The room sat with the palpable pain of the past. Every eye red and glossy. We sat as they called me “the rock”; “the untainted”; “the untouchable.” They spoke of my struggle-free journey. I protested and they insisted. I fought their every word but how could they really understand? How could they know? How could they comprehend? My struggles were merely words. I spoke candidly about my struggles. I spoke about the late-night crying, the drinking, the anger, the helplessness, but they were merely words. Those struggles were nothing more than words as I became everything they needed me to be. I struggled and relied upon those distant from those struggling by my side. I struggled not in silence, but silence from them.
Fuck I struggled. I bore the burdens beyond my own. I bore the burdens of the group so they might find an inkling of relief. I struggled and bore until I crumbled. I crumbled not in silence. I crumbled to the distant. I bore the burdens of the many and then stumbled, crumbled, and fell far from their sight. I stumbled, crumbled, and fell in front of the those who my words could never thank.
As we sat there, the room swelled with tears as the truth filled the room. The truth of how close some were willing to end it all at their own hand. The room swelled with tears and the silence echoed. And then it all shifted. It shifted to me. The welling eyes thanked me for something I never deserved. They thanked me for being a rock I never wanted to be. In that moment there was nothing I could do. I broke. I cried. I cried and clinched. I had no words. I had nothing but those tears. It was that moment when the room fell in complete silence. In all those years, it was the first time they had seen it. It was the first time they had seen me cry–the first time they had seen my tears. It was the first time they had seen it all.
In that moment, it was the first time they had seen “the rock” crack. It was the first time they actually understood.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.