Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”...........Laurell K. Hamilton
After my extremely emotional experience at the Wall, I was eventually able to close my little black box and move on with my life. It was three years after my pilgrimage to the Wall when I found myself sitting in the PTSD seminar in Denton, Texas. I was not expecting to get anything from it. I was even becoming somewhat bored as the speakers droned on and on in psychobabble. I don’t remember who any of the speakers were, except for Laura Palmer. I didn't pay much attention until she came to the podium and began to read excerpts from her book. All were very sad because they were from actual interviews with families and friends of men killed in action (KIA) during the Vietnam War. It was hard not to cry while listening to those sad stories. I was beginning to empathize with the families and friends by imagining how they must have felt when they first learned that their loved one had been taken away from them so suddenly and horribly.
I was doing a good job of keeping the lid on my little black box when all of a sudden I felt as though a bolt of lightning had suddenly struck me, sending a giant charge of electricity surging through my body and shooting out through every pore in my skin. I was vibrating and all of the hairs on my body were standing erect. Goose bumps popped out all over me. My ears began to ring loudly. My pulse was pounding and my heart racing. My extremities tingled and I began to feel numb all over. I began to hyperventilate and was becoming dizzy. The room began to spin and all of sudden my little black box exploded inside of me and tears began to fall from my eyes, run down my cheeks, and drip from my chin. I was unable to control my body’s response to the state of shock in which I found myself.
This was probably as close to an “out of body” experience that I will ever know. Although seated near the back of the room, I began to fear that I would be noticed. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and frightened. I wanted to get up and leave but was unable to stand. Besides, it would only have drawn more attention to me.
I was immobilized by emotional distress all because of twenty-six words that Laura Palmer had just read from her book. They are found on page 152, beginning on the third line. These words were the reason for the emotional state in which I found myself. She read, “Bob Kalsu was running to meet a chopper that had just landed at Fire Support Base Ripcord, on a desolate jungle mountaintop, when he was killed.” That one sentence caused an emotional dam to burst inside of me, virtually destroying my little black box and allowing twenty years of bottled-up grief, guilt, and shame to gush out of me like a tidal wave, washing away any emotional lines of defense I might have employed.
Two other Vietnam vets sitting near the rear of the room noticed my distress and quietly moved over and sat next to me; one on each side in silent support, until Laura Palmer finished reading. No words were exchanged between the three of us in that room, yet they seemed to understand exactly what was happening to me. When Laura Palmer finished reading, they each took an arm, stood with me, and literally steered me from the room. We sat down in a corner of the lobby and they told me about their therapy group. They each gave me their card and told me to call them anytime I needed help. Then they waited with me until satisfied that I was okay to drive home.
I attended a few of their group sessions over the next few weeks but I eventually stopped because the problems of each person in the group seemed to be much worse than mine and hearing their stories only served to deepen my feeling of guilt. Most of them had been through horrible combat experiences and had been exposed to many terrible and frightening things of which “normal” people could never even imagine.
Before Vietnam I had been very outgoing. After Vietnam I found it difficult to continue this effusiveness. I became quieter and seemingly uninterested in life around me. I eventually managed to put the pieces of my little black box back together and began honing my acting skills, which constituted my defense against unwanted emotions by allowing me to act out the emotions expected from me. I was able to cope in this manner for another five years until I sought professional psychiatric help and was diagnosed with “moderate to severe depression.” I was prescribed an antidepressant but it took a couple of years of trying different antidepressants and dosage regimens before I began to feel “alive” again. I can’t say that I felt “normal” as I don’t really know what “normal” is. As of this writing I am still taking antidepressants and although I am still quite reserved and “distant” to most people, I feel and cope much better know that I am medicated.
To be continued in Chapter 4, "Greetings" From Uncle Sam....