This is a question no two civilians have the same answer for. Could there be a better job? A potential mate? A new Starbucks? It doesn’t matter. Civilians cross the damn road anyway, with no regard to the consequences.
Now, why did the soldier cross the road? Because he was following orders. Maybe they weren’t immediately preceding the crossing of said road, but we followed our instincts. We were prepared for whatever was on the other side. We were trained to act according to the threat.
(To clarify, I was in the Air Force, not the Army. I was attached to the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, and was expected to respond as a soldier when addressed as a soldier.)
Whoever crossed that road with me, I knew I could count on. I can’t even go out in public with a civilian these days without them shoving their faces into a phone and fawning over a piece of toast with avocado on it.
There is no structure to civilian life. Everyone just wants things, and they don’t care who they step on to get it. The impulsivity is appalling. Bob wants that car. Sue wants that job. Tristan wants that ugly ass scarf to go with his jeans and sandals.
Money didn’t matter to us in the military. We knew how much money each other made by the ranks we wore, and we knew we’d get there eventually. When Airman Smith pulled up in a new Corvette, First Sergeant was right there to counsel him on responsible financing.
Civilians don’t work to their potential. Nobody counts on them to do their job because they’re expendable. I don’t care how good you think you are at your job. If your boss can hire someone to do your job a little cheaper, you’re on your way to the unemployment office.
We worked beyond our potential. We had to. If we messed up, someone might not be going home to their family. If I didn’t shoot that kid, four other members in my element could have gone home under flags. If I didn’t get those Humvees repaired in Afghanistan, a patrol might miss an IED or mortar site.
Leaving the military takes away this sense of purpose and structure. It messed me up long before I even knew I had PTSD. I was thrown into a feral rat-race. My brothers moved away, one by one. I was alone with people that could never understand me.
I had a wife and a child when I got out. I love them so much, but they could never understand what I was going through. This anomic wasteland was hostile to me, and I was trained to respond to hostility with more hostility. Apply maximum firepower and break contact. Unfortunately, I was no longer issued a weapon. My firepower was alcohol.
Booze helped. It slowed my thoughts. Rumination was always a problem. When I was sober, I was hostile. I destroyed my marriage. My entire being was still enlisted, and I became a stranger to myself. Deep down, I wanted to be normal for my wife, but every time I tried, I felt like I was nothing. I punished myself for leaving the military, and in turn, I punished her by tearing myself apart.
When I discovered that I might have PTSD, my despondency hit a new low. I knew my life was over. I thought of ways to kill myself for months because I’d never be good enough for her. She’d be happier if I died.
When she told me she’d never forgive me if I killed myself, I got even worse. I became reckless with her feelings. I wanted her to hate me so she wouldn’t feel bad when she left. When I was formally diagnosed with PTSD, I realized she loved me too much to give up.
Unfortunately, she changed. I turned her into the person that gives up easily.
If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I can never fix what I did to you. I am truly sorry that I stole your beautiful smile. I’m sorry I took your touch for granted. I’m sorry I didn’t accept the love you gave to me unconditionally. I’m so sorry that you had to bury the best part of you, the part you saved just for me.
I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you how much I still love you. There are so many fragments of me that just wouldn’t come together until now. I’d give anything for that perfect smile to come back, just once, so I know I didn’t kill you completely.