Fifty

I don’t make a big deal about my birthday.  I don’t usually tell people when it’s coming or take the day off from work.  It’s really just another day to me.  But this time is different.  This will be a landmark I really didn’t expect to make.  In a couple days I’ll be 50 years old.  50.  Fifty!  Half a hundred.  It’s not as old as it sounds, so I keep telling myself.  But it does feel old some days.

Actually, I feel pretty good overall.  I don’t look my age, so I’ve been told.  I certainly don’t act my age, and don’t plan on starting any time soon.  My body hurts with aches and pains now more than ever before, but I’m getting used to it.  Considering what I’ve put my body through in the first 49 years, I’m just thankful to be here.  My memory sucks.  Although I can remember song lyrics and movie lines from the 1980’s like I just finished hearing them.  But for some reason I can bring up Google on my phone and forget what I’m searching for at the same time.  Go figure.

It’s been a wild ride so far.  Many successes, many failures.  Way too many failures.  One thing I don’t think I’ve ever talked about in my blog is my past business ventures.  I’m 0-5 in business endeavors.  That’s probably why I haven’t mentioned it before.  LOL.  But one of my favorite failures in business is when my daughter and I opened a restaurant together.  It was short-lived, but it was a wonderful experience.  It was a huge success just getting it opened.  One of the 0-5 businesses includes starting a sub S corporation with a buddy of mine that we ended up doing nothing with.  Does that even count?  I still have the corporate seal and binders from that one.

I feel like I’ve worked a thousand different jobs in my life.  My first job where I received a W-2 was at a TCBY.  I made $3.35/hr.  My second job, before shipping off to Basic Training, was construction.  That lasted one day.  Since then I have had an eclectic variety of jobs.  I’ve worked in the food service industry in a number of different of capacities, including at a restaurant in an airport. I’ve driven produce delivery trucks, worked at different retail stores, served in the United States Army Reserves.  I tried sales jobs twice, not for me. And now I have a job I would have never guessed in a million years I would be doing.  I work for the sewer department for the city where I live.  It’s a shitty job (sewer humor), but I actually enjoy it.  Most of what we do is not nearly as bad as you might think.  But there are those days….

I’ve done some pretty cools stuff in my life.  I’ve been to over a dozen countries.  I’ve been inside the White House.  I’ve been inside the gates of Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guards up close.  Somewhere I still have the invitation from that incredible day.  I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji and ridden on the Bullet Train.  I had a 1967 Mustang for a while.  That was my favorite car of all the ones I’ve ever had.  I’ve surfed in the Pacific and swam in the Atlantic.  I’ve dipped my toe in the Bay of Bengal and I’ve caught a shark in the Gulf of Mexico. 

I’ve gone to war twice.  I received the Bronze Star at the end of my last deployment.  We traveled extensively while in Afghanistan.  And when we did, it always seemed like someone was trying to kill us.  We survived being shot at and enemy rocket attacks.  We could feel the explosions shake the buildings when we went to Kandahar and Bagram.  We flew on some helicopters that probably could have used some extra maintenance, but we survived that, too.  Of all the airplanes we boarded over there, the British C-130 was my favorite ride.  From take off to landing, it was like a rollercoaster on steroids.  I loved it. I’d go back for a day if they let me do that again. But they won’t. I got medically retired a couple years ago.

My life might seem like a completed bucket list for some, and I barely scratched the surface here.  But there is so much left to do.  What could possibly be left?  To just live.  That’s all.  Every day, just live and enjoy life.  I still fret over some of my failures, but I don’t let it consume me.  I still smile about the few things I’ve been successful in, but I know I’m not done, there’s more to come.  For example, later today, I plan on successfully taking a nap.  That might not seem like much, but sometimes it’s the little things that can make a whole day successful.  Don’t ever forget that.  So, Happy Birthday to me, I’m old now. And I’m grateful to still be rotating on this Earth and orbiting the sun.  Thanks for stopping by today and listening to me ramble on as I look back at my first 49 years. It’s really been a good run so far.  Good day, God bless.

Dave

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

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

I’ll Do My Best

I finish many of my conversations by saying “I’ll do my best.” Usually when someone tells me to have a good day, sleep well, have fun, or some other well-wishing suggestion, I respond with, “I’ll do my best.” And I mean it. It is a misnomer of sorts, in that I can’t always achieve my best, but I try and that’s the point. Sometimes my best is pretty good and sometimes it falls way short. I think “my best” can be characterized as an ultraviolet light wave. It goes up and down; and depending on where I’m at in the wave cycle depends on what “my best” will be at any given time or circumstance. And, like the ultraviolet light waves, it’s invisible to the naked eye. Sometimes I don’t even know what “my best” will be until it’s time to find out.

Doing my best isn’t always easy. And sometimes I fake it, or I realize during an event that I need to not lose my cool and adjust to a situation. That happened a couple of times last month. First, I was rear-ended on the job. I stopped at a red light, the young lady behind me did not stop in time. It was very minor, barely worth mentioning, but since I was in a city truck for work, a police report had to be made. I watched in the rearview mirror as smoke rose from the road because she locked up her brakes and the tires screeched. I prepared for impact. It ended up being just enough of a jolt to shake my truck. I was momentarily enraged. I’ve written many times here that traffic and driving are a trigger for my PTSD. But by the time we pulled off the road I calmed myself and handled the situation well.

More recently, as I had laid down one night to go to bed, I heard a commotion outside in the parking lot of the condo complex I live at. After about five minutes of listening to the yelling, I decided to go outside and see what was going on. I wasn’t happy about this. When I got outside I saw a young man holding a baseball bat and two young ladies walking away from him. At that point I went from being not happy to thinking I might have to take the bat from that guy and beat him with it. And in my mind as I saw him, I had already disabled the threat. I walked straight up to the guy staring at him the whole time. Two steps away from him, he dropped the bat and put his hands up by his shoulders. He continued to yell until the cops arrived despite my suggestions that he shut up and go back to his condo. Right before the cops showed up he bent down to pick up the bat. I was very calm and clear, but firm and direct in both tone and language, when I told him what the consequences would be if he picked it back up. Fortunately, especially for him, it didn’t come to that.

In both of those instances I did my best. I had to work on it very hard in a very short amount of time. I had only a few seconds each time to realize where my mindset was going and change course. I did good for the most part. But here’s the side effects of doing my best sometimes when I’m not ready to. After the minor wreck and all the waiting and paperwork was over, I had a splitting headache the rest of the day. Forcing myself to calm down in that situation created a lot of stress and anxiety that I carried the rest of the day. I handled the event well, but the rest of my day was horrible. As far as the baseball bat incident goes, I kept my cool enough to not harm that guy even when he bent over to pick up the bat again. After the cops interviewed me about what I saw, I filled out a police report as requested, and was free to go back to bed. The problem was I couldn’t fall asleep. My adrenaline was still going until 1 a.m. I kept replaying it all in my mind, even the part about pulverizing the guy which never even happened. I only got about four hours of sleep before I had to be back at work.

I understand why I dealt with those two events the way I did and had “side effects” afterwards. That’s how I, and many others, dealt with things at war. Focus, get the job done, keep your cool, don’t go crazy, know your surroundings, know all the rules of engagement. But when an incident or attack happens we end up with loads of energy and adrenaline spikes coupled with not knowing the outcome of a situation as it’s happening or having to be prepared to fight at any given time, whether we’re needed or not. It’s stressful. Unlike the two things that happened last month where I could process the events shortly after they happened, I waited until coming home from Afghanistan to process it all. That was dangerous, but I hardly had a choice. And the side effects of waiting until I got back from war were catastrophic. Failed suicide attempt, diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, unsociable, jumpy, anger issues. The list could go on and on.

Some days are harder than others, but I’m getting there. And I’ll end here as I do many of my conversations, I’ll do my best. Thanks for stopping by. Good day, God bless.

Dave