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Archive for December, 2003

 
|| December 11, 2003 || 12:44 am || Comments (5) ||

The Continuation…

…of what I started earlier in the week.

In the days to follow, I was a wrinkled-clothes, jumbled-nerves mess, but those around me remarked on my stillness and perceived sense of purpose. Hell, I just felt like a robot. It seemed as if I were in constant motion, sleep coming in fits and starts. There was always something to be taken care of (“Are your affairs in order? You know, just in case.”), people to receive, meetings to be attended (Biff’s command was very, very good to us. Between the guys in his battalion passing the hat and Army Emergency Relief, they took care of our every financial need in the several months I was forced out of work). My neighbors, Sgt. Mark and his wife Teri, took my then barely-seven-month-old son in and cared for him. They came to the hospital to relieve me so I could go home and sleep, return calls, play with my son, wash a couple loads of clothes. Friends Sgt. Cliff and his wife Jen (both military members) took a week’s leave each so that they too could care for my son while the Marks went to work.

I attended a brief church service one evening called in honor of my husband and was requested to speak as to his condition. I stood before all the concerned faces –many of whom were active duty or retired military themselves– and outlined my spouse’s injuries, the terrific loss of blood he’d suffered while being brought in from the field (we were told time and time again that he should have, by rights, died right there on the ground, not to mention the protracted evac period….they said the gallon of Gatorade I’d bought for him as a flukey afterthought before his departure was probably was sustained his life until he got to the hospital; strange things, these), the daily surgeries to strip dead and dying tissues that surrounded his wounds.

“The bullet’s entrance hole at the front of his thigh was the size of a quarter,” I told them emotionlessly, “and the exit wound at the back was the size of a large salad plate. There is a concave space in the back of his leg that a little over half of my fist could disappear into.” I held my clenched hand aloft in illustration.

“I’ve been told by the doctors that the bullet missed his femur by a fraction of an inch, and had it hit the bone, he most assuredly would have lost the leg entirely and quite probably his life, as bone shards may have entered the artery and ripped their way through his system before lodging in his heart.

“As it stands now, we don’t know if he will live, but he’s improving each day, and the rate at which they’re having to give him blood has slowed. As to whether he will eventually lose the leg, they just cannot tell me at this time, nor can they tell me how much function he will have should he keep it. What nerves that weren’t destroyed suffered an immense shock and everyone seems to be unaware to what degree they will recover.”

I paused to look around, noting all the looks of horror on most of the wives’ faces. We live with the fear of these things every day, those looks said, but we do not know what to do with the reality of it. Given where our husbands served, they were called up on alert quite frequently, and we –the wives, the children– never knew how long they’d be gone, never knew whether or not (save for gut instinct, which becomes quite credible in such instances) it was a drill or an actual exercise.

Many of the men were with the 1/501st Geronimos, had their jump wings, just like my spouse. More than a handful of men wore a Ranger tab, just like Biff. A couple of them served with him as scouts, work which is at best dangerous beyond all comprehension. Had I been a man relaying this information, there may have been some signs of concern, but I think mostly resolved stoicism would have won out. But I wasn’t a man, so the looks they held were those of extreme sorrow and –to a degree– pity. They are picturing their wives, I thought. They are picturing their wives standing up here instead of me, and God, it pains them.

I went on to tell them what I had learned of Bradley, also: How his parents were exhausted, how they did not have as extensive a support network as we did. Their son was unmarried and fairly new to Fort Rich.

I made a plea for the congregation to donate blood, as both men had required and were still requiring great amounts of it. When Biff was shot, he lost an amazing eight of the ten units of blood that his body held (this figure, coupled with the fact that he did indeed live, astounds me even today). I asked that my church family remember the Bradleys in prayer, that they assist them in any way they could.

When I got back that day –only the second day after the Bradleys had fixed themselves in the ICU, I was surprised to see the glass front of thier son’s room. Mrs. Bradley, whom I’d spoken with briefly upon their arrival the fourth day the guys were in ICU, had taped pictures of her son all over the glass wall. Here he was as a boy, sweet-smiling. Here he was as a teenager, carefree. Here he was in bootcamp, the standard stern, put-upon look that all recruits possess draped across his face. There were at least thirty pictures of him there, most smiling, all earthy-handsome and good-earnest. You could somewhat measure his character by them. I stood there silent after the shock had worn off, studying them all.

His father sat quietly in a corner and his mother crossed the few feet toward me, stepping through the doorway.

“I want everyone to know who is lying in that bed. I want them to know who they are treating.” We stood there awhile, gazing at all the photos, and somehow our hands found one another. After a time, and after she had squeezed my hand in some unspoken surge of emotion, I turned to her.

“I’m pregnant, about three months along.” I said it quietly and she received it quietly She was the first person besides me to know that I held a baby cocooned inside of me, this woman whose only offspring lie gravely injured, cocooned himself in dark sleep and machinery, a few feet away.

“Ohhh…” she sighed, “a light. A light in all this fog…” and two tears slipped brazenly out of one eye, parading unfettered past her lashes and dropping fat off of her cheek and onto her breast. There was talk of sending her son to Walter Reed, the premier Army hospital, as soon as he was stable enough to travel. It was bad.

A couple days later Biff was moved to another wing, another ICU. He would live, and there was the matter of seeing to it that he would not lose his leg. Some forty-eight hours later he was transferred back to the military hospital on Elmendorf AFB, despite his exhortations to me: “Keep me here, Beth. Don’t let them send me over there. I’ll never keep my leg.” I tried my best to accomodate his wish, getting the mother of all ass chewings from one colonel (whom I lovingly refer to as Colonel Turdbucket to this very day) in the process. We eyeballed one another fiercely across a desk. He, in essence, told me that I’d made him look schmucky. I, in essence, told him that I gave not a fuck, because I was trying to fulfill my husband’s request. His final statement before calling the meeting to an abrupt close?

“My team and I can handle this.” Butt out, bitch. You’re young and ignorant.

And that, in the military vernacular, means that is that. How he must have longed for me to be a military member at that moment.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother –in an extreme case of Dining On Your Pride– called my father to intervene. I told him ‘no thank you’ politely and cursed her in my head. My father keeps score, and I’ve never wanted to Owe Big.

Five days later, Biff’s condition tanked and all hell broke loose as they scrambled to get him on a plane to Travis AFB, where the David Grant Medical Center is located. Matters were complicated further by the fact that Mount Spurr was about to erupt again. It was a now-or-never sort of situation.

“Go get your things and your son. You have an hour and a half to be on the tarmac. We go with or without you.”

TO BE CONTINUED LATER ON DOWN THE LINE.

 
|| December 10, 2003 || 12:49 pm || Comments (8) ||

And oh yeah…

….in my new coat, my mobile phone has a pocket of its very own.

Such a sad, sad world we live in today.

 
|| December 10, 2003 || 12:43 pm || Comments (4) ||

Thanks, you’re a pal.

At present, I am taking a final in one of my classes, but the network is B..O..G..G..G..G..E..D…….D..O..W..N..N..N and taking forever to load this’n'that, so I’m reading all your blogs (I see that many of you have not updated, hmph) and just generally fucking off on the InterWeb.

Don’t tell, okay?

 
|| December 8, 2003 || 2:12 pm || Comments (22) ||

Get a CLUE, lady.

This morning found me at the doctor’s office with Sam and Scout. As I was scrawling out a check (I scrawl when begrudged), I took note of the date and said –half to myself– “Hm. Jim Morrison’s birthday.”

“Friend of yours?” the lady behind the counter asked.

“Nooooo….Jim Morrison of the Doors.” She looked at me blankly.

“You know,” I insisted, “Frontman of the aforementioned band? He was the Lizard King? He could do anything? Well, except for defy death and drugs.”

She tucked in one side of her mouth and shook her head. Suddenly we were Abbot and Cosfuckingstello. I was all juiced, and she was all, ‘…the fuck??’

I squinched up my eyes at her, “You’re kiddin’ me.”

“I really don’t know.” she said evenly.

“Hokay,” said I, “‘Ell Ay Woman’? The song ‘Ell Ay Woman’.”

“Nope.” Howinthaheck could someone not know ‘Ell Ay Woman’, even on a cursory, fleeting basis??

I started to spit out ‘Crystal Ship’, but there was no way in holy hell that she’d know that one. I sometimes forget that my favorites aren’t everybody’s favorites (even though they byGod should be).

I got a flash of inspiration and suddenly I was one of those gameshow fucktards: I did a little hop, clapped my hands together, pointed at her and exclaimed triumphantly, “‘Light My Fire’!”

“Oh, okay,” she said mildly, “I know that one.” I nodded my approval, lips pooched inward, and she continued to stare.

The end.

Pee ess….today is also the very awesome AdamWade’s bloggiversary. I would like to gift him with sixty fresh hits today, so some of y’all kindly hop on over there and tell him hullo and huzzah and whatever other celebratory exclamations come to mind. Thanks so much.

 
|| December 8, 2003 || 1:37 am || Comments (1) ||

I’VE BEEN PUT ON NOTICE.

Sam, stumbling down the stairs to go take a middle-’o-the-night whizz, had this to offer as he shuffled sleep-eyed past me:

“You stay up too late.”

As he said it, he eyeballed me like he was my daddy and I was a batshit-crazy teenager. Let’s hope he’s half so judicious and responsible-thinking in another five years.

I’m taking bets on this one…any comers?

 

This one’s a long one, so settle in or skip on by.

I don’t know why the events of Labor Day weekend 1992 keep coming back to me in the last couple of weeks. I suspect it is because of the constant flow of reports about injured and dead coming in from Over Yonder and that weekend showed me what munitions do to the bodies of young, able men who are in the wrong place at the right time.

Two young men, twin ICU rooms with glassed-in walls, both swollen beyond recognition, both near-buried in a snakelike configuration of tubing and wiring meant to sustain nearly-extinguished lives, both covered in a curtain of stillness punctuated by the quiet, steady clack-rattle and beeping of machinery. Neither of them, frankly, was supposed to have lived.

Labor Day weekends aren’t scripted to end like that. You’re supposed to come off of them mourning the end of your long weekend, not fearful of the future as your life or the life of your loved one hangs precariously in the balance.

It was a hellish sort of four days, so I didn’t pay attention to the boy next door like I should have (or ordinarily would have). I was a little shell-shocked, working past my fatigue and fear with the blanket resolve that I am fortunate enough to be blessed with.

The accidents occurred within a couple hours of one another early Labor Day afternoon, in different parts of the state, for different reasons. As I sat in a dim hallway alcove and waited for my young husband to come out of surgery for his gunshot wound, they wheeled the wreckage of what I assumed to be another young man past me and in through the pneumatic doors of the ICU. I watched him, wide-eyed, the flat of my palm pressed hard against my abdomen and the flutter of girlbaby growing inside. Had I not already been in some degree of shock, I would have openly wept for the mess of a human being that lie there.

He was a sci-fi-like configuration of staples and stitches and tufts of hair and impossibly-stretched shiny, contused skin. How is he still alive??

The first few hours after they brought my husband out of surgery were a big mental fog. I sort of wandered around the room, brain clutching at this thought and that, unsure of the next five minutes, the next five hours, the next few days. I held his hand, bent over the bed of this man (who was barely alive when the medical team got to him, yet who still managed to tell them to call me Beth rather than Elizabeth when they phoned so that I would not immediately become alarmed and know how truly bad things were) till my head and sacrum ached, whispering fervently into his ear.

“Don’t you die on me, don’t you go anywhere. You’re only twenty-two; you’re too young. We have plans and I have a huge surprise for you when you’re stronger….” I hadn’t yet told him of the blessing in my belly; we were being transferred to Redstone Arsenal in less than a month and I hadn’t wanted him to be overprotective of a pregnant me in the days surrounding the move. Hell, when I was pregnant with Sam, he’d forbade me to go to the gym, to shovel snow, to sweep the walk.

After several hours had passed thickly and impossibly slowly, a nurse came in to check his vitals for the twentieth time. She announced him stable enough so that she could clean the muddy blood-and-dirt mixture that was caked across his hands, his arms, his abdomen, his buttocks. The femoral artery bleeds an ungodly amount, you see.

“You go,” she said, “Go and get something to eat,” and she turned me out of the glass case where my spouse was displayed. Wake up, wake up….Sleeping Beauty is supposed to lie in the glass box, not The Prince….

Well, hell, I couldn’t eat, but I thought a Pepsi might settle my stomach, so I agreed to go. As I passed the neighboring room, I turned my fatigue-swollen eyes toward the bed it contained.

“He’s stationed at Fort Rich, too,” one of the nurses behind the desk said. I halted.

Really.”

“Yes. He came in about three or four hours before your husband did.” It had taken a relay-team combination of off-road vehicle, ambulance and life flight copter three-and-a-half hours to get Biff out of Alaska’s interior. Their injuries, they had occurred very near one another on the timeline.

“What in God’s name happened to him?” I mean, my husband was flirting heavily with death, but you could still make him out beneath all the pale, swollen flesh. This kid didn’t look human, much less able to sustain life.

“They were setting explosives and one charge went off too early, cracking an I-beam in two and sending one half through a jeep and the other half into that boy’s face.” I withered a little bit.

“Why is there no one here with him?” I asked, and she shrugged.

“His mom and dad are stationed in Germany and are trying to get a flight out.” I hadn’t been referring to family, though. It was a foolish question; I knew military procedure all too well. There was no one there because all those closest to him –the men in his unit– were busy being questioned, making statements and signing their names in triplicate.

I faced the window, crossing myself then, kissing my fingertips, put my hand to the glass. “What is his name?”

“Bradley.”

“Look, I’m going for some air, but when I come back would it be okay if I go in there and talk to him for a little bit?” Having had an ICU nurse for a grandmother, I knew this was asking the nigh on impossible, so I was surprised when she said yes.

I went downstairs, threw up in some bushes when I got outside, cursed my inability to smoke (little wee one, remember?) and went back inside, desperately wishing that they put bars next to the gift shops in hospitals. I could’ve used a stiff shot of something, anything, but I settled instead for a soda.

When I got back up to the ICU, I quietly went into Bradley’s room. My God, but was he a mess. His head looked like bruised, stitched cauliflower. The only thing you could really make out was his mouth, and that was only because there was a giant tube coming out of it.

Not wanting to inadvertently hurt him, but unsure if his ears were working properly, I found a small patch of intact skin on the top of his head and began stroking it with the thumb of my right hand so that he would know someone was there. I loosely threaded the fingers of my left hand through those on his left hand and began to speak to him. I don’t remember what I said, but I know exactly how I said it: Easy, velvet tone, no jagged peaks or sudden starts in my voice. Being focused on the task helped ease my nausea; it helped abate my own terror to try and bring some measure of comfort to this tattered man-boy.

I think it’s what a lot of military people do, because we are a family of sorts. You take care of someone when it is called for (and even when it’s not) because, hopefully, when your brother or husband or father or cousin or uncle who is far away from you geographically needs it, someone will offer them care and comfort. Say what you will about the U.S. military, but esprit de corps is not lost on it, regardless of branch.

I stayed for little under an hour, holding his hand, caressing various unmarred parts of him, talking-talking-talking. I left out to go back to my husband in the next room some twenty minutes before the chaplain and base commander came rolling in to visit both the guys. I saw so much brass in that four fucking day span that I could’ve started a housewares store. When the General in command of the entire Pacific Northwest flies in to gladhand you, you know that they consider the situation a ‘BFD‘, for whatever reason.

(Okay, I didn’t mean that to sound so cynical. My husband was a good soldier, very decorated, very dedicated, very loved and respected by his men…ones he served with, whether he was leading or following. It could have gone either way, really….)

Eventually, Bradley’s squadmates were allowed to visit, two by two into the Ark of the ICU. It actually worked out well, as some of these men were fellas we knew as well. I talked a long while with Sgt. Mantz when he came in. He went to church with us, was in the same Sunday School class, and he had held Bradley’s face together–literally. He told me of how he was just behind and to the left of the boy during this training mission. He was standing, while Bradley was kneeling: “Man, Beth, if he’d been standing up, he’d be dead for sure now.”

Working on instinct, just as he had been trained, Mantz started assessing and acting quickly. One eye was pushed back in the boy’s head, one was hanging by the optic nerve down and out of the socket. Sgt. Mantz scooped the man’s eye up, shaking water over it, and popped it back into place. There were teeth broken off and embedded in Bradley’s face, and Mantz removed those he could quickly.

“I just kept on talking to him, Beth, I just kept on talking and I held his face together while we loaded him up and took him to the hospital.” I hugged Sgt. Mantz to me long and hard, but I imagine there is small measure of comfort in any gesture after you’ve seen something like that happen to a friend and compatriot.

TO BE CONTINUED, as it’s late, I’m tired, there’s more studying to be done, and this is taking more out of me than I thought it would. Alrighty then.

 
|| December 4, 2003 || 1:33 pm || Comments (8) ||

No real point to this post….

….but I thought you people might need to see something sweet. These are my wee (second) cousins Benton Lee and Molly. Their momma, KerriAnn, sent me their photos via e-mail this week. Benton (on the left) is sweet and quiet and unassuming while Molly is all spitfire and noise and ‘I’ll do it My Byself!” I love them and their momma (adore them, in fact); I don’t get to spend enough time with any of them.

I can say one thing for certain: If we Superiors don’t do anything else right, we sure do make pretty babies. This is just a minute sampling….there’s a whole mess of us back home.