I am pretty far from being OK
by Alfred Abbondanza
[Scene opens: total darkness, an adult male voice is heard rambling:]
I spent a year driving through Improvised Explosive Device [IED] infested roads, survived one ambush, drove over one land mine, drove by who knows how many hidden IEDs, carried a locked and loaded rifle, with the intent to use it if needed, I was face to face with all sorts of unknown Iraqis outside the wire, I listened and bit my tongue when soldiers in MY unit say they should not have to go outside the wire because it is not THEIR job or they have small children, I wondered with great guilt why “them” and not “me” when I heard of a convoy ambush or I was sitting at a memorial service for a few fallen comrades and you ask me if I am OK? I am pretty far from being OK.
[Spot-light lights area – Two men are seen sitting on a three person couch, one at each end, one man looks like a regular middle-aged man holding a glass of water dressed in sweat pants, t-shirt and bare feet, the other looks like Dr. Sigmund Freud wearing a shirt, tie and white smock, holding a cigar.]
I guess I will start over- ‘good morning.’
Good morning, it is that late?
You wanted to see me, you called me here.
You are right, I did. Glad you make house calls.
House calls are the only calls I make. Bad dream?
Yeah, the usual.
Oh; the ‘usual.’ How bad?
Well not like the first one, but too violent, to be considered ‘normal.’
Considered ‘normal’? I will be the judge- dream analysis is my specialty. How was your hunting trip?
Not bad, my friend ‘got’ a buck.
‘Got,’ a great euphemism for ‘kill.’ I meant the gunfire- how did you react to the sound of gunfire?
Oh, yeah, gunfire, it depended on how close the shots were- far away not bad, but if I heard a few close shots- I was looking for the shooter. I was close to full ‘go mode.’
‘Close to full go mode’?
Yeah, scanning for the shooter, breathing deeper, eye sight focused, pulse quickening, adrenalin pumping, getting ready to return fire, you know, ‘go mode.’
OK. Did you return fire?
No, only saw a few hunters, no threat.
Was this experience similar to 4th of July firework displays?
Well, 4th of July fireworks are not a surprise- I have not gotten over surprise explosions; like the miniature cannon fired at my Boy Scout summer camp opening ceremony, I almost hit the ground. Fireworks are sensory overload: explosions, flashing lights and colors. Fortunately most fireworks do not sound like IEDs or indirect fire explosions- only the deep sounding ones do, so that is not too bad. Gun shots, well, still sound like gun shots, I always react.
While we are together, I have a few more questions. Can you handle a few more questions? Do you feel up to it?
I think I feel up to it. Will it help?
Ok, fire away.
Oh, aren’t you the clever one.
I try to be.
So, tell me about your drinking?
My drinking is under control, maybe once or twice a week or socially at a party. I am aware how hard I hit the liquor cabinet in between my first and second tours. I no longer want to self-medicate. I admit, at times it can be hard, I want or even need a drink to relax and stay calm.
Of course it is hard, it would not be good for you if it was not hard. ‘Hard’ is the chicken soup of recovery. How are you handling crowds and strangers?
Better. I still size up any strange guy I meet to see if I can take him, not that I have to, I am just saying, in case he is a threat. I think to myself “what would I have to do to make him ‘not a threat’?” You know, to protect my family.
Of course, protecting your family, like protecting your military family? You protected your military family pretty well. Have you acted on any of these thoughts?
Yes, like protecting my military family; lots of pressure not to lose anyone. Lots of pressure not to make a stupid mistake getting someone killed or wounded. No action taken, this is all in my head. I still do not like any one coming up from behind or surprising me.
Many people do not like surprises. Isn’t all of this just in your head?
[In a stern voice] I do not want to answer that right now.
Ok, maybe later. What have you been reading lately? Have you read Lone Survivor; it is supposed to be very good.
No, I am not ready for that ‘type’ of book. My brother tried to get me to read it and I said ‘no, I am not ready.’ He looked at me and I could tell he did not understand.
Not ready for that ‘type’ of book yet? What do you mean?
No, definitely not ready. I have been lost and been shot at. I am not sure how I would handle that type of book, especially knowing the end. I still cannot watch the morgue scene of Blackhawk Down. I thought I was better, almost Ok, until I saw the play Hair and had a mild emotional episode.
Fair enough. Yes, I remember, we discussed the Hair episode.
[In the back ground, offstage, an adult female voice shouts: “John, are you alright? I heard talking, are you watching TV? When are you coming back to bed?”]
[Lights turn up—scene is a house living room with a stair case in the background]
I am ok, dear, needed to get a drink of water; I will be up in a minute.
Got to go?
Have you told her about me and our sessions? Or are we still meeting in private?
No, I have not told her; we are still meeting in private.
I am not sure. Am I making progress?
Do you think you are?
Yes, this is so slow and taking longer then I thought.
There is no drive thru lane for recovery. It is slow and takes time and effort.
[Adult female voice in the back ground: “Hey, are you coming back to bed? Are you watching Blackhawk Down again? Be sure to shut off the TV.”]
Ok, almost done, dear, just a little left to finish up.
See you again?
Only if I need you.
So that means ‘yes’.
I guess so, I guess so.
[Lights turn out, then turn on. Dr. Sigmund Freud is no longer seated, he is gone, John is sitting alone holding a half full water glass, as he always was.]
Al Abbondanza is a retired army veteran of 30 years (active and reserve). He deployed to Iraq three times (’04; ’05-’06; ’07-’08) and Afghanistan once (’09, as a tribute to Kipling). Al has been married for thirty-five and is the father of two adult children. He used his Post 9-11 GI Bill, and earned his MBA and CAGS-BA in 2014-5.