Saturday

Deep and Rare

So many images prompt deep visceral responses.  For years one prompted a gut reaction that I couldn't explain.  Maybe I just couldn't handle the truth....
No matter if it was on a car, an ad on tv, or a tshirt... this image was a gut punch.

As melancholy navel gazers are prone to do, I meditated upon it.  The first memory of the image?  (always an important question in self psychoanalysis) The wall of our living room.

A beautiful red velvet banner ensconced in thick glass proudly displaying the seal of the USMC.  It was also on the underside of the toilet lid.  THAT... that was the first time I'd seen it; scarcely lower than my own eye level at the time.  Oh, I'd seen the beautiful one on the wall in the living room too but the one on the toilet is the sticker that stuck me.

My stepfather had been a Marine. (The FIRST step father.  I've had many; but more on that another time.)  His name was Dick.
Dick was the second man I'd call Daddy.  How that must have broken my father's heart.  He'd been replaced by a huge, strapping, handsome "man's man" who served proudly and moved in before the divorce was even final.  

I remember a few things he'd done that were distinctly Marine.  He planted two forty foot flagpoles in the front yard as soon as my dad moved out.  One flew the American flag, the other the USMC banner.  I remember only a few other things... He was magical at decorating Easter Eggs with colored markers.  He had given me the beating of my life for coming home late from a school function.  He also carried me in his arms to have my foot sewn up after an accident running barefoot in the grass.  He'd had a sharp jawline, steely eyes, a strong frame with brutal fists, a commanding bark that was not to be challenged... and a temper.
I was his favorite new daughter when my mom married him.  My brother and I were preschoolers and the fact that I was his ONLY new daughter escaped me completely.  My brother and elder by 14 months and 14 days was keenly aware of the favoritism.  He was just a little boy desperate to be the man of the house in this confusing transition time of our lives.

In my little mind it was the best of every world- it was the only world I knew.  Two Daddies.  Still the same Mommy, the same Big Brother, same dog in the yard, and the same green house on Green Street.  Normal, right?

So why, all these years later would the Seal of the US Marine Corps have such a profound effect on me?  Clearly, they are the Few, the Proud, and the Badass Peace Keepers of the World.  
Vacillation between intense pride and sheer horror continued for years.  The Seal's sway lingered.

"Semper Fi" raises such a swell of pride that it still catches my breath in my throat.
My throat.  That is where the sticker on the toilet makes it's mark.  In my throat.
I'm his favorite. 
I never showered with my "first daddy" why do I shower with this hulking Marine of a man- his hair covered body a shocking and frightening tower over my own small frame in the bathroom.  It makes me see red... the red of the seal on the USMC seal inside of the toilet lid.
I lift it, using all my strength and the span of my tiny reach to push the lid all the way open so I can vomit into the toilet.  Missing the head is cause for whipping.  Don't miss the toilet....

Even as an adult, the sticker of a Corpsman in the back window of a car gives me pause.

In my professional life I have amazing opportunities to meet a wide array of people.  My favorites tend to be the most difficult.  I ease into happy banter with the curmudgeon in the coffee shop.  The difficult patients in our practice are always "mine"; I call dibbs every time.

So when a Marine rolled in with a train wreck diagnosis, a dangerous prescription, and a lawyer daughter- I signed right up.  I'd have to document every detail to keep from having the DoD from refusing to pay for the treatment we were about to attempt.  Though Army clients usually didn't cause legal issues this was a special case.  Our local military post houses all branches and shares the wealth of need for special care with my very special practice.  This would be tricky.  This patient was in bad shape.  The therapy I'd be providing carried a list of risks a mile long, not excluding sudden death.

Intensive therapy would require my presence at his bedside for several hours daily, several days in a row.  So the first week of every month saw my duty station at the home of  "My Marine".
Before the end of our first visit my concerns about litigiousness and adverse reactions to therapy disappeared.  This was no last grasp for therapy.  Not a 'we will sue your asses if anything goes wrong', entitled former military patient.  This was a US Marine.  This was RJ.*  (Name changed due to HIPPA laws.)  One of the greatest men I've met to this day.

Gunny and his sweet wife calmly answered my questions as they had a thousand times before to other providers: "no" this condition wasn't considered service related, "no" he'd had no preexisting neurological conditions, "no" there was not a trace of VD or HIV or other "unmentionable" history to consider.  He was the doting husband of a loud and lovely fireball of an elementary teacher.  His brilliant and quiet daughter was a Pro Bono lawyer with a precious tiny dog that she'd bring to visit atop her daddy's bed.

Giant Marine.  Confined to his bed or motorized chair.  Gentle and wise and full of quiet strength.  All mine for 25-40 hours a month.  My personal life must not enter the professional care of my patients and their families.  But I mined his psyche for information about my "second dad".  Of course I didn't tell him I was the "daughter of a Marine".  That never even seemed legitimate before I spent time in the presence of a "Real Marine Family".  RJ talked of teaching his own daughter to set goals, push past limits, serve others.... My dads' were a swirling confusion of questionable legitimacy, mixed messages, and dire consequences.  

"My Marine", in our first few weeks together would remind me of much World History I'd failed to grasp as a high school and college student.  He challenged me to get a passport; something every American that can -ought to do.  Then I was encouraged to go home and teach my own kids about some of our US military campaigns.  His dear wife reminded me that the most important things really are learned in kindergarten.  "Tell the truth", "do what's right", and "be nice to everyone", she reminded me every visit.  Lessons taught by her lifestyle, not preaching empty words.  And do your homework while you sit on the toilet.
Still the best advice I've ever heard.  

I watched her feed him every bite he would eat during our hours together.  He thanked her for every single one.  Every sip, every dab of his chin with a napkin, every kiss prompted a "thank you".  Their banter was charming as a comedy team; she was his "Nurse Goodbooty" and he was her Hero, her Warrior, her Man.  His dignity remained intact despite the need of someone to hold his urinal every time he had to pee.  The mirror next to his bedside assured he was "high and tight" even when he couldn't brush his own teeth.  

RJ was also open and honest in the moments his wife and daughter weren't at his side.  Old buddies would sometimes  share the bedside banter as his family took respite to tend obligations.  Comrades weren't as patient with my ignorance and questions as he had been.  How dare I ask about a family history of illness when Gunny has served this country in multiple theaters of battle over multiple decades.  The US Military knew goddamned well that there were injuries caused to our men by the policies and procedures carried out in the field of battle and even in the homeland.  Camp LeJeune's water supply was well known for much illness back in the day.  Gunny didn't blame.  He'd calm his friend after letting him blow off enough steam to get his head together.  I saw what only battle buddies can do for each other.  It is a special and deep kind of love; rare in this world.  Though his friend came to visit so my patient wasn't alone, it was sometimes hard to tell who was caring for whom.  The same goes for our relationship.  I may be the practitioner, but he was the provider.

It's been over a year since I saw RJ.  The treatment I'd administered hadn't offered him any real improvement.  The risks of continuing this potentially dangerous therapy outweighed the real offer of benefit.  I thought of he and his wife and daughter and little dog too so often with pride and gratitude and real affection.  It felt as if I'd failed him since my therapy hadn't worked and I hadn't been able to provide even the least support.   Veteran's Day came.  I had no right to dial the phone.  In the year that has passed he may have deteriorated further, or he may be gone.


A year ago, before I had left what I suspected would be our last visit, I told them the truth.  I said, "You looked on paper to be a trainwreck- doomed to die in your bed with me at your side holding the IV."  I admitted, not only the concerns I had with treating him, but the deep dark fears in my own heart...
I told him about my other Marine.  My second Daddy.  The man who came back from VietNam and Korea looking every bit a hero and a strong man despite the times.  The man who would abuse his new wife with his fists and his 'favorite new daughter' with the rest of his body.  I told him that I'd learned in my few months with him that sometimes men were broken in heartbreaking ways.  And that really had nothing to do with me.  Marines are still the best of the best.  But just like every other people group, population, denomination, race, and nationality... some of us are broken in ways no medicine can fix.  And some of us are sick.

I can claim to be the daughter of a Marine because that was truly a season of my life.  Not just the barking commands and cuffs I took at 4 years old when it was hard to keep my tiny feet on the floor in front of me at the dinner table.  I was the daughter of a Marine because my heart swells with pride at the sight of our Flag.  I am, corny as it sounds, an All American girl.  I have had to re-parent myself, even as my sweet husband and I raise two daughters ourselves.  I have also had the joy of being "re-parented" by the men and women who have spoken truth over me, corrected my thinking, and broadened my views.

 I saw the Truth that I really can't handle... Men stand and die for me every day.  Some of them come home busted up ...but there are a few, I'm proud to say, that are never broken.

No comments:

Post a Comment