I hate the night, like hate it. If it was possible to kill it I would. Night brings aloneness and the dark with its slow moving march toward inevitable light to start another day. It’s 1am and I am laying next to my 2 year old that the crazy storm keeps waking up and cuddling him. I had to do a Ross “hug and roll” to free my arm to write this. As I sit here listening to the rain drive against the house, the sharp crack of lighting, and the ear splitting boom of thunder, I drift away. Tonight I drifted toward those I’ve lost, when you do this job as long as I have there will be loss. It’s as inevitable as the light of morning. I suffer from insomnia, sometimes I will go days without sleeping during the night. Tonight appears to be one of those nights.
People always ask me two questions when I go talk somewhere: have you killed anyone and have you lost anyone. The military has finely honed my sense of humor so to the first I usually respond straight faced “Batman doesn’t kill people” and then stare at them uncomfortably until they move on. The second is harder. I’ve lost more people than I count, a lot of which I never knew. Strange right? How do you think of someone you didn’t know? I joined the Army as an MP and fresh out of training went to Virginia for my first station. My very first case was a suicide. A young man 19 years old (same as me at the time) had gone on leave and hung himself in his wall locker. Since he was supposed to be gone no one missed him until 2 weeks later the stench from his room was too foul not to investigate. We got the call and went inside and there he was. I flinched and my senior partner said “well let’s cut him down.” And we did, a bench made knife and his lifeless body fell into my arms. I didn’t know him, his story, his family, but I knew one thing. That was one young man whose life was tragically shortened. As I sit here 13 years later I still wonder what was so bad that suicide was the only option? I will never know of course but still it haunts me.
I used to be a CID agent. Working that job you are exposed to the worst side of the Army. The people that idealistically you believe simply do not exist in the Army. I have seen things that would make your blood run cold. But the one that haunts me was a tragic accident. A sick child and a young mother just getting released from the hospital walking her stroller to their car. A 78 year old retired officer pulling his car out of a spot. He put the car in drive and then suffers a massive heart attack. His foot slams the accelerator down and the car plows through the stroller. This happened on the grounds of the best military hospital in the world, and yet despite the heroic efforts of those present they both perished. One life at the end another just beginning.
I say that to say this, don’t push. If your child has been in for any length of time odds are they too have seen some horrific things. Maybe like me the things haunt their dreams and they don’t sleep. But everyone copes in their own way. If he wants to talk about it, he will. No one should carry the burden of life alone, but they have to be ready for it. When I got home from deployment I was different. I knew it so I was sure everyone else did too. Deployment is a whole different animal and I’m sure I could write it’s on post on that.
My point is your child isn’t going to speak to you about these things, and you have to accept that. No matter how close you are or were. When it comes to the things that go bump in the night it’s our job to protect you. But if you see them struggling: not sleeping, not eating, thinking about self harm, get them the help they need. I don’t want to think that someday it might be your child I am thinking about.