[Cross-posted on Backword Books]

Talking with the guys on GI Radio this morning, I was reminded of one of the awkward – and difficult, really – aspects of sitting at home while someone you love is deployed.

In your mind, you’re comparing hardships.

And everyone knows who has the “worse” hardship.

While discussing Homefront, the producer had me pause for an incoming phone call from David Whittaker, a wheelchair-bound veteran traveling from Florida to Blaine, WA in a quest to draw attention to homeless vets. Whittaker has only partial heart function. His doctor said he shouldn’t make the trip. “It’ll kill you,” he said (according to show producer Tom Graver).

When the call ended, Tom said, “And now, back to talking about Homefront.”

How could I, without feeling like an ass, go back to talking about Homefront after hearing this conversation with a wounded veteran making his way across the states in a wheelchair to help homeless vets? How could I talk about the experience of those at home as if it means anything when compared to these service members coming home without legs and arms, without their mind as they know it in some cases, and who – to boot – are said to have enormous difficulty getting the help they need from the government?

This comparing of hardships happens during deployments, too. One of the many things that makes waiting such a mind-f**k (pardon me, but it’s true) is that no matter how anxious/bad/worried/depressed/worried/scared/anxious/bad (all such inadequate words, by the way) you feel, you also feel like talking about it makes you a whiner.  You’re sitting at home, safe, eating cake and ice cream, and you’re complaining – because what, you’re sad? –  while many of the deployed are engaging in urban warfare, driving by objects on the road that may or may not be IEDs, not sleeping for days, and seeing their friends killed?

Poor baby.

So, not only are you, at home, thinking about the person you love and remembering the last time you held his or her hand or saw his or her smile and wondering if you’ll ever get to see them again – alive, in one piece, or mentally whole – but now you’re also thinking you don’t have a right to “complain” about how you’re feeling. Because you’re not fighting a war. You’re not being shot at. So, really, you should suck it up and quit feeling sorry for yourself.

The thing is, the comparison game is stupid. That deployed service members go through what they go through doesn’t mean their experience is the only experience, doesn’t mean they’re the only group affected by war. Anyone intimately involved with a war goes through their own personal hell – and it doesn’t matter whose is “worse,” whose is more this, more that. One experience doesn’t automatically trump the other’s relevance in terms of discussion and exploration.

I did feel incredibly silly – inconsequential, whiny even though I wasn’t whining – continuing to talk about Homefront after the call with Whittaker, and after hearing about other disabled vets struggling to get assistance. Because I know their troubles far surpass most of those of the ones left waiting. But I had to remind myself that hundreds of thousands of men and women are worrying every second of every day that the person they love will suffer something unimaginable, or won’t come home at all. And that in itself is an intense and psychologically complex fear to have every second, every day. One that is only compounded by guilt for feeling anything at all.

Even so. I was on the air, live, broadcasting to the Pentagon, even, and I was being asked to talk about Homefront. So I just kept on talking. And I  tried to give the confidence to my voice that would only truly come to me about ten minutes after the call ended when I reminded myself that yes, absolutely, their story, the one of those at home, is an important one, too.

And I’m grateful to Tom Graver and GI Radio for giving me the opportunity to do it. (Thanks. Really.)

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. I got called a whiner and much, much worse when my ex was gone and I was doing what I needed to do to cope. Thing is, while we’re not there fighing along side the person we love, every battle we see on t.v., every servicemember we hear about getting killed and every strange car in the neighborhood is a horrible, sick reminder that our person may not come home. It’s a fear we live with 24/7. It’s in no way a comparison to what they go through 24/7, it’s our own separate battle that we fight everyday, in my case, alone while trying to maintain some sense of sanity for my kids.

    There is an expectation that we’re just supposed to tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, wave our flag and be as brave as our soldier, never uttering a single complaint because of what they’re going through at war. I kind of think, until you’ve driven around the block 10 times because a strange car is parked at the curb in front of your house and you think, if they’re here to give me the worst news imaginable, if I don’t stop, they can’t tell me, so then it won’t be true, maybe you (not you, Kristen, but you, the name-callers out there) don’t get to be judgmental. It’s not complaining or even comparing our battle to theirs. It’s being human.

    Reply
  2. Kristin,

    Let go of the guilt. You were on the air to promote your book, which may already being doing people a lot of good with more to come as more people read it.

    As a military brat and a sibling of a guy who’s over in Afghanistan at the moment, I’ve long reflected on this stuff. To me, the whole concept is an affront to morality, particularly when you’re not engaging in direct self-defense. But there’s a lot of gray area there so it’s hard to take sides one way or the other with any conviction.

    But the idea that VA services are not made available to everyone who returns is proof-positive that soldiers are expendable the moment they sign the enlistment papers. War as a concept has always been a mathematical equation… how little can I spend to prepare each soldier to kill at least 2 of the enemy and how many can I train in order to sustain the effort longer than the enemy? That equation doesn’t take into account the cost of caring for soldiers when they return, and it never will unfortunately. Jingoistic brainwashing aside, this is what the government is thinking when it makes these decisions.

    But one thing that’s important to remember in all this is that today they are volunteers, rather that conscripts or draftees. It takes a different kind of person to volunteer into military service in this day and age. That’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous, but in many cases they’re fulfilling their personal destinies by deploying to a combat zone. It’s important to differentiate between today’s military personnel and those who were drafted back in the day, because in a sense it may help illustrate why, maybe, there’s less outrage about the wars in which we our federal government engages itself.

    I’m a firm believer in the necessity of prosecuting elected officials who lead us into wars for profit, without statutes of limitation… but people don’t like to hear that because it reflects poorly on the brave men and women who served in those conflicts. I’d like to see more of our military personnel speaking out and calling for these prosecutions.

    My two cents. Hope you’re selling a lot of books!

    Reply
  3. Kristen, I am a Vietnam veteran and the father of a “FALLEN HERO”. You hold onto your thoughts and feelings, they are how we get to where we should be. Our guys and gals are awesome; in reaching any conclusion as to how you are suppose to feel or act, in my opinion what one has to keep in mind is how would your loved one want you to carry on in his or her absence?

    Answering this question has helped me to be where I am some four years after my son was killed in Afghanistan; he was but 22 years old. Yes it is true, he volunteered and thank God we have men and women with the guts to still do that. What people tend to forget is that through out our history men and women have rallied to the cause of freedom. By the same token there are those who could not see the need for its defense nor where they will to risk the ultimate for there own freedom much less the freedom for anyone else.

    We tend to remember the draft boards of Vietnam and try to justified our positions by forgetting the thousands of our young heroes who volunteered. People are afraid of being honest with themselves, robbing themselves of the joys of where they should be.

    You keep on doing the show and leading people to come to the right conclusion for themselves. There is a great reward for feeling patriotic and proud of America.

    My son did not die in Afghanistan for any slice of pie, he along with our nations heroes have always die for the freedom that allows us to make our own pie and do what ever we chose with it.

    I love my son and miss him so much, he and I worked together. He would go with me from the time he was about five and worked for me during the summers. He continued after high school until he decided he knew the direction he needed to take. People would be well served in judgment making to research some of the stories that are available about these young heroes.

    Too young Whittaker, you sir, have the heart of a true warrior.

    Carson George
    Father of a “Fallen Hero”

    Reply
  4. I’m so sorry for the loss of your son.

    I visited the website you’ve put together – it seems you’re carrying on in a way that would certainly make him proud.

    Reply

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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com

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