Once there were eight soldiers, all strangers and recent high school graduates who left their parents, siblings, jobs and homeland to fight in a war. Putting aside the last of their waning youth, they focused their still-developing brains on learning how to kill and, perhaps more importantly, how to stay alive in Uncle Sam’s Army. Forming unbreakable bonds, they each became the other’s ride-or-die. Extreme trauma and battlefield duress became their normal and like most of their own families, this arrived with its own type of dysfunctional baggage.
As the war and these soldiers matured, so did the undertow of these alliances. Once the conflict ended, reunions were erratically scheduled. At first, they wouldn’t talk about what happened during their time in Iraq. Instead, they tried to numb the memories with addictive agents such as alcohol and/or narcotics.
Then, as time marched on and they grew older still, they started to open up and discuss what had happened in the streets, trenches and bunkers. This brought with it the knowledge that they were all self-medicating but instead of helping as they hoped, they were succumbing to the unrelenting and debilitating nerve pain brought on by the enemy’s chemical weapons.
Most sought help through the VA system, something that was designed just for them, but each walked away feeling as if it was broken and that they had been unheard, dismissed or had become…expendable.
Some were repeatedly rejected when they tried to have their disability rating increased. Others were unfairly judged to be pain pill seekers, even though it was well documented what Army soldiers had been subjected to. Those who were prescribed narcotics found it to be a temporary fix and they needed higher and higher dosages to take the edge off, something the doctors were unwilling to do. And still others continued to go unmedicated while the doctors put them through a battery of needless tests and then, unable to find anything physically responsible for their pain, referred them to numerous “specialists.”
Meanwhile, these Gulf War veterans continued to experience nightmares, anxiety, PTSD, depression, and full-body joint pain. Some continued to find temporary solace in illegal drugs or, like my husband, alcohol. Others, having had enough of the physical and emotional agony or fighting for their own well-being, ended their lives, leaving those who had once protected them guilt-ridden and questioning their own fate.
After the death of their squad’s fifth member, my own husband then almost eighteen months sober and in PTSD counseling, felt his constant pain ratchet up from a six to an eight. He wondered absently if the pain was being passed on to those still alive.
I asked him if he wanted me to (intuitively) look into that and he said he did. My response was immediate.
“No, the pain is not being passed from one of you to the next.”
“It sure feels that way,” he said.
I shook my head, emphasizing the point, “The disease is progressing.”
Throughout our twelve years together, there was rarely a day when I didn’t give him Reiki, but even that has its limits. I kept telling him he’d find the answer. He’d look under every rock and he’d find something that would help. That day finally arrived in the form of a gift certificate to a local salt bath business.
After his first float in a large, non-claustrophobic tub, his pain was reduced to the level of five or six. Subsequent weekly floats brought it down to a three, something he was very grateful for. Most recently, I felt his body’s energy and said, “It’s changing. Your joints don’t feel so heavy or thick anymore. I can feel a reduction in the energetic swelling. Whatever you’re doing – or not doing – it’s helping.”
Then, knowing another reunion was on the horizon, I asked if I could do minimal intuitive work about the surviving battle buddies.
“One of them is from Tennessee,” I said with knowing. Trinity validated my knowledge.
“He’s in a lot of pain,” I said. “Like in a bad, bad way. He’s really far gone, Trinity.”
“Yeah, I think he’ll be the next to go. I think the other one is doing alright, at least he’s in a little bit better space, but Gary is a complete alcoholic mess.”
Continuing, I said, “He feels worthless and lonely. I could help him. Have him call me. Or maybe you could tell him that his life matters and that you have found some relief from the pain with salt baths.”
A shoulder shrug was his response.
The night before his trip, Trinity confided, “I have this weird feeling that Gary and Andy are gonna do a murder-suicide thing. I’ve already told them I won’t come to their hotel room. We’ll meet in a public place or we won’t meet at all. I also told Gary not to bring any guns and he said he could just buy one at a pawn shop if he wanted to. His response was so quick that it tells me he’s thought about this.”
“Smart,” I told him. “You’ve got good instincts. Listen to them.”
Gary and Andy (not their real names) were each other’s wingmen. They had formed a deeper friendship in Iraq and that tie held for twenty-eight years. Trinity considered himself an outsider to this connection, but the memories of combat still bound the three together. As it was, after several hours of talking about the past and present, they parted ways.
The next time Trinity saw them, Gary was pass-out drunk, clearly on a bender. Andy’s addiction was pain pills, prescription or illegal, so he appeared less intoxicated. Saying their goodbyes, Trinity left for the airport. The two war buddies stayed behind because their flights were scheduled for the next day.
They would not make them. Or any flights. Ever again.
“I’m one-hundred percent sure it’s the last time I’ll see them alive,” read Trinity’s text to me that night.
The next day he called the hotel and asked them to do a welfare check. The hotel staff indicated money, ID’s, clothing and all personal effects were in the room, but the guests were not, nor had they checked out at the required time. Trinity notified police, filled out two missing person reports, gave a description of the clothes they might be wearing and offered his opinion on a murder-suicide pact.
After that, thoughts filled my husband’s head and sleep would not come. Had he missed the signs? Had he been bamboozled? Could he have done more? One thing he didn’t have to question was why they did it. Having lived with the annihilating and killing (literally) pain for the majority of his life, he knew the answer.
Within a day of Trinity’s return, the call came, confirming what he had suspected.
Two bodies had been found matching Trinity’s earlier description. After a day and night of heavy drinking and possible drug use, both decided it was time. Stumbling into an alleyway, they wrapped an American flag around their heads, a final “fuck you” to the government or, perhaps, in remembrance that they were veterans who had given their all for the US of A.
Then, using a large caliber gun, they confirmed Trinity’s foreboding feeling.
The notifying police officer asked if Trinity knew their next of kin. My husband said that he was probably the closest thing to it. The officer said the hotel was asking that the bar tab be paid.
“How much was it?” Trinity asked, thinking he would do so out of respect for his fallen brothers.
“Uh. How about you get the US government to pay that.”
It’s the least they can do, I thought, after all, these men had just finished what the government started almost thirty years ago.
With that, the tears that had been welling spilled over and sobs ripped from my throat.
“What do you need, honey? How can I help you?” I asked.
“I need to be alone and don’t worry, I won’t do anything stupid.” Meaning he wouldn’t kill himself. “I’ve already been in touch with my psychologist and I just need to process this. I want to close the door on this chapter in my life. I want to move forward. I, I want it to be done.”
As I was trying to sleep, an unsolicited vision of Trinity filled my mind. He was resting on his back, eyes closed. I placed two fingers on either side of his neck and when I did, a clear, watery, gel-like substance began bubbling, and then streaming, from his mouth. It ended almost as soon as it began, and I saw Trinity’s chest rhythmically rise and fall as if he was in a deep, peaceful sleep.
A “thought” came to me that now he could breathe easier and would sleep without feeling like he was drowning.
And then there was one.
Statistics report Army suicides are at fifty-two percent; the highest of any armed forces.