As a maturing poet I have recently noticed my work has themes of redemption. I surmise this stems from the fact that both my parents are mentally ill from the effects of war and I was an abused child. My mother suffers from PTSD/paranoia, my father suffers from PTSD/intermittent explosive disorder, and I was subjected to their insanity. It is ironic that children of parents with PTSD will get PTSD themselves. I suffer from paranoia and my brother from intermittent explosive disorder and we both suffer from depression. We have difficulty in relationships with others. Discussing my childhood is painful.
The sad truth about mental illness is that the victim can be a charming soul and his dark side hidden. It takes years to find out. My dad beat us because he is basically scared of the world and its people. My mom does not trust anyone thanks to my grandfather’s untreated alcoholism. Her solution at age seventeen was to join the United Service Organizations (USO) during World War Two, with a trip to Hiroshima immediately after the bomb dropped, which pushed her over the edge. Four suicide attempts and a stay in a mental ward did not stop her anxiety or the voices in her head. I have discovered these truths and have attempted to break the cycle of abuse in my family to the best of my ability, but deep emotional scars remain and constrict our hearts.
War was still in our home years after father came back from Korea. He is bitter, yet proud of his duty to our country. Years after mother came back from Hiroshima, she is still shattered. She was deployed to entertain troops right after the US dropped the bomb on Japan. The turmoil that raged within my parents soiled us kids. Father’s fear after Korea dominated every move and thought. Intense anxiety, his and ours, was palpable in the room. Suffocating. His need to control our space, to have perfect drawers and closets, nothing out of place, not even a hair, so he always knew what was happening, because he is afraid of the world and will never trust again. He won’t talk about it. Cannot sleep. Cannot sit still. Even at eighty. Isolated in a world of his own, little sounds make him crazy but silence does too. There is no winning side.
Anger makes him red, so hot you can smell it. Better that than sadness, because tears are deadly. His generation does not cry. They lie and hide the truth. Would it matter if I understood his pain? It wouldn’t change things. All I know is that a military brat I am not. I was battered into submission. Raised in an invisible boot camp of dad’s design to earn respect at all costs at the sacrifice of his children. No one ever talks about it. That’s our code of honor. “Be a Marine,” he said. “Be a man.” I just wanted to be the girl I was. I hated him for years. Mom is just broken. Fragile, scared, paranoid forever. Changing locks on the doors and not giving us the keys so we had to pee in the yard. We could not get to the bathroom. Mom is invisible, lurking somewhere… just listen for it. She won’t let you touch her. She smells death. Her traumatized spirit is a locked door with no key. Her words, agitated, quickly in succession, fire like machine guns into the night, defending her against invisible demons that drop atomic bombs in her head.
PTSD transferred to this family from war connects us all with a gossamer thread. It took years and years of therapy to understand “intermittent explosive disorder. “ It was undiagnosed until I reported dad for child abuse, for beating us kids to a pulp to stop the voices in his head. As the room goes silent, bells ring in my ears. I lay face down on the floor waiting to die. Numb to beating. I have never been to war but I know it. I am the daughter of soldiers who made it home.
Carroll, Andrew. Editor. Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families, edited. Random House, 2006.