and the sun came out, they cleaned and rebuilt.  As far as fixing the damage to their home, they left only the watermark in the detached laundry room as a reminder of how high the water had come.  Basically, their house was underwater except for the roof.  In 2005, when I finally got through on the phone to my grandparents after Katrina, I asked how it compared to Camille.  My grandfather told me Katrina made Camille look like an afternoon thunder storm. 

My first opportunity to go to Biloxi after Katrina was in early in 2007, for my grandfather’s funeral.  While there, I took my oldest boy and explored the area, giving him a glimpse into an early childhood chapter of my life.  We went by the old house on Beach Bayou Rd.  As we drove down to where the road disappears into the bayou, I couldn’t see the house.  It was gone.  Only the foundation and a few bricks that still made a small corner of the house remained.  I wanted to cry.  It was all gone.  Only the memories remain. 

I took a brick that day.  I still have it.  It just sits on a window sill in my bedroom at my new home.  It’s place at the condo I moved from was on the window sill in my bedroom there.  Before that, it was on the very top of a small wall unit in my now ex-wife’s house.  There’s no elaborate display for it.  No fancy case.  No markings as to where it came from or how it got here.  It’s just a brick.  But it’s all that’s left from some of my most cherished childhood memories.  It mostly stays of sight, I barely notice it’s there.  Most days I don’t even think about it. 

Maybe our memories are like that brick.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Then once in a while we notice.  Something prompts us to take a walk down memory lane.  Hopefully good memories, but it can go both ways.  I hope your memories are like my brick, mostly good.  Thanks for enjoying my memories with me today.  Good day, God bless.

Dave

Papillon

When I was a young boy, back in the late ‘70s, I would sometimes get to stay up late and watch television with my grandfather.  I was seven or eight years old, so staying up late for me might not have been as late as I’ve pictured it in my mind all these years.  The two-car garage had been converted to a den many years before.  It was large room with a couch, two recliners, an antique rocking chair, liquor cabinet, and a safe hidden in the wall above the two recliners.  The safe had a picture frame cover, but to my knowledge, never had a picture in it.  I have some wonderful memories from my childhood of that house, specifically that room. 

We watched many episodes of Baa Baa Black Sheep, sports, news, and sometimes he’d give up his rights to the television and we’d watch Wonderful World of Disney.  Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was always a favorite.  But one movie we stayed up late to watch one night that has been stuck in my head for more than 40 years was Papillon.  Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, 1973.  Maybe because it was supposedly based on a true story and, as a child, I found that fascinating.  A true story of a French prison and how the convicted survived and one eventually escaped to write about it.  For whatever reason, I loved that movie.  I don’t think I’ve seen it since I was eight or nine years old. 

Grandpa would sit in his recliner smoking a pipe or cigar.  I would be laid out on the couch, often times falling asleep during our TV time.  I remember grandma occasionally sitting in her recliner crocheting.  I don’t remember if she was interested in what we were watching, unless it was basketball.  She was a huge basketball fan.  She played in her younger years, I heard she was very good. 

The reason for this flood of childhood memories is that I recently found Papillon in the free On-demand section of my cable subscription.  Just seeing the title brought back details of my grandparent’s den.  The lighting, the smell of pipe tobacco, the texture of the carpet, the sliding glass door that lead to the driveway, the utility room where the washer and dryer sat, the rear door which exited to the back patio and wonderful back yard.  And of course, the shows we used to watch.  I wonder where the old rocking chair is.  I would have loved to have that. 

I made some pizza rolls and opened a beer.  Then I started the movie.  Some of what I remember from it 40+ years ago was exactly correct.  But that wasn’t very much.  I only remembered parts of a few of the scenes.  Watching it again brought a whole new appreciation for an absolutely spectacular movie.  McQueen and Hoffman were incredible.  They made their characters seem real, believable.  No special effects, no computer-generated imaging.  Just great actors perfecting their craft; something that has been lost in film today. 

In watching Papillon in present day, I am certain the movie was edited for television when I watched it with grandpa way back when. 

One of the scenes I remember visually, I had no recollection of the context because I couldn’t remember what was said.  It was a dream sequence where Papillon (McQueen) walks towards his judge.  The judge was flanked on each side by six men wearing black.  In their exchange, Papillon continues to claim he was framed for his accused crime of murder.  The judge admits that to be true, but adds that he is in fact guilty of a far worse crime, the worst crime any human can commit. Papillon asks what that could be.  The judge says, “I accuse you of a wasted life!”  Papillon agrees, hangs his head, then walks away.

I would have been too young to understand the context of that conversation at the time, perhaps that’s why I don’t remember it.  But now, nearing 50 years old, that spoke to me as I watched again.  I know I’ve wasted time.  I’ve wasted money.  I’ve wasted food, words, energy, and so much more if I am completely honest examining my past.  But one thing I am certain of, I can never be accused of a wasted life.  There are many things I should have done differently in my life.  There are things I regret, both things I did and things I didn’t do.  But as I look back and see where I am today, what I’ve survived, what I’ve overcome, I say confidently, that mine is not a wasted life. 

Only you can examine your life and decide if you wasted it.  Only you know exactly what you’ve been through and how you got to where you are currently.  Your mistakes do not define you.  At some point you move on from them and, if necessary, start over.  Some of my mistakes consumed me to the point of feeling like a failure, like a complete waste.  There were multiple occasions in my life I would have hung my head and walked away as Papillon did.  Not anymore. 

Life goes on.  And life is good.  And I’m not wasting it.  I hope you don’t either.  Thanks for stopping by today.  Good day, God bless.

Dave

I Miss the Old Me

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted to my blog. Almost a year and a half now. I’m not sure where the time went. I know that when I paused my writing, it was only supposed to be a short pause. The first month or two was just to take a break from writing. Maybe a time to refresh my mind, think of new topics, or expand my creativity. By the third month of not writing my brain was nagging me about it. Friends that followed my blog were asking if I were still writing and if I were ok. Then somewhere around six months without posting, it simply became easy to ignore it and not write. I miss writing.

But missing writing isn’t what this post is about. First, let me catch you up on the last 17 months. The divorce went final. The army medically retired me. The Department of Veterans Affairs finally acknowledged some of my claims they had been declining even though I had documentation. I tried to be in a relationship again. That didn’t work. I got a “new” truck. Bought it used, but it’s pretty nice. I’m still at the job I started just before I stopped posting here. That is going very well. My New Orleans Saints were blatantly robbed of going to the Super Bowl a year ago. But on a more recent and triumphant note, my LSU Tigers are now the undisputed heavy weight champions of the college football world. Geaux Tigers.

Back to the reason for this post. I miss the old me. There were things I did back then that I can’t do as well now. There was a confidence from the core of my soul that seemed to faded over time. I had unlimited potential until I hit rock bottom. I feared nothing. I could convey my thoughts easily and not struggle to put the words in the right order like I do sometimes now. My memory was intact for the most part, now it’s hit and miss with everyday things. And I don’t ever remember having anxiety or serious bouts of depression years ago. While the debilitating moments of depression rarely visit now, anxiety is still a daily battle, but not bad.

I started sharing my thoughts and stories here in 2016, of war, suicide, PTSD, and all the things that go with those side effects of my life. It was a form of self-care and personal therapy, a way to get it all out and explore what was going on in my head. It turned into more than I ever imagined it would. And it was good for me. I wrote almost every week. Sometimes it would be a couple weeks in between posts, but for the most part I stuck to it. It was my outlet. I needed it; it became part of me. And I miss that.

Is missing the old me bad? I’ll never be the person I was before. I’ve lost some things, both physically and mentally. I will never get back some parts of the me that have vanished over time. Some of it is from going to war, some it is from getting older. The toll war took on my body and mind certainly amplify the effects of getting older. But I think much of what I deal with and have dealt with the last 6 years is from going to war. I refuse to accept that everything I am going though is from getting older, but I know that plays into it. And of course, growing up is not an option. I don’t plan on doing that.

Ultimately, I accept that I am different and will never be the same man I was before my life changed; changes coming from going to war and other changes attributed to the pains of getting older. But you want to know something cool? I embrace it. Accepting it is one thing, but I embrace it. This has been a new challenge in life that I look forward to each day. And that took a while, years actually. But I now embrace that I am not who I was. And I love the new me. I am learning things about myself that otherwise I never would have known. I’ve never been a fan a change, but if I fight it, it will only be harder on me. That, my friends, is from personal experience and I believe in some cases you just have to roll with it and accept change. Not gonna lie, it was scary, and still is.

I miss the old me. But I also love the new me. I wish I could do some of the things I used to be able to do. But I have new challenges each day and opportunities to learn about myself, to explore my new limits, to continue the journey of me. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I feel like I conquer the world. But I’m at peace with the past and with what the future holds, even if I don’t remember all of the past and have no idea what’s coming. I miss the old me, I love the new me. Life is good.

Thanks for stopping by Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.

Dave