Five Stages of Grief
Author's note: I have a had a fair share of grief in my life, as I'm sure all of us have. I was inspired to... Show full author's note »
GriefI stare blankly at the pain pills in my hand. One for my headaches, two for my chest-aches, one for the pain, one for the anxiety. Two big blue anti-depression pills.
My hands shake hard as my chest tightens up, unable to hold onto the sobs that will soon be racking through my body, tearing out every bit of self-dignity and strength. I glance up at my face in the bathroom mirror, stretched taunt and pale over my aching skull.
I dash the pills into the sink, flush them down with water. And fall onto the tile floor, curled up and crying.
Ever since I was ten, I had wanted to join the army.
My dad had been in the force that recaptured Iwo Jima from the Japanese in World war 2, and over and over again I begged him to tell me the stories. I began to know them so well that I could continue to narrate my father’s great adventures way after he had already started snoring.
I took all the military-preparatory classes and tests in high school, and I made it into the Pennsylvanian training program with flying colors. Boot camp was the hardest week of my life, but I made the best friends a man could ever ask for- ones that always had your back, no matter what. I earned my dog tags, and that was proudest moment for me. I also got in the best shape of my life, but that’s beside the point.
March 6, 2004, I married my high school sweetheart, Molly justice, in her parent’s preferred church. There we were- Mr. and Mrs. Winslow- married as we had expected to be since freshman years. It seemed just the same as always…not implying it was anticlimactic, because I would be a dead man if I ever said anything like that to Molly.
She was absolutely set on living in a Santa Barbara condo, so we moved onto the beach two months later. It took forever- the decorating. Every time I moved the furniture to a new place, she would sit on it for a minute, thinking, and then say it had looked better before. I didn’t really mind though, especially when I saw the excitement on her face at every step of the way.
Then my brigade was given assignment overseas in 2008. We weren’t sure how long I would be gone for, but I couldn’t very well stay. Molly cried for me, but I told her I would do everything I could not to die. She told me she would kill me if I did. I believed her.
We were sent to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for training for a few months- I wondered how soldiers in the world wars could have stood sending letters to their women and then waiting for weeks to get a reply. I just texted Molly, and called her every night after dinner.
August 2009, the 81st brigade combat team, with me intact, made the fifteen-hour airplane ride to our stations in Iraq.
My friend Bernie Andolinez and I were set up in Baghdad, protecting the civilians and guarding supply lines. Our platoon was made up of foot soldiers, no specials. Bernie was pretty good with the M16, and I joked with him about being in the gunner’s best friend- no one messed with me because of him. Really there wasn’t any drama in the group except for the stuff we stirred up for pure entertainment.
It was early July. The dust winds were worse than usual, spraying sand and grit into our streaming eyes every way we turned. Our head covers kept the dirt from getting lodged into our mouths, but they also choked us slowly so that we had to lift it up for breath every few seconds. Inside the houses weren’t much better, as sand piled up on the corners on the boarded-up windows.
A group of us were going to pick up some supplies a few miles out of town, just some gasoline and artillery. I told Bernie I would drive lead.
I don’t know why I did it. Lead convoy is the most dangerous position in a caravan, because you were a thousand more times likely to get hit by land mines or attacks. I know it was our tent’s turn to drive lead, and it was either Bernie, eighteen-year-old George, or me. I told Bernie it was fine, he had four kids at home, and I only had Molly…anyways I did.
We got to the supply west of town all right, and I was breathing easier as we loaded the cargo into the trucks. It was only a ten minute dive back to the station, so I turned on the radio. Bernie looked at me uneasily for a few minutes- we weren’t really supposed to attract extra attention to ourselves. But then Bruce Springsteen came on, and I knew he was sold. Bernie sang along in his scratchy voice, and George doubled over in the backseat laughing.
“Hey Winslow, say hello to the next American Idol!”
I heard the whizzing in the air, but there wasn’t any time to turn my head toward the sound before it hit. The front window shattered, and the canvas ceiling burst into flames.
I was flying. No wait, I wasn’t. I was strapped in, kept in my seat, as the jeep flipped over and over again. One second I was defying gravity, the next my head slammed against the dashboard and I blacked out.
There was never any pain. Which surprised me, because you would think…
I woke up three days later in a New York hospital. Tubes were sticking out of me everywhere, sucking blood out of me and pushing other stuff into me- I felt like I was in an alien spaceship.
Molly was passed out next to me in a visitor’s chair, her head lolling backwards against the wall. I woke her up, and she started weeping and throwing her arms around me and kissing me everywhere she could.
I tried to lift myself up, and my unbalanced weight lifted my left leg right up off the bed.
But where my left leg should have been- nothing. My left ended mid-thigh, the rest of it lost into oblivion.
Once I had calmed down, Molly explained to me that when the windshield shattered, half of it had broken off and cut straight through my thigh. My nerves, muscle, and bone were severed three-fourths of the way through, and they couldn’t save it.
She told me what my commander had told her- that the convoy had been attacked by rebels hiding out in the dunes. George…he was dead. There was a secondary explosion when the gasoline caught fir- he was stuck and the guys couldn’t get him out in time. Bernie was fine- he was waiting in the hospital for me to wake up, but I told him once he saw I was ok to go home to his family.
Six weeks later, Molly pushed me out of the hospital in a wheelchair.
The bathroom door-handle jiggles, Molly asking for me to come out.
I stay in silence. Even though I know I’m being cruel to her, I can’t face her like this. Eventually she gives up and I hear her footsteps echoing down the staircase.
I stare down at the stump of my left leg.
The shredded flesh has finally begun to reconnect, melding into the raw muscle and bone that was exposed by my sudden dismemberment. Before when I looked at it my stomach leapt into my mouth and I had to look away and breathe deeply to keep Molly’s dinner down. Now that I looked at my mutilated leg and I don’t react at all.
I know I am useless now. I can’t work to support Molly, I can’t go anywhere myself without her, and even in the house she is helping me every second. And when I try to help her, like reaching up to get a spice from the cupboard, a bolt of agony shoots through my body and I crumble on the floor. Molly tries to help me up, but I scream at her to leave me alone, that I can get up myself. I stayed there on the floor one time for two hours.
I am a deadweight, a failure to my wife, my country, and myself. is that a man? You’re only a man if you can walk, my subconscious tells me.
All these thoughts and more lodge themselves in my brain, and refuse to budge no matter how much I beg them to let go and leave me alone.
My misery finally breaks through, and I cower on the bathroom floor, my body spasming from the dry sobs escaping my mouth. After three months, my eyes couldn’t make any more tears, but that doesn’t stop the grief from tearing me apart.
Horses are stampeding over my heart, each of their hooves digging a little father in, bruising it a deeper black and blue. A massive drum beats in my ears, drowning out the sound of my own whimpers.
A soldier doesn’t cry. He doesn’t show weakness, and he never disgraces himself. But I’m not a soldier anymore- I am nothing.
Molly comes back up to check on me. She knocks softly on the door, and I stare at my bottle of pills on the sink as she calls my name.