“Dad? Dad are you home?”
I struggled to open my eyes. Blinking away the sleep, I sat up in the floor and wondered where the voice was coming from. I turned my head slowly to keep from causing a worse hangover than I already had.
“Baby is that you?”
A petite silhouette outline showed in the drapes over my window. I quietly shuffled to the door and peered out the small peephole. My daughters stood on my balcony; their backpacks slung over their shoulders.
“Hey guys, what day is it?”
Nervously, they looked at me in bewilderment. They shook their heads in disbelief and gazed at me.
“Dad it’s Friday. It’s your weekend to be with us.”
“Okay, well come on in. Let me get your bags.”
We made our way inside and suddenly I remembered I had no food to feed them over the weekend. My youngest daughter turned to me and quietly asked:
“Daddy, are you okay? Do you have any food to eat?”
I gave her my practiced smile and nodded my head in affirmation. The motion almost made me vomit on my daughter. Placing my hand over my mouth I swallowed it back down.
“Um guys, I am going to walk over to Wal-Mart to buy us some food. What do you guys want to eat?”
As most parents can attest, it is generally snack food (such as chips and drinks or the ever-popular McDonald’s). “Hot Cheetos” my oldest daughter chimed in. Nodding, I set out to buy enough food to cover the weekend visit that I had forgotten about.
“You are a horrible father. How can you forget that your daughters were coming to visit? You don’t even have enough money left over to buy them what they want! You are a drunk and waste of God-given air. Kill yourself already.”
These thoughts cornered me and crashed around in my cloudy mind as I drunkenly made my way to the grocery store. Walking down the aisles I bought several things to make over the weekend.
“Since I won’t drink in front of my kids; I should buy them something nice to make up for forgetting their visit.”
I bought them some pretty hair bows and their own personal hairbrush to have when they came to visit.
“I have to do better.”
I made to myself a solemn promise that regardless of how bad things appeared, I would never forget that it was my weekend to visit with them again. By God, I would have food in my house to feed them. Embarrassed by my lack of preparation and drunkenness, I went back to my house hoping that sobriety would show up before I made it back.
Up the icy steps I marched with arms laden with grocery bags. Inside the apartment I could hear Little Big Planet coming from the bedroom. I unlocked the door and took the bags of groceries into the kitchen. I put the food away into the cupboards when as if my magic, my youngest daughter appeared by my side.
“What did you buy dad?”
I smiled and showed her the food that I had bought. Ribs, pork chops, elbow macaroni, and packets of cheese littered the countertop.
“What do you think baby? Should I make homemade macaroni and cheese?”
Eagerly, she nodded yes. I pulled out a pan and filled it halfway with water and set it boil. As the pasta boiled and softened, in a rare moment of spirituality I asked God to help me come to have peace in my life.
I knew that God could help me overcome it, but I had so much bitterness in my heart from past church experiences that I did not expect Him to. When the macaroni had softened, I placed fiesta cheese in the bottom of a baking dish. Then I poured macaroni on top of it. I applied another layer of cheese and topped it off with more macaroni. Finally, I covered it with more cheese and put it in the oven to bake.
Whoever said that time heals all wounds is an idiot. Time, in my experience, led to bitterness. Anger. Frustration. In many cases, all-out hatred. The wounds in my spirit that had been inflicted upon me occurred at a young age. More wounds occurred until I turned twenty. I tried to be the good Pentecostal boy that everyone thought I was.
However, you can only hide who you truly are for so long. Eventually, the mask will come off. While I may not have been as vocal and disagreeable as I later turned out to be, I still had an anger issue. Time in the military did not improve my disposition. Release from the military didn’t improve it either.
I was damaged goods.
Often, I thought I was no different than the dented can goods in a discount grocery, I had no redeemable qualities. Angry, bitter, violent, and wound too tight to be released upon the civilian populace were words used to describe me.
“You will kill someone and make national news” seemed to be the consensus
. Unfortunately, this was my mask. Was I angry? Sure. Frustrated? Without a doubt. Violent? Unfortunately, yes. Bitter? There seemed to be no end of it. Thus, this was the personality that I exhibited for almost eleven years. It kept people away from me and caused me no end of stress.
“To be a leader, you have to be consistent. If you are going to be the happy guy, you must show up happy every day. It is easier to be the angry guy.”
This advice was given to me when I first became a leader in the military. To my dismay, they never told me that being angry 24/7 would wreck my marriage or cause me untold stress that would later trigger epileptic seizures. Or cause me to visit a mental hospital.
To me, the worst part of it all was the drudgery of not being able to please my spouse. She initiated my foray into military service. After the terror attacks, she made her intentions clear.
“Think of all the money you will make deployed. We can pay off our bills, buy a new house and car. Things will be great!”
It was with these honeyed words that I set out upon my military career. I turned from everything that I knew and entered military service.
“I am going to kick butt for the good ole US of A.”
Little did I know that life was about to serve me a dish of trouble the likes I had never seen before. I gave a thumbs up and charged head on into the awaiting storm.
I thought that I had reached the pinnacle of life when I became a soldier. I trained to be the best soldier that I could possibly be. All the while, my home life was disintegrating due to constant fire from everything else. I focused on surviving combat, and she focused on maintaining a secure home, tending to both daughters, and trying to be helpful within the unit. The more I trained, the worst things got at home. My first deployment saw me receive four concussions.
“Traumatic Brain Injuries” the doctors cried. “Your brain is one big scar. You will never be well.”
This news did not help smooth the troubled waters at home. Instead, it drove the trouble to a fervor.
“You are just trying to leave the military! You don’t want to serve. You are a sissy. I wish I had a real man!”
I woke from the nightmare, my sheets drenched with sweat and a dry mouth. I rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom. Blood poured from my mouth. I coughed and spat out chunks of bloody phlegm. It felt as if I have eaten sand and it hurt to breathe. When I did breathe, I could feel something shifting in my lungs.
The worst is yet to come.