2020 Wright Prize News!!

Darron Wright

“Middle West Press LLC Teams Up with Chicago’s Line of Advance literary journal for anthology celebrating 5th Annual Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards!”

LOA and Middle West Press are happy to announce a forthcoming print and e-book anthology that will collect the winning entries from the first five years (2016-2020) of the annual Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Writing Awards. The awards annually recognize excellence in prose and poetry by U.S. military service members, veterans, and their families. Cash prizes of $250, $150, and $100 are available in each category.

This year’s Darron L. Wright award finalists will be included in the anthology. Submissions for the 2020 Darron L. Wright awards open May 1, 2020 and close May 31, 2020. Winners will be notified no later than Aug. 31, 2020.

The projected release date for “Line of Advance: A Celebration of Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards Finalists (2016-2020)” is Oct. 13, 2020.

As you know, the Wright Award has been administered by the journal since 2016 and underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation. The awards commemorate a U.S. Army leader and author who was killed in a September 2013 parachute training accident. Darron L. Wright, 45, had deployed three times to Iraq, and was author of a 2012 memoir “Iraq Full Circle: From Shock and Awe to the Last Combat Patrol in Baghdad and Beyond.”

Middle West Press LLC (www.MiddleWestPress.com) is a Johnston, Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-fiction, fiction, journalism, and poetry, with projects that feature the unique voices of the American Midwest. “As an independent micro-press, we publish one to four titles annually. The Line of Advance Darron L. Wright Awards anthology will be the seventh of our titles involving war and military themes.”

 

COL Darron L. Wright Award Winners

The 2019 Wright Prize results are here. Thanks to everyone who submitted his or her work. They were all done with care and effort and honesty. We received many prose submissions. Some were from regular contributors and some from new voices. The same goes for the poetry submissions. The finalists for the prose category are: first place, William Upton’s “A Jeep to Quang Tri,” second place, Brian Kerg’s “American Spirit,” and third place, Travis Klempan’s “Talisman.” The finalists for the poetry category are: first place, Eric Chandler’s “How Could You Do That,” second place, Sarah Maples’s “Good Soldier,” and third place, Randy Brown’s “Robert Olen Butler Wants Nachos.”

 

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/

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

 

 

 

 

 

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