The ER folk were nice enough to ensure that my official diagnosis included the words “heat stroke” so that my supervisors couldn’t question it and were forced to deal with their plant’s shady conditions.
Still awaiting approval from the company’s health insurer however, I had nowhere else to go but the VA for help. I explained to them the basics of what had happened: I lost my shit and worked myself into a nice, healthy heat stroke. They immediately began the guessing game of throwing random pills at me in a feeble attempt to find a combination that worked, much to my disappointment and gastronomical discomfort (that went on for seven years). Note to anyone going to the VA for mental health issues; just say no to drugs. Chemicals are for extreme cases, therapy often works much better and will not turn you into a sad zombie with a slowly rotting digestive system. I felt so sick the first couple of weeks that I called in enough to lose my job and things quickly started to get out of control.
A good friend from Okinawa offered me a place to stay for a while in another state, so I took him up on the offer. It turned out that he was having similar issues dealing with acclimating to the 1st Civ Div and hating the VA‘s endless bullshit. The job market around there was limited due to a large auto manufacturer closing its doors, making it difficult to even get a job as a clerk at a video store or gas station. After a couple of months, my savings were almost exhausted and I made the horrible decision to move back home around family and old friends.
To be honest, moving back in with the family wasn’t all that bad at first. It was cheap and…well, it was cheap and I was broke. Sure, there was little privacy, but it would only be for a few weeks, a month at best. A few part-time jobs and an entire year later, I realized I was stuck. Trying to move seemed impossible as it was prohibitively expensive and brought guilt trips that would make a recruiter tear up with pride. One of the worst parts of living in a house full of needy females with no permanent male entity in their lives…the guilt trips. Guilt works on the depressed like nothing else, probably due to the incredible amount of it already present. If you come from a close-knit family, you know how difficult it can be to “leave them behind to fend for themselves” as they often put it. Having a suicidal family member does not help this, like, at all (if she offs herself, its your fault for not being there to prevent it, apparently). It felt like moving on with my life would be turning my back on everyone I cared about. Again.
Trying to deal with shitty jobs, selfish-asshole family members, keeping myself clean, and generally hating life again was getting to be too much. I eventually said “fuck it” and started hanging around the only people who took an interest; my old high school friends.
Know how your recruiter and all those SNCO’s kept screaming about how your buddies back home aren’t doing anything but playing Nintendo and popping out welfare babies? It is, for the most part, bullshit. Some of them might be doing the same shit they were when you were kids, but many of them have upgraded, for better or worse.
My best friend was The Dro Man. Not a regular connect, but the guy that stays on Baskin Robbins status (31 flavors – from Poor to Coma quality). His circle of friends was full of familiar faces who accepted me and didn’t ask a lot of questions. Partying was generally a big part of that life, making attendance at bars, clubs, concerts, and parties essential, as was sampling the products for quality control and proving your legitimacy by consuming large amounts of booze, weed, and hallucinogens. Cocaine made random appearances, but was mostly looked down upon in our circle. Alcohol helped desensitize my anxiety but also destroyed my speech filter and removed my ability to closely monitor my actions while using it. There were some decent looking ladies around who loved to party, but they were definitely not the kind you’d want to spend more than a few hours with if you have a decent amount of intelligence in you. Run-ins with thieves, thugs, and gangsters were common, as were special guest appearances by LEO’s with and without warrants (SURPRISE!). Getting pulled over several times a week gets old very fast, especially when they start addressing you by your first name before they even get a chance to see your ID. That is when you know it is time to slow your roll. Long story short: Some shit went down, a house got raided and trashed, a dog caught a flash-bang to the face, and prison sentences were barely avoided.
The problem with…um…retirement…was that people tend to not believe it. Years have passed and I still run into people who ask me if I can hook them up with someone or some dumb shit like that. I never directly sold but they still ask because I’m guilty by association. Several times within the first year of his retirement he had his door kicked in by people who thought he still had pounds and stacks.
This is where I go off on a tangent: Look, I know it may seem exhilarating to put your boot through someone’s front door and order them flat on the floor with your weapon pointed at their head, but you shouldn’t brag about it to your civilian buddies, or anyone for that matter. Until you have been on the other side of that experience, you will never understand how fucked up it is. How would you like it if you were curled up on the couch with your old lady (or whatever you call the gal that lets you put your thing in her) about to get some and out of fucking nowhere the door flies open and there’s some random asshole standing there pointing a shotgun at you? You like to sleep, right? What if you were peacefully sleeping off an epic hangover, only to be woken up to a big, black, metallic cave being aimed into your eyes? Know how you like to get your drink on and play some Call of Duty with your pals on the weekend? What if you were sitting around having an awesome time and several large men kicked your doors in and pointed gun barrels in your faces? That would be kind of fucked up, wouldn’t it? (Yes, I see the humor in a former marine playing a combat-simulation game while being robbed at gunpoint.)
Note: Robbers usually leave when they realize there is nothing to be taken but an old xbox and an early 90’s big-screen with a busted housing. Keep it simple, guys.
Most of the time when shit went down it was relatively tame, like some guy that just wanted to snatch some nonexistent green or imaginary, rumored cash. It only got truly dangerous once, and it had nothing to do with drugs or money.
I was outside on the front porch attempting to cleanse my palette of some sub-standard alcoholic beverages via regurgitation when this great big fat person appeared and began demanding that I bring her the racist expletive who…something or another. I was pretty drunk and had no idea what the fat harpy was screeching about. All I remember was her dropping N-bombs like it was trendy or something. Anyway, I felt some shit hit my face, like someone had thrown a handful of glass at me, and all sound faded in a split second. The door opened and my buddy was standing there for a second before yelling something and slamming the door as sparks flew off of the screen’s frame. Trying to figure out what hit me, I looked at the house and saw there was a small hole surrounded by a broken kind-of-circle where the siding had shattered. Thinking to myself, “what in the absolute fuck is going on here -” I heard what sounded like a balloon popping but much louder and saw a couple more holes appear in the house, sending more shards of dusty siding towards me. I then theorized, “well, shit. I think someone might be shooting at me.” A quick glance to my left confirmed that someone was definitely crouched down in an improper kneeling position attempting to put rounds into my chubby tummy and/or grizzled melon. I turned and found the closest cover I could find – a car. Pulling the handle as the windshield exploded forced me to realize two things:
1. The goddamned doors were locked.
2. I should find better cover because this fucker was still shooting.
A few holes appeared in the garage as I sprinted towards the back of the house but none of them hit me, proving my brother’s old hypothesis that I could be extremely fucking lucky sometimes. At the back of the house, I ducked behind the fence and waited in the dark for whoever to pop around the corner and catch a Spyderco to the jugular, but no one followed. The sounds of car doors slamming shut, an engine rapidly increasing RPM’s, and tires breaking traction told me they took off, so I ran back up front to make sure everyone inside was alright. They were.
Local law enforcement popped in to say hello, take selfies, police-call brass, take measurements and statements, and tell me that the round that hit the house next to my face missed my grape by a couple of inches at best, which was reassuring (thank goodness for terrible marksmanship, amirite?). A couple of phone calls revealed that the shooter was someone’s ex’s sister’s boyfriend’s something’s someone’s…whatever, look it doesn’t matter; his old lady caught a few man-slaps from an ejected, disorderly partier earlier in the evening and he wanted to avenge her, I dunno, honor or something. Because, you know, murdering a stranger is totally fine if they slapped your gal, I guess.
It took a lot to wake me up. Even being shot at by random strangers didn’t seem to bother me enough to make me want to get away from that type of situation. Sure, I couldn’t sleep for a while and carried my .45 everywhere, but it could have been worse I suppose. It took hitting what I felt was rock bottom for me to take a step back and observe.
Drinking always left me a little depressed at the end of the night. Some nights much more than others. Most of the time I could force myself to pass out or find something tiring to do, but occasionally I would find myself extremely intoxicated and unable to do anything but think. Thinking for too long led to a downward spiral of disgust and hate for the careless, irresponsible asshole I thought I had become over the years. Things that wouldn’t bother most people stuck out in my mind as red flags that signaled how fucked up I was. Stuff like Aryan Nation biker dudes immediately assuming I was a skin head. I had gained over 70 pounds since my EAS and looked like ape shit. That head Carny offering me a job on sight. My old “respectable” friends would no longer be seen with me, even the few friends I made in the Corps began to shy away from me and after a while, completely broke contact. It’s not as if I ever stole anything or cheated anyone, I was just given the “he’s a lost cause” treatment and dismissed. I understood that sometimes you just have to cut toxic elements out of your life. My home life got much worse over time. I kept up the bills and house maintenance type of shit and stayed away for the most part, but would still catch family members speaking ill no matter how much effort I put into helping out. My education was getting pushed aside for work, family and social obligations, ruining my GPA. Relationship problems with females only added to all of that garbage. I would sit and hate all of that for hours on end, trying as hard as I could to keep it together and figure out what exactly in the hell I was supposed to do to fix it all. Anxiety attacks became more and more intense as time passed, and it became very difficult to control myself when I was alone and inebriated. I eventually came to the genius conclusion that eating every pill the VA prescribed me and whatever else I had lying around and then dying was a good idea (it was not). Luckily, my rotten bastard of a gut forced every last pill, beer, buffalo wing, and sloppy film of bile from my insides in a glorious, forty-minute salute to projectile regurgitation and painful dry-heaving. It wasn’t the first or last time I thought about killing myself, but it stuck with me, like a sign that it wasn’t my time and that I needed to push on for some reason I won’t understand. Soon after that I found myself needing a place to live again, and with the encouragement of a few friends, forced myself to nervously walk into the VA and ask for help.
Next Time: It Really Does Get Better