My 22 year war continues

I was honorably discharged from Fort Eustis in Virginia over twenty years ago. I had served my country as a United States soldier for eight years. While in the service my son was born at Langley Air Force Base. After my discharge my life began to change for the worse but, at the time, I was unaware of what was happening. My wife and I were divorced two years later and my then three year old son lived two thousand miles away from me. The separation happened over Christmas so that holiday became linked to much pain.

I went to live with my uncle in Chicago and, after a few odd jobs, I enrolled myself in a truck driving school. I found that I could not deal with people the way I had in the past so truck driving gave me the freedom to work and be by myself. Over the next ten years I racked up over a million miles traveling our nation’s highways. It was a great living, I was comfortable and always ready for my next load. I didn’t have a house of my own to call home for most of my career. I lived in my Peterbuilt truck and I had a different view from my truck each night. I remember feeling sorry for everyone I knew who had to stay in the same place day after day, seeing the same people, eating the same food.

I was remarried several years later, still in trucking but, for the sake of my wife and step daughter I took a job as director of education at a truck driving school in the Midwest. I was not an easy employee to have; I spoke my mind and stood up for what I thought to be right. Two years into that job I injured my back and my trucking career came to a quick halt. I was confined to a wheelchair, stuck, trapped, caged, highly medicated and thoughts of suicide felt like my best plan. One year later I found a surgeon who operated on my back. I could walk again, not great, but I did have some hope. When I left the hospital, however, it was not to head home, but to a Greyhound Bus Station leaving my wife and all my friends without as much as a wave goodbye. I went to my mom’s home.

Photography became my new career and I was enjoying myself and happy again. I was photographing famous people, sports figures, kids, families and pleased that I, once again, was able to pay my bills. The real thrill of photography came when I began to focus on wildlife. It took over my life. It was during this wildlife period that I met the love of my life, and, for a while, the person I thought I would be with the rest of my life. Two years into that relationship I became afraid of the commitment and managed to push her away and move out of my house with just a few very hurtful words. She was gone. Now what?

I took off to Alaska, alone and ready to live with grizzly bears. I started out happy but began to miss her more and more each day. When the summer was over I came back and we began dating again. I was so happy to be back with my wonderful girlfriend and I asked her to marry me. I had my own photography business, a new wife, a wonderful step son and felt I was on top of the world. It wasn’t long before I found out I was going to be a daddy again.

My daughter couldn’t haven’t been more amazing, my wife was my best friend and my step son held on to my every word and wanted to be just like me. When my little girl was six months old I closed my business and we moved to southern California. It was soon after that when my life came full circle.

Twenty years earlier, one of the last things I did with the military was have a physical exam with an army doctor. He signed some papers and told me I was officially a civilian once again. Little did I know what was actually in those medical records, and even if I had known, I am not sure I would have made all the connections. In 2010 I began having nightmares which I couldn’t remember, but I awoke fearing for my life. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Later I began having the dreams during the day until, without warning, I had a severe attack. I was actually hiding in a field just down the street from our home making plans for my escape, hiding from every car, truck and airplane passing by. I was a warrior again and didn’t even know it. My wife was crying and she had a minister with her. My wife and the pastor from our church finally got me to the VA Hospital. Doctor, after doctor, visit after visit, week after week went by and the insanity within me continued. Finally, I was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD. That diagnosis was on the medical portion of my discharge papers more than two decades earlier.

On Memorial Day 2011, highly stressed and showing many signs of PTSD, my wife and I were in the front yard of an out of town relative in the midst of our fifth argument of the day when the neighbors called the police. I promised that everything would be fine and the officers left. Two hours later the police were called again and I was arrested and taken to jail. As I listened to the closing prayer of the Memorial Day celebration at the nearby park, I had never felt so alone, abandoned and helpless in my life. Arrested on Memorial Day because of PTSD.

My wife decided PTSD and all of its symptoms was more than she was willing to deal with and she and the two children are living three hundred miles away and staying with her family. I was discharged a wounded warrior. Not all wounds are visible and mine took twenty two years to finally be diagnosed. I want my life, my wife and my children

June 20 2011
Thomas PSkinner