The Lucky One

*Natalie’s notes: It is weird to write about this now. Things are really good, but I also feel like writing about it when things are good is better than waiting until things are bad. My perspective has to be healthier if I do it this way. There are so many happier things to write about, but I also feel like I have to continue with what I started. So bear with me as we explore this..and thanks for all your love and support. Please know we (and I) am fine.

It’s a natural response to say “I’m so lucky” or “we’re so fortunate” when discussing Andy’s past. Maybe it is because that is all people want to hear about the war….or maybe that is just what wives who get their husbands back from war feel obligated to say. But if I’m being honest, there are times that I think ‘not one of us is lucky’. Am I thankful? Yes, obviously. I will take it and be grateful, but life after is sometimes really hard to deal with. And on really dark days I think of the “what ifs”. If we’re talking about this at all it might as well be raw and honest. So to be honest, I sometimes wonder if “the other” would have been easier.

When Tommy was lost, it was traumatic for everyone. We all bombarded Carla with phone calls and e-mails. She had moved back home, thank god! I thought of Laura, just one year old….she’d never really know her father. It should have been me, not Carla. She has a baby, she needs Tommy. It would have been hard, but I would have recovered…would she? Survivor’s guilt.

Andy drinks – who wouldn’t? – I remember feeling his shoelaces inside the body bag… Those words are ringing in my ears. I would drink too. It is worrisome. Especially now that we have two boys. When will they notice? How will this affect them?

There are times that I don’t know what to do….is there something to do? I get motivated, I research, I talk to his parents/sister/best friend, we discuss plans, I talk to Andy, he gets defensive, then suddenly the worry stops and we go on with our lives. I don’t know why the cycle goes this way, I can’t explain it. Perhaps we should follow-through, but perhaps no one really could help him. I watch him with our boys and I wonder if that is better medicine than what is available out there for him. Is he right? Is talking to a stranger no better than talking to me or his best friend? Perhaps he’s right….I don’t really know.

What I do know is this:

He didn’t want to name him Tommy and for the longest time I didn’t know why. All I could think of was the gorgeous man who was so full of life. Hilarious as hell and the worst driver on earth! He drove that Miata like a mad man, like he was asking for it. I remember the day I drove Andy on base and Tommy and Andrew were right in front of me heading back out in that damn Miata. I chased them down in our dodge, gas was cheap back then, and he later recounted to Andy “I just saw your truck barreling towards us in the mirror”. Hell, we were all asking for it. Fucking kids!

Naming him after Tommy seemed right….what was the issue?

Then one day he told me. It should have been him…and not just like in a blasé “oh it should have been me” sort of statement. It literally was supposed to be Andy that day.

God how do I adequately write about this?….I am not entirely sure. Forgive my stumbles.

Andy was there, not even three hours earlier. He was sitting on those stairs, he was sleepy, they all were sleepy. He was supposed to be there all day, then he got an unexpected call to go somewhere else, and Tommy came to take over. Tommy sat in his place and then fell asleep and what happened next was gruesome and horrible and I don’t think I should write about that.

The first few times Andy talked about it, he was pissed at Tommy. He fell asleep and got killed. He fell asleep and was supposed to be guarding the stairway up to the others. He fell asleep and the others were hurt. He got himself killed and he got others hurt and Andy was angry – Tommy had let them down.

Then it started to click, it took so many years, but it finally clicked in my head. They were all tired…they all hadn’t slept….Andy was there on those stairs…Andy was trying not to fall asleep as he guarded the access to the others. He is torturing himself thinking if it had been him, would it have turned out differently? Could he have protected them and would Tommy still be here if it had just been him instead?

As the story is retold now, Andy is more compassionate. The anger was a mask for the trauma. He knows it could have been any one of them on those steps. And I am thankful that it wasn’t him, and in turn, I am infinitely guilty for being thankful.

Then again, there are days…there are times and it is shameful to say that it has been more than once, that I want to trade places with Carla. I know it is a case of “grass is always greener” I know it can’t possibly be better to bear her cross than mine. But that doesn’t make me stop wondering….

How can I portray it correctly? Or even semi-correctly? Most days are fine, most days I can focus on the fact that he is smiling and telling jokes and laughing and loving our boys so fiercely. Most days I can say I am so absolutely lucky for each and every moment I have with him. And if I stay on that high, then I don’t notice as much.

I am very adept at gathering the cups around the house, and fooling myself into believing they were just soda. Or opening the cabinet to the side of the fridge on Wednesday night and turning off my thoughts as I gather the empties for recycling day.

I am so lucky after all. I shouldn’t worry after all, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Then one day my eyes will open back up. He will be mid-sentence telling me a positive thought and I will be watching him pour his drink and it will all hit me again like a ton of bricks. He sees my face, he stops mid-story, he asks me “what’s wrong?”, Hide your faces better Natalie! – I think to myself. “oh nothing” – I respond out loud. But I am calculating….how many drinks could that have been? how many today? how many this week? how many this month? how much are other people drinking? shouldn’t I just be grateful he is drinking less than so-and-so? should I just be grateful he is able to go to school and work and be happy and playful and loving to our children? should I just be grateful he is a happy drinker? I am so fortunate he is a happy drinker…..so shouldn’t I just ignore it?

It is exhausting….I get physically exhausted thinking about it…thus the attraction of turning a blind eye. I know I am in denial, I don’t need to be told. It is very comfy to live here in denial.

Sometimes I am shocked out of denial. The sudden and unexpected death of someone because of drinking. Then I snap out of it and try to find gentle ways to tell Andy “I don’t want you to die” because saying it that directly has never been successful. Sometimes he responds to it well. He buys a liver cleanse and talks of reducing, talks of getting a new job that he will enjoy, talks of the future and things he wants. Things will be hopeful, things are going to get better for him and he won’t need it anymore.

The highs can last several weeks, or sometimes just a day. Then slowly I transition back into denial and not looking and not counting. Focus on the good things….

Afterall I’m the lucky one.

 

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