26. Phil

This scenario and others subtitled with a generic man’s name are fictitious. However, they are based on accumulated understandings about husbands either depicted in literature or real life.

My name is Phil. My wife’s name is Ann. Life has given me challenges to overcome. I need both help and a helpmate.

Now the person who has been my loving helpmate needs my help.

One night I lay on a muddy embankment in Vietnam. Rain soaked me to the skin and insects gnawed on my arms and legs.

The soldier next to me said, “Old men start wars, but young men die in them.”

A smart college guy. A philosophy major. But if he was so smart, what was he doing in this mess? With me.

The next day, just as we were moving over the embankment to attack the enemy position, he took a bullet between the eyes.

Another young man died in an old man’s war. Another friend lost in an instant.

A few months later, my body took a couple of hits. One superficial. The other one just enough to get me on a plane back to the States.

My young man’s war was over. In a VA hospital, I recuperated from a leg wound. With guys who had more severe wounds than mine.

Finally, I was able to return to my parents’ home. On crutches. A few days after my 20th birthday.

I thought I was lucky. So did my parents.

Once my wound healed completely, I could take the GRE and get a high school diploma. The piece of paper I thought was useless when I dropped out of school.

With a GRE certificate I could go to trade school or get a job that trained me to do something more than fire an M-16.

Eventually I passed the GRE and tried taking courses in a local vocational/technical school. But I was unable to get into the classroom thing.

About that time my parents divorced, leaving my older sister and me to find our own way in life. My sister married her boyfriend and moved to another state.

I never saw her again.

An old high school buddy and I found an apartment and low-paying hourly jobs. In the evenings we were in bars, associating with other guys like us. Each day was like every other day. We worked as laborers on construction jobs. Built residential homes.

Homes we would never be able to afford ourselves.

Our existence was aimless. Purposeless. I did not tell my buddy how bad my nights were. But he seemed to know. Maybe he heard me walking around my bedroom or watching TV at three in the morning to avoid sleep.

Avoiding the gremlins and monsters in my brain. Attempting to quiet the emotions that refused to calm down.

Both of us had girlfriends, so it was a come-and-go kind of life. At least as much as we could afford. Alcohol, drugs, and other forms of loose living.

Inevitably, my girlfriend became pregnant. Her family was as dysfunctional as mine. So, the only family we had were our social friends with whom we lived and partied. Neither my girlfriend nor I were interested in marriage, but we decided to go through a civil ceremony.

Between her restaurant job and my construction work we had enough money to live, but medical costs associated with the baby’s birth caused us to seek charitable assistance. For housing, food and just about everything else.

For the baby’s sake, we tried to stop our addictions. But that was a losing battle.

That marriage ended in divorce after the birth of our second child. I had continuing problems with addictions, suicidal tendencies, and anger that often resulted in abusive behavior.  Both my ex and I were deemed unfit, so our kids were adopted out.

It was a pattern. Another marriage. Another child. Another dissolution of anything like a family relationship.

I ended up living in a little apartment, trying to exist on occasional odd jobs in the construction field.

I’m not sure how things started turning around. There was the VA. Medical treatments for my depression and other issues. A church organization. And a young woman who was a volunteer.

Hazy memories.

Ann was the name of the young woman. Quiet and self-disciplined in a nonjudgmental way. A calming voice and manner. A touch that seemed magical in its ability to make me feel at peace with myself and the world.

And she was willing to marry the disgusting mess I had become.

Little by little, and with Ann’s loving persistence, we started building a real life. It took a while. I struggled with anger, depression, finances, treatment issues, battles with the VA, and other problems.

But we eventually found regular jobs. With my newfound stability, I moved into a supervisory role in a construction company.

A small but pleasant home with good neighbors, and membership in a nearby church. No more kids.

PTSD was still part of my life, but it no longer totally controlled me. Ann’s voice and good common sense somehow blocked out the demons in my brain.

Life made more sense to me. Together, Ann and I were able to give it real purpose.

Our purpose.

One day Ann told me that some members of her family contracted Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia as they aged. There was a chance she too would be afflicted.

She knew we needed to talk about it. And we did. For hours.

Planning was essential, including getting me, a guy who had needed help all the time, to the point I could be a caregiver myself.

We studied and attended seminars. I concluded that the first few years of ordinary Alzheimer’s care was something I could handle myself — IF I could keep PTSD at bay. IF we could manage our finances adequately and prepare for the social and medical services to care for both Ann and me.

We had no long-term care insurance. Even if we qualified, which I was sure we would not, the premiums were more than we could pay. We talked with an estate planner, an attorney specializing in our kind of situation. She had good ideas.

However, unless our financial picture changed dramatically, our only option would be Medicaid assistance at some point in the scenario. My three children were estranged from me. Neither Ann nor I had anyone else with resources to offer.

An overriding point became increasingly clear to me. Eventually, one way or another, little by little, Ann would leave my life cognitively and physically.

That realization was even worse than PTSD.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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