Juicy Couture, Nightmares, and Guilt

I woke up this morning feeling on edge. Then I remembered the dream I just had.

I dreamt that my husband was home. He was yelling at the top of his lungs and holding shopping bags, waving them in my face. I hung my head in shame and sulked. Busted. Caught red-handed.

I have a shopping addiction. I admit it. It’s managed by Nordstrom Half Yearly sales and staying out of the mall altogether.

I remember looking up at him in my dream as he reached into one of those shopping bags and pulled out a new baby blue Juicy Couture handbag (one of those trendy, fancy schmancy brands for those who are not in the know). He read the price tag to see how much the purse cost and I saw the vein in his forehead pulse in slow motion.

The whole time I’m thinking in my dream I thought I cut the tag off that new purse, why did I keep secrets from my husband? We’ve never done it before and ten years into the marriage, why start now?

My husband has always been honest with me. When I have a sneaking suspicion that a dress or outfit doesn’t look right on me (bloated, slight weight gain, whatever), I ask him if he thinks a dress is unflattering. He won’t tell me that I look like a fat cow but he won’t lie to me and say something looks good when I kinda knew it didn’t.

And I’ve been honest with him. When I was pregnant with L, R was home for Thanksgiving and went all out. Beautiful turkey baked to perfection with bacon dressing. Cranberry sauce. Homemade garlic mashed potatoes and gravy. But I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any of it.

“You don’t want to try my turkey?”

“Um, no.”

“Why not?” he asked. “It’s Thanksgiving!”

“I know,” I said. “But… um, it doesn’t smell good. I’m feeling kind of nauseous. I think the baby wants something different.”

“Oh… Okay,” he said. “What does the baby want?”

In the smallest voice to mankind, I said, “Chinese food.”

To this day, he won’t ever let me forget that I chose beef and broccoli over his turkey. On Thanksgiving.

But this is the kind of relationship we have. We tell each other everything.

Until now.

You see, I started this blog with the intention of sorting through the last year. I cannot recall how difficult it’s been for me until something triggers a memory. Little things send me back to a time when I’d wander aimlessly through the hospital, waiting to hear updates on the nine hour surgery to put the pieces of his pelvis back together. This chocolate croissant in my belly in front of me reminds me of the pastries I sampled at the different cafes at NNMC Bethesda. I see my husband’s ID band from the hospital every morning and every night. I keep it in the drawer next to my toothpaste.

I never told my husband I started writing about what happened. In the past few days, I’ve felt this inexplicable release and relief with every post I upload. I write about emotions and experiences that I’ve either minimized or never shared with anyone, let alone my own husband. I should have told him from Day 1.

I called him this afternoon to tell him about the blog and he was actually very encouraging. He’s read a few of my manuscripts in the past and I respect his critiques. He told me that he was proud of me. Then he told me that he had to tell me something too.

I wasn’t the only one with a secret.

He said, “I’m actually feeling really guilty right now. I feel like I should have been injured more.”

Huh?

It dawned on me that he was thinking about our phone call yesterday. I gave him updates about two guys who were in the polytrauma wing at VA Palo Alto. They were in two separate serious accidents with their wives and are still recovering. [To read more about these brave men and their awesome wives, see the Blogroll for the Ryes and Darlings.]

He went on, "Here I am, bitching about what I'm going through when those guys are going through all that. I feel like a little bitch."

I said, "But comparing all of these injuries you've seen is like comparing apples and oranges. You can't pick and choose your injuries. No one had a choice on how they were hurt."

He listened but I know he didn't hear me. He was only one month into his six month deployment to Iraq when his car rolled over. He knows that someone, one of his friends no less, had to take his place after he left. He is not allowed to deploy anymore but feels like he can do one more before his retirement in two years. On top of all that, he did not earn a Purple Heart for his injuries because the accident was noncombat related.

I know this guilt consumes him at times but I really try not to say very much, with the exception of today’s conversation and maybe a few other times just sayin’. I cannot disagree with him, be his conscience, or tell him how to feel.

And frankly, I don't want to. He’s a grown man. A Wounded Warrior. I may never fully understand how and why he feels the way he does. He may never either.

But I also don't want his guilt to define him.

So for now, I'll just be there for him and listen. We’ll share what we’re feeling and what we’re doing without judgment, without fear of being ridiculed, and without shame.

No secrets, remember?

Thank You For Not Leaving Me

I heard those two words a lot from my husband throughout our marriage. Thank you for getting me Taco Bell. Thank you for cooking (though that one was rare because I don’t cook). Thank you for getting me the new Stephen King novel. Really sweet nuggets of acknowledgement that he didn’t have to say but did anyway.

One thank you I didn’t expect, especially after the accident, was this: “Thank you for not leaving me.”

And he said it repeatedly.

To which I’d reply, “Why would I leave you?” Dumbfounded, of course.

Then he’d rattle off reasons why any woman would leave at this point in our relationship. “I’m broken. Look at me. I don’t even recognize myself.” Sure, he was banged up, physically and at times, emotionally. So?

“I’m useless. I can’t even help you with the kids.” My husband was bedridden for about two months and in a wheelchair for four. Um, you are supposed to heal right now and not worry about us. Besides, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left any combination of the children in his care for short periods of time, even when he was at NNMC in Maryland. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but I wasn’t gone that long and I left the potty-trained ones.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t have some dark moments since the accident. We did. Oh, good Lord, nothing harmful. Just really deep and sad insights about where he’s been, where I’ve been, where we’ve been as a couple, and where we’ve been as a family.

There was one time (oh, he’ll be mad if he discovers this blog) when he was still over at the VA in Palo Alto that shook me to the core. He was still in a wheelchair, still learning how to transfer from bed to chair and back and that day he was transferring to the toilet when all of the emotions building up inside of him exploded. One of the kids didn’t put on the toilet seat properly which caused him to almost fall. The kids and I were watching TV in his room when I heard a crash and an F-bomb. Okay, he’s a sailor. It was a string of swear words and a nurse that was helping him left in a hurry. Other nurses came to assist.

I asked what happened in there and he was still angry, still swearing. And I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one had done anything wrong.

But I started bawling and the kids were looking at us with big eyes. Even now I can’t type this without blowing my nose a gazillion times.

In this moment, everything became clear. He’s here but he’s not. He’s been through something so terrible and so awful and so nightmarish; I couldn’t deny it any longer.

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My husband is a Wounded Warrior. He’s not going to be the same.

Ever.

I believe because of his stubbornness, his determination not to let this rule his life, he will try his damndest to keep it together.

Now if you know me personally, you’d probably describe me to be positive, funny, and extraordinarily beautiful (had to throw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention). I don’t wear my dark emotions on my sleeve. I tend to glean over scary details. But who wouldn’t? Self-preservation? Maybe. Still in denial? Perhaps.

I am sort of embarassed to admit that we went to marriage counseling after this while he was in Palo Alto but it was the best thing for us. The psychologist was a very sweet woman who baffled my husband when she suggested she take the kids for a couple hours so we could spend some time together and they followed her like Pied Piper. It was essential that we had someone listen to us and help us sort out emotions that were starting to bubble over.

He shared with her that he thought all the women he saw at the VA, spouses of Wounded Warriors or of TBI patients, were amazing. Their husbands, he said, were really lucky their wives were still with them.

Later I asked him, “Why wouldn’t they be?”

He said, “Most women would probably leave.”

I shook my head. “I think those women would have left anyway, accident or not.” Like when we used to talk about how he knew so many people in the military who cheated on their spouses. But I believed they would have cheated anyway, even if they weren’t in the military.

I have seen many spouses spend almost every breathing moment with their loved ones. They’d stay until a nurse or doctor gently suggests they go to their hotel rooms to get some rest. I met an Army wife in Bethesda who’s husband was wounded by an IED a second time, the first being only three years earlier.

Are these spouses amazing? Absolutely. Show me one that would leave at the first sign of hard stuff and I would bet my favorite Coach platforms that she was planning on leaving regardless. Just needed an excuse, that’s all.

So in case you were wondering, he still thanks me for not leaving. And when he does, I take a deep breath and say, “I’m not going to leave you. I’m not going anywhere.”

It’s time you met some folks I know

So I get a text this morning from my dear hubby:

“Ran 5K in 37 minutes.”

What the…? For those of you new to this site, let me hit the rewind button for you…

Here we are at the happiest place on earth, March 2010

A few weeks later, my husbad deployed to Iraq for a six month tour. Less than a month into his deployment, his car rolled over and crushed his lower body. I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures of him the first few weeks after the accident. I don’t know why. I suspect I was still in denial and having photographic evidence would make it real, that this nightmare was a reality.

After a few weeks at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he was transferred to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California via Travis AFB.

My husband and our son M at Travis AFB. He was heavily medicated and doesn’t remember me taking this picture.

He spent about four months in a wheelchair. He’s with our daughter A in the courtyard outside his room. Both have a new set of wheels.

And look how far he’s come. Great job, babe! So proud of you!

The Accident (or THAT Day)

It’s pretty amazing that my husband swam 800 meters today and plans on running a 5K race tomorrow.

Even more amazing that my husband was in a wheelchair this time last year.

My husband was serving his third tour in Iraq when the driver lost control of the vehicle. The humvee rolled over three times into the shoulder. It wasn’t combat related; no IEDs involved. R was in the back seat of the humvee with another soldier. The two in the front had a few scratches while the soldier sitting next to him suffered from a concussion.

R was not wearing his seat belt which was a common occurence out there. During the rollover his car door opened and R  fell out of the car, car door slamming shut into his pelvis, and was thrown out of the vehicle.

R remembers lying down in the middle of the road while a friend lifted the car door off of him. He wondered why he couldn’t get up. People around him rushed to tie turnicates around his hips and his left thigh. When R asked why he needed a turnicate around his leg, one guy said, “Oh, it’s just a scratch.” Fast forward years later and you can still see a chunk of his leg missing. 

It took roughly four days to get him out of a sand storm in Iraq, through Germany, and then onto National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland where our children, his parents, his youngest brother, and I finally saw him. 

Thinking about that week, that first time I saw him, still renders me speechless and hurts my chest like breathing in freezing cold air.

R’s injuries baffled doctors. The orthopedic surgeon revealed he rarely saw serious cases like R’s because people didn’t survive these kinds of injuries. R’s pelvis was fractured in seven different places, his urethra was severed, and nerve damage was quite extensive. Surgeons warned that he may never walk again, may never regain nerve sensations in his lower body, and even suggested amputation as a possibility. He had at least three surgeries while in Bethesda to align his hips and repair his right foot.

My husband had external pins in his hips and was bedridden for two months. He was able to sit in a wheelchair for ten minutes at a time before he left Bethesda. R was transferred to the VA in Palo Alto, California via Travis AFB where he increased his time his wheelchair a little every day.

In August 2010, four months after the accident, he stood for the first time since Iraq. He used a walker for two weeks and then moved to using a cane.

My husband was released from VAPA in October and received physical therapy a couple of times a week. He had surgery in November to repair his urethra. 

In March 2011 he got a call to return to work back in Virginia. On June 10, 2011, he will run a 5K for the first time since the accident.

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I read and reread this summary of what has happened to my husband in the last year and know in my heart that it doesn’t do justice to what he has gone through and what our family has gone through. There were hundreds of hours of therapy (individual, couple, and for the kids), long commutes to the Bay Area, and many conferences with the kids’ teachers. Post traumatic stress disorder. Traumatic brain injury. Long talks with the oldest who to this day still asks me, “Why did you say that Daddy had a LITTLE accident?” (I was minimizing the accident and didn’t really know what happened).

But some good came out of THAT day as well. So many charities and organizations supported us at a time we really needed it. So many doctors, nurses, hospital volunteers, patient advocates, patients themselves and their families went out of their way to reach out to us and we are still in touch with many of them today.

One day I will organize my thoughts and blog a bit more about the months proceeding the accident. But today I will leave you with this: I am grateful everyday that my husband is alive, that he will see our children grow, that he has come this far after such a devastating accident, that he continues to fight for his health and keep his body healthy, and that we will grow old together.

Living apart

People wonder how my husband and I can go months at a time without seeing each other. Many couples, military and civilian, choose to live apart for many reasons. Our biggest reasons were our three children, ages 9, 6, and 3. With the older two in school, we wanted them to have stability and not have to move every couple of years. Ninety nine percent of the time, we know in our hearts we made the right choice, even if it meant living a whole country away from each other.

The remaining one percent is comprised of random moments during the day such as this one. I really miss my husband right now.

It’s almost midnight. The children have been sleeping for over three hours. Nothing is on TV. I’ve read two novels this week so I’m taking a day or so before I dive into the next one, albeit a racy vampire porn– my new favorite genre.

I have no desire to turn off all the lights downstairs, climb the sixteen steps to our room, and lay in a cold queen size bed all by myself.

I don’t even have a side anymore. Since we have been dating have been married, I’ve always slept on the right side. I’ve noticed in the past three months since my husband has moved back to Virginia, I’ve scooted to the left a little every night as if my subconscious is still searching for someone to cuddle with. Last night I found myself falling asleep on the left side.

We’ve only got about a month until he comes back for a two week visit. The kids are excited, especially the youngest since she’ll turn four just before he gets home. She just can’t seem to make up her mind over what kind of birthday cake Daddy should make for her: Rapunzel or Curious George?

It’s crummy feeling to realize that I didn’t even get a chance to talk to him all day. I don’t get angry when this happens. Bummed, yes. But not angry. Since he’s been back at work and is not allowed to deploy because of his injuries, he spends his mornings in gruelling physical therapy and the rest of his day at his new desk job. And those of you whose husbands abhor desk jobs, you can imagine how much he hates his newfound responsibilities. I completely understand how physically and emotionally exhausted he is by the end of the day.

I miss his silly jokes about how he broke down and went to Taco Bell for lunch. I miss his updates on how he’s feeling today and how much physical therapy hurt. I even miss his complaints about a former roommate coming over to finish the rest of the huge roast he made over the weekend.

Worst of all, no “I love you” to get you through until tomorrow.

That one percent sucks big time.

What’s your sign, baby?

Lately I’ve been feeling like I need have must do more. I feel grateful for the life I live and know in my heart that there is something missing. The obvious answer is the longing for our family to be together again permanently and not a string of visits from my husband. But I felt compelled to attend a St. Vincent de Paul meeting at our church. Named after the saint who selflessly devoted his entire life to helping the poor, this charity continues his work in his name. I look forward to having our children go through their toys and clothes to donate and realize on their own that this isn’t something we should do but something we MUST do.

At the end of the meeting, we were led in a quiet meditation that brought me to tears but instead of allowing this moment to wash over me I abruptly stopped it.

I don’t know why. Perhaps I felt like I would be perceived as a poser for crying at the first meeting. Or maybe I was embarassed for shedding tears in front strangers.

Most likely, I was in denial that I could be so moved over something so small. Since when is the power of prayer and meditation small? Minimal maybe, but never small.

I needed that moment right there and then. I needed to know that it was possible. If that wasn’t a sign for something I was compelled to do, I don’t know what is.

Life lessons learned from my husband, #1-5

I know I’ve learned a lot more in the past decade but here are five lessons I can remember off the top of my head:

1. Every day is Valentine’s Day. Save the big gestures for big anniversaries.

2. Saying I love you is great but showing it is even better.

3. When in doubt, just listen.

4. If all else fails, just spoon in bed.

5. When you have kids, Date Nights do not have to be elaborate. Save money by feeding the kids a lot and send them to bed early. That way one of you can sneak out and get ice cream or Taco Bell, depending on who’s craving is bigger.