Get Off Your Ass

posted Mar 8, 2021, 2:59 PM by Bruce Rowe

“Get off your ass, you lazy son of a bitch,” she yelled.

I knew she meant it as she had the hundreds of times before, but this time I knew she was yelling it to encourage me to take another step in my recovery. Sally was different; she was special, unlike Nancy, my first wife who tossed my ass out many years ago.

While we were a “beautiful couple” by all who knew us at Long Beach State, Nancy had to suffer through my reluctant facing of reality with the draft, my years of living a false reality among the others with shattered dreams in the slime, oppressive heat, and glitzy dressed harlots that clamored for attention near the base in Vietnam. Nancy suffered through her own reality in my absence but steeled up to face me down when I returned and used her as my whipping boy for all the things that went wrong in my life following the war.

School had changed, and while I attempted to pick up where I left off in getting a business education, I found my interests had waned, and my ability to respond to the tasks of classrooms and tests was not the same. Nancy paid the price. The GI Bill was an attractive way to supplement our household income, but “you don’t get the pay if you don’t make the grade.”

Fortunately there were no little Robinettes to worry about. We had held off in having kids at first, thinking it to our advantage until I had completed my education and gotten on in the world of work. Then, after Nam, we tried in the few times our bodies agreed with our minds, or at least our lusts, but failed. Both of us blamed it on the God Damned War, but I knew there was something more personal.

Nancy put up with it—and me—for another three years. Three years of my bitching and complaining about her, my life, my inability to bring about change that I sought, what the war had done to me, and even the dog! The poor harmless mutt, seeking only to be loved, ended up getting the boot.

I drained off my parents in Nancy’s absence. They were willing to do it out of a feeling of compassion for what they perceived as results of an unjust war, an imperfect marriage, and love for their youngest son. They held off comparing the successes of my older brother Edward, who seemed able to put all the marbles in the right place, knowing my fragile temperament at once again hearing how Edward had made another score. Now, their help had no green behind it. I had gotten from them all the financial help they would offer and it was up to me as an adult to find my own way in life. I think they call it tough love.

The streets have their place, but they are not the solution to a troubled soul. I learned to cope, use offered homeless resources when I could, withstand the absence of love, warmth, and an occasional Heath bar. And seek a shred of self-respect when I compared my existence to that of the other souls I shared this patch of life with.

Then I met Sally. She was pretty. She was alive. She seemed to have purpose, and she seemed to see something in me that even I could not detect. For her, I tried. She brought out a smile my face had not used in years. I followed up on a job she suggested at the lumber yard, and guess what? They hired me as though they also saw something in me. It wasn’t the job I would have wanted, but it was a job and it paid me enough to say farewell to the streets. It helped to seal the deal with Sally, and she offered to share her small apartment with me. We were a couple!

You notice I said “were a couple” because that’s what people perceived about us for a long time. Then I became the real me, no longer seeing Sally as that someone special, no longer treating that job at the lumber yard as being anything more than drudgery. I can’t even remember how long it took, but the ever looming shadow was becoming suffocating.

My downward spiral wasn’t taken lightly by Sally. She really cared for me and tried her best to set aside the outbursts of temper, but it was the raging nightmares that scared the hell out of her. She was strong to a point, but didn’t know how to kill—or at least understand—these dragons I had brought home from the war. My darkness was growing to the extent that I considered checking out of it all. Was there anything more to life?

And then I was introduced to VWG.

The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego interested me at first because of a friend who shared some of my same experiences in Nam. I don’t know why I let him talk me into going one Saturday to their monthly meeting in Oceanside, but I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a Vietnam veteran that captured my attention, not even a veteran, but the widow of veteran whose PTSD drove him out of this world through suicide.

Something unknown to me brought her here, now, today, into my fragile mental state. Listening to Alexa relate what she had gone through in her marriage translated loud and clear, five by five, into what it must have been like for Nancy and for Sally to live with me. I was a real bastard! Now that I knew it, what was I willing to do about it?

That’s why, when Sally said “Get off your ass, you lazy son of a bitch,” I headed for the desk and my computer. I have already written two small books, and contributed several small articles for veteran oriented printings, but now I am determined to write “something of substance.” Not that I’m a writer of note, but I have learned that being a writer requires me to be a reader as well. And read I do. Constantly.

The bad dreams are still there, but somehow my writing seems to make me more capable of living with them until they subside. It also must be making Sally more capable of living with me, as she is now to be the mother of my first child, and perhaps the first of many.
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