Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War

Stories From the Book: JMF

My dad was awesome. Maybe I do put him on a pedestal, but I think that's where he deserves to be. We spent a lot of time together. He used to always buy stuff for me, just because. He bought me lots of wish dolls from South America. You put them underneath your pillow and you make a wish. My nose ring was a birthday present from my dad when I turned thirteen. None of the kids my age had them. I liked that. He let me dye my hair, and one time he drove me up to Canada for ice cream because nothing in our town was open. Sometimes he would just talk to me. He told me about how he couldn't sleep. That's why he stayed up a lot, because of his nightmares. He would just be dreaming, but it wasn't really a dream. He was awake, only he couldn't move, he couldn't scream. I remember, when Daddy died, I think I went a little crazy. I would be sitting in class and I would just be thinking of him and I would see him with the gun to his head. I would close my eyes and the image wouldn't go away. I would open them and it'd still be there. So I think I understand.

But I remember being scared a lot, too. He was so unpredictable. There were times when he was really weird. I remember one time he was sitting out in the garage with a BB gun. He was shooting at mice that weren't there. I was scared out of my mind. That's why I didn't want kids coming over to my house. He used to build stuff, like racing cars and want me to play with him, but I couldn't ever stay too long. After a while, he would just get aggravated. I would do something wrong and he would go crazy. He would start screaming at me, and I'd go into the house crying. Once we even had to have a separate house for him in Bellingham, which is like eighteen miles away. It was very small and dark and it always smelled like incense. Dad loved incense. I think that he was on a lot of drugs then. I figured it out because once when we went over to his apartment he was lying there crying. He wanted to go find something and my mom kept saying it wasn't there. I figured out that they were talking about drugs. It was really awful to see my dad cry.

I didn't talk to my dad for two years after my mom took me to live in New Jersey. I thought he'd ruined my life. But I felt bad, too, because I knew that he wouldn't be able to deal with us leaving. What's he going to do? He stays up all night, he doesn't eat right. He was already so messed up. My mom would always tell me that he really loved me, but I would tell her to stop saying that because it just made it worse.

I said goodbye to him when he was still on life support. At first, Mom just kept saying it wasn't suicide, it was an accident, and I wasn't allowed to tell anyone. It pissed me off that I wasn't allowed to talk about it. I kept thinking that if it was suicide, we shouldn't have left; we should've stayed there. Maybe he would've quit the drugs. But I don't really think that he would've. Mom says that if we had stayed, it would have been just as hard. I think I do kind of understand it. Nothing was making him happy. My dad was a drug addict, but what else was there for him? If he wasn't on drugs, he would have those nightmares. I don't want that for my dad.

When he died, at first I handled it in a really bad way. This girl used to bring a water bottle filled with vodka to school, and we would get drunk every day. I went to classes stoned and I had really bad grades. I thought it should've been me, it should've been me, and so I used to cut myself a lot. I cut myself to make my life messed up so that I could feel okay. I was so used to living a really messed-up life that when I wasn't crying I felt weird. That's what I'm used to. Real pain. So I would cut myself, and then I would cry, and then I'd think, "What have I done? I'm such a messed-up person." But lately I've been pretty good. I quit drinking and smoking, and I don't even think about cutting myself anymore. I just now realize that I don't think about it anymore. I think that's so great.

My biggest interest right now is everything that has to do with the Vietnam war. I'm reading a lot of war books. I watched Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. It makes me see what my dad went through, and I think, wow, no wonder he was weird. And no wonder he was an atheist because a lot of people gave up on God with what they saw. My dad actually killed people. He was trained to kill people. You're trained to kill people, you get shot a lot, and then you come home to a regular family. How weird is that?

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