M1 is currently reading Ghosts of War in her English class. Each night she calls out phrases and words to me for translation and of course I comply, I mean military slang does not translate straightforward and it helps her to understand. When she started reading it she asked if the author and I were in the same war and I said no he was Desert Storm and I was Iraqi Freedom. She never asked me another question about my experiences after that so I thought it was a done deal.
Two days after Christmas my BFF comes over and once my Mom leaves M1 is talking to her in hushed tones to which I paid no mind. The tone seemed congenial for the most part but then it got rather tense and M1 started to raise her voice. I hear this conversation
“Well I have a right to know what she did and she should tell me”
“M1, your Mom was traumatized by what she did and can’t talk about it and be all right. She doesn’t tell you because it is too hard for her to talk about it”
“But its been almost 10 years when will she be over it?”
“Maybe never, I can’t explain it to you. Sometimes vets never get better”
I walk in and ask what the issue is and my BFF relays that my daughter is frustrated because she doesn’t understand what I did during the war and I won’t talk about it. I sighed I suppose I can’t hide the facts forever, I mean if she finds the bin with the photos it would be all over anyway so I might as well talk now.
I show her some photos of me with different people and talked to her about who they were and what they did. She was fascinated with the people, the location and some of the stories. After a bit she said “But Mom what was your job during the war?” OK she is 14 I guess the truth should be told.
“I did a few things, my main job was to review photographs, all the photographs, which had been taken on the battle field. I reviewed the photos to be sure that there was no way to identify the body or the body parts pictured so we would not offend any of the locals should they be published. Also to protect the American families to be sure no loved ones could be identified.”
M1 audibly gasped out loud so I stopped. Yeah there is a person that does this no kidding and in the photo above you are looking at the only 2 people in 200 deployed who were qualified to do it. The voice in my head screamed “now do you see why I don’t talk about it” but I kept my mouth shut. God knows I was struggling too at this point. She looked at me incredulously and asked what else I did. I clarified that she wanted me to continue and she nodded so I did:
“Between photos I also had to do the suicide investigations of the soldiers deployed. If a soldier died and it was believed to be or known to be suicide I had to look into it. It means reviewing the photos of the death scene, talking to friends and bosses and reviewing medical treatment records. Once I made the decision I notified personnel because if it was suicide then the family received no benefits and they had to draft the letter telling the family that no benefits would be released. If suicide was determined the family usually wanted to talk to me and have me explain my findings even though they were written up”
I stopped again as I can’t even imagine what my kiddo thinks of me now. The look is a strange one that I can’t clarify and her hand is over her mouth.
“OMG Mom that is horrible why did you have to do it?”
I explained I was the only one with a counseling background and so the Commanding General felt that I was best suited to do it. I also explained that the last role I had was also based on my counseling degree and regrettably peer recommendations. She slowly nodded her head and said “The murder trial?” and I said “Yes the trial” See the trial impacted her life because I had to leave the girls for two months to act as the counselor for ALL participants in the fragging trial of our commanding officer. Sure that might sound tough in and of itself but it was my friend who was murdered by my driver. Apparently, the military did not see this as a conflict of interest.
There I had said it and it was out in the open. I can’t remember being so uncomfortable around my own children. I was dying to know her thoughts but could see she was just processing it all. No nothing I did was glorified. I watched people get murdered in front of me when I went into the villages and reviewed soldiers deaths upon return. I can’t imagine any part of that was what my child could even have imagined I did, it is so not like what she sees me as today.
M1 was quiet for a long time and then my BFF said “Now do you get why she may never get better?” I assured her it was MUCH BETTER then it use to be but yeah still haunts my life and comes out sideways. She asks “Is that why you have nightmares and sometimes I hear you call out at night?” Yeah hon that is why, sometimes I still have flashbacks and I am trying to call for help at a murder/suicide scene. M1 nodded it was coming together for her now and started to make more sense what she sometimes sees or hears me doing.
I asked if she had any others questions and secretly prayed she did not. She shook her head no initially and then said “Can I see some of the photos you looked at?” I smiled “Um no real people real bodies really classified” She looked somewhat critically at me not sure if I was joking but I assured her there were none on hand and no she would never see them. She nodded again and walked away.
My BFF looked and asked if I was all right and I said I was it was just tough telling the ones I love the disgusting job I had. She smiled and said “Well I knew and I still love ya” I had to smile I mean I know she loves me but all I could think is “Whatever will M1 tell her friends I did?”
Poor kiddo nothing in her life is ever neat and easy.