Terminal Leave

Frank Blake Cover

Terminal Leave is the first book by the Atlanta poet, F.S. Blake. This collection, published by Finishing Line Press, is the culmination of what started “as a bet with my sister” and ended up a successful look at the beauty of the natural world and how man’s worst calamities move through the landscape and then disappear with time.  He writes about modern, mechanized warfare in an ancient place. He writes about regret and anger and confusion and finally, surrender to life and learning to enjoy the lives we have left.

A former Army officer, Blake captures with dead honesty the slog of patrolling to find an enemy that fights only when he wants to  and the moments of solace that soldiers find when surrounded by a war on all fronts. Many of the twenty-one poems take place in Iraq, but several occur after his time in the war as Blake, now a veteran, looks at the natural world with a slightly shaded lens. Several of the poems are new, and several have been previously published including the Pushcart nominee, “fob.”

In “I Didn’t Keep a Diary” Blake writes about the invasion of Iraq in a crisp style that mirrors the precision of the invasion. He speaks of fighting a real army and moving quickly through the desert launching “missiles at tanks” and following the manual. This adherence to a war manual is juxtaposed with his own lack of openness and ability to write down anything they did in the first weeks of the war. The manual represents not only rigidness, but also a secure place with clearly defined rules that allows him to act more and reflect less. Blake only hints at the enemy and its fluidity once the beginning of the war is over. He implies that it was only when the his war was over that he was able to see it clearly and write about it in an open way.

Blake references Babylon and Mesopotamia several times throughout the book. He uses the vast history of humanity in the region as a foil against the mechanization of war. He mentions the Iraqi orchards several times throughout the book. They serve as a reminder that the earth barely notices what its inhabitants are doing. In “Terminal Leave” he talks of radios “clicking and popping” while taking “mechanized journeys” through ancient orchards. In Blake’s Iraq, his unit’s foreignness is in stark contrast to the Iraqis. In his world, the Americans are always out of place unless within the walls long enough to smoke a cigar at the end of the day. And even then, the characters are mostly concerned with staying alive long enough to see another sunset.

Several of Blake’s poems don’t mention the war at all. It seems they take place after he is home and safe. He extols the virtue of the natural world. In “Footing,” the narrator goes to the ocean and kicks his feet in the sand. The water rushes past his legs just as he has surrendered enough to allow life to speed by.  In another poem, “One Lone Soul,” the narrator is floating in the sea, separate from those on shore, in tune with the ocean pulling him out to the deep, or to a calm death, or at least calm enough to let the people on shore watch him go.

Blake’s cleanest poem doesn’t take place in Iraq at all, but back in the states in an autumn some years after the war. “Shuttered” is a sparse poem worshiping the death of summer and the fine quality in enjoying those last few days in the sun as, “shadows were longer and thinner than their July cousins.” It could have been written by a poet who hadn’t been to war, but in context we understand the added pleasure in fleeting moments spent enjoying “sunlight beneath our fleeces” at the water’s edge in late October.

Much of Blake’s work in Terminal Leave is like a picture book. Each poem a different set of Polaroids stuffed under the clear, plastic sheets in an old album. Blake writes about war, and without really mentioning it, combat itself. It’s almost impossible to describe that part of human existence without being maudlin, or lying, or copying things you’ve heard or already seen. Wisely, Blake tells us what it is like as opposed to what happened. From the last poem, “Spear:” “to observe war is like a pair of scissors cutting a paper clean/to those in the spot the image is magnified/not a clean cut/but actually tiny fibrous strands being ripped apart/they see and live each decision.”

Terminal Leave is available now at https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/terminal-leave-by-f-s-blake/

COL Darron L. Wright Award Winners

Thanks to all the writers who submitted for the 2018 Darron L. Wright Award. We loved reading your work and are inspired by the creativity and ingenuity it took to write these pieces.

The winner of the short fiction contest is “Some Kind of Storm“ by Travis Klempan.

Second place goes to “Green“ by Brian Braden.

Third place goes to “October’s Daughter” by Brian Kerg.

Other finalists were “Fumes” by D.A. Gray and “Maneuvering Watch or A Way to Punch Holes in the Sea” by Jude Griggs.

The winner of the Poetry contest is “No Rolling, Shrink” by Ryan Stovall.

Second Place Goes to “Inshallah Manana” by Randy Brown.

Third place goes to “Maneuvering” by Colin Sargent.

Other finalists for poetry were “Night Hump, Quantico,” “KD Range,” and “RIMPAC, USS Bonhomme Richard” by Dark Laughter and ”Light Pollution” by D. A. Gray.

The Forgotten Hero IV by Marsha Ortega

by Marsha Ortega This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

by Marsha Ortega
This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

Bama’s Story

A Cry for Help

bama's story

He was born. He lived for 21 earth years.  He died tragically, 2 months before his 22nd birthday.

What happened in between is the story.

As a baby he ate voraciously; sometimes not satisfied.  As a toddler he devoured his food and chocolate cake on special occasions with a glazed eye.  He laughed strongly and he cried when favorite stories ended (time to rewind the tape or retell the story).

Looking back, were these the signs of the end of his life?

Brent was born handsome and left this earth just as handsome and exceptional.  Always looking for the meaning of what you said.  “What does that mean? “Or “What do you mean?” were his classic responses.  His superiority was a spotlight from him to whoever was in his line of vision or hearing.

How does it happen that a human so endowed with seemingly natural gifts could find drugs so relieving to their life?  These are not suicides.  These are brains that are not functioning with the normal cautions.  The survival instincts that warn us of danger have been nullified.  These are not choices.  These are malfunctions or nonexistent signals that most of us would heed in an instant.

I wish I could have fixed him.  All I have left is to relish the memories of a very special grandson who was a pure joy to be with from the moment he was born.

My memory…Brent was born, # 2 grandchild, healthy appetite, very cuddly.  By the time he was 6 months he and I were very close. I was his Bama.  I would drive to Crest Hill to pick him up so Mom could go to work while big brother was in school.  The drive was long and I liked classical music so he would be next to me in his car seat set backwards.  When Beethoven came on he would be real mellow, very relaxed.   He grew very close to Papa and by the time he was 4 years old he liked fishing.  At five he played pinochle with us.  Brent had his quiet times, times when he just wanted to be alone, especially when we all sat down for a meal.  For some reason he did not want to sit with all of us and I would get upset, but Papa told me to leave him alone.  So I did.

Brent and Tico and Papa and I did a lot of things together during their younger years.  Mom and Dad worked long hours so we had the boys almost every week-end.  While fishing was a main attraction for Papa, mine was more classical and cooking.  We took the boys to Orchestra Hall for Peter and the Wolf and then Hansel and Gretel. Brent really enjoyed it.  As I remember it he had questions during and after both performances.  Brent had questions about everything.  He would ask to define a word he just heard when he was just 2 or 3 years old.  It seemed like he wanted things to be in order so he could understand.

While I know he loved his brother Tico, he sometimes would flare up at him.  Brent and Papa just liked to be quiet doing their thing, fishing or just watching a TV show.  Tico had lot energy so he and I would go outside and toss a ball at the bat.  Brent wasn’t into the sports at a young age like Tico was.  That came later for Brent.

When they were around 10-12 years old we went golfing and bowling a few times.  As usual, I would try to correct their errors so they could improve.  Tico was fine with my suggestions but Brent resented them.  I think Brent just wanted to be the best.  He didn’t like disappointment.

But Halloween was different!  Brent and his brothers loved that holiday.  Marsha brought them over for trick or treat every year until they were older and had friends in Romeoville.

As is expected, once children reach their teens, they drift away from the family as they try to make their mark in their school.  I think Brent had a hard time with it.  Being really smart he may have been more critical of the other kids.  I think he learned to stay in himself by reading. I know he got involved with marijuana and we were all heartbroken but he went into therapy.  We visited him every Saturday and he progressed very well.

When he decided to join the Illinois National Guard, he had a purpose.  He found what he thought would be the place for him; the discipline was the most important aspect for him.  He and I had conversations about this.  Sometimes he would talk to me about my experiences in the Navy as if he and I were of the same mind.  He assumed I knew exactly what he was thinking and doing while in training and again in Afghanistan.  He would call me from some high mountain area or when he was in his barracks. I did not sense that he was unhappy, just alone.

When Brent would invite you in to his world it was so friendly, almost a feeling of being safe. I truly loved being with him. You felt like he was in charge and he would watch over you no matter what.

In his last days, that sense of caring still came through.  Whatever drugs he was taking did not take away his humanity.  I am so sorry for not being able to understand or help him.  I have to live with this the rest of my life, the feeling of helplessness.  I was not strong enough to do what needed to be done.

Looking back, Brent was a loner.  He knew right from wrong, he analyzed everything and everybody but I don’t think he could accept disappointment.  Not in himself or if we were disappointed in him.

I really think that had he lived on he would have come to terms with his perception of himself and the world around him.  I know that he is now in God’s hands and that he is loved.  We will meet again.

pt 4-2

The Reason

It’s now October 2013, it’s absolutely beautiful outside; the leaves are falling and beginning to change color.  It’s almost 2 years now in a month and a half since my boy went on to his next journey.  As I stated before I began this book about 14 months after he passed.   I took a 2 month break from writing; I guess because working outside and doing yard work is very therapeutic for me.  I can’t tell you how many times I would be writing or reviewing and have to stop because the tears wouldn’t allow me to see.

We just got done closing down our business, too, after 14 years.  There are many reasons for that decision, but for me, after Brent died I just couldn’t deal with it anymore and so I emotionally walked away.  Physically too, but I still worked as a fill in for Bobby, Adolfo, my brother-in-law or my son Tico.  I’m actually glad that we’re not involved anymore.  I also, feel that my angel Brent helped on that; I mean what are the chances that the new owner’s name is Brent.  I truly believe he did that so I could be free and get on with whatever I’m supposed to do.

The government is at a shutdown at this time; which oddly enough helps explain the reason for this book.  The men and women that are in the military these days have all volunteered; there is no draft.  They knowingly sign their life to the government which will not provide the care they need.  I know you may laugh at this statement but it’s gotten so out of hand.  The soldiers should be taken care of properly; they are due that.

So many of them are dying, not just on deployment, but when they come home, they bring the war with them to the point it kills them and yet the ones that die here aren’t recognized as heroes; they are the forgotten ones.  I hope that by me introducing you to Brent you got to know him a little and understood that he may have had his challenges but he was no weak individual.  He was strong and brave both mentally and physically.

The pain and agony that my family and I have gone through has been devastating.  It’s been almost 2 years and yet we are still in pain every day.  This time of year is rough on us because it’s when it all started up (My mom, Jess and I spoke of this recently).  I can’t say that every member of my family is suffering but I can tell you that it’s been very difficult.  When losing a son or another member of the family that you are close with, you just don’t get over it.  I don’t just deal with the pain of my loss, I also have to watch my son Tico who has never been the same, as matter of fact I kept trying to talk to him but he’s Mr. Private, he always has been.  It took him about a year until he fell apart emotionally and made some bad choices.  Fortunately he seems to be doing better, but the smile is gone from his eyes.  His eyes used to smile; now I see the pain or emptiness.  But I believe each passing day I see him improve.

My oldest on the other hand dove down right away.  Granted many of his problems were created prior to Brent’s dying but he literally dove down.  I couldn’t believe how much his life spiraled down.  I thought that God really was testing him because I don’t know how he survived everything without going a little crazy.  It also caused him a lot of problems with the family, that he still needs to work through, but I have faith he will one day.   He finally seems to be on the right track now but at the same time he has withdrawn seems from the family.

My mom, who has always been a strong person, whom I greatly admire has her periodic breakdowns, I know she has more, but they are done privately.  I remember the other day when she called me to let me know about a dedication that is being done on a park bench in her town for my dad a Korean War vet and my son.  Its right by her house and it’s where my dad used to take Brent and Tico fishing.  Well my mom lost it and began to cry about how she thought she’s never going to get over this.  All I could say was that I understood.

My sister Angela will just break down and cry, which of course makes it hard on her kids, but they’re very good at helping her when she breaks down.

My sister Tina has had her hands full shortly after Brent died and she’s still dealing with her challenges.  She’s the kind that won’t cry either in front of people but you can see it in her face.

My dear sweet Jessica has now met someone, but still doesn’t go a day without thinking of Brent.  She now has his car with the bass system that he had put in.  It takes up the whole trunk. I always knew when he was coming because I could hear that boom boom sound of the bass.  I know she suffers but also is trying to continue her life.  I know how much she misses my boy.

We recently were discussing the time of year it was and how it affects us, end of August it begins and I don’t know when it ends; it doesn’t end but some days are better than others.

My husband Bobby; how can I describe him; he’s very good at hiding his feelings.  He has his moments; I think now will be a little rougher because now he doesn’t have the business.  I believe as long as he keeps busy he’s okay, but he still has his breakdowns.  I honestly don’t know how he was able to go back to work as soon as he did and kept on going, but he did.

Maybe you are thinking that we need help; it’s not that.  There’s only one thing that could help, but that’s impossible, so we just have to deal with it on a day to day basis.  We continue our lives, we do what we have to do, but there’s this pain, this void, a part of your heart just ripped out and it’s gone; I don’t know how to explain it, but it just plain sucks.

I think that if other people can continue then so can we.  I know that people try to help with words, but honestly it really doesn’t help.  Sometimes just a look and a hug is enough.  I lost my grandmother in 1988 who was a second mom to me and a friend.  It was very painful for me and a rough year but we got through.  I still think of her from time to time but I continued my life.  I lost my dad in 1998 and that was very hard on the family. We knew he was dying and we prepared as best we could but it still was quite difficult.  We still miss him a lot.  I know he’s with my boy.

But losing Brent has been devastating.  I can honestly say I know we will never be the same. Losing a child is honestly the most horrible thing I’ve ever been through and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  But here I am with my family struggling along.  The best I can describe is that I’m like a zombie or robot that continues walking, working eating but in a daze, not all of me is here.  I honestly don’t know where I am, meaning it’s as if a part of me is gone, gone with Brent or maybe it’s a numbness that I feel that maybe it’s biological response to such pain that the numbness is there as a protection. I honestly don’t have an answer.  I know that I’ve learned to live by the day or should I say the now.  I don’t think too much in tomorrow, because as I’ve learned the hard way, it’s better to live in the moment than to worry about tomorrow, because I have no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring.

One of the many things that helped me is to have contact with the men and women of COLD STEELE, Brent’s unit that he served with in Afghanistan.  They even made a private group page on Facebook in honor of Brent for them only and invited Jessica and I in their group.  Many of them came to Brent’s service and I knew his death had affected them a lot.  Remember that in the military they do have a brotherhood, and even stronger when they are at war together.  They have a very special bond that none of us can get in between.

Shortly after Brent’s service I received a beautiful letter from one of the men Brent served with, that I’d like to share with you.  He gave me permission to put in.

“Mrs. Ortega,

   I am terribly sorry for the passing of your son and a GREAT soldier. I will speak candidly and without restraint, but your son once saved my fucking life from mortar fire. I remember it brilliantly. Him and I were both scared as shit, but he was naturally a more level headed soldier than I and pulled me away from the incoming mortar fire and thus saved my life because it struck right before us…ALMOST. From then on out he never even expected so much as a word about it. We had an unspoken bond afterwards and from then on if he needed or wanted a thing from me I would do my best to help him with it and him I. Unfortunately, after I came home, I succumbed harshly to the temptations of civilian live, specifically alcohol, and I got into more than my share of trouble. I really am having a God honest hard time dealing with the whole thing. It has been particularly hard for me, not being able to attend the man’s funeral that saved my life because I got a DUI. To me it is so sincerely heartbreaking, I am very heart broken about it. Your words have truly touched me…and I write this with tears in my eyes and I TRULY mean this, but your son saved my life and I wish the world that I could finally hang out with your son as a civilian. I do not intend to make light of your son’s death at all but he would be “one of the cool guys to hang out with,” and we even had plans for it. But it never happened. Your son truly is a hero to me. 

I love Brent,

Carbonelli, Matthew”

I think this letter pretty much explains and supports what I’ve said about the brotherhood between the men and women in the military, what they go through both there and here when returning home and finally about Brent being a strong and brave person.  So many of our soldiers, like Brent are strong and brave, but for some reason the PTSD kicks their ass and I truly believe that it can be resolved and that they can be made to feel better instead of like weaklings if they admit to it.

 

pt 4-3

The End is Here

You are a creature of light,

From light have you come,

To light shall you go,

And surrounding you through every step

Is the light of your infinite being.

Messiah’s Handbook by Richard Bach

 

I can’t begin to tell you what we felt and what we were about to go through.  I had to call the coroner’s office, because they hadn’t called me.  I called and said who I was and had to leave a message.  You can’t imagine what this was like.  I was calling a coroner’s office for my son.  We sat there in shock first I think.  My brother wanted to call my mom because they were all in Florida.  I told him to wait because I knew that they were having their dinner at that time and didn’t want to ruin it.  Finally, the coroner called and the first thing I said was where are you located so that I could go there.  They informed me that it wasn’t necessary and that they couldn’t allow me to come see him.  They said that weren’t equipped for that and only did that when they couldn’t identify someone, but they had a positive identification.  They had questions for me because they were doing an autopsy and would I be okay with answering some questions.  I said yes.  They asked me about his health.  I told him that he had been having stomach issues but that it wasn’t known yet the cause.  I had asked what happened and he said he believed that Brent had died from an overdose.  That the way they had found him was consistent with that but they would know more after an autopsy and blood work.   He went over some questions I answered and asked again if I could come.  I couldn’t.

The rest of the evening was like an out of body experience.  I can tell you what went on but it’s as if I’m telling you about a movie.  I told Bobby to call Mexico and tell his family. I called Jessica, but Brandon had already called her.  I could barely understand her, she was in hysterics, after all, not only did Brent break her heart, now that’s how it was left, no chance to make up.

I decided to text my sisters and told them to call me on a 3 way conversation.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell my mom.  They finally called and I proceeded to tell them that Brent was with our dad.  My sister Angela lost it and my sister Tina was calm like she always is.  She’s able to control or hide her emotions, I’m not sure which.  I told what little I knew.  Now they had the task of telling the rest of the family.  A while later, my mom called Anthony and as predicted she was pissed that’s how my mom gets when she’s hurt, she gets pissed.  She didn’t call me because I believe she was pissed that I hadn’t called her.

We all just continued sitting there except for Tico and Brandon.  Tico went to his girlfriend’s house and Brandon, well we weren’t quite sure because he wouldn’t answer his phone and he had broken up with his girl a month or two before.   Much later that night, Brandon text to tell me where he was; he went back to the girl that he had broken up with, and that he would answer my texts from then on.  I kept texting him because I was already a wreck because Brent hadn’t responded to the earlier text when I had text all 3 of my sons to see if they were on their way and then to find out why Brent didn’t respond.  This made it more difficult that day and for the future when my sons didn’t respond to any calls or texts.

I had stepped outside to have a cigarette at one point and one of our regulars, Matt, who I’m close with him and his family, was out here having a cigarette too, but had no idea what was going on yet.  I don’t remember exactly what he had said about Thanksgiving but I then blurted out, thinking that I was mumbling  something like “Oh yeah, it’s a great Thanksgiving, my son Brent is at the morgue and I can’t bleeping see him”.  Poor Matt turned and looked at me and asked, “What did you say?”  I said again what I said, he was shocked.  I honestly didn’t mean to say it like that, but I really wasn’t in a very good frame of mind. We were all in a state of shock and not necessarily thinking right.

We finally all left the restaurant and went home.  I did call the coroner one more time and begged if I could come but he said that they couldn’t.  Bobby and I returned home and got a phone call from his friend’s in Mexico, they told us that their son, Antonio  and daughter-in-law, Maribel were on their way over; they too were friends of ours.  They came and a while later my good friend Edith and her husband Kenny came over too.  They stayed with us until about 2:00 a.m.

Bobby stayed in bed pretty much the next 3 days.  I on the other hand couldn’t sit still.  I had to wait for the coroner and also had to get a funeral home because that’s the only way they would release Brent’s body so I could see my son.  As morbid as this may sound too many of you, I had to see my boy.  I went to the funeral home in the town of our business that I knew of.  I just walked in, no phone call, just walked in and asked to make an arrangement to see my son.  This was the first step.  I went alone,  I don’t know why, I guess my husband just couldn’t handle it. We sat, Joe the funeral director and I to figure out a few things, mainly, getting my son there.  He called the coroner; obviously they knew each other because they were on a first name basis.  The coroner would call them when they were done with the autopsy.  This was Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday.  It was definitely A BLACK FRIDAY for me.

Now we had to discuss some minor details that were necessary for him to know.  Once he would get Brent’s body what would he do.  I knew that I had to see him, but I also knew that I would have him cremated.  The problem was that my family was in Florida.  They had offered to come home early but I told them there was nothing they could do. I told them to let the kids finish their trip.  Now what Joe needed to know was whether or not he needed to embalm him so that my family could see him if they chose to.  So I called my family and asked them to discuss among themselves if they wanted to see him and to get back with me as soon as they could.  I called Bobby, Brandon, Tico and Jessica to find out if they wanted to see him when he got to the funeral home.  Bobby and Tico said no.  Brandon and Jessica said yes.  My family called me a little later and said no.  They had told me that they wanted to remember him as he was.  I on the other hand knew I could remember him as he was because I had almost 22 years with him.

After leaving there I think I went to the restaurant to do some paperwork.  I honestly can’t remember. After leaving the restaurant I had called Edith and asked if I could stop over, so I went there.  I sat with Edith and Kenny for a while when my phone rang; it was Joe from the funeral home.  He had Brent and Brent was ready for us to see.  I called Brandon and Jessica and I even called Bobby and Tico to ask them one more time if they had wanted to see Brent.  They still said no.  So I told Jess and Brandon to be there around 5.  I was leaving Edith’s house when Kenny told me he would drive me.  I told him I’d be fine.  Thank God he knew better.  He drove me.

I’ll never forget that in the back of my mind I kept hoping it wasn’t him.  That somehow the coroner made a mistake.  It’s not that I was wishing anything bad on someone else; there was just that hope.  I entered and Joe came out.  He told me how he fixed Brent up.  He said that he would show me how I could touch him because of the autopsy I would have to be careful.  I’m probably not saying things as delicately as Joe did to me because he was awesome, but just describing the best way I can, considering that I’m still telling you this as if I’m still out of my body.  His last question to me was if I was a person that passed out easily.  He needed to know if he had to stay with me or not.  I said I’d be fine.

As I’m writing this the tears are coming, even though I’m having a good week right now this is getting to me.  I walked in the room, by myself.  Kenny had stayed in the lobby.  There he was, my Brenty.  Lifeless, yet it was his body.  I just stood there talking to him, crying and touching him carefully.  There was my beautiful boy, of course HE wasn’t there, but it was him.  I stayed a few minutes and then Jess came with her mom.  Poor Jess, she had just had her heartbroken by my son less than a month before, when he had been pushing us all away and now this; both of them too young for this experience.  She is a strong woman.   We somehow find a way to continue, not necessarily knowing how we’re doing it, but doing it.  Brandon came then and he was in horrible shape.  I remember how pissed he got at me just for touching him.  He went in and then came out a moment later.  He left and really didn’t say too much to me.

My family came home Sunday night from Florida, and I believe my mom, Angela and Tina came over for a while and we discussed what pictures to bring on Monday when we were meeting to plan the service.  I knew I needed them there with me and Jessica.   I knew my boys weren’t going to do this and Bobby definitely wasn’t going to plan his son’s service.  There was no way I could do this alone, plan my son’s service?  Do we as parents ever think about this?  No, we don’t.

We all met in the morning at the funeral home to attempt to plan a service for my 21 year old boy.  It’s ridiculous.   This isn’t happening.   This isn’t normal.  I am not supposed to be planning a service for my son; he supposed to be planning mine.  Can you see how absolutely insane this is?   Joe the funeral director was an absolute saint.  He had to deal with 5 women, who honestly I believe, no, I know we weren’t there mentally.  We were in such a state of shock; again I think it’s the body’s way so that a person can cope.  We managed to get through this step.  Then that night Jess came over and we started putting all the pictures together.  It was great looking at all the pictures and smiling about them.  It wasn’t real yet.

The service was planned for Wednesday, almost a week after Brent had passed.  I believe we were all numb that day, definitely out of body; it’s still how I remember that day.  The room packed with people, my family everywhere; I realized months later of course that I never stood where I was supposed to.  There were so many people and yet I can hardly remember who was there.  I tell you these things so you are aware of the state of mind that people are in.  The priest spoke, which because of the bad shape we were all in on Monday while preparing the service we had a priest chosen that we didn’t know nor did he know us.  Next, I got up to speak, but it wasn’t me or my words, they were Brent’s words and it was him holding me up and doing this for him, without shedding a tear.

 

We are here today to celebrate the life of our special soul Brent.  Brent was an advanced soul that came to touch our lives for a brief time for whatever the reason may be, a debt he owed from another life or to simply guide and teach us.   I feel honored that I was chosen to be his mother.  He could make me laugh and cry like no other.

Through the years we became closer and closer.  He told me things that most children would not tell their mother

His intelligence was beyond any one of us here in this room. He had life figured out a long time ago, which is what made it so difficult sometimes for him.  He was one of the strongest people I knew, both physically and mentally.

To his father, brothers, aunts and uncles, grandmother, Soul mate Jess and myself please know that you should have no feelings of guilt or regret.  We were all there for him and he knew that we loved him as he loved us too.

To his cousins even though he didn’t show up lately at your birthday parties, please know that he loved you too.

To his friends you have things too, to learn from Brent, each of us is a gift to each other, his lesson is right in front of your face, so if you are truly his friends then I ask you to please honor him and learn the lesson.!!

My Brenty was a kind soul that would help his family and friends.  He had many friends and acquaintances here and made some good friends when he joined the army national guard.

I am proud of his service to the military. I remember when Bobby and I had to sign the paper work, because he was only 17 when he made his decision.  He had skipped 8th grade and graduated high school early.

At the age of 18 he was in Afghanistan I can’t begin to tell the relief we all had when he came back…  I know that he had some difficult times to deal with as so many of our military do.

He finished what he set out to do as he did so many times in his life.

Brent was one to start something new, learn it, know it and then say okay been there done that now what do I do.

We will miss your sense of humor and the way you always kept us on our toes.  There was no bologna when it came to Brent.  He wouldn’t hesitate to point out if you were talking like an idiot or talking like a hypocrite.  He’d question your answers and make sure you understood why you’re thinking was flawed.

Brenty, I will miss you more than you could ever imagine, but I know that it was your time.  I love you so much but know you had to go on to continue your journey.  I know that we will be with each other again because we had such a great time here!!!

 

This poem that a friend sent to me expresses exactly how I have always felt about my boys:

I’ll lend you for a little time.

A child of mine, he said.

For you to love the while he lives and mourn for him when he is dead.

I’ve looked the wide world over in my search for the teachers true,

but from the throngs that crowded lifes ways,

I have selected you.

Now will you give him all your love, nor think the labor vain?

Nor hate me when I come to call to take him back again?

We’ll shelter him… with tenderness.

We’ll love him while we may.

And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay.

But should the angels call for him much sooner than we planned,

We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.

*The Army National Guard next did taps and gave me the flag.  That was it, everyone did the traditional walk past.  We then invited everyone to our place of business which had been closed early to accommodate the people.  I spoke with Joe before I left to go to the restaurant and we had agreed I’d come by late morning the next day and pick up the flowers and to pick up my son.

Brent was cremated and I was bringing him home.  He had to be home, it’s where he belonged, with his family.  His remains are still here.   I have a shrine above the fire place, he also still has his bedroom, Bobby’s office has numerous pictures, his flag, etc… and now I have something in the yard that I’m creating from a project that we were working from my last summer with him.  I tell you this so you understand what many of us do in order to deal with our pain.  Yes we do know the person has passed, but it doesn’t mean that they’re gone from our hearts and you best be careful with what you say to us; by the way the worst comment you can make to someone who has lost someone is to say for them to “get over it”.   Sorry people, we don’t get over it, we deal with it every day,   and it takes us all different amount of time to deal with the death.  Although there are so called stages of grieving, each person is different.  There is no order or definite way that we grieve, but we GRIEVE!!   There is no right or wrong way to feel, so please THINK, before you open your mouth.  Thank you.

 

pt 4-4

I’d like to say that this was the end of the story, but it’s not.  As stated before Brent was hanging with this girl who was an addict and a former girlfriend of one of his former friends.  They weren’t really friends anymore and Brent never wanted him in the house unless he was there because he said he was stealing for drugs, that the friend had been stealing from his mom, too.   Well, what I haven’t said yet was that towards the end meaning the last couple of months Brent wasn’t earning money the right way.  His friend knew this.  Brent as I said before always was responsible and paid his bills.  Well now he seemed to have quite a bit of cash.

Brandon informed me that Brent had a large sum of money and that it should be at the place he had just moved into.  He also told me that he thought this girl was behind his death and his friend, too.  I called the sheriff’s department and told them of the information.  After numerous calls and back and forth and waiting for his blood work, they informed me there was nothing to investigate even though thousands of dollars were gone.  The girl and the friend both took off to Florida.  The person they rented from told one story to the police and a completely different story to me.

I knew the girl that Brent was hanging with was no good, or to rephrase, a lost soul.  I had it out with her days before the service because she took some of his things.  She told me she’d bring them over.  She didn’t show up.  Then she said she’d let Brandon pick up his stuff, she wasn’t there.  I found out she was at the friend’s house so I went over there, she had his dog tags, wallet and cell phone.  It was weeks before I got his stuff which she claimed she didn’t have.  The girl’s mother sent it to me.  Jess; too felt that this girl was behind his death.  I was also getting suspicious of the girl he rented from because she would never answer her phone when I called.  I kept trying to go to get his stuff.  She finally called Jess one day to get his stuff.  I also got a phone call from this girl’s mother accusing me of giving her daughter a hard time and that people were following her and why did it take me so long to pick up Brent’s things.  And then there’s the money, the police said there wasn’t any.  The girl he rented from said there was some and she saw some with the things the police took.  What really happened in that apartment?  I’ll never know.

The whole thing is confusing, but one thing for sure and that is there was a large sum of money that has disappeared.  I personally don’t want it but am upset that the police wouldn’t investigate it after all the info I gave them.  I even had the names of the people that gave him the oxycodone. Brent always had money on him.  The former friend’s father had gone with his son to pick up the girl from where Brent had passed.  He claimed the girl took nothing and he was there when the police were there.  Yet the girl’s mother sent me a big box with clothes, jewelry, shoes and his army boots.  But yet he claims she took nothing.  The mother of his friend tells me there was no money and that Brent’s lock boxes were busted and left in California.  I just find it interesting that they knew these things.  Brent’s brothers always knew more.   And where was money?

I can’t begin to tell you what we went through.  We were in a daze and overwhelmed.  We were all off a week from work.  The employees managed to take care of the business and my brother-in-law flew in from Mexico to take care of the business too.  Bobby and Tico returned to work and I the following week.  It was horrible.  Every time I went in, I could see him.  He worked with me at night.  It was finally in I believe March that I told my husband that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I was already burned out and with this I was just beyond anything.  So I would only work Sundays and that’s how it remained.

As time went on I began to piece things together and realized how the PTSD and his physical pain did this to him. So I began to get all his medical records from the 2 hospitals and the VA hospital and looked them over.  I had my sister Angela look them over, too.  We discovered some interesting things.  First, my sister who is a P.A. questioned as to not once did any of them ask to get a stool sample, knowing that he had served in Afghanistan to check for parasites.  This is especially weird I think for the VA because they had all his records.  My sister even went to a medical site online and that was the first thing that popped up and she found someone with similar problem and that’s what it was, a parasite.  Second, again pointing at the VA, they had his records and yet the doctor is asking me if he was depressed, and when he became agitated with her they were going to get security instead of getting him something for his anxiety.  These are the people who take care of our veterans.  3rd, I remember thinking to myself that day in the VA hospital, how would the Korean vets would’ve responded to a Korean doctor at the time or a Vietnam vet getting a Vietnamese doctor at that time and here my son was fine until he got the resident physician which she was a middle eastern.  I’m not saying that I’m prejudice; I’m just saying that he was fine until he had to deal with her. A red flag should have gone up.  They had his records which showed him diagnosed with PTSD.

I know that the PTSD kicked in the end of summer, beginning fall.  Following that the pain returned in his stomach.  It’s interesting to also see that even though there is a discrepancy as to when he was honorably discharged, all this happened shortly after his discharge.  You see Brent loved being in the Army and I think that when he was given a choice which really wasn’t a choice, it also made him lose his passion.  He lost the one thing that truly motivated him.  The choice given to him after he got a “dirty drop” was: Go to rehab and you can never be a medic again or an honorable discharge.  This was no choice to Brent.  I don’t think that’s a choice to anyone; either way it meant to lose the only thing he wanted for his future.

Another thing that I came to realize was that I didn’t know that PTSD can kick in early after coming from being deployed or it can come months and even years later.  What I don’t understand is why the Army/Military hasn’t really done anything to help these men and woman.  There is a huge rise in PTSD and TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury.  The VA put out a report in March of 2012 saying (PUT REPORT IN) after a 10 year study on Iraq and Afghanistan Vets, 20 per cent of the vets diagnosed with PTSD and have been given the prescription for pain killers such as oxycodone, end up dying of an overdose.

Now in 2013 the rates of suicides keep rising, more in the army than any other branch.  They say there are more suicides than casualties. (Get report)

I actually started looking up PTSD online, but first looked up the term Shell shock which is what it used to be called.  I was amazed as to how long this has been going on.  Yet the Military still doesn’t do anything about it.  I mean anyone can have PTSD from a traumatic event in their life and there is help for them to deal with it, why can’t the military enforce the men to get help, without penalty or being given a bad rap for it.   I don’t mean they have to go to the VA to get it, but something needs to be done.  As of this writing another report has come out that the rate of suicides has jumped, the Army having the most.  Another red flag!!

We all need to realize that there are a huge number of men and women who have served or are serving due to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  These are our sons, daughters, wives husbands, moms and dads.  PTSD can be dealt with however  they’re sending them home technically wounded without having help set up for them.  I’ll give you an example of what I mean about how crazy this system is.  Brent was Army National Guard.  He came home from Afghanistan and was off for 3 months before returning to his one weekend a month.  So they just basically drop off someone that’s been at war and put them with civilian life without maybe making them meet once a week and talk amongst themselves, so that maybe they can help each other adjust.

It’s not like this is the first time we’ve been in a war.  I also realize that the military has come a long way, with special thanks to our previous vets.  There has got to be a solution, and ignorance is no longer an option.  Our boys are dying and not only from mortar attacks; they’re dying from something that can be helped.   Something has to give and the military can’t hide anymore or push this under the rug.

I was and still am proud of my son and what he did for our country.  I also, know that men have a tendency to not put importance on things and that’s why we need to find a way to help them get help.  Even amongst them the attitude is to be tough.  This doesn’t mean that the person is weak.  If someone has diabetes, does that mean they’re weak?  My son and all the other soldiers like him are no less a hero than the ones who died while at war.  The only difference is that the war killed them here in a different way.

Recently I went to a TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) grief seminar.  It was not only emotional being with others in my same pain, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, fiancés, girlfriends, sons daughters, friends.  Yes these are all the people affected by one death.  I was stunned by the fact that half the people there lost their loved one due to suicide.  More proof to the numbers they’re giving out.

You can’t imagine what it’s like to sit in this room filled of everyone in such pain.  Yes, for those of you who have the attitude that well they were in the military, they know it’s the chance they will take. You’re right, but it doesn’t take away the pain.  It also doesn’t excuse that there’s a large amount of deaths that don’t have to take place.  They can be prevented.

THE NOW

Don’t be dismayed at good-byes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again, and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.

Messiah’s Handbook by Richard Bach

 

How do I explain my son’s death?  I’m sure you will all have your own insights, opinions, etc…  I have mine and there are more than one.

I’ll never know if he was “helped” to overdose because of the money he had on him and the county sheriff’s office felt that there was no reason to investigate even though I gave them plenty of information that would definitely cause suspicion.

He definitely was suffering from PTSD and also some type of pancreas problem which was never resolved.   There is no denial of this and it really showed up before he died.  Unfortunately, the VA hospital was useless in helping him.  The Army I feel turned their back on him because of the PTSD.  He had been working out so much trying to get physically prepared for Special Forces.  He wanted it.  He had finally found something that kept his interest and also gave him the discipline that he wanted and he felt that he needed.  He even wanted to deploy again to Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, with PTSD on his record, he soon learned that he wasn’t going anywhere.  The very place that teaches you to be a soldier and who will expose you to war doesn’t prepare you for what can happen in war and it does nothing to maybe help prevent the problem nor does it try to help in the recovery of war. His dream and what made him happy was stripped away from him.  I don’t blame the individuals that made the decisions for him personally, but I do blame who makes the rules.  I truly believe he’d be here today if this wouldn’t have happened.  I also realize that he has to take some blame in some of the decisions he had made prior to being honorably discharged.  However the Army lost a valuable soldier, but that’s nothing to them.  Decisions are made sometimes without realizing how not only it affects a person but it also affects the lives of the people around them.  The military needs to take responsibility for their actions, too.  I also question the abdominal issues.  Our soldiers have to take numerous inoculations when going overseas.  What are the side effects?

He was so special and so intelligent.  It was as if he’d been here so many times before and was just here for one last time to maybe pay off a debt from a previous life. There’s no doubt in my mind that he was an advanced soul.

I remember reading the book ILLUSIONS by Richard Bach.  It has always been one of my favorites.  I had given it to Brent to read when he was in AIT.  Later I sent him the MESSIAH’S HANDBOOK by Richard Bach, which is a part of the book ILLUSIONS.   Brent also bought into the philosophy of this book as I did.  I remember finding one of the sayings written in his handwriting in his wallet after he passed.

If you practice being fictional for a while,

You will understand that fictional characters

Are sometimes more real than people with bodies

And heartbeats.

 

I also believe as my husband does, that Brent was here for a mission.  He taught us many things; things that we are all still learning.  I feel him more now than I ever did before since his passing.  Its 19 months now.  Brent always wanted me to be happy, not to blame myself for things he had done in the past or things maybe his brothers had done or even his father.  As I think of him, I think of how lucky I was to have him. Don’t get me wrong and think that I’m turning him into a saint, I’m not.  It’s just that when we have a chance to look back on things we can see their gifts, their lessons.  I miss my son more than anyone can even imagine.  His death has taken such a toll on all of us.

 

We are still all learning his lessons and trying to get back to a new normal whatever normal is. Life will never be the same for any of us because we were fortunate enough to have our lives touched by an angel.  I thank you, my beautiful son; for all that you have given us.  Please continue watching over us all and especially our men and women who serve, they need you most of all.

Christmas 2010, the last one with Brent.

Christmas 2010, the last one with Brent.

 

Finale

With every choice you risk the life you would have had; with every decision, you lose it.

  Messiah’s Handbook by Richard Bach

It was March of 1989.  Decision made, I got on the plane with ……

 

 

 

 

PTSD INFO

Veterans and PTSD

Veterans statistics: PTSD, Depression, TBI, Suicide.

The following veterans statistics are from a major study done by the RAND Corporation (full pdf of study), a study by the Congressional Research Service, the Veterans Administration, and the US Surgeon General.

PTSD statistics are a moving target that is fuzzy: do you look only at PTSD diagnosed within one year of return from battle? Do you only count PTSD that limits a soldier’s ability to go back into battle or remain employed, but that may have destroyed a marriage or wrecked a family? Do you look at the PTSD statistics for PTSD that comes up at any time in a person’s life: it is possible to have undiagnosed PTSD for 30 years and not realize it–possibly never or until you find a way to get better and then you realize there is another way to live. When you count the PTSD statistic of “what percentage of a population gets PTSD,” is your overall starting group combat veterans, veterans who served in the target country, or all military personnel for the duration of a war?

And veterans PTSD statistics get revised over time. The findings from the NVVR Study (National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study) commissioned by the government in the 1980s initially found that for “Vietnam theater veterans” 15% of men had PTSD at the time of the study and 30% of men had PTSD at some point in their life. But a 2003 re-analysis found that “contrary to the initial analysis of the NVVRS data, a large majority of Vietnam Veterans struggled with chronic PTSD symptoms, with four out of five reporting recent symptoms when interviewed 20-25 years after Vietnam.” (see also NVVR review)

There is a similar problem with suicide statistics. The DoD and their researchers tend to lose track of military personnel once they retire, and not all suicides will be counted as a military suicide (plus, is a person who drinks themselves to death committing suicide?). A recent study found U.S. veteran suicide rates to be be as high as 5,000 a year. See suicide statistics (bottom of page).

Summary of Veterans Statistics for PTSD, TBI, Depression and Suicide.

  • there are over 2.3 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (compared to 2.6 million Vietnam veterans who fought in Vietnam; there are 8.2 million “Vietnam Era Veterans” (personnel who served anywhere during any time of the Vietnam War)
  • at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or Depression. (Military counselors I have interviewed state that, in their opinion, the percentage of veterans with PTSD is much higher; the number climbs higher when combined with TBI.) Other accepted studies have found a PTSD prevalence of 14%; see a complete review of PTSD prevalence studies, which quotes studies with findings ranging from 4 -17% of Iraq War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • 50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment
  • out of the half that seek treatment, only half of them get “minimally adequate” treatment (RAND study)
  • 19% of veterans may have traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Over 260,000 veterans from OIF and OEF so far have been diagnosed with TBI. Traumatic brain injury is much more common in the general population than previously thought: according to the CDC, over 1,700,000 Americans have a traumatic brain injury each year; in Canada 20% of teens had TBI resulting in hospital admission or that involved over 5 minutes of unconsciousness (VA surgeon reporting in BBC News)
  • 7% of veterans have both post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury
  • rates of post-traumatic stress are greater for these wars than prior conflicts
  • in times of peace, in any given year, about 4% (actually 3.6%) of the general population have PTSD (caused by natural disasters, car accidents, abuse, etc.)
  • recent statistical studies show that rates of veteran suicide are much higher than previously thought (see suicide prevention page).
  • PTSD distribution between services for OND, OIF, and OEF: Army 67% of cases, Air Force 9%, Navy 11%, and Marines 13%. (Congressional Research Service, Sept. 2010)
  • recent sample of 600 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan found: 14% post-traumatic stress disorder; 39% alcohol abuse; 3% drug abuse. Major depression also a problem. “Mental and Physical Health Status and Alcohol and Drug Use Following Return From Deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.” Susan V. Eisen, PhD
  • Oddly, statistics for veteran tobacco use are never reported alongside PTSD statistics, even though increases in rates of smoking are strongly correlated with the stress of deployment and combat, and smoking statistics show that tobacco use is tremendously damaging and costly for soldiers.
  • More active duty personnel die by own hand than combat in 2012 (New York Times)

Other veterans PTSD statistics references and sources:

Contact us to learn more All content copyright (c) 2012-2013 by Veterans and PTSD. All rights reserved.

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf

 

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The Forgotten Hero III by Marsha Ortega

by Marsha Ortega This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

by Marsha Ortega
This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

Part III

Gucci

Gucci

Man’s Best Friend

It was September 2009.  Brent had been home from Afghanistan for a month when he informed me that he and Tico had bought a dog. They told me not to worry; that the dog would live at his friend Chris’s house, and so I said that was fine. “What kind of dog did you get?”  He said, “A pit-bull.” I yelled, “A Pit-bull!” which was the typical media-informed response.  He went on and on and told me not to worry, and that they’re good dogs.  So I gave him my blessing.   The last thing I wanted was a dog or any animal for that matter living in the house.

The following day my husband and I went out for dinner when I brought up the dog and what Brent had told me.  He looked at me and said “Do you want the boys to be at their friend’s house all the time or do you want to see your boys?”  I told Bobby that I had wanted to see my boys, but that a dog was a big responsibility. I didn’t want an animal in the house and I was afraid. No, not afraid, mortified.  Whenever I saw a dog I froze with fear.

Bobby said, “Then I guess you have to face your fears.”  My mind was racing now.  I was afraid and at the same time I knew that I’d never see them if the dog was living with their friend.  So I made the decision.  I called Brent and told him that the dog could live with us, but in the garage.  He agreed and was happy with the decision.

The next day the 9-week-old puppy came to live with us and we fixed up the garage for him.  My husband had told me about this show that I should watch called THE DOG WHISPERER, with Cesar Milan. I watched it religiously and bought books on puppy training, pit-bull books and I was online always looking up info.  One thing that I had learned was that pit bulls had been given a bad rap by the media.

The name hadn’t been decided yet; Brent and Tico couldn’t come to an agreement until finally he was named GUCCIMANE after a rap singer, but we all called him Gucci.  Gucci changed all our lives.  He lived in the garage for 2 weeks, then moved into the house and then slept in our beds.  We even rescued another dog; a pit-boxer mix, so he could have a friend. We named her Prada.  Brent came with me to pick her out.  We went all the way to Iowa to get her.

I became so attached to the dog that when Brent, Tico, and Jessica got their apartment they had to share Gucci with me. The dog had two homes.  Gucci was Brent’s best friend and Tico’s baby.  Brent and Tico were Daddy, Jessica was mommy, and Bobby and I were the grandparents.  It still is that way to this day.  I remember Brent telling me that Gucci knew everything about him, every secret, just everything.  He truly loved Gucci.  We all do. The pit-bull myth is just that, a media myth.  It’s the owner, not the dog.

Gucci was and still is a loyal friend to us all, but he loved his daddies.  He would just walk around and follow them and look at them with adoration.  He listened to them well.  Of course we all spent a lot of time working with Gucci and training him.

It is sad to say that during Brent’s last month of life, as he began pushing us all away, he even pushed Gucci away.  I can remember Gucci leaving Brent’s room and coming down to our room.  It was sad to see that the most loyal creature on earth walked away from his master.  It just goes to show you the effects of PTSD on a person and their loved ones.

gucci 2

 

 

The Beginning of the End

A Sage's Illumination

A Sage’s Illumination

By Michael Wellwerts

Even though Jess and I had gone to that one-day seminar, I don’t think we could’ve been prepared for what was going to happen to him. It was especially difficult because it didn’t happen right away.  I wonder that if it had it happened sooner, would I have known what was taking place.

Brent spent the two weeks home visiting friends and celebrating.  We had a party for him.  He even went and did all the military things he had to do like register with veteran’s affairs. But after two weeks of that he got a job right away with the help of my sister Angela. She is the P.A. at the doctor’s office that I had brought my children to when they were young.  Brent loved it at first, but then he got bored. That was typical of him.

I can’t remember how many jobs he had during his last two years.   He tried college twice, but was bored to tears.  In between jobs he was a chauffeur for an assistant to our dentist.  He worked serving papers.  He tried a warehouse job.  His last job was with me, bartending.  He learned in a week.  No one learns in a week, but that was Brent.  He also never slept well again.  It seemed he could never sleep more than two to four hours at a stretch.  He would take naps sometimes, but I never saw him sleep seven or eight hours straight.

About six months after he came home Brent rented an apartment with Jess and Tico. I think back then of Jess tolerating some of their relationship ups and downs.  Brent was moody at times, but those two were inseparable.  They were best friends in love.  Brent told me on more than one occasion that when he was ready to get married, if Jess would wait, that she was the woman he wanted to marry.

Brent did smoke pot occasionally, but he was not consumed with it as he had been in his teen years.  He seemed fine adjusting to the first year.  He wanted to remain in the military and be in Special Forces.  He was taking care of himself.  Brent had bought his own car when he came back from Afghanistan and made car payments, car insurance, etc. As a matter of fact, since he was seventeen and left for the military he never asked for money.  He was responsible.  I’m not going to tell you that he picked up after himself or kept up with his room, but he did take care of his financial responsibilities.  Brent, like his brothers, was a good son to me.  I had always felt lucky that I was given healthy well-behaved sons.

In December of 2010, a year and four months after returning from Afghanistan, Brent was at my mom’s house when he called an ambulance for himself. He had excruciating abdominal pain.  Brent told my mom not to worry me.  As soon as I found out I went to the hospital.  He was already stabilized when I arrived. He was given painkillers intravenously and had a CT scan and blood work.  Shortly after he had been stabilized he was able to leave.  I believe it was a few days later or maybe a week or two that he ended up back there.  This time the doctor wanted him to stay for more tests and observation. Due to some miscommunications and lack of patience on Brent’s part he signed himself out, AMA.  He didn’t want to miss celebrating his 21st birthday, which was Jan. 4, 2011.  I know that sounds crazy, but since the pain was gone, he felt he’d be okay.

Until then all that was known was pancreatitis. The emergency room doctor was accusing him of having an alcohol problem because pancreatitis is common with people who drink a lot of alcohol.  I was even able to vouch on this.  Brent liked to smoke marijuana, but alcohol was never a problem of his.  The doctor told him no alcohol, but he was going to celebrate his 21st, no matter what.  He did do that at our sports bar and grill.  His friends and the family came and everyone had a good time.  He never got sick or had any pain again, until September of that same year.

Brent continued attending the monthly Army National Guard weekends.  All I knew was that he was working out and going to the gym because he wanted to be in Special Forces.  Jess had gotten another apartment and Brent was at home or with her and vice versa.  In June he started working at our place as a bartender.  He had bugged his father and I enough that we relented.  He learned the job in a week, as I mentioned before.  I don’t mean he knew all the drinks, but he was able to do the job and within a couple of weeks he pretty much knew it all.

Around September, I started noticing changes in him.  He didn’t seem very happy. He was doing other things to earn money in which I didn’t agree with.  The PTSD, which he had been diagnosed with when he came back, had decided to show up. I remember one nightmare he had.  I don’t know what it was about, but when I came into his room in the morning, everything on the walls had been torn down.  He told me that he had woken up horrified; he thought he was back in Afghanistan.   Another time, he in just before work and said that he’d be right back. He needed gas so he went across the street to the gas station and when he came back you could see something had happened.  He looked white as a ghost and then proceeded to tell me that he freaked out while getting gas.  He wasn’t sure why, but someone else was getting gas too and was standing too close to Brent.  He said he felt like he was back in Afghanistan.  I wish that I could describe this better, but I don’t know what these men and women have gone through and that’s why they won’t discuss it with us because how could we possibly understand.  I guess the best way to explain this is how can we understand what a rape victim goes through if we weren’t raped?  I know that I could never understand what it was like to lose a child until I did.  We can imagine, but really have no clue.  How can a man possibly understand what a woman goes through giving birth?  All of these things must be experienced in order to truly understand.

I came to find out that he was no longer in the Army National Guard.  He told me he had an argument with a higher up.  I had a hard time believing that, because the first thing that entered my mind was that he got a dirty drop.  He denied that.  So as you can see a lot was happening all at once. It’s funny how when we are on the inside, we don’t always see what’s going on, but then when looking back it all makes sense.

Okay so that was September 2011. Now it’s October and Brent has been in and out of the hospital several times because he has recurrent abdominal pain.  I brought him to the local emergency room and they gave him painkillers by IV and anti-nausea medicine because with this pain he would also vomit.  I can’t begin to tell you what it’s like to see your son, who is strong in every way, be in so much pain.  He had another CT scan and blood work.  They told us it’s not pancreatitis, but the duodenum: a small tube at the start of the small intestine that connects to the stomach.  He was admitted, but he gets into it with the doctor and again signs himself out, AMA.   I had to bring him again in a few days later.  He was again admitted and stayed the whole weekend. They didn’t perform any more tests. They just kept the pain controlled.   We did try to get him to the V.A. hospital because he didn’t have insurance, but the V.A. hospital denied him because they told the doctor that they don’t admit on weekends.  The doctor then told them that he would send him by ambulance.  The V.A. told him that they would just send the ambulance to another hospital.  That’s what a guy gets for serving his country.

I picked him up Monday morning.  He went straight to the V.A. and was told that they would see him but, and this is stated in the doctor’s report, they would not be able to help him at that time because he wasn’t having the pain any longer. They set up an appointment for him to see a physician three weeks later.  Brent continued to behave oddly, not only was he stressed from what had been happening physically, but also he seemed to be distancing himself from the people who loved him.

It was the end of October 2011. The pain began again, so I rushed him back to the same local hospital.  This time they found nothing on the CT scan, and the V.A. agreed to transfer him. I reminded Brent that the V.A. was a government hospital, and because of this, everything they do would be done slowly.  I asked him to please have patience; he could be there for a few days to a week.  He agreed.

He arrived at the V.A. Sunday evening.  He was welcomed nicely and seemed happy with it.  I remember the doctor told me that they weren’t accustomed to handling young men.  That most of the younger ones went to Boston.  He talked to Brent and asked him about his history and problems and said they would do some tests but that everything would be done the next day because that’s when the resident doctor is in and she would review everything.

The following afternoon while making the hour drive to the V.A., I received a phone call from a doctor asking me if Brent was depressed.  I said no, not that I know of.  She told me that he was giving her a hard time and was very agitated and he wanted more painkillers.  She asked me if he had a problem.  I said the only thing I could think of was that from my own two experiences taking pain meds for some dental work I had done was that I remembered that when coming down from them they made me feel very edgy and everything annoyed me and that maybe that was his problem.   I knew that my son could be moody, but I honestly didn’t think at the time that he was depressed and after all she was the resident doctor at a V.A. hospital, wasn’t she the one who was supposed to evaluate him.  They had all his records, which showed he was diagnosed with PTSD, and she was asking me?

I got off the phone with her and then Brent called me to ask if I was coming.  I said I’d be there shortly and he told me good because he wanted out. He said they weren’t going to help him, and that the doctor wasn’t going to do any tests.  I told him to just hang on that I’d be right over.  When I arrived Brent was in bed, in pain, and very upset.  He told me to get him out of there.  I spoke to the nurse and asked if we could get another doctor. He said yes, but that it would take a couple of days and the present doctor had to sign on it.  Brent was telling me let’s go.  He yelled at me and told me that he’d get a cab if he had to but he was leaving.  I begged him to please calm down and he then told me, that I was fucking crazy.  My son never in his life talked to me like that. Later, he told me he wasn’t okay.  He said he would sign himself out.  The resident doctor came in with a bit of an attitude and gave Brent the paperwork.  The resident doctor, Brent, and I couldn’t come to an agreement.   Brent claimed she refused to give him tests.   She claimed that would do the tests tomorrow.  So I asked her why she told him she wasn’t going to do the tests.  She responded that he had just wanted the painkillers.  I told her, “Because he’s in pain!”  We went back and forth until finally Brent signed himself out.  I wasn’t pleased at all, but I would rather take him than him getting a taxi because I knew he would.

Looking back, I realize now that the doctor didn’t know how to deal with a young soldier with PTSD.  Maybe this is what the admitting doctor was trying to tell me.  It’s sad that he went there for help and didn’t get it.

Nothing was the same.  By November Brent basically gave up working at the bar. He started getting high, and I don’t mean with marijuana.  He got his hands on more painkillers.  This might sound like a long period of time, but it basically took place from the time he got out of the V.A. hospital through the next week or two.  He ended it with Jessica.  He even lost patience with Gucci. He was with this girl, an ex-girlfriend of one of his friends, and she was very much into drugs.  They came into my house high. I wasn’t pleased, yet at the same time I didn’t know what to do.  I wanted to kick him out, you know tough love, but my husband said not to do anything I would regret.  For two days in a row he was totally messed up.  One morning he came storming in and asked me to take him to get his car because it got impounded.  He had been stopped for swerving on the road and was pulled over and they found paraphernalia in the car.  So I took him and my God, I didn’t know this boy.  He was messed up in a weird way. One second he was fine, and the next he was pissed at me.  He said things to me that were very hurtful, but at the same time I knew this wasn’t him.  So I kept my cool.  He got out of the car and a wad of money fell out of his pocket.  He doesn’t even notice, so I told him.  He got his car and came home.  The next morning he got up early and decided to do laundry.  This definitely wasn’t normal for him.  I asked him to keep the noise down because his father was sleeping from working the night shift, which is 5p.m. to 2 a.m.  This was 8:00 a.m. and he wanted to do laundry and he was quite loud.  He had made coffee and there was a mess everywhere.  He then asks me how to use the washing machine, I told him and of course I wasn’t very happy when I explained it to him.  I start to walk out to take the dogs for a walk and he began yelling at me to tell him how to use the washing machine.  I had just told him 10 seconds before, so I said what’s wrong, I just told you.  He yelled, “That’s it, this isn’t going to work.  I’m moving out” And that’s exactly what he did.  He packed and left with that druggy girl.

I called my mom and told her very little other than to please not get involved and don’t let him stay with her.  I had to be very firm because my mom was the kind of person that would let him stay.  I didn’t want her to see her grandson like this.  She had no idea of who he was right now.  You have to understand that this was all taking place so fast.

When Brent left that day, I knew somehow, deep down, that it was over for him.  All I could do at this point was pray for him and pray that he didn’t hurt anyone while he was driving.  I think I knew that the phone call would be coming soon.  You might think, well why didn’t you do something about it.  Remember what I said about when you’re inside a situation and can’t see out of it.

Well, good ole mom, she listened to me so well because how could I possibly know my sons or what’s going on with them.  She took him in.  I was so angry with my mom that I could barely talk to her.  I didn’t want her to be a part of this nightmare.   He lasted maybe two weeks and she got to see what was happening.  I remember once he came over during that two week period with Jessica because she was coming to visit the dogs.  He was only slightly high.  I remember he was the way he used to be.  Loving, friendly, and talkative, he was the Brent I knew.  He came and hugged me when he was leaving.  I was a bit cold because I was so hurt but I still hugged him.  That was the last time I ever saw my son alive.

After two weeks of my mom seeing what was going on and experiencing this behavior, she told him he had to leave.  She was leaving for Florida in the morning with my sisters, their husbands, and the kids.  They’d be gone for Thanksgiving week.  Brent stayed at a hotel for two days, and then found a place to stay.  He would be renting from a girl who owned a house and he was renting the basement.  He moved into his new place on Tuesday afternoon.  He had spoken to his brothers, his dad, and me on different occasions and said he would be at the restaurant for dinner on Thanksgiving.

Readjusting

 

JESSICA’S STORY

Jessica's Story

I met Brent when I began working at City of Champions. He was the tall one who looked just like Elvis. I didn’t see him often – just when he would stop in, here and there. Sure he was tall, dark, and handsome, but he was also VERY young and we were both in relationships.

As time went by we found ourselves single, and so we began getting to know each other. It began with text messaging while he was at AIT. When I mentioned we hang out when he got home, his reaction was not what I had expected. “Seriously?” is what he replied with. Are you kidding me? Did this guy just ask me if I was serious? I mean, a simple “no” would suffice. “Umm, yes Brent, seriously, unless you don’t want to. I could find plenty of other dudes to hang with.” Naturally, I jumped the gun and got offended. He told me he didn’t believe that I really wanted to hang out with him. That he couldn’t believe I would want to spend time with someone five and a half years younger than I was. I really didn’t even think about the age to be honest, I just thought he was really cool and there was something about him. And it didn’t hurt that he was ridiculously handsome.

We began to get to know each other over the phone while he was gone. We were forced to talk to and to learn about each other. I am thankful for this because we were starting off as great friends. We learned a lot about each other’s pasts, family stories, interests, hopes, fears, pretty much everything. We also learned about our past relationships. Before diving into these conversations however, we promised each other to not ever place any judgment on the other person and to be completely honest. We also promised to keep in mind that whatever we shared with each other, this was all in the past. We were learning about each other, with each other. I opened up to Brent about my last relationship. That relationship was horrible. I completely lost sight of who I was. The person I was with, made me hate myself inside and out. I was horrible to my family and friends, to the point where I would go weeks without even talking to anyone. I became an ugly, ugly person. This man…I’m sorry, BOY, tried to sabotage every single relationship/friendship I had. He didn’t want me to be around certain family members and friends. This person began to ruin my life. I’m not really sure what the straw was that finally broke the camel’s back. Maybe it was when he would call and text my mother at two am saying terrible things about me. Maybe it was when he ordered me to stop hanging out with my best friend at the time. Or MAYBE it was when he would wait outside of my work for me since I wouldn’t answer his phone calls anymore. To make a very long story short, this person was a nut case and made me hate men.

I spilled out all of this information to Brent. And despite all my baggage, he still didn’t think twice about getting to know me, probably because he had quite the baggage himself. Brent assured me that he would never be anything like my ex and that he knows how to treat a woman. I’ll be honest, that was nice to hear and all, but what guy doesn’t say that kind of stuff? Women eat that shit up like candy. Of course that’s what we all want to hear so that’s what they will say. But, I dove in head first and hoped for the best. To torture a cliché, there was something different about Brent and I felt like I could trust him.

When he finally came home I got really excited and couldn’t wait to hang out with him. I texted him asking if he was busy one night, and wanted to get together for some food. He immediately answered with “ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Tonight?” What is with this kid and asking if I’m serious? “Yes Brent, I’m serious. Do you have plans because we can hang out another night?” Brent continued, “I so want to get together tonight, but I made plans to hang out with my dude from out of state and he’s leaving tomorrow.” I told him that was fine and I understood that he didn’t want to hang out with me. That’s how our relationship was right from the start – sarcastically. I went on to tell him we had plenty of time to hang out and we would soon. In reality, there really wasn’t much time at all. He was home for all of about two or three weeks until he deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months. Needless to say, we hung out right away after that night. We went out to eat and the rest was history. We grew very fond of each other very quickly. I will say it was the scariest thing falling for someone so fast, someone who was leaving in a few days, someone who was my bosses’ son, and someone who was five and a half years younger than me….oh boy…

The most important thing for me was to have Brent’s parents’ blessing. I was working in their sports bar at the time, and again, I was a few years older than their son. But, without question, we had their approval. FEWFF!! Thank goodness because I really cared for Brent. This was someone I grew so attached to and so close with. He quickly became my best friend and someone I could tell anything to. He never judged me, never thought any less of me, no matter what he learned. He loved me on my good days and loved me even more when I deserved it less. I found someone who made me laugh, someone who made me feel like I was the most beautiful girl in the world. He respected me and in turn I respected him. He seemed to trust me, and gave me his word I could do the same. It was the most intense couple weeks of my life. Where did this guy come from and where the hell had he been all my life?  And why does he have to leave? And to Afghanistan?  I never showed it, but I was scared as hell. I had never dated anyone in the military. Was dating Brent even an option at this point? Did he want a girlfriend to worry about while he is gone? Probably not, but when I see something I want, I’m going to make sure it’s known and I’m going to do my best to get it.

The day Brent left, I remember we all said our goodbyes at City of Champions. It was very hard letting Brent go seeing as how he just got home and we were just getting started. I knew this going into the friendship though. I knew what he had planned and all it entailed. Despite all this, I wanted Brent and no one else. I loved everything about him. He was handsome, funny, witty, sarcastic, confident, caring, and so very smart. That was what I loved most about Brent. We could talk about anything and everything. He would always make you think twice. He was also very protective and made me feel safe. Ohhhh, and that laugh! Boy oh boy I loved that laugh. I think everyone did. It was just so contagious. I just wanted more time with him, to learn more about him. But since I knew that wasn’t an option, I needed to make sure he knew just how I felt before he left.

We were standing outside the restaurant in the rain. He was in his uniform looking way too handsome. I loved that uniform. We were hugging and trying to make our goodbye as painless as possible, until I decided to address the huge pink elephant in the parking lot. I looked up at him and said “so…..you my boyfriend or what?” He looked and me and smiled. He didn’t say anything at first and just began shaking his head as if he was uncertain about what he wanted. But he wasn’t. “Jess, I want nothing more than to have you all to myself. You’re my dream woman.” That’s what he always called me. “But I can’t do that to you. I have no idea what I’m about to get myself into, and what if I don’t come back? Or if I do come back, what if I don’t have all my limbs? What if I come home fucked up in the head? That’s not fair to you. You don’t want that.” I couldn’t believe what he was saying. Has he not learned anything about me? I appreciated him thinking of me and putting me first, but that was not what I wanted to hear. “Believe me, I have thought over and over about all that. I want ALL of it. I don’t care if you come back with just a head; I want you and only you.” I just looked at him and was waiting for him to tell me the same. “What if I don’t come back?” was his next question. I didn’t want to think about that. If I thought like that I would go crazy. I’m not saying I didn’t think about that at times, because I did, a lot. But at the same time, I couldn’t stomach the thought of missing out on having this amazing man in my life. It had only been a few weeks of us spending time together, and I had never been happier.

Brent looked at me and said “you sure you’re up for this kiddo?” That was something we called each other. He found it humorous the first time I called him that over the phone. I’m sure we were talking about our age difference. I assured him over and over and over again this is what I wanted and that we would get through this together. We used to always say “you & me against the world baby.” We talked for a little while longer outside and soaked up every last minute we had together. It was this day; he told me he loved me.  I knew I loved this man. I knew it long before he even said it. It was something I couldn’t describe. I felt like I had known him for years. I felt whole when he came into my life. Whether we were talking on the phone, hanging out in person or texting, I was in a whole other place. I was happy. Happy to be me, happy to call him mine, happy I was with a brave soldier, happy to be alive. I literally felt like I could take on the world with him. He made me feel safe, like I could put all of my trust into him. I looked up to him, and not just because he was almost a foot taller than me. I admired and adored him so much and wanted to know every single thing about him. I wanted to be the perfect woman for him. I wanted to bring him the happiness that he had given to me. To this day, I don’t know if he ever understood how much happiness he brought me.

We only had a few more minutes until Brent had to leave…

He reminded me he didn’t know if, when, how often, or how he would talk to me next. “Expect a phone call tonight, an email in a week, an email in a month, in 6 months, I don’t know.” He wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting my hopes up about getting to call him often. It was a lot to wrap my head around – not knowing when I would get to talk to him again, but he assured me that if I was in it until the end, he was too. We were 100% on the same page.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye one last time. We were both laughing and crying at the same time. I asked him “are you CRYING ya pansy?” “No, no, no, I just have something….in both my eyes…” he replied. We hugged some more and next thing I know, I’m watching him leave. It was a lot to take in and I will admit, I sat in my car and cried for about 20 minutes. The only reason I pulled it together was because I had to go home and get ready for the night shift at City, my work. I drove home to get ready for work. I showered, cried some more, got dressed, cried brushed my teeth and did my hair, cried did my makeup, some more crying, fixed my makeup, drove to work and went about my night. It was good to get back to work right away to keep my mind busy. This was going to be a long road.

A few hours into my shift, I looked at my phone and saw about four missed calls from Brent. My heart dropped and I rushed into the bathroom to call him. Was everything ok? I don’t know why I was so nervous to have all those missed calls. I think it was just all of my emotions coming out at once. I called him and he answered all calmly and asked “hey want to hang out tonight?” I instantly exclaimed “F**k YOU! That is so NOT funny BRENT!” He snickered a bit and said, “I’m serious baby, I get to come back home for one more night. My parents are already coming back to get me.” I sat silent for just a moment soaking up what he just said and told him, “Brent, if you are joking I’m going to be so mad at you!” But when he said “I promise baby, papa bear is coming home for one more night.” I got so excited and once again was CRYING. But these were happy tears. My next question was “OH man I have to say goodbye to you all over AGAIN?! You’re killin me!” We laughed a bit, but not for too long, I had to get back to work. I was literally bouncing off the walls for the rest of my shift I couldn’t wait to get off. That was the longest shift of my entire life!

We had a good night. One more night with him and his family was great. I knew at this moment to cherish these times with Brent because that is what was going to get me through this deployment.

Our second goodbye was much smoother. Yes, I shed some tears, but for the most part, we laughed and kissed. I remember that morning- Tico, Mary and I brought him this time. I was going to miss my best friend. I knew he would come home safely to me. We had so much planned and so much to do once he got home. This was the person I was put here to be with, to please, to grow old with. This was my soul mate. I couldn’t believe the bond we had already shared in such a limited amount of time.

During Brent’s deployment, I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to him almost every day. It certainly wasn’t cheap though. At first, he ran up his family’s phone bill a great deal. And when I say a great deal I mean it.  For me, I got the unlimited, everything plan for my phone. I wanted unlimited text, internet, calls, you name it. Any chance I got to talk to my soldier; I was going to do it. I ended up finding a pretty awesome calling card at the store. It was about 10 cents a minute to talk to Brent. And let me tell you, that money goes fast! I stopped keeping track of what I was spending on the calling card, because it was a lot. And either way I was going to spend my money on calling cards so no sense in stressing over it. Even though I got to talk to Brent a lot, I still wrote him letters all the time. I would send him letters with hearts all over the envelope and lipstick kisses. I sent him cards where you can record a message. I did this for Christmas. We both disliked that holiday. I mostly wasn’t a fan of the music, lights, weather or shopping. So I decided to record him a funny Christmas message. He said he loved that card because he could open it and hear my voice whenever he wanted. I would also send him silly drawings I would make while I was bored at work. I wanted him to know he was always on my mind and that everything back home was okay. Sometimes when I would write him, I would draw a heart at the end of the letter and kiss it. I would then draw an arrow telling him to kiss it. This way he kissed the same spot I did. It might sound silly, but it’s all we had. He saved all these letters, which means so much to me. I would also send him care packages with all the essentials for a deployed soldier. Flaming hot Cheetos, cigarettes, dirty magazines, CDs, pictures of his girlfriend that missed him oh so much, candy… anything he wanted, I would sent it. In the event I would send food he didn’t want, he would trade it with other soldiers or people of Afghanistan. Most times, he would trade food for cigs. I wanted to provide the things he needed and wanted even if he was across the world.

Brent wrote me 2 letters during his deployment; letters that would take him weeks or months to write. I cannot tell you the excitement I felt each time I received a letter from him. They were very long letters with HORRIBLE handwriting that would take me forever to read. I loved them! I loved them because he was funny in them, serious, comforting and helpful. He would tell me all the things he loved about me, how much he missed me, how beautiful I was, everything he wanted to do when he got home, and how much he loved me. He also helped me through some pretty hard times. I was struggling with some things while he was gone. Things I rarely brought up, because while Brent was deployed I wanted to make sure he knew I was okay and that he didn’t need to worry about me. But, he encouraged me to open up about some issues I was facing and really helped me out.

              “I wanted to remind you, that no matter what you decide to do, I’ll have your back regardless, you know that. When I said that you could give someone all the answers but they won’t take heed to it until it ‘bites them in the ass,’ I wasn’t implying that you’ll be bitten in the ass; I just meant that we all have our own lessons to learn. Each decision we make affects our futures and the lessons. We are all constantly learning, it’s just whether or not we choose to pay attention that we take these lessons to heart – I guess whether or not we deem them important. All I’m saying is, YOU do what YOU feel is WISE and just make sure you keep your eyes and ears open. Do you baby girl, and as long as you’re doing what makes you happy for the time being, you must be doing something right. I love you with all my heart, Jessica, no matter where life takes us. I don’t care if we end up living in the streets (which I would NEVER let happen), as long as I’m with you baby. You’re all I need. Your happiness is my satisfaction. I just wanna see you happy and content and pleased with me. I haven’t talked to you for a few days because the phones and shit are down, but just the thought of you keeps me going. I have found my queen. For real baby, I had accepted the fact that I was going to live a lonely life, and I was fine with it. Runnin around, doin crazy shit, makin money, gettin girls – shit gets old ya know? But that’s all that appealed to me. I knew I was never going to find a woman to be in love with, and that was cool with me, cause who needs love, especially at my age. Why waste my time on heartache just for it to end cause that’s what “love” seems to be. But now I see what I would have been missing out on if I hadn’t found you – true happiness. And I would never do anything to ruin it. Why would I? It’s illogical, and we know I do my best to be logical. You satisfy my every need, physically, mentally, emotionally and everything in between. I know we are going to have some issues – mostly mine, to sort out. I can only hope that you are going to stick by my side no matter how fed up with me you are. At times, I know I’ll be difficult to live with, but I promise to do my best. It’s true ya know, your own worst enemy is yourself. The issues I have are all in my damn head and it’s hard sometimes to sort them out, but I’m trying because I want to be at my best to make you as happy as possible. I know I can unnecessarily be a dick or jealous or whatever, but I swear I’m workin on it. And I’m going to work at making this relationship even better every day, I promise. You know this deployment really aint shit.  I feel like we found each other for a reason, to be tested ya know. And there’s no test we won’t pass.  If it’s true, and I know it is, no time apart can ruin what we have. We were meant for each other no doubt about it, it was just a matter of time before we found each other. If this isn’t what would be called ‘love’ then there is no such thing. I never want to be apart from you again baby.”

That was from one of the letters Brent wrote me.

During his deployment, I kept busy with school and work. I finished school, even though it took me longer than expected. I was excited to be done with that and to start my new job when Brent got home. I also spent a lot of time with his family. I have always loved his parents and working for them, and I also got to know the rest of his family. Surrounding myself with these people is what got me through the deployment. Having people going through the same situation as me is what lifted me up when times got tough.

On the night before my birthday, I was staying the night with one of my girlfriends as her family was out of town. At about midnight, I got a phone call from my mother. She had just gotten surgery on her eyes, and was having some sort of reaction and couldn’t see. I hurried home because she needed to go to the hospital but couldn’t drive herself. I remember coming home, tired and quite cranky. I poked my head in the front door yelling, “Mommmm, I’m here!” I look over into the living room and who is sitting on the couch? BRENT!! He was sitting there in his uniform (sigh) with flowers and a birthday gift. I couldn’t believe he was here and on my birthday! Brent looked at me and asked, “Are you happy and surprised baby? Happy birthday!” I smiled and threw my arms around him. I honestly thought I was dreaming. Brent got to stay home for a few days and I will say, that was the best birthday gift I could have ever gotten. Along with him surprising me, he gave me flowers, an ICP teddy bear named Jody and a beautiful white gold (NOT SILVER, Brent made sure that was known) heart necklace. I loved my gifts because he put a lot of thought into them. As much as I loved them all, I wouldn’t trade my time with him for any of them. Needless to say, my mom did not need to go to the hospital and my friend knew I wasn’t going to be returning to her house that night.

Brent went back to Afghanistan and continued his deployment…

Holidays went by without him and that was hard, but it made me even more excited to make those memories with him in our upcoming years together. For Valentine’s Day, Brent wanted to get me a piece of jewelry with opal in it. He knew I loved opal. He worked with his mom in picking something out for me. She had chosen a ring and when she showed Brent, he quickly had her exchange it for something else. Although I’m sure it was beautiful, Brent knew that I didn’t want any rings unless it was an engagement ring. Not that I was implying I wanted to get married, because that was not the case. I simply wanted that to be the only ring he ever gave me. So, I was given a beautiful gold and opal necklace. It was so gorgeous. Brent was spoiling me from across the planet.

Before I knew it, Brent had an idea of when he would be coming home. Was this real life? Start preparing for him to be back?! Was this a dream? I was so excited, happy and nervous. Even though we were already dating, it was like we were about to see each other for the first time ever. It’s funny to think, Brent would be coming home and just two months later, we would be celebrating our one-year anniversary together. I remember getting a text from Brent’s phone. “I’m home baby.” He was in the states!! I got a text from my boyfriend! To look at my phone and have a text massage from him was surreal. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but after a ten month deployment, it is. You learn to appreciate the simple things like text messages. Instead of straining to hear him call from a strange Afghan phone number, I got a text J I couldn’t wait; the day was finally coming where I would have him with me again!

I remember reaching out to a couple of my girlfriends who had experience deployment before. Their stories were different from each other and mine, but they had been there before and knew what I was going through. They were both excited for me and shared their happiness for me that I would have him home soon. They also advised me to be aware that things were going to be different. Not necessarily bad, just different. Brent and I had gone almost a year without really spending time with each other; things surely were going to be different. I learned a lot about PTSD. I wanted to educate myself on the subject before the possibility of experiencing it firsthand. My girlfriends also told me that when it comes to the military, deployment, post-deployment, PTSD, etc., people will say they understand, but they don’t unless they have been through it themselves. They wanted to let me know that they were there to help me if I ever needed anything, any advice, or a girls’ night.

Before I knew it, they day had finally come! I wanted to look perfect for him when he got home. I started working out like crazy to be in tip top shape when he got home. Lord knew that once he came back, there would be no time for the gym anymore. I remember making two welcome home banners for Brent: friends and family signed one of the banners. The night before his homecoming, I probably tried on about ten different outfits. I wanted to look my best. I don’t think I slept that night either.

Marsha and I got to Soldier Field very early. I honestly think we were the first two people there. We interviewed with the newscast and showed them our banners. We then went inside and actually helped set up. We got to look around and saw the soldiers’ names on the wall. We looked around a bit and found Brent’s. As time went by, the rest of the family arrived and we were all very antsy and ready for our soldier to get there. As all the friends and families of the soldiers piled in, the anticipation grew and grew. Finally, our men were here. And as they stood there in front of us, it seemed like an eternity before they were released. Just let us hug them already! Finally it was time. Everyone was running around trying to find his or her loved one. When Brent and I were looking for each other, we ran in opposite directions and couldn’t find each other at first. I bumped into about 10 different soldiers and was searching all over for my Brent. They all looked the same!! One man looked so similar; I almost jumped on him like a spider monkey. That would have been embarrassing. Finally I saw him! It was hands down, the best moment of my life. Being back in his arms and having him home safe, where he belonged. I was so happy! I finally had the love of my life back. Let the memories begin! We all went out to eat for some Mexican food right after the ceremony. I loved watching him eat. I also loved the way he would look at his family during the meal. You could just tell he was soaking it all in and loving every second. It was so good to have him home with his family. I loved the look he had in his eyes. He was glad to be back. After we ate, Brent surprised me and told me he rented a hotel suite for the week and I didn’t have to work. He arranged that with his parents and he had already planned everything. I could not believe this was happening. I had a full week to spend in Chicago with Brent and not worry about anything but spending time with him and making up for lost time. We had friends come up to the hotel and stay with us too. It was HUGE and so great to have everyone together. And boy oh boy did we party! First thing Brent wanted to do was going shopping. He got a new outfit and spent quite a pretty penny on it. Can’t say I blame him. We went out to eat to a lot of different restaurants. I suppose he was tired of eating MRE’s (meals ready to eat). We also cruised around the city a lot, listening to music. One of the days, we went to the beach and had entirely too much to drink. It was so crazy to be driving and look to my right and see my man. Surreal. So many good memories made with great friends in the great city of Chicago.

Before we knew it, it was back to reality. I had to get back to work and it was time for Brent to adjust to civilian life again. We got ourselves a two-bedroom apartment. There, it was just Brent, me, Tico and our pup Gucci; just the four of us. It was so much fun. I loved living with those boys. We had some great times there.

Trying to figure out what he wanted to do next was a bit of a struggle for Brent. He went back and forth between school and work. He took some college courses at a local college but was quickly bored with that after a few weeks. Brent also worked a couple of different jobs, but just as he did in school, he found himself wanting to do something different. For most, Brent gave off the “slacker” vibe, and many times, people thought he simply didn’t want to work because he was lazy. This wasn’t the case. Brent was anything but lazy. But he did find himself bored, irritable, stressed, tired, sometimes sad, and other times pissed off. These feelings affected his schooling and work. This was frustrating for Brent as he didn’t know why he would feel these feelings. We had talked about it before and he expressed he knew he had always struggled, but couldn’t understand why, especially now. He was an Army Medic, he was home, healthy, had work, his friends were all here, his family was always there for him and he had his woman. Don’t get me wrong, he had great days and we enjoyed any free time we had together; we spent a lot of time with friends, went to a lot of concerts and made a lot of memories. But, there were definitely struggles and a lot of times they would come out of nowhere.

He was starting to have trouble sleeping and he would get jumpy and irritated at the drop of a hat. He always recognized that this would happen and would get so frustrated with himself. As months went by, he struggled with the use of prescription painkillers and sleeping pills. I’m not really sure when, or why the use started, but next thing I knew, I was using too. As time went by, the use got a bit more frequent and that’s when things really started to change. Yeah, we had some great times, but our partying also was killing our relationship. We couldn’t remember certain things, we were wasting money like we had it, we were messed up more often than sober and we began to argue more. After a while, Brent became very sick and was in and out of the hospital. He would have extreme pain in his stomach and would always feel nauseous. Each time he went to the hospital, they would give a different reason as to what was wrong with him; anything from pancreatitis to minimal fluid being in his upper intestine. This was extremely frustrating and caused Brent to continuously leave the hospital. Why should he just sit in there for a bunch of civilians to continuously give him the runaround is how he saw it. In the midst of all this, I somehow lost Brent. Out of nowhere, it was like he was gone. He would NEVER listen to me anymore. Any time I would look at him, it was almost as though he was looking right through me. I felt like he wasn’t even hearing me half the time. I don’t think he even cared to. He would make plans with me and when it came around time to go out, he would have no idea what I was talking about and would be off somewhere doing something else. He was different. He wasn’t attentive, motivated, and affectionate towards me and his mind was always off somewhere else. I felt like he didn’t even want me around anymore. And through all this, I still loved him and wanted to be by his side. I made a promise to him before his deployment, and reassured him during deployment, that I would never leave him and I would most certainly never give up on him no matter how bad things got.

I soon learned Brent was no longer in the Army. I knew this broke him because all he wanted to do was to go Special Forces. He had expressed that he wanted to continue with his Army career and that was the route he wanted to take. I had backed him 100% even though I knew this meant I would never see him let alone hear from him. That is something I learned very quickly, Army first, family second if at all. I knew this is what he wanted though, and to hear that he was driven and wanted nothing more than this, I wanted to stick by his side and push him in that direction. And when that option was taken away from him, he had nothing left. The one thing that he became so driven towards was gone in the blink of an eye. After that is when things really went downhill.

Brent and I stopped seeing each other right around my birthday, in October of 2011. We still spent some time together, but we weren’t “dating” and we didn’t live with each other. Call it what you want, but either way, he was still my man and I was his girl. We were still there for each other, just taking a step back. I guess it was more a case of me taking the step back, because he had already been distant and seemed to have taken 100 steps back. He told me he couldn’t be with me anymore because he was afraid he was going to hurt me even worse than he already did. I never really understood what he meant, but he told me he wasn’t good enough for me, he couldn’t give me what I deserved, and he just didn’t want to be with me. I fought for him I really did. I literally begged him to give us a chance. I remember the last day he was at my apartment. He came to give me some of my belongings and to give me a gift. He went to California and had gotten me a purple blown glass piece. He knew I loved purple. Right as he was pulling it out of his bag, it fell to the kitchen floor and shattered. And just like that Brent lost it, dropped to his knees and began scooping up the broken shards of glass with his bare hands. He began to cry hysterically and got very upset. He kept saying “I gotta go’ I gotta go.” I begged him some more to not leave and to talk to me. I needed him to settle down before he went anywhere. I wanted to help him and he clearly needed it he just didn’t want it. He was pushing me completely away. He finally yelled “I HAVE TO GO JESSICA LEAVE ME ALONE! This is for the best please just believe me.” I knew this wasn’t what he wanted. How in the hell did we get here? To this place where we couldn’t even communicate anymore. I felt like we were 2 completely different people instead of 1 unit, if that makes any sense. I pleaded with him some more and he shouted, “I don’t love you anymore Jessica leave me alone!” I had nothing to say and just like that he left. I was heartbroken. How was this happening? I didn’t sleep; I didn’t eat for about a week.

After about two weeks, we were talking again; nothing serious, just texting here and there. We didn’t even really bring up what happened. Just the fact that we were talking and I knew he was ok, was enough for me. Being boyfriend/girlfriend was the farthest thing from my mind at this point. I just wanted Brent in my life and I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to see him reach his dreams and his full potential. We ended up buying VIP tickets to go see our favorite rapper, Tech N9ne at the Castle Theatre on November 18, 2011. This was our fourth Tech concert together. This rapper’s music was one huge love that Brent and I shared. Brent of course, introduced me to the artist. We had so much fun at the concert. We danced our asses off. I could tell though, Brent was definitely high on something. I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t want to ruin our good time. I knew that in one second I could completely change his mood and we probably would have ended up leaving the show. We stayed until the end of the show and then went home. I dropped him off at his family’s house and I went home. That sucked. All I wanted to do was stay with him and Gucci but I knew it wasn’t the right time. And, if he really wanted me to stay, he would have said something.

A couple of days later I texted Brent and thanked him again for taking me to the concert. I had so much fun. We started talking about specifics of the show and how awesome it was. We talked pretty much all day that day through text. Then, out of nowhere, he tells me that he had so much fun with me, but we can’t keep hanging out and keep talking all the time because it was too hard for the both of us. I asked him how he goes from one extreme to the other out of nowhere. And plus, I wasn’t even talking about our relationship; I thought we were focusing on our friendship and his health. I told him he was my best friend and I didn’t understand what was going on. I will never forget his reply, “we need to find new best fucking friends Jessica! Leave me alone.” After that, I had nothing left to say. This man made no sense anymore. It was like I was dealing with three different people, the old Brent, the new Brent and the somewhere in between Brent. I never knew which one I was going to get. In my head, I was clearly hanging on to something that just wasn’t meant to be. I had to convince myself I wasn’t supposed to be in Brent’s life anymore. I really can’t begin to put into words how that felt. The person, who meant most to me, wanted nothing to do with me anymore. I was going to leave him alone. But I also knew that if he reached out to me I would be there in a heartbeat. I promised him I would always stick by him and I intended on keeping that promise. Whether it would be in a relationship, a friendship, whatever, I wanted him happy. I believe this all happened November 21st. I promised myself I would not bother him anymore. If he wanted to talk to me, he would. On thanksgiving, November 24th, I so badly wanted to text Brent and tell him Happy Thanksgiving. It was a holiday we both loved, unlike Christmas. The weather was nice, the food was great and no one had to buy gifts! It was just a day to be thankful. It was also Prada’s first birthday! Prada is Marsha’s pit bull/boxer pup. She is such a love bug! This day was just all around a good day. I didn’t text him though. Instead I spent time with family and stayed off of my phone. I left one family party to go to another party at my grandparents’ house. I walked in the door and everyone was already there. “Happy Thanksgiving!” filled the room and I could smell the food. Despite the giant plate I ate at the previous family party, I was suddenly hungry again. As I settled into the house, took my shoes off and hugged my family members, I could hear my phone buzzing in my purse. I let it ring; I could get to it later. It kept buzzing and I finally checked the phone. I saw it was Brandon, Brent’s older brother calling. I texted him and asked if I could call him in a bit, I was just getting to my family’s house. He replied with “No. Call me now please.” I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I better call him. I put my shoes back on and walked out to the front porch so I could hear. The phone rang about one and a half times and Brandon answered. I asked what was up and he said, “Jess, Brent’s dead.”

I fell to the ground and yelled “What?! What are you talking about?” This wasn’t real. This wasn’t happening. He told me that Brent basically had been found this morning in bed, not breathing and it was because of an overdose. I couldn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling at this point. “Are you sure? Is everyone SURE he is dead? This can’t be true!” I started begging to whomever for this to not be true and for it to be a dream. I told Brandon I would call him back and hung up the phone. I started screaming and walked back into the house yelling “Mom!! Mom!” All I wanted was my mom. She came running out to the front door to me and asked what was wrong. “Brent’s gone!” I yelled. “What do you mean Brent’s gone baby?” I told her “He’s dead!” The next thing I remember, I was running outside and threw up in the front yard. I couldn’t seem to calm myself down. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t talk. My mom brought me to her house right away. I stayed there that night. A lot of it is a blur, but I remember staying on the couch in the basement. I literally sat up all night crying and begging for this not to be true. My cousin came over to stay with me for a bit. That surely helped. When she went home, I sat up on my mother’s laptop. I was on Facebook all night just looking through all Brent’s pictures. I didn’t know what else to do. The person, who I would always run to, was gone. Just like that, gone. It was like he was taken straight out from under my nose. He would have been fine if he were with me that night. I would have never let anything like that happen to him. Anger immediately filled my entire body and I started to see red. I found out who he was with that evening and the next morning, and I was instantly filled with hate. I had never felt this way before. I also felt helpless, which triggered more anger and frustration. Then, the sadness would take over again and the tears just flowed. Next thing I knew, I was mad again. How could have happened? I felt like I was losing Brent these last couple of months, and now he was just completely gone. I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I began bargaining with whoever is running this show to have him back. Please just let him walk through the door and I will do nothing but good for the rest of MY LIFE I SWEAR. I was going crazy, but was told that was normal. Whatever. I was mad.

Next thing I know, I’m searching for photos and videos of Brent to be shared at his ceremony. This took a lot of work and drew up a lot of different emotions. I reached out to many of our mutual friends and well as Brent’s friends from the Army. I wanted as many memories as possible and I wanted everyone in Brent’s life to be included. I wanted to make sure I could help make Brent’s ceremony as beautiful as possible. He deserved nothing but the best. Going through all the memories brought tears of sadness, tears of joy, some laughs and anger.

To be honest, everything has been a fog since the day Brent died. I feel like I’m a walking zombie half the time. I feel as though someone took my whole heart out of my chest and replaced it was a machine that’s simply keeping me alive and breathing. I don’t really know how else to describe it. I eat, sleep, work, and repeat. I almost feel as though I’m just going through the motions of everyday life and that I’m just passing time until I get to see Brent again. It’s like my joy is completely stripped. Everything was Brent and Jess this and Brent and Jess that. Brent, where’s Jess….Jess where’s Brent…Now it’s just Jess. I was put here to care for someone and to love someone and to put him first. I honestly believe I was put here for that. I was given the perfect partner, to just get him taken away. I blame a lot of people for that. I blame myself for letting him slip away. I blame him for being so foolish. I blame the people he was with at the time. I blame the Army for not helping him like they should have. Our men are sent off to war and then swept under the rug. And when one thing goes wrong, and a soldier has one slip up, they discharge him. I know I’m being a bit harsh, I just feel like Brent deserved more help. Yes, he was stubborn and hard to deal with at times, but what soldier isn’t when they come back from deployment? I just wish I could have done something to save Brent.

I feel like it was just yesterday I saw him, but at the same time, I feel like he’s been gone for so long. I miss him so very much every day. I think of him constantly. Everything I do is for him. I often wonder if he is proud of me. I knew he is with me, I just wish I felt him more. I have my good days too. I go out and have fun with friends as much as I can. But always in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how much better this would be with my partner by my side. Brent was my best friend, lover, soul mate, and better half. He was my everything. And all I can do at this point is remember the good times and that contagious laugh of his. The good times outweighed the bad times by far and the good times are what I remind myself of daily. Brent has taught me more than he will ever know. He has taught me how to be kind, but not let people take advantage of me. He has taught me I am beautiful and should feel as such. He even gave me the nickname “GorJess.” He has taught me to set the bar high and never settle. To be strong, but ask for assistance when I need it. To do whatever makes me happy, but don’t be foolish. But most importantly, he taught me to love without reservation. Brent and I started off our friendship while he was away at AIT, and started off our relationship while he was deploying to Afghanistan. I learned to dive in headfirst and love with my whole heart. I have learned to assume nothing, and let those you love, know exactly where you stand. I know that someday, when I find love again, I will take all these lessons with me. Brent left me a better woman than he found me and for that I thank him every day. I know what I expect of others, as well as what is expected of me. I’ve learned what loyalty really means, and what happiness feels like.

I truly feel Brent is my soul mate. A soul mate can be a significant other, a friend, family member, what have you. It is a bond like no other. It is a feeling of complete wholeness. Some people never get to meet their soul mate in this lifetime. I am thankful that I was fortunate enough to meet mine and have a wonderful three years with him. I wouldn’t trade a single second of it. I love you so much Brent Ortega. Be Easy and rest well my love.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”

Jessica and Brent

The Forgotten Hero II by Marsha Ortega

by Marsha Ortega This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

by Marsha Ortega
This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

Part II

Brent and Bobby

“In peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.”  Croesus

 

Brent & Bobby at his 1st Holy Communion

Brent & Bobby at his 1st Holy Communion

The relationship between Bobby and Brent was a love-hate one.  It started on January 4th, 1990.  What was about to happen to Bobby was a huge change in his life.  He didn’t know this of course, because he didn’t have the experience of having his dad around much as a child.  What relationship they did have wasn’t a good one.

Bobby had just gotten back from Mexico on January 2, 1990.  I was actually surprised because, as stated earlier, our relationship became rocky once I packed and left to come home.  My family wanted nothing to do with him (that’s another book).  I was already in the hospital and called him to let him know that his child was on the way.  My mom was already with me, and the doctor said he only wanted one person with me, during the birth.  So Bobby waited outside the room and according to him, he heard Brent cry. The nurse came out and asked who he was.  He said he was the father, so she let him in.  They handed Bobby his first biological son.  I wish that I could have a picture or video, but I think some of you parents know what took place.  I could actually see the connection that was made.  Bobby was hooked and in love is the best way I can describe it. I know it’s how I felt after meeting each one of my sons.  It’s probably one of the most beautiful things that we experience as humans; the birth of our children.  There’s nothing that can top it.  From that moment on, Bobby’s life changed.  It was no longer about him, it was about THE FAMILY.  He bonded with Brent as did Brent with him.  There’s a look in a person’s eyes that shows the love they have for their child.

Well, the beginning of the love-hate relationship began; because Bobby’s own childhood issues came in to the situation.  During the first couple of years, even after Tico was born, I could see the issues arise.  He finally told me that he was angry, because he couldn’t understand how his father had left his mom and the five of them alone.  All he could remember was that his father came around once in a while to give his mom some money, but that’s really all.  He had no fond memories or father-son moments that he could remember.  So I tried to explain to him that I obviously couldn’t understand because my parents have been awesome my entire life. I told him that what he could try to do was to experience having fun with the boys so that he could still have the experience; the only difference would be that it would be as a father.

Bobby was strict with Brent, probably no different than I was with Brandon, him being my first.  The other problem was the amount of hours he had to work, so he didn’t get to spend as much time with the boys as I did.  I can remember one holiday, Brent was five years old but he was crying his eyes out and very upset because his dad had to work and that wasn’t fair because other fathers got to be home with the family.

Brent used to get upset because his dad was always more serious and felt that brothers shouldn’t fight. The oldest was always the responsible one.   The funny thing is that Brent had many ways like Bobby.  The main one was that they were both so damn moody.  You never knew what they’d be like and I think that’s why they had a hard time getting along.

Brent didn’t argue or disrespect his father until the teen years.  That’s when things started to change.  Teen years are usually rough between parents and teens, especially when they’re the same sex.  There was no denying how much Bobby loved his 3 sons.  Unfortunately between his own lack of a father-son relationship from childhood and his background, which was what we here the U.S.A. call “macho.” (I say this with no disrespect to the Mexican culture, because I love it.) He missed out on a lot of great experiences with the boys that could’ve established a better relationship.  It could have also prevented a lot of misunderstandings, but it is what it is and I can’t change that.  He loved the boys dearly and would do whatever he could for them.

A good example of Bobby’s love for them would be the time he did what I call, “the Walk.” It’s called, “the Peregrino’ in Spanish, and in English it would be “the Pilgrimage.” It’s an event done each year where the participants ask the Virgin of Guadalupe for something; for example, one could ask that their child’s health gets better, or to cure a loved one of some disease. They then make a promise to walk from whatever area they live and walk to the Basilica, a church in Mexico City where the Virgin was seen over 500 years ago. This is a 3 year commitment.  It’s done in Mexico every year and the main date celebrated is December 12th.  This is not a 25 mile marathon.  It’s done from all parts of Mexico.  Bobby is from the state of Hidalgo. Lucky for him it was “relatively close” compared to what others have to do.

When Brent was deployed in Afghanistan, Bobby saw how more concerned I got the first time that we had no contact for some time.  Even though I didn’t express my feelings he saw it in my face.  He always felt that Brent would be fine there but I think this time even he was worried.  So, Bobby made a request to the Virgin of Guadalupe to please bring our son Brent home safe.

You have to know that Bobby is not really into physical activity and here he made this decision to do a three-day walk.  He did it!  It was a three-day walk from his town.  The whole group slept outside, not in a tent, but in sleeping bags wherever you are staying for the night and it’s December.  Mexico isn’t extreme cold like it can be in Illinois, but it does get cold.  They walked about 16 hours a day.  The first night we spoke before he went to sleep in his sleeping bag; he told me it was one of the hardest things he had ever done and that he didn’t think he was going to make it.  I tell you this so you can understand the kind of love that Bobby had for his sons.  He may not have been their best buddy and maybe it was very difficult for them to understand him (and I don’t mean his accent either), but they knew that he loved them and would do whatever it took for them to be okay.

That was in December of 2009, his first time.  He thought he was done, but then found out it was a three-year commitment.  He was stunned, but at the same time he was fine with this because he had had such a spiritual experience that he was truly motivated to do it and keep his faith strong.  The following year came and he did it again.  The pilgrimage in Mexico is a huge event and is well organized.  Each group is told when to leave from their area to begin their journey. His group always leaves on the sixth of December.

Year three, of course, became the most difficult and painful for both of us but more for him.  Remember, Brent passed on Thanksgiving, November 24, 2011. His service was on Wednesday, November 30.  The pilgrimage started on Dec. 6 and Bobby had to be there at least a couple of days before.  He left two or three days after the service and yes, he did the walk.  Some of you might say well why bother, your son had passed.  My response is that you need to understand faith.  I totally supported him in this and felt it was the right thing to do, as much as I didn’t want him to leave during this horrible time.  Bobby had gotten his prayer answered to bring his son home safely from Afghanistan.  He still needed to finish his 3rd year commitment.  Until this day I truly cannot imagine how he did it.  The pain of losing a child is so unbearable and he walked with that pain for three days.

He continues to do the pilgrimage. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this he will be doing his fifth one.  He told me on the 4th one that he felt if he didn’t continue this that he would lose his faith.  He isn’t obligated to go anymore because he finished, but he continues so that he can keep his faith.  That’s a good enough reason.

I opened this chapter with one of my favorite pictures of Brent and Bobby.  It represented Brent still in his innocence and thinking his father could do no wrong.  It was before their challenges when he was a teenager.   I will close with my second favorite picture of them: basic training graduation, a time when they finally embraced again as father and son.   That began their journey of accepting each other.  How horribly sad that they couldn’t finish that journey.

Brent and Bobby 2 hugging

 

HIGH SCHOOL

“Want a trouble-free future?

Why did you show up in spacetime if you didn’t want trouble?”

Messiah’s Handbook by Richard Bach

 

This section will be interesting and challenging to write.  Brent’s teen years were not very easy.  Yes, I know this is true for many, and hopefully I can assume many of you will be able to relate. Some of you will have your judgments, but that is your choice and your problem.  If there’s one thing I learned in life, it’s that it’s easy to judge and have an opinions when you’ve never been in that predicament.  Each of us has our own way of dealing with things and each individual is unique.  What works on one individual may not work on the other.  There, okay, I’ve said it.  Now moving forward.

I guess I had high hopes or expectations for Brent in high school; after all, he was so bright. He tested into advanced math and English even though he had skipped 8th grade.   As I’ve stated before, I never expected A’s from my children, only their best.  Well, even though Brent’s intelligence and advanced ways were there, his experience wasn’t, after all he was only 13.  So after about 4 weeks I saw a change.  He was exposed to the high school experience: girls and drugs.  And of course was a healthy young boy looking at the girls.  However, soon after starting high school I started suspecting that he had tried marijuana.  I was 90 per cent sure.  Also, in the beginning it seemed normal for me that he didn’t have much homework, which I came to find out he wasn’t keeping up with.  I got that under control for a while, but the marijuana created problems in our household.

My husband and Brandon had told me not to confront him because I had no proof. My response was that I had all the proof I needed, except the actual marijuana.  I won’t lie, I tried it myself a handful of times at 14 years old, but it wasn’t for me.  At first, I guess I had hoped that’s what would happen for Brent. Sadly, it didn’t.  I honestly would have ignored it had it been occasional, but it wasn’t anymore.  It was becoming too important to him.  So against, Bobby and Brandon and I confronted him. Of course he denied using, but for some reason we worked it out. Basically he lied, and I attempted to believe with caution

Before I continue, I’d like to add something here which might be difficult for some of you to accept, but to this day I believe it.  One morning, about a month and a half after he started high school at around 5:00 a.m. in October the front door opened and an evil energy walked in.  I know this sounds crazy but I was sleeping on the couch, I don’t remember why, but the door opening awaked me and a powerful evil energy came in. No the door didn’t really open, it just felt that way.   I’ll never forget that.  What I hadn’t known at the time was that a family member had accumulated so much hate against my husband; to the point he wanted to kill him.  These are his words to me at a later date, not mine.  He had also told me that he wanted to come with a bat and bust his knees, but after numerous conversations with his wife, he calmed down. The problem stemmed from a miscommunication and misunderstandings.  Without going into any more details, he was plotting in his mind how he could hurt his Bobby in the worst possible way.  To this day I believe that he built up such a hate that that energy entered my home and landed on the weakest link, the teenage boy, Brent.

Unfortunately, a couple months went by, I thought he had been using occasionally; I was wrong.  It turned out he was out of control.  We chased away one of his friends because we thought that he was the bad influence, come to find out years later that that wasn’t the case. Also, Brent had already been exposed to pot, in the 7th grade, prior to high school.  I can remember one of the times that I knelt before him when he had been angry with me for grounding him and I said to him, “Son I know how stubborn you are and where you get it from, but what you don’t know yet is how truly stubborn I am.  I love you with all my heart and I will not give up this battle until you are an adult and I won’t be able to, but until then I will do whatever it takes.”

The following is Brent’s runaway letter:

“I’ve ”run away”I guess u could say. I just want to sort some crap on my mind out. I know that you guys r freakin out right now and think im stupid for everything in this letter. Im going to be fine so don’t call the cops or anything, I know u think im naive for saying ill be fine because of all the horrors in the world but ill be fine I promise u. I don’t know what to say I mean I know when I get back im gonna be in deeeeeep shit and theres nothing I can really do to make u understand why Ido the things I do because I think that u don’t want to understand. That is a close minded statement, I know, but I think it to be true. Well I love you all and I’ll see u when I get back.

Oh and mom me smoking isn’t your fault, u haven’t made many flaws in raising me, so don’t worry, im not gonna end up a psycho murderer or a druggy on the side of the street. U dont know why I do it, ill tell u all about it when I get back. And me leaving isn’t your fault either, its my own decision, don’t blame yourself for any fault I make.
I love you guys”

He started sneaking out of the house, running away, and acting out. To make a long story short, the day finally came that he got so gutsy he smoked some in the bathroom knowing full well that his dad was going in there to get ready for work.  It was as if to say, “I’m not afraid, I’ll challenge you” And so, because we were working with him, I already had him in counseling/rehab, I called the police and had him arrested.  I know some of you are thinking what kind of mother has her own son arrested; well my response is that of a mother who loves her son so much that she will do whatever it takes to clean him up.

He got to sit at the police station on a bench for four hours handcuffed to a bench, and then I picked him up four hours later and I paid the $100.00 bond.  He was given a court date and at that court date he was given supervision and community service.  And that’s when we decided that we weren’t going to wait for Tico to graduate Jr. High to move; Tico was in 7th grade, and Brent was a freshman.

The hunt began to move and we did.  We moved 35 minutes south of Romeoville to a town called Braidwood.  Brandon had already moved out when he was 18, 4 years prior, he was living with my mom.  She was alone because my dad had died on January 18, 1998 and my brother was moving to California.  I remember Brent’s counselor told me that moving wasn’t the solution.  It wasn’t that I thought that moving was the solution; it was that I had wanted to give him a chance to start over.

You can just imagine how happy Brent was moving.  He was miserable.  The funny thing is that we were also concerned about Tico.  Brandon was especially worried about Tico.  Brandon had felt that it would be too difficult on him and he told me that the drug situation was worse where I was moving.  I responded that I felt Tico would be fine because the school that they had been attending all these years was changing too much and that he had a rough year in 7th grade and didn’t seem very happy.  Also, I told him that I knew we couldn’t escape the drug problem because it was everywhere in this country.  I just wanted Brent to start fresh again.

Well, for Tico the move was a big success and for Brent, not so successful.  It was fine for a while.  We even had him serving at the restaurant when he turned 15.  He liked that because he made good money.  He did an excellent job, too.   I remember customers telling him that he looked like the young version of Elvis Presley.  It had been said quite a bit and I could see it, too, especially in his prom picture.  I remember on the day of his service I was driving to the funeral home when a car goes by and it had the license plate that said ELVIS.  Tell me that’s not pennies from heaven.   He seemed to like that. He also, started dating one of our servers, which was against the rules.  We really liked her.  Her name was Samantha but everyone called her Sam.  She was 3 years older than Brent.  Again Brent looked and acted mature for his age.  So I remember telling Brent that I wasn’t happy about this because we didn’t want any problems with employees.  I also, had a talk with Sam about not wanting this relationship to affect the business and our relationship.  She and I had a very nice relationship.  So we all had the agreement that work and love were 2 different things and that no matter what happened in their relationship, it wouldn’t affect ours.

I believe they were together for over a year.  There seemed to be many good months there of Brent being okay while he dated Sam.  I knew he smoked sometimes, but he wasn’t out of control.  That lasted awhile, until the end of summer of 2005.  He was 15, going to be a Jr.  We were in the process of changing the restaurant into a sports bar and grill.  So we were closed down during the changeover.  Bobby was there every day from 7:00 a.m. until around 11:00 p.m. and sometimes later.  I went in quite a bit just to run errands and feed the guys.  I wasn’t involved in this new venture.  Bobby had hired a kitchen manager and front end manager.

One day coming back from the restaurant Brent was in the house with 2 friends and he was hysterical laughing along with his friends.  Come to find out he had a bb in his hand, yes, literally in his hand.  He had decided that he wanted to see what an air bb gun felt like and checked it and it was empty but didn’t know that one was in the chamber. Well, there goes that intelligence I said he had.  My first reaction was “Are you high?”  He said “No.  Mom, I swear” I did find out a few years later that he was telling the truth.

So now I’ve got to take him to the emergency room to see if they can remove it and we had no health insurance.  They couldn’t and so I had to take him to a specialist.  That cost a fortune.

We had only closed the restaurant for 7 weeks and transformed it from a family restaurant to a sports bar and grill.  I believe that we were only open for 6 weeks when the front end manager and Bobby had an argument, and they both agreed that it wasn’t working out for either of them.  So I took over.

We opened September 22, 2005.  Brent was a junior and Tico was a freshman.  Brandon still lived at my mom’s house and was working as a DJ at night and with computers during the day.  I don’t remember exactly when, Brent ran away.  He and Sam were on and off together during this time and he was starting up again with marijuana.  He was gone for 8 days.  We couldn’t sleep.  No one knew where he was.  I had spoken with his school counselor and the dean to let them know what was going on.  I had a good relationship with the school.  They were always kind and helpful.  The dean also worked with the police department.  So finally after 5 days he told me I had better report it.  I did.  Meanwhile all these days we were trying to find him.  Because Sam worked with us I told her to please give me any info if she heard from him.  My eldest son Brandon was always good about tracking him down, as a matter of fact when he ran away one time in Romeoville, it was Brandon and his friend Kenny that found him.  Brandon went around Romeoville and spread the word that if anyone saw Brent to contact him.  On day 8 Brandon called me to say he’s on his way to get Brent and that I should get the police involved because he didn’t think that Brent would cooperate.  When Brandon got there he called me to let me know that Brent was at this take out place and he was with Sam.  Sam had been lying to me all those days.  I guess from her perspective at that time she was in love with him and he told her to promise not to tell us.  He had stayed with one friend the first couple of days and then stayed with her the rest of the time.

I ran out of our restaurant and went to Romeoville to meet him.  I contacted the dean and he advised me to stop at the Braidwood police department when done and that he’d have the chief of police talk to him to see if he could be motivated to a better path.  I called Bobby and told him to meet me at Braidwood police station.  I picked Brent up, from the Romeoville police station.  He had an “I don’t give a shit attitude” and had gotten his ear pierced.  I knew that wasn’t going to go over well with his father.

Off we went to the Braidwood police station; met Bobby and he took one look at Brent and said, “Take off that earing now.”  Brent refused and then Bobby told him to take it off or he would take it off for him.  Brent hesitated and then took it off. Now mind you when Bobby said this he had to look up at Brent because Brent was now 6’1”.  Bobby was 5’8”.  We went in the police station and the chief spoke to all of us; Bobby, Brandon, Brent and I.  Tico was in school and didn’t have to experience all this.

Now one of the many things that the chief had said to him was that if he tried to get physical with one of us that he would be put in jail for assault.  I guess he knew the psychology of a 15 year old boy.  The four of us got home and the first thing Brent did was run into his room, which I had “remodeled” when he ran away.  He yelled out “where’s my posters?” got angry and punched a hole in the wall.  I was in the bathroom when this started. I heard yelling and came running out to see him holding his father down and Brandon trying to get him off.  I called the police; they kept me on the phone with them.  Bobby finally got free.  Brent had something in his hand and Bobby had a belt.  The police came and took Brent away.  The reason Brent grabbed a hold of Bobby was because Bobby had a belt in his hand.  My husband had done this one time before.  Bobby just didn’t know what to do anymore.  I swear the hatred of Mario was still in my boy.  Yes I know some teens have a harder time than others, but this was insane.  This wasn’t the boy I raised.  Brent was never a bad person; moody, yes but he had a good heart.  All we wanted to do was save him from himself.   The confusion that this does to a household is rough for the family.  We tried many things; motivational and also punishment as in grounding him.  One time Bobby bought him a 2005 collector’s edition Mustang; to motivate him.  Yes, a Mustang.  That’s called desperation on his part because I never would’ve done that. My philosophy was, “if you want a car, go to work and get one.”  Needless to say I wasn’t very happy when my husband did this.  I looked at him and said’ “Are you crazy, a mustang for a 16 year old boy?”  Fortunately, Brent took after me.  He couldn’t be bought.  The Mustang is still here.  He didn’t want it then or ever for that matter.

What had happened while I was in the bathroom was when Brent yelled out from his room and punched the wall Bobby was going to discipline him, right or wrong it’s what happened.  Bobby had done once before the year before.  I remember I had backed him up on the decision because nothing was working.  The most my husband or I ever did was give a smack on the butt.  Bobby wasn’t a violent man and really didn’t believe in hitting but this was getting absolutely insane, we had no control over this child.  I mean all 3 of my boys were raised in the same household and here’s my middle child behaving like this.

Brent had committed assault so therefore he was going off to juvy.  They told me I’d have to go to court in the morning, and to be there at 9.  Just writing about this brings back such awful feelings, because I loved my son and couldn’t understand what was happening.  I motivated my kids, their needs were taken care of, and they learned work ethic and responsibility.  They knew to respect their elders and family.  They knew the importance of school.  Their life wasn’t so bad.

The morning finally came and of course Bobby was going to go to work and not come with to the courthouse, even though he should’ve.  So Brandon met me there and we went in.  What I was about to witness was for me horrible and what I was about to do, many parents wouldn’t understand, but I had to save my son and discipline, counseling and love just wasn’t working.  We went into the courtroom; Brent was called and in came my son from the side door in a blue one-piece suit, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles.  There are no words to describe this feeling.   I was in shock and sick to my stomach.  This was no way to see my son.

Prior to going in the room, his assigned defense attorney and I spoke and she said to me, “So you taking him home today?”  I replied “No”.  She asked me if I was sure with what I was doing and she didn’t seem to agree with me.  I had to save him. He was my boy.  Of course I didn’t want him in prison but we had tried so much and nothing was working, so I felt he had to learn that his life wasn’t so bad.

On that unforgettable day I preceded to testify against my son and let them lock him up for 2 weeks until the next court date.  I believe the judge and the prosecuting attorney knew what I was up to, but Brent’s defense attorney didn’t. I did all that without shedding one tear, until Brandon and I left the courtroom and then we both lost it.

I’ll never forget doing this.  I don’t know where the strength came to do this.  I wanted my son home with me; I didn’t want someone else taking care of my boy, especially the government.  I wasn’t trying to shove my responsibilities on to someone else, but nothing worked.  When I told my family they thought I was crazy.  They weren’t very happy with the decision, but at the time they didn’t know how bad things had gotten.

This happened in November.  What the hell is it with November?  I remember it was the first time we had a Thanksgiving missing a family member, other than my father, but he had passed.  Little did I know what would happen again, six years later.  We visited him on Thanksgiving.  He wouldn’t even look at us.  You could see hatred in his eyes.  It was heartbreaking, but I wasn’t going to give up.

The two weeks went by rather slowly.  The court date came.  I spoke with Brent’s attorney and told her I wanted supervision for him so that he could keep his name clean.  We got that.  He had to plead guilty and got one year of supervision.  He had to go to rehab twice a week and be clean for a year.  He would also be tested regularly.  We came home. The first days were uncomfortable, but I proved to my son how much I loved him and believe it or not, from that point on Brent and I became even closer.  Not only did we get along well we could get in to so many conversations.  He would tell me things for the next 6 years that most young men don’t communicate with their parents.  I don’t mean real personal things but we cold pretty much talk about anything under the sun.  Oh how I miss those days! We’d sit on the front step, smoking cigarettes and talking about everything under the sun: life, people, religion, aliens, God, reincarnation, life after death, you name it.  With Brent all conversations were intellectual, spiritual, in other words a learning experience for both of us.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss those days.  Brent was the only one I could converse with like this.  It was a two-way conversation; we were both participants in the conversation, making each other think.  I love all 3 of my sons, not one more than the other, but I have to admit that Brent and I were the closest.

Brent went back in school and went to rehab twice a week.   Tico was in Basketball and Brandon was growing his DJ business.  He also did the Karaoke at our place.  It was Brandon who built up the Wednesday nights.  All went well for a few months, until one night I was out with a friend having dinner and Brent called me to say that he had gotten a “dirty drop”; a urine test that showed drugs in his system, marijuana to be precise.  He tried to cover it up as well.  Now he had to make a choice, go to treatment or go to jail.

I found an inpatient rehab about an hour away from home.   The initial two weeks we were not allowed to see him.  Visitations were on Saturdays.  I also attended counseling sessions with him on Thursdays.  Brent and I were already close, but this brought us even closer.  When Brent got out of juvy he wasn’t very happy with his dad or me.  But as the time went on he realized that I wasn’t his enemy.  After four months he was released. The counselor told me this was considered early because the average was six months.    He had a good family support system.  It was great having him home.

Well now we had to deal with the school situation.  The school had worked with him all this time, because he was doing his schoolwork at the rehab place.  He also had to do course work with a state affiliated place online.  Even through all this Brent graduated high school early.  So not only did he skip 8th grade, go through rough teen experiences, but he graduated a semester early.  He had just turned 17 a couple of weeks before.  Now he had to figure out what to do with his future.  Of course it’s got to be college, because that’s what I had taught my sons.  However Brandon was twenty-four and had already tried college and decided it wasn’t for him.  It was disappointing for me but you can’t force it on people.

Summer began and Brent had no interest in participating in his graduation ceremony.  He wasn’t with Sam anymore.  That relationship had ended shortly after his eight day runaway experience.  I believe after he finished high school he got a job at a local pizza place.  That didn’t work out for long.  He eventually came home and informed me that he’s going to join the Army National Guard.  He said that he felt he needed the discipline and structure.  I agreed and was proud of him; but really scared.  He still used marijuana, but not like he did in the past.

Why did Brent use marijuana?  Brent explained to me when he was 14 or 15 years old that it calmed his mind down.  He said that his mind was constantly thinking and wouldn’t stop.  I wonder if that’s why he read so much.  He was always reading a book.

 

NEW BEGINNIGS

In August of 2007, Tico and I took Brent to sign up and take his exam.   He did great on the exam so was able to get his 1st job choice which was to be a medic.  While he was taking the exam the gentleman there was trying to get Tico interested and I cut in and told him that he was getting one of my sons, not two of them.  Brent signed up and had to have my signature because he was only 17.  He then had to take a physical at a later date.  Finally the day came when he went to swear in.  In November he began his required one weekend per month.

The big day finally came on February 5, 2008 for him to leave for basic training.  We brought him to a hotel near O’Hare airport to send him on his way to Fort Benning, Georgia. There were definitely mixed feelings.  It was a rough day because Brent decided that he should party before going, but we got him there.  The ride home though was a quiet one.

April 24, 2008 wasn’t going to come fast enough.  This was the day set for his basic training graduation. The changes taking place in my boy were great, but most importantly, he was happy.   I could feel it in his letters.  I wrote him almost every day or sent cards.   He had to do 25 push-ups per letter and still he wanted more letters.   He wrote me back some letters, but not a lot.  His letters started with, “Dear OG”.  OG stands for “original gangsta”, the boss, the strong one.  He had started calling me that sometime during rehabHis girl Jessica stills calls me that.  He was very busy in basic training.  He loved it.  Although he missed us, he had finally found his calling.  He wasn’t bored anymore.

My God why does this have to be so painful?  I love him so much.  I miss him so much.  I miss hearing his voice yell from his bedroom upstairs, “Mamaaa, are you going to cook something?  I’m hungry.  I want him back, please God.

One of the funniest stories that I remember from his basic training was one in which he was writing me.  There was little time for writing letters so he might have a paragraph or a few sentences written then write a little more later.  On this particular night when he was writing me another soldier had been pestering him.  He told him to shut up.  Unfortunately for him it wasn’t a fellow soldier.  It was the drill sergeant.  He told me right after he said it he knew he just screwed up.  Everyone had to get up and do push-ups for 5 minutes, but not Brent.  No he had to stand in front of them all and repeatedly say,” Shut up drill Sargent”, for the entire five minutes.  I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time but we laughed about that one.  Another time he and another soldier weren’t cleaning up as they were supposed to and got caught so they had to go up and down stairs carrying buckets of water or ice.  That’s how they get built up!

Graduation was nearing.  This was going to be Brent’s first graduation ceremony.  Remember he skipped 8th grade graduation, and he finished high school early, so all he had in his pocket was a kindergarten graduation.  Most of the family and a couple friends flew down there.   We had four hotel rooms. We had an awesome time.  I saw a Brent that had changed so much.  He was disciplined, and very happy to see his family.

The boys. Tico, Brandon, Brent, Bobby, Anthony & Michael.

The boys. Tico, Brandon, Brent, Bobby, Anthony & Michael.

I’ll never forget him calling me ma’am the whole weekend.  That was truly bizarre. We all had a good time.  It was great to see him doing well.  He was happy and I truly felt he found his way.

We left on Sunday or Monday and so did he because after they finish basic they then go on to AIT, Advanced Individual Training.  His was going to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, for four months to train to be a medic.  Tico, Mary, and I went to see him in July. It wasn’t a good time to go to Texas.  It was very hot and humid.  Again, I found him happy.  This is when he told us that he would be with HHC 178TH Infantry, in Chicago.  The four of us were eating at a restaurant when he told us and then he hit us with the rest of the news.  Yes, he would be going to Afghanistan shortly after finishing AIT.  I remember that Mary and I just dropped our forks.  It wouldn’t surprise me if food fell from our mouths because it was a shocker.  Don’t get me wrong, I knew that it was more likely that he would go than not, but I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon.

I’ll never forget that weekend.  We had such a nice time.  I got to meet 2 close friends of his, Charlie Patterson and Chris Nigh.  We stayed at a nice hotel with an outdoor pool and hung out there most of the time.  Brent and his friends couldn’t stay overnight but we got to be with each other all weekend.

He came home in August for 3 weeks.  We had a welcome home/going away party for him.  It was great!   All of Brent & Tico’s friends came and joined our family and friends.  We had a big cook-out and everyone had an awesome time.  This is also the time that I find out Brent was dating Jessica, one of the hostesses at our bar.  Yes he did it again and broke the rules.  I remember telling Jess to please keep business separate from pleasure.  Little did I know at that time that Brent had met the woman of his dreams, his best friend and his soul mate?  Turned out the feeling was mutual.

Jessica, Brent and our good friend Edith at Brent’s going away party.

Jessica, Brent and our good friend Edith at Brent’s going away party.

Deployment, Hurry Up and Wait

“Mortalhood is a fine state to visit,

But you better not call it home.”

Messiah’s Handbook

 

The day came we had to drive Brent to HHC so he could deploy to Afghanistan.  What a difficult thing to do.  None of us were jumping up and down with happiness.  Even Brent became quiet and very serious.  We were all at the restaurant, including Jessica.  We then brought him to HHC.  I remember feeling empty, afraid, proud, worried, concerned, well, you get the idea.  We drove home, all of us quiet.

That evening about 8:30 p.m. the phone rang, it was Brent.  Gosh it was awesome to hear his voice.  It had only been 4 hours since I last saw him, but it felt as if he had been gone already. He was so happy because they weren’t leaving yet and he was given permission to leave for the night. He asked if I could pick him up.  Well I was ecstatic, of course I would.  So I drove an hour to get him.  It was great to see him; of course he wanted to be with Jess and his friends, but that was fine with me.

He had to return in the morning.  A day or so later he called me and asked if I could bring him something, I forget what it was but I believe it was an excuse to see me.  So I went again.  We only had a few minutes together but it was great just to see him.  The parents and spouses of military will understand truly all this.  He finally left for Fort Bragg, for more training before he would ship off to Afghanistan.

Our lives continued. We worked, Brandon on his DJ business and Tico on school.  One morning in October I arrived at the restaurant.  I would normally enter through the front door but this day I went to the back.  I saw an army guy standing at the back door smoking with his back to me.  My heart was pounding.  He turned around and there was my boy.  I was screaming and crying.  It had only been 2 or 3 weeks since he left.  As I’ve learned being an army mom.  The military’s policy is to hurry up and wait.  Am I right?   There was Brent standing before me.  He had arrived home the night before and surprised Jess too.  They were given the weekend off before deployingI remember that day as if it were happening now.

My Surprise Visit

My Surprise Visit

You’re probably thinking; my God at what point do they actually leave?  At the end of October 2009, he finally left for Afghanistan.  We spoke a couple times while they were en route to Afghanistan.  Finally after traveling so much he did reach his destination and I got his address.  He was at FOB MEHTER LAM, in between Kabul and Jalalabad, Afghanistan.  My son was physically so far away, but he was so close in my heart.

We wrote to each other a lot: emails, letters, etc. Sometimes we even spoke by phone.  I sent him snacks, movies, and anything I thought would help him to know that we were all here waiting for him.

He saved every letter he ever got; even all the cards and letters that I sent him when he was a teen in rehab. After he died I gave family members the letters and cards that they had sent him.   Jess took a picture of all of hers and had it on FB.  It’s touching to know that he saved everything.

Once he called me and asked me to get a gift for Jessica for Valentine’s Day.   He told me to get an opal necklace, (Opal was her birthstone) but I saw a pretty opal ring, I thought it was a nicer gift.  Unfortunately, I was wrong; I got the riot act read to me.  I guess that he and Jess had an agreement that a ring would be something for the future like their engagement.  So I exchanged it and got a necklace.  Her birthday fell on a Saturday.  She and I were at work when I presented the necklace to her.  She was so happy.  I will never forget the experience of giving that gift to Jess.  It was wonderful to see her reaction and how in love she was with my son. I’ll always feel fortunate for this experience. 

Jessica, the day she got her gift from Brent.

Jessica, the day she got her gift from Brent.

Well, the year went on and although I was busy working, life just wasn’t the same.  Bobby would always tell me not to worry, that Brent would be fine, but as a mom I think it’s normal to worry about our children, no matter how old they are.

In July of 2009 the deployment was getting ready to end for COLD STEELE OEF 2009, Brent’s Unit’s deployment.  We didn’t know exactly when his deployment would end as that’s kept secret but we knew it had to be ending soon since deployments are no more than a year.  The last couple of weeks they are supposed to relax and go through reintegration training.  No offense to the Army National Guard, but according to Brent, it was a joke.  Jess and I went to a seminar for reintegration that was given for spouses and family members. I learned a little, but it wasn’t enough.

What really happens is that they are sent home and given 3 months off and then go back to one weekend per month.  Now that might sound great, but these guys were at war, under pressure and living a life that is absolutely nothing like home.  They’ve gone through things and seen things that we cannot imagine or understand.  Coming home is great, but also, shocking.

August arrived and we received word that they were on their way.  We heard from Brent when they arrived to the U.S.A.  The date was set for their official arrival when they would be formally dismissed from deployment, on August 3, 2009 at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears play.  Well, that day couldn’t arrive fast enough.  Jess and I got to Soldier Field at 7:00 a.m.   We didn’t want to be late or deal with traffic.  The event was set for 11:00. The only people there when we arrived were the people that had been assigned to set up.  Fortunately we were allowed to come in and help them.  Little by little people started to arrive, and before you knew it, it was packed.  We had signs, so did others, there were children dressed in military uniforms, waiting for their dads.  The experience was unbelievable, most of my family came and so did my some of my friends.  We got news that the bus had arrived.

Welcome Home Sign

They were all lined up and at attention when the order was given, “Dismissed.” Oh my God,  it was awesome! Everyone ran around trying to find their loved ones, hugging and kissing and crying.  There were yells of sheer happiness and joy.   Jess and I and just about everyone else in the family went charging looking for Brent, except my husband Bobby.  He remained his calm, cool self and of course, Brent came walking calmly right to his dad as we were all over the place trying to find him.  I’m sure this was a hysterical sight to see.  All the local news had crews there covering the event.  They even said how much they liked it because it was happy news.

Soldier Field Reunion

Finally, my son was home safe.  I remember him asking if it would be okay if he drove back with Jessica.   I know he thought I was going to be disappointed, but to his surprise I said of course it would be fine.  I understood.  I was just so ecstatic that he was back.  We’d have plenty of time together.  We all met for lunch first and then headed back home.

We arrived home from lunch before he did.  He had put his stuff in my car.  Bobby already left to go to work when I realized his stuff was in the car.  Just then our neighbor Mary was outside and I asked her if she could help me bring his bag in.  I still don’t know how we did it.  It had to weigh over 150 lbs.  I can’t imagine how these guys carry this around in the heat and wear everything else that they do. They’re amazing.  Brent stopped back at the house to let me know that he was going to hang with some friends.  I just asked him to come see the surprise in his bedroom first.  He loved it.  Thank God.  I had redone his room and painted the logo from his favorite band ICP, Insane Clown Posse, the hatchet man in his room.

Insance Clown Posse

 

 

 

 

 

The Forgotten Hero by Marsha Ortega

by Marsha Ortega This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

by Marsha Ortega
This is the story of an American family at war and the son whose life, and then death, are haunted by the specter of PTSD.

Part 1 

This book is dedicated to my son, Brent.  He had a laugh that you couldn’t forget; it was contagious. It was exactly what the world needs these days.  His way of speaking and putting things in perspective was, at least to me, unique. He had neither fear nor regret in telling someone “like it is.”  He was direct and to the point.

I’ll give you an example of Brent’s directness. One of my employees, a young lady that didn’t know him very well, told me about a conversation they had while working together one night.

“We were working behind the bar together and it was slow.  I started complaining about my relationship at the time and how unhappy I was about how my ex was treating me.  Brent said to me, “Stop being an idiot and ditch the guy!  You are way too pretty to waste time with some douchebag who doesn’t know how to treat you!  If you are unhappy, it’s your own fault for staying with him!”  I was in shock at how direct he was…  He walked back over minutes later and said, “Why don’t you ditch the zero and get with a hero…” And winked. I even wrote it down in my journal because even my best friends aren’t that direct and honest with me…  He really was a good guy Marsha.  I regret that I had not gotten to know him more.”

A good acquaintance of mine (much younger than I) told me how much she would have liked to have gotten to know him, and not just know him as a friend, but also in an intimate way.  She felt a strong attraction to him.  She felt that he was so unique, intelligent and special.  She didn’t want me to take it disrespectfully and I didn’t.  I took it as a compliment and understood what she meant.

I wrote this book to honor my son who left us too early at the young age of 21.  It is also to honor all of our men and women in the military that volunteer to protect our freedom.  As you may already know, there are many heroes among them. Many have died while away at war.  What you may not know is how many die here after returning home, because of the war.  It is this that I want you to understand.  Even though their deaths are not by a mortar attack or an IED they are still dying here, at home, of psychological wounds.   In my opinion the military isn’t doing enough to prevent these tragedies, nor are they providing enough help for those in uniform when they come back.  I’m not saying that they do nothing. I just believe that since service members have been faced with this problem a lot more than the average person, the government should do more.  Yes, they do have reintegration for the soldiers’ return back home after deployment; however, I’ve been told by more than one soldier, including my son that, “It’s a joke.”

It’s sad to think that as hard as our Vietnam vets fought for the many benefits that our vets get now, our military still hasn’t taken care of a huge issue, like PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury and finally the high suicide rates that are taking place.  I realize that the military is meant to be strong and that’s how they train these men and women, so I’m not saying the military should become weak in their training, but because of how bad the problem has become, I believe they need to be more involved with a cure.

These men and women are no less heroes than the ones who died at war.  They aren’t weak, but are made to feel weak.  Anyone that knew my son knew he was a strong individual, mentally and physically.   When diagnosed with PTSD they can forget about moving up or trying to further their career in the military.  Many have to seek help outside the military so that it doesn’t go on their record.

I started this book 14 months after my son passed away.  My intent for the reader is to meet Brent.  Although he was unique to me, he also represents so many young men and women these days.  You may or may not relate to him or my family but what I truly want you to get out of this is that there’s a problem that exists.  Brent had his whole life ahead of him with goals and dreams.  But he got robbed of them due to his PTSD, and an unknown physical ailment that was never determined.  I’d like you to also learn what happens to the survivors; the family and friends.

There truly are no words to describe the pain involved of losing a loved one, especially your child. The disruption rips through the entire family’s life.   Our lives have been drastically changed forever.  We will never be the same.  The sad thing is that it could have been prevented.  I remember while working on this book, I started researching PTSD’s history, which used to be called shell shock.  This goes back as far as World War I; I’m sure further than that.  What amazes me is that since it’s such an old issue related to war; how is it possible that the problem is getting worse?  Although the military does have types of therapy on bases, and interventions for these men and women, it isn’t an easy process to go through, especially when a person is already suffering with it.

Many of you may have already been affected by this or could be in the future.   Our soldiers come home and they are our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, neighbors, etc. This will eventually affect us all.  We need to hold the military accountable for not addressing this more.  I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of negative comments that arise when speaking of a VA hospital.  I’m not going to say all, but I have to agree with the negativity, at least in my experience, both with my son and my father.  I guess it proves that government should not be in charge of these things.

I must thank everyone involved in their support, not only for the book, but their support through this very painful time.  My husband Bobby, my sons Brandon and Tico, my mom, my sisters, my brother, Jessica, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, friends, employees and TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.  I’m forever thankful to all of them.

Finally, I ask all men and women who have PTSD to please find help.  You mean a lot to your families and friends and you should especially mean something to yourselves.  You to need to get help for yourself for your own health and for your family and friends.  You deserve to be happy.

The Decision

“With every choice you risk the life you would have had; with every decision, you lose it.”

  -Messiah’s Handbook by Richard Bach

It was March of 1989.  The decision was made. I got on the plane with my 5 year old son, Brandon. We were about to have a drastic change in our lives.  We were moving to Cerro Azul, Mexico, in the state of Tampico.

I was moving there because that’s where Bobby was going. He was the man I fell in love with.  He went back to Mexico with the plan that Brandon and I would join him there.  Things weren’t going so well here for him.  Also my family didn’t accept him.  So I decided to follow him, even though everyone under the sun told me not to.  Did I have doubts with what I was doing?  YES.  Did I think I was crazy? YES.  But I thought that it would be a great learning experience for Brandon and me. I also have to admit that I loved it there.  Brandon was 5 and I knew he was at the perfect age to learn the language fast and I needed practice because I had just graduated the year before with a Spanish major.  I wanted to be a Spanish teacher.

Little did I know the lives that would be affected that day by my decision.

 

Celebrating Brent's 21st birthday at our business.

Celebrating Brent’s 21st birthday at our business. Ten months and twenty days before that unforgettable day.

 

A Mother’s Nightmare

They say a wife who loses a husband is called a widow.  A husband, who loses a wife, is called a widower, a child who loses his parents, an orphan, but there are no words for a parent who loses a child.

It was Thanksgiving, November 24, 2011.  An unusual one for that matter, because most of my family, including my mom, sisters Tina and Angela, their husbands, my  brothers-n-law Mike and Tony and their kids, my nieces and nephews , Angela, Michael, Jenna, Gianna, Nicole, and Matt were in Florida.  Normally everyone is together for Thanksgiving but they decided to do something different that year. We were invited but having a restaurant/bar business made it hard for us to leave.

We decided that Bobby would cook and we would eat at our restaurant. It would be my husband, my 3 sons, Brandon, Brent and Tico, my Brother Anthony and his wife Kuni, my Uncle Frank and I.   It was set for 3:00 P.M., because we didn’t open the kitchen that day, we just had to open the bar at 5:00.  Bobby and I were there, my uncle showed up a couple of minutes later and then Tico came in.  Of course Brandon would be late and, even though Brent said he’d be there, we weren’t sure because there had been some problems.

I texted Brandon and Brent at 3:34 to ask if they were on their way. I knew the exact time because I still have it on my phone.  Brandon replied, be there in 15 min.  No response from Brent, so we waited.  Brandon came we started serving, of course wondering if Brent was going to come.

It was almost 5:00 P.M. now, I was talking to my uncle and we were finishing our Thanksgiving meal.  Bobby was turning on the signs and lights getting the bar ready to open, Tico and Brandon had gone in the back after Tico saw something on his phone.  They were acting weird.  Bobby had just got done asking me what was going on with them when I was on my way to the back to find out, and then I heard Brandon yelling.  It wasn’t a normal yell, it was a yell of pain, excruciating pain.   I ran in back and Brandon was beside himself and Tico in a state of shock.  Tico informed me that Brent was in the coroner’s office.

I yelled out “DAMN IT BRENT, I KNEW IT.”  This reaction may seem insane, but Brent had not been well the last few weeks and things had gotten very bad the last month.   Apparently, Tico had gotten a call from a friend of his from out of state who had heard Brent had passed. He of course knew nothing about it. This friend had heard from another friend who had heard from another.  So Tico called Marilyn (not her real name), the person Brent had been with the night before and found out that it was true.  He was gone.

 

 The Beginning

“A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.”- Unknown

 It was January 3, 1990 at 9:30 p.m. My mom was at the gym; Bobby had just returned from Mexico that day or the day before.  I’m not sure because that was 23 years ago and all I remember is that I wasn’t even sure that it would work out between us. Brandon and I had already returned from Mexico back in August, that drastic change just wasn’t for us. Bobby kept telling me one more month, one more month. I knew he was upset because I didn’t stay or at least wait for him to so we could return together.  All I wanted was to be home in the U.S.A. with my family.  Also, Brandon had to start first grade in August, so I had to get him registered.

My water broke.  I called my mom at the gym to tell her that it was time to go to the hospital.  I called Bobby too to let him know.  So on Thursday, Jan. 4, 1990, 1:44 p.m. Brent Anthony Filipello was born, 20 ½ inches and 8lbs 10 oz. I had front and back labor with him which was quite painful.   He was not a happy camper.  Honestly, when I first saw him I thought to myself how dark he was and that he looked very Indian.  I mean no disrespect, but it’s just a crazy thought that entered my mind.  It’s amazing that I gave birth to 3 beautiful healthy sons, but each one entered the world differently, Brandon was singing, actually cooing.   Brent was angry, as if to say, “I REALLY didn’t want to come back here again.” And Tico entered as if to say, “okay here I am everything is just cool.”   I know there are moms out there that can relate to this, because our children are connected to us; the umbilical cord, although physically cut, spiritually it isn’t.  I’ve always felt connected to my 3 sons whether they wanted to or not, LOL.

 

My Little Indian Boy

My Little Indian Boy

I left the hospital with Brent and we went straight to my mom’s house. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Bobby was just back from Mexico, and we had lost the business that we had started there.

We moved into an apartment when Brent was 2 months old.   We had a car, a crib, 2 beds and Bobby got a job.  We sat on the floor to eat.  When Brent was 4 months old Bobby informed me that I had to start working because his income just wasn’t enough.  I knew this was true but I really wanted to stay home with my boys.  So I got a job as a server part-time at the same place he was working.  It was difficult because our hours were different.  I had to find someone to watch Brandon and Brent.  My sister Tina and our friends Sharon and Wayne came to the rescue.  Also, my sister-in-law Socorro, Bobby’s bother Mario’s wife, helped out.

Brent was 6 months old, and Brandon was 7 when I got pregnant again!  Well, at least we had our $89.99 special kitchen table and 4 chairs. We had a couch and TV!  Woohoo, living the American dream.  Brent was finally getting over being colicky.  Only parents who’ve had a child that has colic can truly understand how difficult it is to have a child that cries and screams and nothing you do helps them.   One day, so tired and unable to solve his problem, I put him in his swing while he was screamed away. I decided to vacuum just so I could drown out the crying and 30 seconds later he conked out.  I was thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me, all this time we suffered, Tina, Sharon, Wayne & Socorro suffered with Brent’s colic too, and all we needed to do was put the vacuum on.  So from then on that’s what we did to calm him down.

It’s funny how when we look back at someone’s life how we can sometimes come up with answers about them and their life.  I truly believe that Brent finished his mission on earth.  Whether it was a debt he had to pay from a previous life or lessons he had to learn or teach all of us.   I know we are still learning his lessons and I know that he is still with me every day; helping me.

Finally, the colicky episodes stopped. They were replaced with crying and holding his breath until he turned purple.  One time he passed out from holding his breath so long.  He scared me half to death.  He started this when he was about 4 or 5 months old.

As the months went on he became quite humorous, he used to make this face that we named the monkey face.  Everyone knew about it, even the doctor’s office.  I remember the receptionist asking us to ask him to make the monkey face.  Everyone would laugh.

 

The Famous Monkey-Face

The Famous Monkey Face

On May 4, 1991, Tico was born.  Brent and Tico are 15 months apart, to the day.  Of course Tico isn’t his real name, its Robert Jonathon.  I had wanted to name him Brian because I didn’t want any of the boys to have nicknames.  There isn’t much you can do with Brandon, Brent and Brian, but Bobby wanted Robert after his name and since I won with Brent, I let him have his way.

It’s strange but I’ve always felt that my boys were mine.  It’s selfish I guess, but I still feel that way.

Tico got his name from Sharon.  We called him Robertico, “little Robert” in Spanish.  My friend Sharon said that she couldn’t say all that, it was a tongue twister.  So she started calling him Tico; and that name stuck.  There went my plan for no nicknames.

Brent was to be named Michael, at least according to Bobby, but I named him Brent Anthony. For the longest time Bobby would call Brent, Miguel which is Michael in Spanish.  He told his family to call him that as well. He told them that his name was Miguel, until finally one time when I was in Mexico with Brent and 7 months pregnant with Tico, our niece Veronica asked me why I was calling him Brent and so I told her because that’s his name.

I remember how when I would feed Tico Brent started leaving the room and would go into another room with his bottle.  I used to have to bring him back by me.   Brent was so used to lying on me or next to me that I think he was confused or jealous.  He would just go in the other room and lay on the floor.  He looked as if he were meditating or looking into another world in deep thought.

I wonder if he knew what was yet to come and how he was going to complete his mission or debt in this lifetime.  I wonder if he knows how much I miss him. Yes, he does.

One of the things I started noticing about Brent was his intelligence.  Tico started on the bottle around 3 months, even though I breast fed all my kids, I had to stop earlier with Tico because pumping just didn’t work well with me and I had to work.   So we discovered that Brent would take Tico’s bottle when we weren’t looking.  Fortunately he didn’t realize that sound travels yet and that’s how we discovered that.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I shoved a bottle in my kids’ mouth and let them be, but there were occasions they might all be watching TV or something and I went to the bathroom and lo and behold Tico would cry because big bro took his bottle.  On one occasion we had had some guests in from Mexico staying with us and my husband’s good friend Joel was laying down and Brent had gotten Tico’s bottle and shoved it in Joel’s mouth, I guess he didn’t want to get caught with it and gave it to the wrong person.  What makes this even funnier is that Joel was an older person, probably in his 60’s at the time, with the old fashioned ideas (what we here would call a macho Mexican) and there’s our Brent shoving a bottle in his mouth.  I’m sure Brent and Joel are laughing now as I tell this story.

It’s sad but Joel passed away 5 months after Brent.  I remember how difficult this was for Bobby and of course Joel’s family.  I bring this up because 2-3 weeks after Joel passed I had an appointment with a psychic-medium.  I went of course to see if I could communicate with Brent.  This person came highly recommended.  So when she started to tell me things first of my dad, my grandfather, then she tells me that another man joins me to let me know that all is well.  She described him to me as an older man, all gray hair, and he’s bald but always takes his hair and combs it over the bald spot. She tells me that he is known for this.  I of course can’t for the life of me figure out who she’s talking about because I was obsessed with talking to Brent.  It wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me like a brick, JOEL!!  I felt rather bad that I didn’t realize who she had been talking about, but anyone who has lost a dear one knows that la la land is the way of life for the living after the death of a loved one especially your own child.  

I was in a daze for a long time.  I still am at times.  I believe it’s what helps us get through this.  It must be something in the body or soul, so that we can deal with the pain, because when I’m not in a daze, oh my God, the pain is horrendous.  I might add for those of you that don’t believe in psychics that this was probably the most convincing piece because there’s no way that she could have found this info out.  Even when describing Brent, I was amazed at how much she knew.  She described how she saw him, his mannerisms and behavior; things she couldn’t have known.

Time was moving on, when Tico was born we had a very small 2 bedroom apartment, Brandon was 8, Brent 15 months and my newborn Tico.  I told my husband we need to get something bigger and I wanted to move back to Naperville so that Brandon could go back to school there and I would be closer to my family.  Obviously a house was out of the question, especially in Naperville, we were definitely not in that income bracket.  So we found an apartment on the south end of Naperville.  It was still 2 bedrooms but definitely had more room, so we moved.

I can remember how Brent started to learn language and speak. One of the things that I always thought was so cute was when we would get home from me working or grocery shopping or taking Brandon to sports.  We lived on the second floor, no elevator and I used to say to him “You want me to carry you”.  Well sometimes he’d walk up the steps and other times wouldn’t.  When he started talking and expressing himself, when we’d get to the stairs he’d stop and put his arms up and say “carry you.” The first time he said it I was confused, but there he was at 1 ½ figuring out language and repeating what I had said “carry you.”

Brent loved chocolate cake, I mean he loved cake in general, but chocolate would put him in heaven.  I have a couple of pictures of him eating cake and you can see the glaze over his eyes and excitement he had for cake.  Besides that, he never had an appetite problem; I guess he got that from me because I love to eat too.  I can honestly say for his entire short period of life that he had he always loved chocolate cake.  I remember going out to eat through the years and it would always be Brent and I ordering the chocolate cake and we would so enjoy it as others would just look at us, I guess they just couldn’t understand.   Jessica knew too, how much he loved chocolate cake but she came to realize even more of it on the day her and I were preparing pictures for his service, she was amazed at how many pictures there were of him eating cake.

TFH Cake Face

My mom recently reminded me of how Brent, at around the age of 2, had a problem with things ending.  I basically mean anything that he truly enjoyed.  You’re probably thinking well that’s normal for anyone, but here’s an example.  We would only watch a movie he liked on the VCR, because we had to be able to rewind it so that it wouldn’t end.  If it ended Brent would just stand there and cry, “I don’t want it to be over”.  This happened to the point that the whole family knew about it.  The worst was ET, this movie definitely couldn’t end.  One time we had Tico’s one year old birthday party and he was watching a Van Damn movie (thanks to Brandon’s influence), thank God it was on video and the movie ended.  Well the world came to an end because all anyone could hear was Brent crying and yelling “I WANT VAN DAM”.  My sister Angela tells this story to this day and does a great imitation of him and we laugh and laugh.   This was her husband’s first meeting of the family; I can’t imagine what he was thinking, but I guess it couldn’t have been that bad since he married my sister.

I can remember one time we went to the Renaissance Fair and they had a puppet show, Brent was no more than 4, probably more like 3 ½.  He was so fascinated with the puppet show, Punch & Judy that when it ended he fell apart and started crying.  He wouldn’t stop.  We even brought him to the workers that were doing the show so that they assured him it would be on again in a couple of hours.  We of course brought him back to see it again. It took him quite a while to stop crying from the end of the first show. I guess I find that peculiar.  I did then and still do.  I haven’t met anyone yet that had that issue.

Well, now it’s less than a year after we got the apartment, when I inform Bobby, that we need a house. I told him that the kids need a yard. He looks at me and says but you said you’d be happy here. Bobby could never understand my way of always setting goals and trying to move ahead, not just financially but in all aspects, I had wanted to grow and had the same ideas for my boys.   It wasn’t until years later that Bobby could understand my ways or should I say, adjusted to them.

 

The School Years

A Letter from Heaven

“When tomorrow starts without me,

And I’m not here to see,

If the sun should rise and find your eyes,

Filled with tears for me.

I wish so much you wouldn’t cry,

The way you did today,

While thinking of the many things,

We didn’t get to say.

 

I know how much you love me,

As much as I love you,

And each time you think of me,

I know you’ll miss me too.

 

When tomorrow starts without me,

Don’t think we’re far apart,

For every time you think of me,

I’m right here in your heart.”

 

Words of Wisdom-www.Facebook.com/Daveswordsofwisdom

TFH School Years 

 We moved to the house in Romeoville. Brandon was 9, starting the 4th grade; Brent was 2 ½, and Tico 1 year.   I was so excited and scared. I was happy to have a home for the kids but at the same time I didn’t know anyone other than my good friend Sharon and her husband Wayne in Romeoville.   I was also fearful of how the schools would be for Brandon. Unfortunately, he would have to transfer again.

We lived in our Romeoville home for 12 years. I took Brandon out of the public school there and he started St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic School.  Their classes were preschool through 8th. We were very happy with our decision, but of course my husband was worried how we were going to afford it.  I gave my usual response that I wasn’t sure but we had to find the way.

Well the day came for Brent to start preschool.  I have to say it went well, but of course it did prove my thoughts of how intelligent he was.  The teacher told me at the end of the year that he would’ve been fine had he gone to kindergarten but we kept him with his age group.

I can remember when he was in kindergarten, Brandon was in 7th and Tico was in preschool which was only a half day of school. I was in my first year of teaching, so I left at 6 in the morning and got home at 3 and Bobby started work 11:00 a.m. He worked until 10:00 p.m.  So there was always someone home for the kids. Getting Tico however, was a challenge. My mom and dad helped a lot through the years so I was fortunate to always have family watching the kids and never had child care costs which of course, we couldn’t afford anyway.  My dad would come to pick up Tico which was about a 20-25 minute ride well suddenly Brent started “feeling sick” around 11:30. So my dad who was picking up Tico and already home or just about home would end up going right back to the school to pick up Brent.  There were no cell phones then.  This started to happen frequently, and I was feeling bad because my dad was going through this, and of course Brent would always be fine shortly afterwards.  So, I decided to ask the teacher what was going on in class at this time, she responded, that it was coloring time.  Well Brent didn’t like coloring. He enjoyed it for a while up to preschool, as a matter of fact he won first prize in some contest, but after that I guess it ended.  Typical Brent, he accomplished something and then on to the next new thing.  The teacher and I chatted that unless he had a fever or appeared REALLY sick he wasn’t going to bama and papa’s house. I also spoke to Brent and of course I was right. He wasn’t happy about the coloring but knew he didn’t have a choice.

Obviously, I need to explain the name Bama before I continue.  My mom who the kids call Bama or we say when talking about her, “The Bama”.  She was given that name because when Brandon the first grandchild was learning to speak he like many toddlers couldn’t say grandma, it came out Bama.  The name stuck and now all 9 grandchildren call her Bama.  Actually it was great until Obama got elected, because sometimes the kids might say Oh Bama and that sounds like the president’s name.

First grade started and that’s when the kids would be put into reading and math groups depending on their ability.  The teacher that year told me that this was the most challenging class that she had had yet, not in a bad way but that she had to pace things faster because they learned so fast.  They also had 4 groups instead of 2 or 3 because of size and classes advancing so much.  Brent was in the fastest group and she did tell me confidentially that he was the brightest.  Again that doesn’t mean better.  He would just hear or see something once and retain it.

The school liked to have plays every year so that year they were doing the Old Testament and guess what Brent’s part was?  God, yes, God.  To this day I get such a good feeling from that time.  It was humorous and yet great.  I mean really imagine telling people that your part in the play is God.  Mind blowing, but it was just up Brent’s alley.

As we all know, technology was really coming in to being in the 90s. Computers were becoming a common thing in the home and schools were incorporating them in the classroom to the point that kindergartners were learning keyboarding, etc. Video games became more and more popular and my home was no different, however my 3 year old Brent could play a video game and become somewhat obsessive over it.  He learned so fast and of course having a big brother that was 7 years older made it even easier to learn.  I did have limits on how long they played but Brent was one that liked to be great at something until he accomplished it and then would get bored with it.  Remember, just like his coloring: been there, done that was his attitude.  He was so good that by third grade he was beating Brandon’s best friend Kenny.  Imagine what a blow that is to someone 7 years older.  He also had the expectation that since things came so easy for him intellectually, that all things would be that way.  Unfortunately, unlike his brother Tico, physical activities were not his specialty.

He kept bugging me for roller blades when he was around 5 years old.  His big brother Brandon was great at roller blading, so I guess that’s what he wanted to do.  I explained to him that it would take practice but as usual he thought everything would come easy.  He could barely stand in them, but I kept working with him.  He started to cry and said he didn’t want to do it.  That doesn’t go over to well with me.  I’m not one that gives up easily and I definitely wasn’t going to teach my son that it was okay to give up.  So I helped him to the sidewalk and showed him how to fall on the lawn, even though he had a helmet, knee and elbow pads I wanted him to feel safer and where I lived there was grass on both sides of the sidewalk.  Even though he didn’t want to do it after bugging me for so many months we stayed out there until he could balance and skate a little.  After a short time he was able to do it and succeeded at roller blading.

I felt that this was a lesson for my son to learn that we can’t give up easily; we must try to realize our goals and dreams, however, as usual with Brent I had to explain it to him because he was so smart.  Once anything was explained to him, he got it.  It never had to be repeated.

There are so many things I can say of his intelligence. When he was 6, my sister Angela told me I should take him in to get his tonsils and adenoids out.  She is a P.A. and I agreed with her 100 per cent but this was during a time when doctors were against it, so she found me an ENT.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I wanted to put my kid under the knife so easily, but he had suffered since birth with allergies and sinus problems, he had always been breathing through his mouth.

The surgery went well, but for the next month or so I started to notice that Brent was kind of weird with me.  So one day he was on the couch, I can’t remember what exactly brought it on but I knew it was my chance to ask him what’s up.  He informs me that he’s angry with me because I had him get that surgery and they took out his tonsils and adenoids and that I wasn’t very nice for doing that.  This is my 6 year old.  My mind was blown. I explained to him why he had to have it done so that when he was older he wouldn’t have lung issues and how the surgery is much worse and more dangerous for an adult and I also brought out how he was breathing so much better, finally through his nose.  He understood and that was that.  He was fine with me.  Again, I just had to explain it to him in an intellectual way.

Brent could have adult conversations with people by the time he was 11.  People would always be amazed and make comments to me about his how smart he was.  They could converse with him in ways that most people his age you couldn’t converse with.  There was a negative part of this too.  We tend to be a bit sarcastic in my family, in a fun way but some people don’t get it.  I recall Brent getting himself in trouble sometimes because people thought he was being disrespectful but he was just saying it like it was.  I had no problem with it but Bobby and some of my family members didn’t quite get it.  It’s funny that it’s one of the many things we all miss about him.  You couldn’t bullshit Brent and he had no problem letting you know if you were being a hypocrite or for that matter just plain stupid.

 

Brothers, the BROVOSONS

“All for one and one for all, My brother and my friend, What fun we have, The time we share, Brothers ‘til the end”

-Author unknown

TFH Brovosons

 

When Brent was 4, I started my high school teaching job.  The first year was a horror story for both my family and I.  It was a part time position. I was very excited but at the same time nervous.  I hadn’t gotten my state certification yet, meaning they hadn’t sent it, I had applied 2 years previous.  Also, at the same time Bobby got his manager job, so not only were our schedules going to be different, but what we didn’t know was that it was about to get insane.

In the mornings before work I made sure clothes were ready for kids, teeth brushed, lunches made, and off I went. Bobby would make sure they got to school; they started at 9.  A month into the job and I found out that the state wouldn’t certify me; I was deficient 21 semester hours.  If you have experience dealing with college semester hours, you know what I was up against. Not only was that an issue, but what was going to happen to my job. I finally had my foot in the door.

The principal informed me that they would have to post the vacancy, but that I could continue.   I would now be classified as a substitute with, of course, a decrease in salary.  My mind was racing, trying to figure out what to do.  To make a long story short, I had to go back to school.  Schedule change.  Now I prepared the clothes and lunches the night before.   I would leave at 7:00 to get to my first college class, then go to the high school and teach my 2 classes, then go back to the college for my other class and once a week on Mondays (thank God this is Bobby’s day off), after that class I have to meet with a former professor and she would teach me another class.  I would then go home, feed the kids, check what homework they have and then I sit at the dining room table and study for my classes and do my prep for my high school classes.  So every night Monday thru Thursday this is my routine.

In order for me to accomplish this Brandon, my oldest, truly became big brother and father.  Remember Brandon is 12, Brent 5 and Tico is 4.  I talk to them all and tell them that if they need a drink or something to ask Brandon, that unless it was an emergency they needed to depend on Brandon so that mommy could get her work done.  I was doing this not just for me, but I wanted to have a career so that I could better provide for my children who are and were my life.

This is when I truly believe they became so close.  It’s not that they weren’t before, because they were.  Brandon was always great with helping me and he loved playing with his brothers. I can honestly say that even though he was 7 when Brent was born, I never noticed jealousy issues; mind you he was the only child, grandson and nephew for 7 years.  Because they had to depend on Brandon a lot that year in the house, I believe that’s what truly gave the final bonding which would last up to now.  Some of their future friends found it unusual that they were so close; most people couldn’t understand their closeness which is present to this day, sadly of course minus Brent which made their trio. It’s a duo team now and they’re discovering a new relationship which I believe will become more powerful. They had and have a strong love between them, that no one can get in-between, not even me.

This is when the name Brovosons took place.  I had to ask Brandon how this all started.   It’s a little crazy but here goes.  It started after they watched the movie Austin Powers.  I guess the way he pronounced some of his words were over pronounced or stressed for example movie became mooovie, etc… So when the 3 of them would talk they would do that with many of their words.  Then they started changing the words that began with m got changed to b, so movie became boovie.  From there they started to say bravo instead of brother and then started to call each other the bravosons.  Then Brent who was the middle child became biddo instead of middle, Brandon was mister so they called him bisto, Tico was biddoist for littlest.

The year continued like this to the point that by the winter semester, not only did this schedule of mine continue, I also had to take another class in which I learned on my own and met with a teacher once a week.  My parents watched the kids on weekends so that I could study.  I remember that I had 6 weeks left when I was ready to give up.  I wanted to be with my boys. I had already given up keeping up with the house because every free moment I had I would spend with my boys.  There  was one thing we never changed and that was reading stories at bedtime, and believe me the last thing I had wanted to do was read another book, but that was our time to wind down and be together before going to sleep.  Bed time was at 9.  I remember their favorite stories were books called Scary Stories.  We’d all go in Brent and Tico’s room and I’d read the stories.  These are memories that I’ll never forget and they’re ones that they remember too.

Another thing we used to do was play the tickling game; the 3 of them against me.  We would run around the house like crazy, jumping on furniture or the beds and running around the kitchen table.  None of these things were easy to do since my house was quite small, about 1100 square feet.  We had played this game for years of course until I couldn’t win anymore.  Brandon used to get me and then Brent and Tico would tickle me, but I could usually get even, but then when Brent was about 8 he just got to strong, so I had 2 strong ones against me and I was always losing.  And that wasn’t fair.  We survived that year, but to this day even though I was proud of what I had accomplished, I regret the time I lost with my sons, however I believe it did help teach my sons independence.

The next 4 years went fine, I got the teaching job and I was able to get home always before the boys.  I had them busy with sports after school.  Brandon played soccer for 7 years through freshman in high school. Brent and Tico then followed with soccer when they were old enough but they didn’t like it as much as Brandon, They went on to play baseball and the all 3 boys participated in their school teams of volleyball and basketball.  I have such good memories of sitting in the bleachers with the other parents and cheering our boys.  One time we were at one of Brandon’s games and because Bobby worked 11-10 I would do all this as if I were a single mom, so Brent and Tico always had to accompany me.  Sometimes they wouldn’t stay on the bleachers and they would go in the hallway.  Well one time I saw a police officer questioning the lady that collected the entrance fee and she pointed to me.  Good old Brent told Tico to dial 911 on the public phone.  I was so embarrassed.  But this wasn’t unusual for Brent to get his younger brother to do things; Tico was always eager to please.

The two of them were not only very close in age, but they were also very close friends, and brothers. This closeness came with its sibling rivalry too.  Brent, Mr. Intellectual, and Tico, Mr. Athletic and and easily manipulated, made for quite a contrast. Not only were their personalities different, but their size difference was obvious.  Brent was big for his age.  Carrying him when he was a baby and carrying Tico were 2 different things.  Tico was slim, compact while Brent’s weight was definitely dense.  His 25 lbs. and Tico’s 25 lbs. were very different.  Carrying Brent was like carrying dead weight.  Brent had no problem using this to his advantage when they were little, but all in all I’d have to say their challenges were of the normal between brothers.

Sometimes Brent’s intelligence did get in the way because I believe it had an impact on Tico or should I say it caused insecurity.  They were a year apart in school, so Tico always had the same teachers that Brent did.  Well not only was Brent in the advanced groups but he never had homework, because he would finish it in school.  Here comes Tico, I year behind Brent with the same teachers and homework and we are sitting at the kitchen table every day for 2 hours doing homework.  This was first grade.  At the time I thought it was because Tico was very active.  He just couldn’t sit still.  He had trouble focusing. But by the time Tico was in third or fourth grade, I could see Tico’s confidence going down, so we had a chat.  I informed him that most people had to study or review and bring home homework.  I let him know that HE was normal and that Brent was the one that was unusual, he laughed.  This seemed to help Tico.  I never had to help Brent with homework, only Brandon and Tico.

I finally was able to get the two of them to work together as a team, it started when Brent was in fourth grade.  He had come home with a B in English.  Okay, yes I know that’s not a big deal, but you had to know Brent.  I never required A’s; I required their best, so I knew something was up.  I went to school to find out why he had a “B”.  Of course Brent was moaning and groaning, telling me “What’s the big deal? There wasn’t a problem.”  I knew he had to be hiding something.  Moms just know their kids, we have that sixth sense.  I arrived at the school and asked his teacher. She looked in the grade book and found that he hadn’t turned in his project. I was confused because I had seen him do the project.  I was able to vouch for that.  So we looked in his desk and lo and behold there it was, minus the coloring.  Remember  kindergarten?  Well, I get home to talk to Brent to find out why because this had been the second time he pulled a stunt like this. He had had another assignment in which he received a lower grade for not coloring it.  So I asked him point blank, “Why didn’t you color it and turn it in?”  He tells me that it HAD to be colored and coloring is boring and stupid.  I decided to be creative this time.  Tico loved to color and didn’t like doing homework that much so I told them to work together.  Brent had to help Tico with homework more (not do it for him) and Tico could color his projects.  This seemed to work better for the 2 of them.

During those 5 years that I had been teaching, Brandon started watching Monday Night Raw wrestling.  Not something that I had been exposed to, but I’m not a guy.  Well this became part of our lives because now all 3 were watching and they’d even have wrestling matches in our “huge” house.  I would even video tape them doing their shows or I might just be the audience. We had fun, but I used to get upset with Brandon because he truly didn’t understand the danger in this sport. I would try to tell them that these guys were professionals that practiced their “routines” and it was also the angle of the camera.  But according to the boys how would I know?

TFH Wrestling photo with Mom

They liked wrestling so much that the day finally came that Ken, Brandon’s best friend Kenny’s dad, got tickets to a Monday night raw in Chicago. So Bobby, the 3 boys, Ken and Kenny went.  The boys were ecstatic; they couldn’t wait.  I remember when they came home they had each gotten something; a t-shirt.  Bobby went on to tell me how they would do the X sign which was a D-Generation X signal, when they didn’t think he was looking because they thought they’d get in trouble due to the way the sign was done.  It involved making an X using your arms and making the movement towards your crotch area.  They definitely had a guy’s night out.  This was in 1998 so Brent was 8.  I’ll never forget Bobby telling me how Ken said to him on the side, “You know you’re not going find any doctors or surgeons here.” We laughed our butts off.  You had to know Ken’s humor.

When the boys were little there was no way in the world that I could’ve accomplished what I did without the help of my parents, sisters, brother and my friends Sharon and Wayne.  Bama and Papa; my mom and dad, what can I say about them?  They raised us to be so close and in turn we’ve raised our children to be the same.  We still are to this day so very close.  I was fortunate to grow up knowing I was loved and that my family was there for me.   The only issue I could say that I have is that my closeness with my sisters and brother is slightly different than what they have between them because they were much closer in age among themselves than I.  I’m 7, 9 and 12 years older than them, which also meant that for my boys they were the only grandchildren and nephews for quite some time.  They had no cousins to play with.  However, had we lived in Mexico they would’ve had numerous cousins to play with because Bobby’s family is larger than mine.  In some ways it’s sad that they never got to know their dad’s side of the family, other than his two brothers Mario and Adolfo.  My sisters and brother were so close with my boys that they never were called aunt and uncle, by their own choice of course.

I remember one time after my sister Angela and her husband Tony watched my boys one weekend and when it was all over they decided they only wanted 2 kids instead of 6.  Ha-ha.  It’s not to say that they were bad, but as anyone might know to go from no kids to 3 boys in the house, believe me the chaos will be there.  The oldest will usually start something to get one of the little ones going and that’s the end of that.  The problem was if you got the middle one going, Brent usually became an ordeal because he was my dramatic one.  You could always tell Brent’s mood, it was written all over his face.  You knew when to talk to him and when you should wait.  He was moody especially as a child which I still think it was his intelligence that caused most of his moodiness.  He bored so easily.   He had no problem saying what was on his mind in most cases.

An example of his dramatic ways was  on one occasion my sister Tina told me how they had gone to the grocery store and somehow the cart fell over(these are the things that happen when you have boys), Brent started crying and yelling don’t hit me.  My sister Tina is not one that wants the spotlight on her, she was already embarrassed that the cart fell over and now Brent is crying and yelling not to hit him, which my sister is telling the observers, “It’s not my kid and I don’t hit him.”   This also makes it sound like we beat him.  He had been spanked a couple times, but then again, he was dramatic.

My dad took the boys fishing quite a bit.  He would bring them to the small ponds/lakes in the area.  He loved to fish and so he taught the boys.  At the time Brent liked fishing and had the patience to do it, while Tico at his young age always had ants in his pants and couldn’t sit still; as they grew up it became the opposite.   Which brings me to another time at my mom’s house, she had just put new carpet in the house and it was like a light lime green.  The boys were there; Brent and Tico not Brandon, because he was already in high school and working.  So my dad was getting ready to take them fishing when something happened between Brent and Tico and the next thing you know Brent took the container of worms and dirt and through it and of course I just came in and what do I see but dirt and worms sliding down the white walls and also all over the newly carpeted stairs.  I wanted to die.  My mom was upset, which I didn’t blame her.  I cleaned up as best I could and took them home.  She says now that she wasn’t mad and felt bad that I took them home.  I wish I had a movie camera for that day to see us all.

It’s funny how the two boys switched; Brent stopped fishing I believe after my dad passed, but Tico loves fishing.

We live on lake front property and he loves to go fishing.  Recently I went to see a psychic medium and at the end of the session the last thing my father said to him was that they (my dad and Brent) were going fishing.  It was this that finalized everything the medium had previously told me.

 

My dad in the Korean War, Brent in Afghanistan (My sister Tina merged the 2 photos)

My dad in the Korean War, Brent in Afghanistan (My sister Tina merged the 2 photos)

I’ve often thought a study should be done on these highly intelligent people, I’ve heard they’re difficult to deal with at times.  I’m not referring to genius, Brent wasn’t that, it’s just that he was so damn smart and learned fast, it used to just amaze me. I’d always laugh and joke that it wasn’t coming from my genes.  I always learned visually and had to study, study, and study.   By the time Brent was 11 people began to comment how they were amazed at the type of conversations they could get in with him.  It was as if you were having an uplifting intelligent conversation with an adult.

Anyone having boys knows what I mean when I say that strange things happen in the house, especially boys that like to wrestle.  I can’t tell you how many times there would be a hole in the wall or a door or something broken and yet no one knew how it had gotten there.  We finally just figured we had a mischievous ghost in the house, because the boys NEVER broke anything and of course no one ever knew how anything happened.

Bobby used to put a lot of pressure on the big brother and also he would tell them that brothers don’t fight.  Ha-ha, he learned quickly that that wasn’t how it worked. It was, however, always big brother’s fault if something went wrong. Some people might say we were tough on the boys and others might say, not tough enough.  Everyone has their way of doing things and seeing things.  Yes, each one of my boys earned a spanking at some point, not a beating, but they all had been spanked a couple times.  It was actually Brent who got the worse.   One time, he had decided to get very mouthy and disrespectful in public and was testing me, so I told him when we got home he wasn’t going to be very happy with me and of course he continued, so when we got home I had to let him know that I meant what I said, so he got 10 smacks on the butt.  Brandon was having a fit with me and just then my mom came in and she got mad at me too.

I wasn’t beating him; I had just put him over my knee and gave him 10 smacks.  The thing about this is I felt horrible about it because I didn’t really believe in hitting but he had gone too far.  Well, whether or not anyone agrees with me, I will tell you that my son never did that again and we were still very close.  I also never did that again because I just didn’t care for that type of discipline.  After that they had to stand at a wall and put their nose against it.  They hated that but it got them to calm down.  It’s amazing some of the crazy things we do raising children.  What many people don’t understand is how difficult it is to work full time and raise your children.  I really do think that if it’s possible one parent should work and the other stay home.

My mom and dad were/are awesome parents and grandparents.  Obviously, we couldn’t afford vacations, but there was my mom and dad inviting the boys and me to go along with them to weekend trips, which were with the business of course; my parents were in Amway, a phenomenal company and business.  A business that taught me to believe in dreams and set goals to attain them, to work hard and never let anyone steal your dream, to have a positive attitude.  Although I’m not active in the business at this time, I saw a lot of success and I watched it change my entire family for the better. Bobby never came, because he had to work and at the time I was teaching so I was off on weekends.    During my teaching years at Willowbrook High School I have to say is when life was pretty damn good, stressful but good, my boys were young, my dad was still alive and we got to spend a lot of time together, meaning the family and I (exception was the first year teaching which I already told you about.  Any way my favorite memories which I believe the boys would agree was going to Grand Traverse resort in Michigan.  My parents would get 2 adjoining rooms, one for them and one for the boys and I and my sisters would be in another room.  The boys would spend most of the time swimming in the pool.   My sisters spent a lot of time with them so I could go to the seminars with my parents. It was like a break for me.

One time my sisters and I were getting ready to go outside with the boys and Brent ran ahead of us and ran right into a glass door, we laughed so hard I thought we’d pee our pants.  It’s one of those moments I’m sure you’ve seen when a person can’t see the glass or screen on a door.  On this same trip one morning the phone rings in my room, it was 4 in the morning and it was the front desk informing me that they had my son, I got up looking around and sure enough I was missing a child; Brent, I threw on a robe or clothes I don’t remember and ran down to the front desk. You have to realize that this was a huge resort with golfing, fishing, boating, restaurants, stores, etc… so I was panicked.  I got Brent and he was panicked too.  Until his adulthood he would still say he woke up and none of us were there, including my parents in the other room.  We had been in a room with 2 beds, with 2 in each bed.  It really scared me because he was I think around 5 years old.  The lady at the front desk said she found him roaming around and that he said he couldn’t find us.  This definitely scared me so I chained the door so it wouldn’t happen again.

Life continued on as usual until one day I really was on Bobby to let me be a stay at home mom for a few years. Of course Bobby never liked that idea at least that’s how it seemed to me.  He would always say we couldn’t afford it which was true or he’d say “you won’t like being at home, you’ll get bored.”  This could’ve been true because I was an active person.   I couldn’t sit still.

But I’ll never know that.  As I sit here on my computer writing this book and remembering, I wonder if it would have made a difference.   I’ve been home now for 8 or 9 months because I was burned out from all the hours of work through the years.  I’m also trying to deal with my son being gone.   It’s destroyed a part of me that I don’t think can come back.  I’m not sure how to describe this hopelessness; sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with a big X on me, marked, A PARENT WHO LOST A CHILD, It’s like a curse.  Another way that a counselor told me is that it’s a club for parents with free membership that no parent wants to belong to.  I can only say that the days that are okay are the ones when it’s not real, it just isn’t true.  I guess it’s the minds way of letting you go on, but it’s not really going on; it only exists.  One thing for sure and that is I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.  The hurt and pain that my husband, sons and family have gone through has been horrible.  As I write this my boys still walk around with their “plastic” faces, trying to cover up their pain and the feeling of being lost.

It’s February of 1999, Bobby wasn’t managing the restaurant anymore because the owners had sold the business.  He was doing different jobs to bring home an income and I was getting angry because I wanted to be home more for the kids.  I know that many people might think that a teacher’s job is perfect for raising a family, maybe for some, but just because the school day ended at 3 didn’t mean that the job was done for the day. There were always lessons to prepare, grading papers, tests, etc…

So I decided to put the pressure on my husband and told him that I was going to resign from teaching, and he could basically find the way to keep us going so I could be a full time mommy.  He didn’t argue with me, but I knew he wasn’t happy about it.  Maybe I was wrong, maybe I was right.  We’d soon find out.

I finished June 15, 1999.  2 months prior Bobby had been looking for a business, a closed down restaurant, so that he and his brother could have a business.  Well, he found one in Joliet, IL.  They started cleaning it up and putting it together. By the end of May, a day after I stopped teaching, I was in the restaurant cleaning with them.  I was only there to help them on Sundays, when it opened.  The restaurant opened on Aug, 19, 1999.

The business took up so much of our time that within the first month I started bringing the boys on Sundays to work with us, because I didn’t want to leave an 8, 9 and 16 year old at home.  So the boys learned the restaurant business and how to earn money and be responsible.  Brandon learned to be a waiter, Brent took cash (WITHOUT the register telling him how much change to return) and Tico did the toast in the kitchen.  Now all this might sound easy, but our place sat 270 people, so on a Sunday from 8-2 we were packed: cooking breakfast and lunch for 270 people at all times. We had 5 cooks, 2 dishwashers, a chef, his assistant, 9 servers, an expediter, Tico, our toast boy, 3 hosts, Brent taking cash, Edith and I seating people, and I was front house management. And so began my leaving teaching and staying home with the boys.  

When Brent was 9 or 10 I asked him if he would like to skip the 5th grade because it was obvious that everything came easy to him. He said no, because he wanted to continue with the same class.  The boys continued working on Sundays and during the week they had after school sports activities.  The boys also had to deal with me being their Spanish teacher because when I left my teaching job I had already set up teaching Spanish at the boys’ school.  They had wanted a Spanish program so in exchange for tuition I created their Spanish program and taught 5th – 8th grade Spanish.  Imagine how it must have been for him to have me as his teacher. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.    I loved it, although Brent had challenges with it on a couple of occasions.  One day I decided to let him know that just because I’m mom doesn’t mean that he could get away with things.  I sent him to the office to call his dad and tell why he was calling.  The principal gave him a detention for acting up in the classroom.  Needless to say that corrected the problem.  I taught there for 3 years and finally had to stop because it got so hectic with that, the restaurant, and trying to raise a family.

By 7th grade I was asking the teachers if they could give additional homework or rather something more challenging for Brent because he was getting so bored, this was per his request. Their response was no. This surprised me because I am a teacher and I know the book companies give numerous extra activities both for someone that needs the extra help and for an advanced learner.  I even stated that it didn’t need to be corrected; he just wanted something more challenging.

So it didn’t surprise me when towards the end of 7th grade Brent asked if he could skip 8th grade.  I said okay let’s see what we have to do.  Now mind you, he did look the part.  It’s funny because during 5th grade and the beginning of 6th Brent went through his heaviest time of life, he definitely got porky.  He was never skinny but at that point I believe he was made fun of at times.  But starting 6th grade he went through such a transformation that had you not seen him for 3 months you wouldn’t know that you were with Brent.  At the beginning of 6th he was 5’3” and 160lbs. and by December he was 5’8” and 140 lbs.  During that time he was always tired and hungry.  He was sleeping a lot and napping often.  I decided to bring him to the doctor.   It was my sister Angela that did all kinds of tests including stool sample to check for parasites.  The reason for that was because he and Tico had gone with their father to Mexico the summer before.  They found nothing, but come December we knew why.  It was amazing; I swear he’d take a nap and wake up taller.  So in 4 months he lost 20 lbs. and grew 5 inches.   I was honestly surprised by this because it’s usually the girls at this age that go through such a drastic change; and the boys between freshman and sophomore year.

Now I had to put things in motion.  The principle at his present school was 100 per cent against it.  The principle at the high school was fine with it as long as he could meet with him and he had to pass some entrance exams, to see if he was at level.  Well as usual that was no problem; he passed with flying colors and was accepted.  I wasn’t really excited about the high school he was going to.  I remember both he and my oldest son Brandon had wanted to go to the catholic high school where some of their friends were going, but that was out of our reach.

The decision was made.  Brent would start high school that fall.  No 8th grade graduation for him.  I think we still had a party though…

Part II of The Forgotten Hero by Marsha Ortega will be available in December.

 

 

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