February 26, 2013
Name: Ginger Star Peterman
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Day fades. Darkness prevails and the weeks quickly melt. I lack sleep. I refuse to feel. I avoid that which I cannot change, but is real. I must choose to face it; reestablish control. He took it from me, about 260 weeks ago, and I need it back. I must say it, out loud. Let the world hear my voice.
His job is to heal wounded soldiers, Doc Lemieux. I should have stayed outside his CHU, in mid-day Kirkuk, with the summer-sun beaming down upon the empty gravel. A CHU, containerized housing unit, is what the more fortunate soldiers live in. Others share 30-man tents with cots, if they are lucky, and have hot showers with toilets. If not, the lowest ranking personnel are put on shit-burning detail involving a 50-gallon metal drum cut short enough to squat over, JP8 diesel fuel, matches, and a stick for stirring. Soldiers go to FOB Warrior for mini-vacations, resupply missions, and healthcare. I’m here for an x-ray. Doc Lemieux is my NCOIC, non-commissioned officer in charge.
I am a wounded soldier. My ankle throbs with no respite. My wrists are sore, from maneuvering crutches through gravel and balancing on one foot. The rubber pads are warped and scratched from the jagged, hot rocks. Everywhere there were rocks stretching miles wide, and likely deep, into the nothingness below. The rocks sink down into the powdered dirt they called “sand” after soldiers march it forcefully into the forsaken ground. The heated rocks soften our rubber soles.
It was the first in a series of bad days. I glare up at the harsh sun. No amount of daily sunscreen can protect my Ginger skin from the UV rays on this side of the globe. He insists I go into his CHU. I have no choice. I don’t know where I am or where else I can go. There are three awkward steps leading us up into the aluminum box.
I complain, “My wrists hurt from these stupid crutches."
Invading my space, he smiles: “Let me take a look at them.”
“Why? There is nothing to see,” I say, laughing with reservation.
He insists and grabs my aching wrists one at a time, without even looking at them. He glares into my eyes and throws me at his bed. I bounce up, utterly confused.
“Ouch! Why would you do that? I just told you I was in pain. You twisted my bad ankle, too!”
He doesn’t acknowledge my plea. He throws me back down again, laughing like it’s a game; he is winning. He doesn’t let me bounce back this time. Now I am trapped between him, the bed, and the four walls inside this tiny container in Northern Iraq. The CHU is centered within a matrix of many rows and columns of lifeless CHUs. He is strong and I am weak. The more I fight, the more he gets off.
“You like this,” he demands. “You’re a dirty girl.”
I close my eyes and see his, pervading evil within. The image of his nametape is branded onto my inner eyelids, reinforcing the memory: his intent to violate my pride, to take my life, and to force his body onto me. The neuronal synapses of my subconscious established a direct route through the maze my conscience built to avoid such thoughts. Yet he is steadily there, a constant, revisited daily. The side effects are what doctors call post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, as a result of military sexual trauma, MST: irritability, hyper-vigilance, anxiety.
Avoidance is like pouring JP8 on PTSD. I stay at home and cry. PTSD gets off even more when I can’t enjoy sex with my own husband. He leaves me for a woman who actually enjoys sex with my husband.
My marriage failed.
Who to trust? How to survive? Is it even possible to get my life back? Suicide is an option.
Many veterans are suffering from PTSD. We are staying “safe" in our homes, drinking, playing video games, watching TV, self-medicating, attempting suicide, avoiding our potentials, and letting PTSD win. We are not alone in this fight. I know that transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but the possibility of achieving control of PTSD is real.
He can no longer harness the power I give him. I must get it back. I must achieve my potential to the precise maximum. I am an American soldier. I’ve been to Hell, and I’m not going back.