Sweet potatoes arrived in the mail this morning. Two packages of dehydrated fries for Mause, my three-month-old German Short-haired Pointer. It takes her ten minutes to eat one and she gets two a day. This buys me twenty minutes of time. Such is life with an energetic puppy.
The Hub fancies he’ll train her for quail hunting and who am I — an artist of stories who fancies she’ll publish novels — to say how unlikely that is. It’s not because we have no quail in Upper Michigan. He can travel to his family’s ranches in Nevada. He struggles to train her at all. His brain trauma has robbed him of patience and reasoning. Not that a former Airborne Ranger was ever the patient sort, but it’s become comical how I have to clicker train him to clicker train his dog. Of the three of us, the GSP remains the most competent.
We are all allowed our dreams. I’ll kick anyone in the shins who dampens the dreams of another, especially the dreams of the vulnerable. I’m not a violent person but I feel locked in a strange battle where I have to fight the VA system to get the healthcare my warrior needs and I have to fight my warrior to get the healthcare he needs and I have to fight myself to carry on because none of this is normal. But maybe the concept of normal is derived from the same fluff of dreams and cotton candy. Sweet on the tongue but ephemeral. Not real.
I write fiction. I craft stories that are not real. It’s called verisimilitude — the appearance of being real or true.
My life feels not real at times. Like when he badgers me to go outside in the snow at 11 pm because Mars is visible in the sky. He’s obsessed with Mars and can point out all the planetary alignments. That part feels authentic. But when I try to capture a real moment, try to connect, try to remember who he used to be, a car turns down Roberts Street and I remind him to step out of the road with the puppy and he rages at the car for driving fast and reckless. They are not. But I can’t say so.
He continues like nothing abnormal happened and points to Taurus’s eye — “That’s your sign,” he tells me. It is not. A knee-jerk reflex and I protest, forgetting my place of accepting what is not real. “I’m a Gemini,” I say. “No you’re not,” and he continues telling me about the night sky. Sometimes I laugh. But sometimes I cry. He’s my husband and does not know me.
I’ve become the villain in his mind, the person who has trapped him in this God-awful snowy prison. He slips on the ice, walking the dog and it’s as if I’ve deliberately swung a sledgehammer to bash both knees. It takes a week before his counselor can convince him to go see his primary care physician, and it’ll take me days to help him remember he agreed to do it. I’m not too concerned. He’s not limping. Just grumbling. He needs a bad story to chew on and anything that makes me the bad guy is his favorite fairytale.
Remember, it not real, it’s the verisimilitude of an altered mind.
So, here I am, writing fiction about a veteran spouse. She is not me. I couldn’t bear to give her my burden. Instead, I wanted to explore how long-haul veteran spouses come to carry the weight of wounded warriors. I wanted to give a definition of the invisibility of veteran spouses. We are real and so are our loyalty and our brokenness. We get crushed beneath the packs of what they bring home from combat training and war zones.
Forget eggshells. Some of us walk on broken glass.
I wanted to write a beautiful novel. An uplifting story. One that faces death, dismemberment, and dementia. One that shows the struggle to understand what PTSD is and how many soldiers overcome it.
My husband did. He used his combat dive training to manage night terrors. He remained, and remains, fearless. He knew something was wrong with his thinking years ago and back then, he trusted me to find out why. We were still a team. I have much admiration and respect for him in confronting the debilitation of multiple conditions. At what point do I say enough? He doesn’t get to. Why should I?
And so I stand before you a Taurus prison guard (aka a Gemini veteran spouse) and I think of sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes fries (not the dehydrated ones for puppies to gnaw). Twice-baked sweet potatoes. Roasted sweet potatoes. Sweet potato pie. From savory to sweet, these tubers can become many things. Sort of like veteran spouses.
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Myrtle’s Basket by Charli Mills
Myrtle dug the tubers. Her spade cut the loam, missing the sweet potatoes with garnet skins. She shook them free of California soil, cut their vines, and placed each in a basket her mother wove of old clothes. Myrtle fingered a faded blue cloth, remembering the dress her sister used to wear when she gardened. Before the Spanish Flu robbed them of Althea and Papa. Dirt was harder back then. The graves difficult to hack into the drought-toughen soil. That was the only year they didn’t grow sweet potatoes. Myrtle carried fresh tubers and old memories to her kitchen.