It’s a Friday and the sky is impossibly blue over the whole of the Keweenaw Peninsula! I know, I know, it’s impossible for the color blue to be impossible. After all, the bag of snowmelt is the exact color of sky-blue. The difference is that the actual blue-sky vibrates with an aliveness that the same color cannot match. All I want to be is alive beneath this sky on this day.
Sure, I’ll likely feel the same way tomorrow, But this is the moment. This is now. This is the impossibly blue sky that drove me out of the classroom earlier.
Occasionally, we get snow days. With Finlandia on its downhill slide to closing, we’ve had more snow days than usual. This morning, as I drove across the Houghton Lift Bridge, I wondered if we could call a sun day. I was on my way to a Warrior Sisters group. Ever since the Vet Center shuttered its doors, I’ve stood in the gap until they restored mental health services to our community.
Mary Gauthier asks in her song, The War After the War, “Whose gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?” Well, the real answer is each other. We take care of each other. The Vietnam vets started the Vet Centers of America when it was obvious that the VA was not taking care of the PTSD crisis after the Vietnam War. They pushed to get services. Their wives and families pushed. But they are aging. And the next crisis looms on the horizon — brain injury is the signature wound of Post 9/11 veterans. Todd squeezes invisible between the two eras and is the harbinger of what’s to come. It’s easy for the VA to ignore CTE; it’s a problem of the NFL, not the military. They can ignore Todd, but what will they do as Iraq and Afghanistan vets begin to age? CTE is not going away.
I bring this topic up because even on a blue-sky day, shadows lurk. I’ve bobbed up and down all week. My students show evidence of struggle and I’m reaching after each one of them. My colleagues are leaving and despite my plans for an online writing school, the timing of Finlandia’s closing leaves me searching for employment, too. It feels depressing and we are going to be in an uncertain mudhole until we each figure out what next. In the midst of all this, I’m not willing to watch my Warrior Sisters and their vets fall into yet another crack in society.
So, we take care of each other.
Something incredible happened this morning on this sunny Friday. We got the guys to group. If you think it’s easy to herd Vietnam vets, you have not experienced their level of stubborn self-isolation. To me, the heroes are the wives, sons, and daughters who look after these men America would rather forget. I look after them so they can look after their vets. This morning we all managed to get most of the old Vietnam veterans group reunited. It took tremendous trust on their part to gather because they have not had an in-person group since COVID, and they felt the sting of the Vet Center abandoning them last summer. They’ve never trusted the VA. But that should not be a deterrent to getting together with those who share your experiences.
I could have wept with joy, watching the men across the backroom at the Copper Depot where we meet every other Friday for a social outing (the alternate Fridays we meet on Zoom to follow the guidance of a positive psychology workbook I bought). Even Todd joined us and he was having a good brain day. We heard lots of talk about firearms and ballistics; helicopter stories; parachuting accidents; Las Vegas. I think Todd precipitated the Vegas conversation when he spoke of his desire to move to northern Nevada. They all agreed that snow sucks. They all ordered breakfasts and swilled coffee. They needed these conversations.
We spoke of medical concerns and tricks we employ to get our spouses to take their pills. My job is easy — Todd refuses all medication. One of the Warrior Sisters is also a nurse and she said she knows plenty like him. Another Warrior Sister told us she finally got her husband to consider cannabis last week and he’s been smoking ever since. Someone asked why smoke it when you can pop a gummy, and she said he believes the smoke will help his lung cancer. He’s dying so it’s not going to hurt. I told them about my first Caregiver for Living with Suspected CTE group meeting this week and how hard and yet hopeful it is to learn more about this disease. We laugh, too. A lot.
We couldn’t stop looking across the room and smiling, either.
Now that we finally got these cats herded into one place, we plan to keep it going. I’m currently taking a course in Mindfulness from PositivePsychology.com and when I’m finished, I’ll have a certificate and course materials to lead classes. I plan to create a Mindfulness for Writers class to generate income and then set up local Mindfulness for Veterans that are free. It scares me, though. Responsibility is measured in lives. You see, a big reason these vets avoid gathering in groups is that it triggers their PTSD intrusive memories/thoughts/feelings and I’m not a therapist. I’m a literary artist. But I am a Warrior Sister to the Long-Haulers and they will help me. They will soothe, listen, and protect. I will have the Veteran Crisis Hotline (Dial 988, then press 1) on speed dial. I’ll also make sure I’m maintaining my mental health.
As I head to class, I marvel at the sky. When I park on campus, two crows zip past like fighter jets and I watch their maneuvers. My classroom is empty. I open the window. Even in blizzards, I open the window because Finlandia’s boilers are set to “hellfire.” Finally, one student shows up and I think, it’s enough. We talked about the skies last night when the Northern Lights danced like a 3D green and pink phoenix over Hancock last night. My student is from Florida and had never before seen them. He’s itching to explore and I pull up a map of waterfalls for him. Two more students show up. We all decide it’s too beautiful of a day to be inside.
I declare a Blue Sky Day. The grandest container we can have as humans for hope.
March 27 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something impossibly blue. You can go with sky or any other object. What impact does the color have on the setting or characters? Does it lead to action or create a pause? Go where the prompt leads!
- Submit by April 1 ( no foolin’), 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
- Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
- A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
- Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
- Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.