A bit of a personal post, today. Part of my subjective writer’s journey.
Why did I post the photo above, me wearing a pakhul at some lousy firebase?
Well, it’s because that was me at the height of my competency, before everything went downhill. Before I took a hit. Before the hospitals, the boards. Long before I got the idea to write. That’s me when I led men in combat, when I could still point at something and say, “this is what I do.”
On many days it still feels as if I am stuck there, in 2011, up in the mountains. As if I can’t escape. As if everything that’s happened since isn’t real.
I thought I would die there, and then it didn’t happen.
As if by magic, I came home and wrote. In the Valley, the first book of my trilogy, was the result.
Why am I talking about this today.
Well, a few things have happened, some of which I’m not going to touch in a public forum. What I will say is that I recently attended a gathering of soldiers, I struck up a conversation with some of them. One of them asked “what are you doing these days,” a pretty innocuous question. A pretty uncomfortable question, frankly.
How do I answer that? I’m medically retired, still relatively young. Looking at me, I seem to be able bodied. I stood there tongue-tied, unsure of what to say. Did I spill my guts and tell this soldier that I spend a lot of time at the VA? Did I mention that I tried regular employment and it didn’t work out? Did I say that I’m trying to atone for all the years gone, the pain, the loss?
Nope. I blurted out “I write books.” The statement felt lame, stupid, as it crossed my lips. Even though it’s the God’s truth.
The soldier changed the subject, we stopped speaking soon after.
Looking back on the conversation, I’m a little pissed about it. First, I know I did good time for God and country. Second, there’s nothing wrong with a medical retirement. It’s not as if the Army gave me a choice. They didn’t. I’m lucky to be alive. Finally, what the hell is wrong with being an author? Not a damn thing, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve written a decent little trilogy. I’m up to my ears in collaborations. Just finished the rough draft of my fourth novel. I run this website, and it’s rewarding and fun.
So maybe the problem isn’t with the question, “what do you do these days,” but with my own perception. I’m not a soldier anymore. I’ll probably never face the enemy again. I no longer carry the sword.
It’s over. I write books.
If people want to give me funny looks about it, that’s their problem.
This is what I do.
4 thoughts on “After the fight”
It seems trite, but the phrase, “its not you its them” does apply.
First, thank you for your service, and thank you for your books!
I think you have to first accept and allow yourself to be content with being “an author”. Having been a fan and opening this blog every day or 2 to check for new posts, I get the sense that you are still coming to terms internally with your new normal.
I never served, but my father was in the Air Force for 28 years (enlisted), my sister married an enlisted Air Force guy (retired), my niece went to school on an AFROTC scholarship and is now active duty, her husband is active duty Air Force, my nephew (same sister) just got out of the Navy after 4 years.
All that to say I have a pretty good grasp of the military way of life, at least as good as a civilian can have.
For my father and brother-in-law there was transition time they struggled with. My father served state side during the tail end of Vietnam, my brother in law was intimately involved in the waning days of the search for Osama bin Laden. They felt that loss of being part of a team, of doing something WAY bigger than themselves as individuals. For someone like yourself, who was a medical discharge, especially one without overt physical signs, I am sure it is/was even more difficult.
I am lucky enough to be the father of a special needs child. He is medically frail, and has a terminal diagnosis. To look at him at Walmart or the grocery store, you can tell he has downs syndrome, but you cant see that terminal diagnosis. Hes happy, smiles and very friendly, to all outward appearances he seems healthy. BUT, my family lives with the certainty that there is a very tough day coming in our future. We could spend our time focused on that future date, let life pass by, keep our boy (ok, 19 year old MAN) in a bubble OR, we can do what we do, go out, live life, give him (and us) all the experiences he wants and can handle.
Its not a perfect comparison, but it all boils down to the same thing. You have been given a talent (2 really, if you count your abilities as a soldier, and I think you would!). You can choose to dwell on what was, and what was taken from you, or you can revel in what has been given: your outstanding ability to translate your therapy into enjoyable stories, that convey some of the real issues soldiers face.
Based on reading your blog, I think you have mostly embraced the new version of you, the author.
That rambled on a little more than I like, but hopefully you can see the point I was trying to make through that word salad. Acceptance starts and ends with you. Looks like you may not be 100% satisfied with your new lot in life, but from those who know you only from your works, know that you are VERY GOOD in that new lot in life and are appreciated, as well as understand in our own small way that you struggle and why.
Aaron, first let me say that’s rough about your son. “We…live life.” Indeed, and well stated. Second, thank you for your thoughtful response. It’s a good day when someone out of the blue says that you’re good at what you do. Finally, you are right. It is very much true that I struggle with my service tenure. No-one knows more than me that I need to let it go. In regard to writing, there really is a whole bunch of stuff out there right now, some ~200k words of unpublished material. Hopefully you get it sooner rather than later. But in the meanwhile, I’ve got this blog…
You put down the sword, and picked up the pen. An infinitely more powerful weapon. And have wielded in with some skill I might add.
Now where is that fourth book?
Ah, the fourth book and where it may be. Don’t know how far you’ve read through my old posts, but I lost my indie publisher last year. So I’m trying something different with no.4. See if I can shop it around via the trad publishing route. This means a delay with getting the book out there. Rest assured, though, it’ll be published. And when it does, the people on this site will be the first to know. Plus there are two other collaborations with a lot of writing in them; those should kick out in the foreseeable future. J