in which I tell you about my fourth

The Hindu Hush, 2008: in some way, always, the mountains win.

The Hindu Kush, 2008: in some way, always, the mountains win.

I used to love the 4th of July.

It’s not that I get all Lee Greenwood about things- I really dislike that song, by the way, it creeps me out for a variety of reasons- I don’t. I was in the military, but I’m not a flag- wavy sort of person. Being in the military probably made me less of a flag- waving sort of person, to be honest, not that I ever was from the beginning. I love where I live, and I think this country- like many countries- is a place of infinite potential, full of infinite frustration, being run by people who are infinitely flawed, the way people are. It’s complicated, like most things.

I like picnics, though. And cookouts. I like being outside more than being indoors, always, so any holiday that involves getting together with the people I love, eating copious amounts of food and being outside? I CAN GET BEHIND THAT, folks. Plus, people bring their dogs to cookouts, and I am crazy about dogs. Bring me a dog and I’m almost guaranteed to make an idiot of myself. Ask my good friend Chion about last weekend, she’ll tell you: I can’t even meet new people without focusing on their dogs. It’s embarrassing.

I used to love fireworks, too.

There was a magic about it all; folks gathered on blankets and lawn chairs, all looking at the darkening skies, faces lit up in changing colors and glowing with anticipation, then wonder. Small children, mesmerized. It’s still a lovely thought. It’s just not something I can do any more. I miss it, in this distant, far- off sort of way. After Afghanistan, it’s different.

It isn’t a big and dramatic thing, not in the way people joke about, not in the way I see it shown on TV or movies. It’s this tightness, this constant awareness, a hyper- vigilance that sets in that I hardly notice, until I do. It’s the way I’m suddenly only thinking about Afghanistan again. It doesn’t become a thing until I can actually smell it, until I can smell the phosphorus or the gunpowder, and then it’s a problem, and then I’m not okay.

And that’s okay, I think, because it’s really only for a few days a year. I mean, it isn’t okay: it isn’t okay at all. It’s awful, and I miss that easy moment in the middle of summer when everyone gets together to watch the sky open and bloom into flowers. I miss being a part of the world. I hate that this is yet another way I am set apart, isolated, alone. I hate these two or three  nights a year in which I am back again, in a place that is so utterly conflicted and torn. In which I am so utterly conflicted and torn.

I’ve learned to have a plan for this period. I tell everyone around me that I won’t be myself. I isolate to my closest friends & family. I engage in my best and healthiest comfort behaviors. I create little pockets, tiny happy nests on my couch and bed, at my kitchen table, in the sitting room, places I can go to do things that make me feel grounded and safe and here. Here is important. Here is what matters.

I know there are other people like me, going through the same thing today. Hell, my dogs definitely are. But it’s hard, on a long weekend when I’m hiding out from everything, not to feel very alone. I suspect that most of us who have come back from a war, any war, all of the wars, and are somehow different feel this way, regardless of the ways in which we have changed. So I’m sending this out- just a message, a statement: this is what’s happening with me today. It’s been four years now since I’ve come home, and it it’s not good, although it seems to get a tiny bit better every year. I think I’m mostly getting a tiny bit better at dealing with it, honestly. And if you’re going through the same thing right now, or if you know or love someone who is, I’m thinking of you today. That’s what today means for me now: today, I’m remembering all of us.

Happy 4th of July, everyone, no matter what it means to you. I hope it is as good to you as it can possibly be.

  One thought on “in which I tell you about my fourth

  1. July 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    My husband is military, and we never seem to find our way to fireworks or anything like that. Whether it’s a purposeful avoidance or not, I have no idea. Either way, he’s got the same views you do, and I think it’s because of the military.

    Good for you. I’m much impressed by your self awareness.

  2. Susan
    July 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am proud of you for doing so.

    I am absolutely sure you are not alone in your firework response. I talk with enough people returning from the combat zones to know that you share elements of your response with many individuals.

    Appreciatively,
    Susan

  3. July 8, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with those of us who don’t share it. I did see again for the second year in a row, the anxiety of my puppy and the agony of the three nights in which he was unsettled by the fireworks that are unannounced and obviously unpleasant for him. I also thought about the Vietnam Vet that lives on the lake as well whom we’ve just met. Your post has made me wonder about the holiday for him…I have always considered myself empathetic and observant and yet, I have never thought about this significant part of our most patriotic holiday! Always new things to learn through the eyes of others. Also – THANK YOU for your service to this country – many of us are truly grateful!!

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