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Service – Military or Otherwise

    When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978­­—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.

    I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.

    I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood”  of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.

    According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.

    Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue.  My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.

    The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)

WWII quilt.jpg

 

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                             The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin.

We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)

There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.

Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever expanding.

In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.

You can contact me individually through my blog susansleggs.com

August 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

Monty sits on what remains of Cynthia’s deck in Ripley. Much of the rubble from the landslide remains, and yet life boldly rises. The apple tree uprooted and hanging over the fury of water that flooded Ripley Creek after the mountain slid, grows like a tree from a fantasy novel out of the gray and green rocks. Apples hang heavy in its branches.

A clump of roses takes root in a barren patch of dirt and kale spreads like weeds. Milkweed, nectar to butterflies, protrudes in clusters, tall green and promising to flower. A daylily nods its orange head by the deck. Purselane spreads across the rocky ground like nature’s band-aid.

I watch the Hub pet Monty, Cynthia’s charming rescue dog, a Daschund. He’s sitting down, which is good. Typically, the Hub would be gnashing his teeth at the pain in his knee, but he tells me the gel shot he got on Mondy is working. He’s tired, and no shot will take away the instability of both his knees.

The Hub gave us a big scare on Tuesday, ending up in an emergency room. His VA doctor offered to drive him after determining his blood pressure was through the roof. The day before, when he got the shot, the nurse raised the alarm over his dangerously high blood pressure, but he told her she measured it wrong. He can be surly to deal with in such circumstances.

On Tuesday we went to the local clinic for a weekly visit. Afterward, he wanted to see the Marine nurse he likes. I like her, too. She fights for him to get the care I’m fighting for him to get. She and his primary care doctor are the best. But often the referrals they make get denied by the VA. Slogging through the system is never easy.

I returned home to conduct a phone interview for a profile I’m writing, so the Hub drove back. He asked the Marine nurse to take his blood pressure because she does it right. She said it was THAT high. The doc came in, and both told him he needed to go to the emergency room immediately.

When his calls came through to me, I was on another call — the DVIBC had called me back, and it wasn’t a call I could miss, so I ignored his. He only told me he wanted to “talk” to the Marine nurse. I didn’t know he was checking up on his blood pressure. Or that he was in crisis.

I was managing the ongoing crisis — the Hub’s head. We’ve been down a scary path of weakening executive function over the past eight years. When it got bad, I pestered him to get seen for PTSD. I didn’t know what else it could be. His family and friends always talked about how changed he was after service, and I knew his quirks and moments when I’d call him out as “Sgt. Mills” because of his intensity.

But these past few years have been crisis hell. I couldn’t understand why, when we lost our rental two months before we could get into our next one, that he’d insist on going into the wilderness. I’m still traumatized by the experience. That’s when I started fighting hard as I ever have to get him into the VA. Before it was his knees. This time it was his shifts in thinking and behavior.

The VA had no trouble diagnosing him with combat anxiety even 33 years after the event. But he wouldn’t stay put. Next, we were off like a rocket to Mars (southern Utah) because it was a chance for him to get back into his aviation career which he loved. But he couldn’t do it. He was fired for PTSD symptoms.

That’s when I got scared. My husband was not acting like my husband and yet he couldn’t see it. I grieved terribly. I felt like I lost him, and in many ways, I have. A few widows have put it in perspective for me though — I still have him. It’s a bitter pill. But I charged on, getting him up to Michigan with him resisting the entire way.

Even now, it’s a weekly battle for two therapists and one ready-to-give-up wife to keep him here. I love my new community. I love being close to my eldest and youngest. I love Lake Superior and her tempestuous moods and generous rocks. I love new friends like Cynthia and Cranky. I love what the Red Cross discovered when they came to the Keweenaw — we are an intact community.

The Hub wants to leave. He hates mosquitos. He hates snow. He hates feeling bored, and he hates not being able to connect thoughts. He hates that his knees hurt so bad after years of needing a replacement.

You might notice a difference in attitude, and that’s part of the rub. But still, I fight to get him care. His therapists were the ones to catch on that something more was going on with him. That led to suspicion of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It would take sleuthing the pieces to puzzle out what happened.

We all knew about his hard landing into to combat.

The Hub’s mom got a phone call early in the morning of October 25, 1983, that her son was on his way to Grenada. A determined US president confirmed on television that he deployed US special forces – Navy Seals and Army Rangers – to rescue US medical students on an island that Cubans had fortified to build a runway for Soviet planes. So much for a dairy farmer’s wife to comprehend.

How could she know her son was jumping with a concussion? He didn’t even know.

Less than a week earlier, a fellow Ranger spearheaded the Hub in the face during a soccer game and knocked him out cold. He was ticked off to get pulled from the game. Knocked out cold and that’s all that happened. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” Within days, he was flying in a C-130 to combat.

The Hub jumped with a T-10 parachute which Airborne uses for mass combat jumps. His rate of descent increased with his heavy load — a mortar round and all the communications gear for his unit. He hit so hard he bounced. He hit right knee, hip and head…bounced…hit his head again. He wore an M1 helmet which the Army acknowledges was not designed for impact. He essentially wore no head protection for 174 career jumps.

It would take almost five years for the Hub to realize that the pain in his knee after that jump was from bone fragments and a complete internal derangement of his knee. He had continued to jump, play soccer and rugby, all on a broken knee. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” As much as I’d like to smash that tough attitude, I also recognize that it conforms to his identity.

When we go to the VA, I fight him as much as I fight them. I must be “Ranger Wife Tough.” He’ll ignore pain or report it’s low, then go home and rail about the pain. I won’t go into what it’s like to be married to a veteran, really only other veteran spouses get it, and many of them are exes. It’s not a glorious role.

But I know the Hub is a good man. He’s been a good dad, and I always felt safe with him (up until wilderness homelessness and Mars wanderings). Just as I did when I was raising three children, I ask, “Why this behavior?” Each new puzzle piece comes with a “why.” I keep arranging, searching the scientific studies, reading articles from the National Football League, reaching out to experts, asking for more tests.

We now understand that the Hub’s symptoms at the end of his military service and after he came home were likely due to TBI. PTSD certainly factored in — simply surviving Ranger Battalion required the maximum effort and PTSD is proof that one is a survivor. Another piece of the puzzle was linking his combat dive specialty after Grenada, after a TBI. It compounded the lack of healing.

But the brain can and does heal. The problem is what they call second impact syndrome. After a concussion, the brain releases tau, a protein which destroys more of the brain’s neurons. It leaves the brain vulnerable until it heals. If the brain suffers another impact (even a jolt), more tau is released. This is why repetitive concussions are dangerous. They lead to degenerative brain disease.

Chronic Traumatic Encephaly (CTE) can only be diagnosed after death through autopsy. Researchers are studying the brains of retired and living NFL players to look for clues. One marker is the presence of white matter brain lesions which also manifest in dementia. The Hub’s brain MRI reveals white matter brain lesions.

Symptoms include loss of executive functioning which explains why at age 55 the Hub was diagnosed by a VA psychiatrist with ADD. He never had ADD as a child or teen, or even hinted at it with learning or behavioral problems. But loss of executive functioning in adults is often confused as ADD. So it makes sense.

It’s why, when a doctor tells the Hub he needs to take the pills to lower his blood pressure, the Hub argues with him that he doesn’t have high blood pressure.

But today was a victory. In therapy with his Vet Center PTSD counselor, he recognized himself in a younger veteran he recently met. The signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan is TBI. And most soldiers with TBI have PTSD. The VA, once it began to understand the immensity of the problem through recent TBI research, began screening all post-9/11 veterans.

The Hub is pre-9/11. When he came home, his parents wanted help, but no resources existed.

The fact that the Hub could see his own symptoms in another person was a huge moment of clarity. He understood why we were focusing on the two in-patient treatment options we have. He’s agreed to either one that comes through for him. I’m beyond relieved. He’ll have a team of medical and mental health professionals to work with all his issues.

Like Cynthia, though, we wait. We wait to find out if and when. She will rebuild a new home. We will rebuild a different life.

As I watch the Hub pet Monty while talking roofs and walls and how to live in a house with no running water or floors, I feel we are all going to be okay. I feel like it’s a yellow tent moment. We’ve pitched our tents and wait for the stars to come out. My tent is yellow. The color of sunshine and hope.

August 2, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a yellow tent. Where is it and who does it belong to? Think of how the color adds to the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 7, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

Wanting to Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Danni unzipped her tent. Vapors rose from the creek where it meandered smooth and flat across a meadow dotted with daisies. The sun cast colors across the eastern horizon of sharp mountains. She checked each boot, a habit from growing up in Nevada where scorpions liked to take refuge in a cozy shoe. The feel of laced boots gave her confidence to face the day. The volunteers would soon be arriving to camp. Ike had always teased her about how bright yellow her tent was – “Astronauts in space can spot it.” Today, she wished she had his camo tent.

Raw Literature: Support System

By Susan Sleggs

I have read and heard in classes a writer should be able to condense a raw piece of literature down to one word or subject. That’s easy to do when I write flash fiction from a prompt by Charli Mills because she gives us the one word as a starting point. I find it challenging and fun. I love reading all the different takes on that one word. We certainly think and write with a different slant. When applying my craft in other venues such as poetry, memoir or other fiction that one word isn’t so easy to decipher. What is easy is to give credit to my support system for any writing I may accomplish. They encourage me with praise, and sometimes a nudge.

I first met my now husband in 2001. I told him I had a novel running around in my head but didn’t know how to go about writing it. He listened patiently for almost ten years then one evening while we were out listening to a Frank Sinatra impersonator, he noticed tears running down my face. He asked why. I told him I had just figured out how I could tie my story together. On the way home, he firmly said, “Now you have the missing piece, sit down and write it or quit talking about it.” I knew he was serious and I wasn’t about to quit talking about it. Halfway through the two-and-a-half-year writing process that started in 2013, he wished at times to never hear me mention it again. It became my total focus. Another nudge happened when I became frightened about the fact all my characters are a part of myself. I wasn’t sure I wanted my readers to know me so well. He assured me only a few people would be able to recognize that, so I went back to writing.

The first couple of weeks of actual writing I realized how much research I had to do. I wanted to find an Air Force pilot to model a character after. I called the local Veteran’s Outreach Center, and they directed me to the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group whose doors are open to all vets, family members, and friends. As an ex-Air Force wife, I walked fearlessly into that first meeting on May 2, 2015, and not only found my pilot, but one that flew the exact airplane I wanted information about. The group has twelve regular members; two from WWII, three Viet Nam and the rest from Iraq and Afghanistan. We write from prompts every month and share our memories in a safe, non-judgmental situation, just like at Carrot Ranch. We have become special friends who understand PTSD, sacrifice, brotherhood and share the love of writing. That ex-pilot and I have read, critiqued and edited each other’s manuscripts. He is one of my best cheerleaders.

During the same time, I started taking classes at Writer’s, and Books, a Rochester, NY, based non-profit that promotes writing and reading. I learned about story arc, not using the word was because it tells instead of showing action and that the publishing industry doesn’t like exclamation points. I also joined another local writing group, the Lilac City Rochester Writers which is made up mostly of published authors who are willing to help other writers. I have learned much from their programs. It’s amazing when you put a group of people together who have the same passion how quickly they all become mentors to each other.

People have told me it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a college education, but I disagree. There are so many things I have had to learn the slow hard way that had I more education I would have learned in writing classes like the first draft is not the completed project. Writing is never done; there is always one, or many more adjustments that can be made. At times I find that disheartening and I retreat to my sewing room where I finish a quilt and give it away relishing the fact “done is done.”

In my quest for writing knowledge, the fact you must keep writing to improve became apparent, so I started a blog in July of 2016 (susansleggs.com). I share memories and information based on the National Day of Calendar. That’s where Robbie Cheadle found me and became my first international blogging friend. The Tanka Tuesday poetry challenges she entered grabbed my attention. I didn’t use the prompts for poetry but for the keywords in my first efforts at flash. She also introduced me to the Carrot Ranch. I took a flash fiction class in September 2017, and to my delight learned I could write short fiction. I submitted my first 99-word flash at Carrot Ranch last November and look forward to a new challenge each week. The content of my blog has changed, and my group of national and international friends keeps growing.

When Charli Mills asked if I wanted to share my writing process I was elated and humbled as my journey is far from over. My novel, even at the end of its eighth draft needs more work. I have let it languish for the last year, and since I have learned to write more concisely, I’m thinking rewrites to tighten the scenes might even be fun now. I need to get to it. The problem remains, my story is a soap-opera type family saga, and they are not the in thing right now.

As to my process, there is something I can’t explain. Insights come on a regular basis when I am listening to live music whether it is a crooner, jazz or country. And the irony of the whole situation is I am known for always having an opinion and lots to say, so being recognized for doing something short and concise makes me laugh and want to forge ahead.

Thank you to my support system, especially the folks at Carrot Ranch who keep giving me challenges, are positive, and I’m getting to know better as each week passes.

***

Susan Sleggs is a retiree who blogs from her home in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. She spends as many hours quilting in her sewing studio as she does writing in front of the computer. Memoir, fiction, and free-form poetry are common writing genres, but flash is her current passion.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

March 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

march-2What had been murky pools a few weeks before are now flats of cracked mud. The kind of cracks that call to be pressed with the toe of a boot. It’s like nature’s original bubble wrap. You know, the kind you can snap and pop?

I’m walking down a desert road with ruts that have dried to resemble molded plastic. It’s not so dry yet that it’s dusty, and I know the moisture of an intensely wet winter in southern Utah (Mars) will bring an explosive spring. Already the desert has a different hue from when I first arrived in early September when temperatures were still topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was dusty red beneath blue sky with faded brush.

Ahead of me, a rabbit runs from mesquite to sagebrush, both which are green. Not grass green. Sage is silvery blue-green and mesquite is dark like pine needles. I look to yucca plants and prickly pear, hoping this landscape transforms with flowers as only a desert on Mars could bloom. Until then, I hunt for spring-signs and rocks. There’s no rocks of interest on this plane beneath the shadow of Hurricane Mesa. So I look up.

Was this area where the monkeys landed?

Beyond my focus, I can discern something white at the edge where I know the tracks aimed off the mesa to launch test monkeys in test ejection seats. I imagine a monkey in a pod drifting slowly overhead, its parachute white as the snow that lingers to the west on the Pine Mountains. If I can see the ghostly memory of the past, what else can I see? Shoshone boys chasing rabbits, a Mormon wife hanging laundry. This would have been a safe place to live, high enough above the flash flood washes, close to sources of water, flat for a house.

And there are foundations. I kneel to examine the rock foundation of a home or barn. Old chunks of seasoned beams lie scattered. A tangle of wire rusts near tracks of modern all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs). Broken glass glitters. Upon a closer look, the glass is modern. A strange pile of old debris, as if a homestead had burned. I poke around and find slag: cobalt blue streaked with white as pure as monkey parachutes; green like grass that doesn’t grow here streaked with black; golden and brown.

What were these remnants? Its not clear like bottles,  more opaque like iron slag, yet way too colorful. A desert mystery from a kitchen long ago on the spot beneath an Air Force test site. How strange when life is like multiple disconnected plays that share the same stage over and over. Eventually, the stage changes, but not as fast as the flashpoint of a human life or the drift of a flying monkey.

It’s been a long journey for me to get to this flat stretch of ground, picking up the slag of my own life. Like these transformed pieces, I’m changed, too. I’m not as polished as I once was. My edges are sharper, my color deeper. When I set out to conscientiously write a novel about the spouse of a veteran who decides to return to Iraq in mid-life, I wanted to explore why soldiers serve. Perhaps in the beginning of exploring service, I had high ideals of duty. I knew my husband was closer to his Ranger brothers than any other friendships or even family ties. And he has lots of cousins and hometown friends.

In fact, I think that day last summer when we finally got the Hub in front of a VA psychologist for an assessment, I realized something deeper about all those relationships he grew up with. In describing how easily he was friends with people, I nodded. The Hub never meets a stranger. But when pressed about his service and specific events, it became clear how detached he became from those formative ties. After service he was changed. Anger became a low-burning fuel that propelled him through life. Others describe him as intimidating. I learned (as did our three children) that he’s all bluster. He’s not dangerous or frightening, but that doesn’t change perceptions in the workplace. All these years he’s had us, his past ties and his Ranger brothers. Yet, he’s still on mission.

Duty isn’t to country and service is not driven by an ideal. He’d die for any one of his Ranger brothers, even now, and he continues to keep my perimeter safe and drive defensively. Why would he go back to Iraq if he were my character Ike? Training.

When you are in an elite force, you use your brain, brawn, morals and emotional strength to train. It’s important to understand that after all these years of seeing cracks in my husband’s behavior that it wasn’t simply PTSD. He does have PTSD, mild, as numerous evaluations state. As he describes to me, PTSD is merely a survival trigger to push a person into fight. The elite forces are not populated with flight responders. It’s the extreme training in this heightened survival mode that becomes like a switch turned on. And they want to do their mission. They train for their mission. They protect their brothers on mission. They dream of home; idealize it, but can’t stand to be still in it. They want to go on serving.

The Hub was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder just weeks before we came to St. George, Utah for the job that didn’t work out. It had no chance of working out. We had so many stress factors going on, stemming from our bout of homelessness, that his anxiety was off the charts. I never thought of my husband as anxious until I realized what it was. The gruffness, the anger, the mistrust of authority, the refusal to let others walk over the top of him, the idea that others wanted to walk over the top of him and not recognizing how work-culture behaves. That training to do the mission no matter what has created a beast of anxiety within him. Serving in Iraq would relieve it.

But that’s not the answer. Unlike my character Danni, I said no way. Instead I kept my husband home, but he grew more restless and frustrated, detached and demanding. I was certain the behavior stemmed from undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. I also believe (and this is pure opinion) that the high rate of veteran suicides in the Hub’s age range (over 50) has more to do with longevity of suppressed PTSD, anxiety or depression from service than anything. Younger soldiers undergo readjustment therapy and the VA offers programs my husband never had. Yet fighting for VA service can be a battle of its own, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard veterans and their doctors minimalize their disabilities. Wiser veterans and advocates in the system warn other vets against “soldiering up.”

It took four years to get the Hub to “soldier down.”

By the time we got the diagnosis that leads to the care, we moved to Mars. To this date (March 2017) the Hub has yet to receive a primary care physician in St. George (and he’s been requesting one since September 2016). When he was placed on unpaid temporary leave, he was shocked and I was angry. Angry because I knew he was reacting to his anxiety poorly and the reasons cited for his eventual dismissal were related. I helped him write a letter to his employer asking for legal accommodations to his service-related disability. It was ignored. I called the VA and said we were in crisis. No one called back. I called the director and had a response in 15 minutes, an appointment the next day and a referral for CBT or EMDR.

And not even that came easy. Although we are taking classes and doing group therapy, the Hub’s first individual appointment was two days ago. Mine is tomorrow. I’m actually excited. Rarely do spouses or family members get mental health care or support. The Vet Center does allow for it, but they’ve been short a therapist. Poor woman arrived Monday and me and numerous other spouses from couples group therapy for vets with PTSD are ready to beat down her door.

We are slag forged in the fires with our veteran spouses, and want to fully transform into something of beauty and purpose.

We are the home-makers and although I aspire to be more than that with my own individual hopes and dreams, the home-maker role is as important as any.

And I have an update on our young and dedicated home-maker, bank-teller and overall Sweet One with her family’s new home after living in shelters and cheap motels. Her son is doing well in school, and thanks to all the books we collectively sent (I’m sure it was writers who sent books!) he has discovered a joy of reading. I’ll be certain to keep that joy alive.

Sweet One wants to thank all who sent house-warming gifts and to say she is cooking dinners for the family, making her first pot of chili in a crockpot. I had to laugh when she soaked the dry beans overnight and then texted me her concern the next day — are beans supposed to smell? I’ll keep fostering that joy of cooking.

For privacy, I can’t share full photos, but Sweet one approved these to be shared in a thank-you to you all:

How can I thank you and your friends for everything?? Hosting the welcome home party and all the wonderful and amazing beautiful gifts??? Thank- you just isn’t enough.
I’m overwhelmed…. And both of the guys are as well. J LOVES all his packages he gets, but last night a tie between both the tupperware and crockpot he helped me pick out. If possible more excited then I was. It was SO funny and cute we were both doing our happy/ excited dances and he was happier than I was about them!

Thank YOU ALL SO much for everything and ALL the love in each and every package.

March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrious or artistic. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Evidence of Existence (form Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni knelt by the fire ring, rain dripping off her oiled hat. No campers remained, and she surmised the last ones had children with chalk. They left stones colored with pastel hearts. Layered coals hid what she sought. Digging with a stick, she unearthed a piece of glass Ike had broken when they last camped here. She couldn’t explain why she wanted the slag. She was an archeologist, proving existence of human habitation. She wanted to prove Ike had existed. G-Dog barked from the truck, bringing her attention to the dogs.  Hers now.

The slag would outlast them all.

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Got Your Back

Got Your BackWhen facing a trial, unyielding institutions or difficult committees it helps to have an advocate. Sometimes that advocate is hired, and often not. A mother might have her child’s back or a grandchild might look out for the elderly.

The idea for “got your back” sprang from support for a veteran facing a difficult situation. The expression comes from being in a dangerous situation where you might need another to cover your back as you move forward. In the military, this is called “got your 6.” And there is an organization that seeks to empower today’s US veterans to be community leaders and for the community to have a more normal perspective of veterans beyond “heroic or broken.”

Check out the organization Got Your 6 and see the video clip at the end of this compilation.

The following stories are based on the August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another.

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Back Up by Sherri Matthews

The questions had started out basic but became more complex with every turn of the page.

Write in as much detail as possible the applicant’s difficulties with everyday tasks.

She sighed and ran her hands through her unwashed hair as she glanced up at her kitchen clock. Damn. Already noon and still she hadn’t showered.

Her phone vibrated, she jumped.

“Hello?”

“Mrs Martin? This is Dee Caldwell, the Council Welfare Officer. I had a message to call you about helping fill out some forms for your daughter. When can I visit?”

Someone had her back. Someone cared just enough.

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Back to the Future by Geoff Le Pard

‘Sore?’ Paul massaged Mary’s back.

‘Hmm. I need a better chair.’

‘What you reading?’

‘Rupert’s notes. He’s determined to find my twin.’

‘Really? Better?’

‘Yes.’

‘What’s he found?’

‘She was definitely Katherine not Sharon. That’s my imaginary friend. Katharine was adopted by a family called Potts.’

‘Wow.’

‘They moved to Ireland in 1984. He’s going to see what he can find. He wants me to go too.’

‘What about you?’

‘Would you mind? I’d take the baby but you’ll have Penny.’

‘You know I’ll do whatever you need.’

‘Hourly massages?’

‘Course. Covering your back has always been my priority!’

###

Lost Loyalties by Christina Rose

She found the emails from his ex, the U-Haul rental receipt in her name, obvious signs of a quick exit. He he was gone by the time she got home.

I emailed him, unleashing my rage, my fury over their actions, the betrayal she was too brokenhearted to fight. He took the lowest of blows, personal attacks, things she said behind my back.

She denied saying those things of course, but I always wondered.

Years later, we don’t talk. Memories of me, bring back memories of him. Avoidance from the friend I once loved, no appreciation for the loyalty.

###

Providing Cover by A. R. Amore

The overnight detective was young, respectful and professional; he started almost every sentence with, “I’m sorry sir, but…” Chief Barret felt he actually meant that.

“Bring him,” he ordered and the detective nodded.

When they brought him all he could say was, “It looks bad but they have it wrong. It was a wild frat party…”

“The girl was 17,” Barret said. “You drugged her.”

“I didn’t,” his son mumbled. “No, I…”

This was his second college and third assault allegation.

“She was drugged; raped.” The Chief stood thinking: I won’t cover this one up. He needs to learn.

###

Growth: a Mindset by Norah Colvin

Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.

Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”

###

Eating…by Bill Bennett

I had to have his back. I couldn’t count the times he had saved me from being bitten and turned. The Ruger 10/22 was a great weapon for killing the eaters, and I had never had a problem until now. The stupid gun kept jamming. Was it the amo or was it because the gun was dirty? Never the less I had to do something. I pushed my back against his and jabbed each eater in the eye socket with the gun and thrust harder into the skull, killing each monster and the threat of catching the hideous virus.

###

I Have Your Back, Grandma by Kate Spencer

“I have your back, Grandma”

“Yes, you have tact. Always have – ever since you were a little boy.”

“Grandma, listen, I’ll take care of you.”

“You? What can you do? Oh, goodness, no Jason. I’m fine and can manage quite nicely. Did I tell you I went strawberry picking last weekend?”

“Yes you did, but I wanted you to know that I’ll be there for you.”

Grandma walked over to the kitchen counter and Jason watched as she re-arranged some tomatoes in a bowl with one hand and quietly wiped her eye with the other.

“Love you Grandma.”

###

The Irony by Ruchira Khanna

Trisha lay still accompanied by silent sniffs.

“Don’t worry Trish. I am right here” she said in a pacified tone.

“Oh! I am scared Mommy,” she said while sniffing, “Will it hurt?”

“Not at all dear!”

Soon she felt the prick, the pressure on her arm build up, and within seconds, everything was back to normal.

She wailed, whimpered as the nurse dabbed cotton on the spot.
Mom took over with a gentle smile while making her sit up.

Aha! The paradox of life that in spite of a whining, weepy kid, the Mom was wearing a smile.

###

The Advocate by Sarah Unsicker

Mrs. Smith felt less alone when she walked into the room with her advocate behind her, but she still instinctively cowered when she saw the table with ten people around it. Ten people unwilling to expend resources on her child. Ten people who saw his naughty behavior as willful disobedience rather than inability to comply.

The teachers’ names flew past before she could take them in.

“I’m sorry, can we repeat those introductions, slower, so I can write down everybody’s names?” said the advocate.

Mrs. Smith’s shoulders relaxed. Finally, at this meeting, somebody had her back—and her son’s.

###

Two at Her Back by Paula Moyer

“You will have 10 minutes to empty your desk.” Jean knew she was good. What was up? She handed her key to the guard. Walked out like a robot.

Still numb, she drove home, walked up the drive, unlocked the door. Ellie was on the other side, whole body wagged by the tail. Jean dropped into the couch. Ellie’s manic wagging stopped. She plopped her head onto Jean’s knee.

Jean pulled out her phone, scrolled to Lynn. “Cousin, I just got fired.”

Lynn gasped. “How could they?”

“Easily, apparently.”

“Well.” Lynn’s trademark.

“Well.?”

“I’ll just take my business elsewhere.”

###

I’ve Got Your Back by Irene Waters

Close to the summit, Kathy’s hand hold faultered. The crevice was tiny and her anxiety was turning to panic.

“You can do it.” Richard gently encouraged her onwards in his calming, believable voice. “I’ve got your back so don’t worry. Your safe. One step at a time.” She trusted him and reached the top.

Now, back home, they danced. She loved being held against him but Richard was dancing clumsily, trying to look behind him to avoid collisions on the crowded dance floor.

“Look forward. Trust me, like I trusted you. I’ve got your back now. You have mine.”

###

Chips Are Unhealthy for More Reasons Than You Think by Dave Madden

The door jam is my Prime Meridian. In waiting for the right choice, I notice potato chips next to the garbage.

A wave of boys wishing “good mornings” heightened wonderment: How good would it have been had I crossed any time zones through the door’s threshold?

Really…?

An innocent Kindergartner admitted, “A friend shared them.”

My tone validated, with no hint at hiding urgency, “We don’t share food at school, so go throw them away.”

He nods his head; I turn around.

Crunch, crunch, crunch!

Even when teachers try to have students’ backs, it doesn’t always go as planned.

###

Family Reunion by Sarah Brentyn

“That’s not how it happened,” Terri barked.

“Who cares,” Kim interrupted, “I want to hear more about Tracy’s new ‘boyfriend’.”

“No,” Mark gestured with his beer, “let’s hear more about this supposed thing I did to Tracy. I hurt her wittle feelings?”

Britney laughed. “It’s bullshit. Like her new job.”

“Tracy?” Her mother glared. “Don’t just stand there like an idiot.”

Tracy’s boyfriend squeezed her hand. “It was nice to meet all of you but we have a weekend meeting at work.” He turned to her. “Do you want to leave now or wait a bit?”

“Now is good.”

###

Undaunted by Ann Edall-Robson

Hearing the horses milling around in the corral, she slipped into her coat. Picking up her rifle, the undaunted woman headed for the barn.

She shivered. The hair on the back of her neck was standing. The screaming had been sporadic for weeks. Tonight it was close.

The tawny coloured cougar lay waiting. Ears back. Tail twitching. Ready to spring.

A blur rushed past her towards the cat.

One shot and it was over.

Squatting, she rested her hand on the dog that came to stand beside her.

She depended on her partner. He was always there for her.

###

Legal Maneuvering by Larry LaForge

Judge Stone called Ed to the podium and read the charge. “How do you plead?”

Ed stood nervously.

“Not guilty,” someone proclaimed from behind. All eyes turned toward Edna, whose loud voice surprised even her.

The Judge was startled, then amused. “Does she always have your back?”

Ed answered immediately. “Guilty as charged, Your Honor.”

Judge Stone didn’t know if Ed was admitting he ran the stop sign or proudly affirming he has a supportive spouse.

The Judge smiled, scratched his head and then announced “Charge dropped.”

Ed ignored Edna’s signal to remain silent. “The defense rests,” he said.

###

Special Recipe by Pete Fanning

They tortured that boy. Day after day, smacking his head and taunting him. He never said much. But that numb look on his face said it all. His clothes were a mess. His hair butchered. And that bruise under his collar? I’d been there.

I don’t know how they found out Butch was on assistance, but by then I’d had enough.

The hell with probation, the next morning I wrapped that hairnet for the last time. When Butch arrived I took that bowl of pudding from off his plate and winked.

“Might want to pass on the that today.”

###

Sarah’s Deliverer by Charli Mills

He’d hid the kittens Mr. Boots had in the barn. On those nights when coyotes yipped and she felt abandoned on the prairie, Hickok read to her his mother’s letters. Last night, after Cob raged that he’d clean out Rock Creek, Hickok calmed her fear. “I got your back, Sarah,” he said.

Now that Cob had thrown Wellman to the ground, Nancy Jane growled by the door and young Sally whimpered from under the kitchen table. Hickok strode tall and calm from the barn, walked right past Cob.

“Friends, aint’ we Hickok?”

No Cob, it’s my back he has.

###

The Good Parent by Jules Paige

Children who are different – some schools want to put them on drugs.
To make them docile and compliant and pliable. Ones who are curious,
disrupting the normal routines of a class. But Janice had her son Manning’s
back. As a parent you have be your child’s best advocate. Since they
just don’t always have the right words to express their needs.

If you didn’t know it, at least where Janice lived there was such a
document called “The Parent’s Bill of Rights.’ And she used it. Janice
had Manning’s back. And he knew it.

###

Veterans, we got your 6!