Somewhere I need to say whatever it is I am about to say but I just can’t. It is this thing that nags and eats at me constantly. It haunts my life. It is the past, present, and future. It consumes my mind and yet I often lock it away. I share the struggles and plight of a veteran, of an officer, of a human, but I cannot seem to share the struggles and plight of family. I cannot seem to talk about how behind every smile, every laugh, every good time, there is the nagging anticipation for the other shoe to drop. How every time I walk away from family gatherings, I wonder which smile was a lie. I wonder what preposterous conclusion was made about my simple words and what personal frustration and unhappiness I will be blamed for next.
I wonder what history will be rewritten, transforming me from what was needed to the problem. The anticipation is like being strapped to a bungee cord. Its release can sling me forward too fast to gain any control. I am forced forward and then backward with the violent force of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. The anticipation is a decades-long response to the chaos.
I watch the traditions of genuine joy and happiness of others. I hear the stories of childhoods filled with love, with care, and without the chaos beyond that which is inherent in daily life. I watch and listen with a feeling of overwhelming joy and sadness. I feel as though I am an intruder to these traditions when I am among them. I feel such joy that others might know that feeling of trust, love, and safety among their family. I feel such sorrow and sadness to know that I do not.
What I feel is the echoes of the past. A past where one parent struck and kicked me for listening to the wrong music, for not being Christian enough, for just being that which I was not “supposed” to be. The everyday breaches of impossible standards were punished in extremis. Non-submission quickly escalated to threats of suicide and murder. They made the tips of knives breach the flesh of my wrists before my age surpassed double digits. My apathy was apparent in my willingness to offer up my wrist for sacrifice and tips on how to clean the scene afterward. My desire to be heard was so desperate I was willing to instigate it all just to be quoted. I developed insomnia because I was too scared to sleep, for fear they might kill me in my slumber, despite my willingness during the day.
What I feel is the echoes of a past where another parent’s addictions surpassed their obligations of care. I perpetuated my insomnia just for slurred words of attention after last call. I watched them snort, smoke, and, most of all, drink away the pains of the past and present. I cared for my siblings’ basic needs when I could barely care for my own. I felt abandoned, knowing that they were always too intoxicated to pick me up on time, or at all, from anywhere. Phone calls only angered them enough to place the phone off the hook. I walked home, out of embarrassment, knowing I did not have a key to get in. I experienced true narcissism and manipulation. I watched them go to jail at a pivotal time in my life. What was bestowed upon me was the learned addiction of drinking away the pain.
What I feel is the echoes of a past where, yet another parent’s resentment transferred onto me. I felt like no one. I watched as they loved and cherished the siblings I loved and cherished, and yet envied. I was blamed for their mistakes. I knew what it was like to talk to a wall, knowing I could say anything, and they heard nothing. They ignored my past cries for help and rants fueled by the once-held fermented addiction. I experienced their rapid swings of emotion and piercing words of anger. The words, “I love you,” were foreign to me, and yet commonplace to my siblings. The embrace of a hug was so rare they were awkward.
What I feel is not just the echoes of the past, but the feelings of the present. Only the one that struck and kicked me ever took ownership and accountability. Only one ever mended a relationship that should have been unmendable. I still feel the narcissism and manipulation today. I feel like a possession more than a son. I still know what it feels like to be unheard. To always hear about how they know you and yet watch their shock and surprise at things longs spoken. I know they will never stop and ask me about what my life has been like. They will never ask me what it has been like to fight a war, to lose friends, to have been an alcoholic, to have recovered, to have been a cop, to have been through everything I have been through.
While I feel the attempts to change, it is as if they ignore the past. They ignore the mistakes, refuse to confront them and perpetuate a slightly altered status quo. If I offered up the key to these words I write, only one would indulge with an honest heart and mind. One would read with curiosity, only to dispute their every exposed flaw and condemn the others. One would hide from them, refusing to read the words they have refused to hear. I feel most alone, unseen, unheard, and misunderstood among those who have known me the longest. I feel as though those I rely on most, those I can trust without hesitation, those who know me, are those not bound by blood, but those chosen.
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.