For Sergeant Thomas Simmons, getting injured in Iraq was just the start of an adventure that would throw him down the rabbit hole into a world where nothing made sense anymore. Having to restart his life, this soldier has to take his battlefield courage and turn it to a different arena in order to face this newest set of challenges. He just wonders if he is strong enough to handle this newest change in his life.
“There you go Captain, that’s all my memories of getting injured. That’s how it went down.” Thomas had told this part of the story before several times. It didn’t even bother him to tell it anymore, for the most part. However, that process had taken a while and a number of tellings to get to. At least the event itself and just thinking about it didn’t cause him as much stress as it had in the past.
The Captain wrote down a few notes on his legal sized yellow pad as Thomas finished his story. The man looked at Thomas in that slightly smug way implying that he thought that he knew everything that Thomas was sure was the man’s normal way of interacting with soldiers, as if he was so much better than anyone who came into his office. The look made Thomas think of a weasel. “Is there anything else about the whole event you can remember Sergeant Simmons?”
Thomas shook his head no and shrugged his shoulders. Of course he remembered more, he hadn’t gotten a TBI but it wasn’t anything he was going to tell this guy. There were some places in a man’s head that a shrink really shouldn’t be allowed to go. Besides, these were things that he was trying to still wrap his own head around and he wasn’t going to bring it up to anyone until he had a handle on it. There were too many questions and no answers over this so far. He needed some answers before it drove him around the bend. He thought back to those events again, on all the things that went along with those combat events, but couldn’t be shared, with anyone.
* * * * * *
He smirked to himself as the nurse walked away. He watched her go, watching the roll of her hips and butt through the tight seat of her uniform pants. He found her quite attractive, with nice curves, ample breasts that tightened the brown t-shirt and an ass that seemed to strain against her uniform pants. He really liked the way a woman’s ass looked and the Nurse’s was one of the best ones he had seen in a while, of course he had mostly seen teammates rears so that really wasn’t saying much. However, he also felt a little jealous of the nurse, which confused him and made no sense whatsoever. He had no idea why he felt that way, but it was there and strong. He closed his eyes and tried to figure this out, but his head hurt too much to think clearly.
When she returned, the nurse handed him a small plastic cup with a straw in it. He took it in his one working hand and sipped the refreshing warm water, which made him feel worlds better and dealt with the slight cottonmouth. She checked the machines that monitored his condition and headed off. Thomas sighed and tried to ignore the odd feeling of jealousy that he had been feeling towards women off and on for most of his life. He couldn’t think of any reason for it to be there and only had made his teen years a misery of self-angst. It simply didn’t make any sense and it often just pissed him off. Joining the Army had helped he had thought but now here it was again.
He sipped some more water and felt his head starting to clear, which of course made the ache clearer as well as only made things worse. The nurse came back over, since he was moaning from the pain and asked, “Are you okay Corporal?”
He spoke up, wanting something to make the thinking go away, “The pain is getting worse and my head hurts.”
She nodded, “How bad is it on a scale from one to ten?”
“I guess an eight and getting higher.”
The woman nodded and went off to get some more painkillers to inject into his IV. After she returned and took care of that, made notations on his chart and left, the pain soon faded and he drifted off to sleep.
The next day after hiss tray of lunch, he got his first visitor that wasn’t a medical professional. His Sergeant walked into the room he shared with two other soldiers, looking all dusty as usual since everything in this country seemed to be made of dust. The man’s voice was friendly when he called out, “You crazy dumb bastard, that was the stupidest and most heroic thing I ever saw. Damn Rhymer, you saved our asses and got yours shot off in the process. Not the brightest of plans but it worked.”
“Thanks Sarge, but what else was I going to do? Let us all die? You know me, always willing to throw myself into harm’s way to keep everyone safe.” Thomas smiled, still amused by his nickname. The whole nickname thing was the fault of someone noticing that he had been writing poetry one day on guard duty. It hadn’t been a lot, just a poem he had been working on for a few days and wanted to finish it, as he had gotten into poetry in high school. Besides, guarding the Airbase back in Kentucky was really boring. All you did was sit there, stop vehicles, check a list and wave them through. Very boring.
“I also wanted to let you know that you impressed the hell out of the Lt. with that crazy stunt. He’s putting you in for a medal, a big one supposedly. I figure you are at least going to get the Purple Target for all of that.” His Sergeant chuckled at that. Thomas did as well, but it hurt so he didn’t do that for long. “Unfortunately, I had to move someone into your slot, to fill in the chain. I want to get you promoted and give you your own team to baby-sit, especially when you get better and return to the Unit. Top agreed with me and is working on that paperwork as well. Dammit Rhymer, you didn’t need to get yourself injured to get promoted.”
“Sorry Sarge, but I wasn’t really thinking about all of that right then. I just didn’t want to watch us all get chewed up by those guys while I had decent cover.” Thomas honestly hadn’t been trying to do anything special out there, just his job. So what if he excelled at doing the crazy things that got them out of some sort of bind time and time again. He just focused on doing the job as best he could, which more often than not got him killed in the war games. Better his one death as opposed to the whole platoon, at least to his way of thinking.
“Humph, you and your fucking death wish. I swear, sometimes I wonder if you really are just trying to get killed with some of these stunts.” His Sergeant looked him in the eyes at that, boring in to dig out an answer.
Thomas didn’t look away. They had had this conversation several times before, usually after he did something that nearly got him killed but saved the team. It happened a lot more often than Thomas was happy about but he was only doing what he was supposed to do. “I don’t have any intention to die Sarge; I just act and end up getting hurt. I enjoy being alive, honest. It probably has more to do with me trying to measure up to your height than anything else.”
“Fine. I believe you, though sometimes I’ve got to wonder. You get better quick so you can come back home to us. We need you.” The Sergeant stretched up to his full six foot six height, grinning down at much shorter Thomas. “Take care of yourself Rhymer.”
“Thanks Sarge, I’ll do everything I can to get better as soon as I can. You can count on me.”
Thomas watched his Sergeant leave then he lay back on the cot and thought about things. All he had now was free time due to his recovery. The docs hadn’t allowed him out of bed yet, and he was really tired of the whole bedpan thing already. Besides, it was kind of gross and he didn’t want to think about it anymore.
Since he didn’t have anything to read or even anything to write with he was stuck having to sit in his own head. Even if he had paper, his wrist was broken and he wouldn’t be able to write any way. So all he could do was think about things over and over in an endless round, like why he felt jealous of women, if he really did have some sort of death wish and if his military career was over and if so what would he do. He wasn’t ready to be done with the Army, he had plans and dreams but if his injuries were bad enough they would be done with him. That thought was depressing in its finality.
He thought about the whole jealous thing, trying to wrap his thoughts around that one as it made no real sense to him as far as he could tell. What the hell was he jealous of? Why the hell would he be jealous of women? Thinking back to other times, like back in high school or back in Clarksville and considering his responses to the various nurses so far, he figured it had something to do with the way they looked. He liked the way they looked, with all the curves, and the long hair and the everything. Who wouldn’t? But he felt jealous of the fact they looked that way? Why? Because he didn’t? That didn’t make any sense. He was a guy; why would he want that? It was stupid and he dismissed it as coming from one to many hits to the head.
The thoughts about wanting to die were even less comforting. When Thomas looked at what he had done over his time in the Army, all the times he had rushed into enemy fire, how he threw his body in dangers way so his teammates would be safe, and tried to figure it out. All he could come up with, when looking at it objectively, was the fact that for some reason he really did want to die. That really seemed to scare him. But why did he want to die? Why would he want to die? He was happy in the Army and he was doing good things and making a difference in the world. Wasn’t he? What could cause him to want to throw himself into harm’s way on purpose? Was he trying to commit suicide by Iraqi?
The whole notion really irritated him and Thomas hated not being able to come up with adequate answers to these questions. He was used to being able to solve most problems, not being blocked in things. He was good at breaking down problems and finding solutions. It was why he was being fast tracked to Sergeant. Why couldn’t he figure out what the problem was? He had always been able to sort his thoughts before, and now this comes up and he is at a loss. Maybe he needed to talk to a shrink? He wasn’t sure if he wanted to let a shrink get a hold of him, as the shrink might just Chapter Eight him out of the Army for being crazy and Thomas really didn’t want that. Maybe a Chaplin? He didn’t know and that didn’t help.
Thomas didn’t think he was crazy, so he kept these things to himself, even when he had to talk to a shrink about his nightmares. He knew that if he let these things out there would be hell to pay. The shrink at the CASH mentioned that he might be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that it would be looked into once he got back to the States. Thomas was afraid that alone might mean the end of his career. When they informed him they were medivacing him back to the States to have more surgery and physical therapy he was sure things were getting worse with his situation and not better. That only served to make his nightmares and his odd feelings of jealously worse. He consoled himself with the thought that it had to be stress.
The flight to Germany and Landshtul Hospital was long and he managed to sleep through most of it. After nearly a week there and a few surgeries to fix problems that a CASH was not equipped for, they sent him back to the States. He was being sent to Walter Reed in Washington DC for physical therapy and recovery. Maybe he would get better and be able to return to his unit out in Iraq, but he was starting to suspect that he wasn’t going to be able to do that. It worried him as he missed the guys in his unit and wanted to be there to have their backs.
* * * * * *
Thomas left the shrink’s office, happy to be gone from that quack. He had been prescribed more medicine and he wasn’t sure he even needed it. Thomas was going to have to take it, because it just wasn’t worth it to argue with the nurses. They always won and had no fear of anyone. It was attractive and he flirted with them shamelessly, despite the fact that all of them had rank on him.
He really disliked his therapist and he hated the fact that he even had one. He knew he wasn’t crazy. Sure he had thoughts that were disturbing and weird but everybody had those, not just him. Supposedly there was some sort of treatment for his PTSD that involved something like Virtual Reality and that would be good. The Captain had informed him that he would start specific therapy for that next week. ‘Oh joy, something else to add to the list’ he thought bitterly.
Aching almost everywhere, Thomas looked up at the clock and noted that it was almost time for meds. They were helping him deal with the pain of all of his wounds but he didn’t like them. The pain killers made him fuzzy headed and very drowsy, which meant all he did at this point was go through therapy and sleep. They also made his thoughts drift, which was keeping certain topics floating around him. Thomas was sure it was all part of the whole healing process but he would rather be able to stay up and think clearly rather live in this haze. There were several things he really wanted to work out in his head, but the meds were not helping at all.
He didn’t want to delay his personal exploration of these issues any more than he had to. He still felt the pangs of jealously whenever he saw women around the hospital, even if they weren’t extremely attractive, and he was getting tired of it as there were a lot more women here than in Iraq. He wanted to figure this one out and do so in a way that wouldn’t be overly frustrating. The whole thing was depressing and, coupled with his physical problems, it made him pull into himself even more.
It was still two more weeks until he would be able to take off the wrist brace and be able to write again. He was looking forward to that as he was able to work through his thoughts really well when he was writing. Between his occasional poems and journaling, he had always been able to take his thoughts out of his head and try and get a feel for them, to make them make sense. However, he still had two more weeks to go and the wait was making him crazy.
Thomas really wanted to keep his job and he mentioned that at all appointments. He actually enjoyed being a soldier and thought he was doing something good and patriotic, something that made him proud. It was the kind of thing a man had to do. After the attacks on September 11th he went straight to his local recruiter and joined up. He chose the infantry thinking that it would be the best way to show the terrorists where they had screwed up. He was going to go after them and kick their asses for coming after the United States. What he was going to show terrorists when he got there he had no idea anymore. After finishing Basic and AIT at Fort Benning, he got sent to his unit just in time to begin train ups for Iraq. He had been on the go for a few years now and this enforced rest was frustrating.
Time seemed to crawl for Thomas. It seemed forever before he had his first chances to try to walk. It was frustrating, having to be supported by two other people to take even small dragging steps. Sure it was a degree of success but it only brought him shame. Finally, it was time for him to have his wrist freed and then he could start writing again, though he wrote slowly since his wrist had grown much weaker while it had been recovering from surgery and it hurt to hold a pencil or pen for long. Thankfully, they were doing physical therapy to help his wrist recover so he had some hopes that he would be able to start writing through his problems.
Thomas’s PTSD treatment went on, with him taking part in a new technique utilizing videos and video games to treat the various components of the problem. It was a bit odd but it helped things some, reducing the edginess and reducing some of the anger he was feeling. Thomas was quite glad that he no longer felt the need to be armed and wasn’t scanning the area for possible attack sites as much. As thy told him, it was a start.
After several more months of learning to walk and strengthening everything, Thomas heard about the medal thing again that his Sergeant had mentioned. The General in charge of the hospital presented him with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for what had happened. Thomas had been able to walk forward to accept the awards using a cane they had given him and he had stood proudly in his dress uniform as they were pinned on. He’d put in hours a day for countless weeks to be able to walk even that little bit unassisted. Thomas could barely believe that he had gotten the award.
Back in his room Thomas just stared at the medals. He understood getting the Purple Target, but the Bronze Star. That was for heroes, not some grunt just doing his job. He hadn’t done anything all that impressive, had he? It was something any of his teammates would have done if they had been in position to do it. It just didn’t make sense, but Thomas wasn’t going to argue. If the Army wanted to give him the medal, more power to them.
His nightmares had slowly faded in frequency and he struggled to make sense out of his jumbled thoughts. The doctors told him that, while he might be able to walk without a cane again, his leg would never take the abuse that it needed to for him to continue to be an infantry soldier. He was going to be discharged medically. His fight to keep that from happening ended in failure. He was to be sent back to his home base and would be released from active duty there. His life as a soldier was over. They were going to medically retire him, so he would still have an ID card and be allowed to have certain privileges that civilians would never get, but he would be a veteran and not a soldier. When he had heard that, it was the first time he had cried in over a decade. It was unfair but what could he do?
All through this, he kept struggling with making sense out of feelings that seemed out of place within him. He was slowly working out the why of the jealousy and it seemed to be about wanting to have what women had, to have the curves, to be a woman. That didn’t seem right to him but it appeared to be the only answer that fit all the pieces of this puzzle. The death urge what-ever-it-was seemed to be related to feeling that his life wasn’t important, that he really had no good reason to live. Both answers were odd and out of place to Thomas and that worried him. He needed to get more information and he figured that the internet would be the logical place to turn to, since he didn’t feel like talking to any of the military shrinks. If he had to leave the military he would rather it be honorably rather than being dishonorably discharged for being a freak.
The trip home to Fort Campbell was depressing. No one met him at the airfield when the Air Force Medical Transport plane dropped him off except the orderly for his unit. The drive back to the barracks in a Humvee was done in silence as Thomas really had nothing to say. He limped in to the Battalion office and signed in with the Rear Detachment for the Battalion. These were the guys left at home while everyone else got to fight. One of them had probably been sent to take his place with his team. He signed the necessary paperwork to get back with his unit and hobbled up a flight of stairs to his room, heavily using the handrail and his cane. At least he had a weekend to wind down before he had to get up at 6am for PT and the illusion of a normal workday.
When Thomas opened the door to his room he was surprised how much it felt like he was coming home. All of his stuff was there, his books, music, movies and computer. His gear was all piled neatly at the foot of his bunk, shipped home from Iraq. He sat down heavily on his nicely made bunk and stared at the ceiling. What the hell was he going to do now? He was going to be discharged from the Army in a few weeks and he had no idea of what to do. Did he want to stay in town? There was a college here and he figured that the VA might be able to help him pay for school, or there was always his G.I. Bill. He could always move to another town and go to school. He could even go home, but he had been glad to move away from his parents when he had enlisted and he felt little pull to go back there. He needed to make a decision before things progressed much further or he would be cut loose with no idea where to go or what to do.
Thomas knew this wouldn’t be easy, considering he had always planned to make a career out of the military. Now his twenty-year plus plan had gotten flushed all because of the injury. He needed to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He knew he didn’t want to become a business man, as he really didn’t like that time during high school when he worked in sales. Food service was right out as it was gross and he figured that being a cop or fireman was out due to his leg. All the career paths he had originally been interested in depended on his ability to move unhindered and he had lost that back in Iraq. Thomas figured that he could become a teacher, maybe even a coach, as that wouldn’t require him to be able to move around much. He knew enough about several sports and could take classes to make him even more qualified to do that. That could work out, he supposed. It would at least be a career.
If he became a teacher, he would definitely want to teach something he liked, such as English or History. He had done well in both those classes in high school and he figured that it couldn’t be too hard to teach. Most colleges had some sort of teacher training program, so he could do that and then start working. It would certainly be a hell of a lot better than trying to live it up as disabled Vet guy. He would have to think about this some more and see if he could come up with some other options.
A glance at his clock showed him that it was time for chow. Thomas groaned as he sat up, muscles really not wanting to do anything right then. He grabbed his cane and hobbled from the building, moving a lot slower than he was used to. Hopefully, the food would be better than what he had been able to eat at Walter Reed, though he doubted it. Hospital food was generally better than mess hall food. At least it would be better than the MREs he had eaten out in the field. But than again, a lot of things were better than those Meals Rejected by Everyone. He seriously had missed actual food, like steak, seafood, tasty things that the Army always found a way to ruin. Maybe he would go out to eat soon and get something that qualified as real food. It would certainly be a plan worth considering.
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