What a month! It’s not over yet but it has been busier and more stressful, complete with more opportunities and challenges. My nervousness over how fireworks would make me feel morphed into a bigger stress response than I imagined. As a result, I have logged my chest pains to keep track of them for an upcoming appointment with a cardiologist. Looking back, the 14 days of chest pains just gets exhausting. Thankfully, they are not all day long but once I do have an episode I do worry if I’ll have another attack during that day. While I have been extremely reluctant to seek medical assistance/further diagnosis about my chest pains the reality is after eleven years of suffering through them, sometimes I cannot manage them effectively on my own. I do find it difficult to carve out sufficient exercise time which keeps them in check. Separately, the sensation of these pains has changed over the years and I know that issue alone is pretty significant to go back to seek medical advice and assistance.
During the Fourth of July, I found it possible to avoid most of the fireworks. My husband and I went to the Keg for a late dinner and walked over to the movie theater in the San Tan mall. Unfortunately, some very overzealous individuals started shooting off fireworks before it was even 9 o’clock. I had some high hopes we could miss the fireworks that night in its entirety but not so much. Although I will be flattening the conversation significantly, being around fireworks does not upset me so much because it reminds me of the constant danger I was in while serving in Iraq. That sucks but it wasn’t the worst thing. It is a struggle because it is a reminder of the worst mortar attack we had which killed my officer. The sound of that attack is something that is seared in my memory more than any other one event. It is a struggle because I know I survived that attack and while so many of us knew Captain Brock we couldn’t save him. The Quick Response Force couldn’t save him. The Medevac crew couldn’t save him. We all–his Marine family–were powerless against an indirect weapon and the rest of us came home.
My daughter asked me recently why I didn’t die in Iraq. She asked this question of me after seeing the Eyes of Freedom memorial while I attended the WAVES conference (Western Association of Veterans Education Specialists) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had no answer for her other than that I was fortunate. Even then, it’s not a full answer. I was moved to the night shift in December of 2004. As such, I was at my barracks the day Captain Brock was hit outside our work. That day, it could have been almost anyone who worked in that building or it could have been no one. I was at my home talking to my grandmother on the phone and the blast was something that was easily felt from my location. It made the most terrifying sound of all the mortar impacts we took.
I know other war veterans understand why carrying survivors’ guilt is hard. We have the rest of our lives to carry the burden of those who didn’t make it home. Our existence, our homecoming, is tinged with the reminder we were granted years deprived of our peers. We will think of the accomplishments they didn’t get to enjoy; we will think of the children they didn’t have; and we will think of the fact their families will never be the same.