“Every me and every you” – Placebo

Montana was a bust. I spent my birthday and the following week trapped on a porch, breathing in smoke from the burning mountains and counting down the days and hours until my flight home.
I went to visit a recently retired Army friend-turned-frazzled mom. Her daughter adored me but the son was unfriendly and fussy. My friend was too exhausted and unmotivated to hike although she had the gear and her kids were perfectly content to ride on our backs. In 7 days, I may have spent a total of 2 hours on foot in the terrain. I was stir crazy, unaccustomed to being sedentary. I cleaned house (which made her mother uncomfortable, I learned), walked the short stretch of road to and from the local grocery store and lunged around the yard when no one was around. We did make it to a bar one evening and bored local cops stalked us as we walked home sober. Ive never been stalked by cops before. What option do bar-goers have in a town too small for cabs and Uber?
Although it was nice to discuss music again (I failed to agree that Ben Gibbard of Death Cab ripped off the sound of Placebo from the Cruel Intentions soundtrack). And it was endearing to meet a family with roots. Sisters, uncles, countless cousins…they were bickering, loving land barons with thick paper deeds dating back to the mid 1800’s. My friend has history. She can trace her lineage even without the help of the Mormons. I know nothing and can learn nothing beyond my Ashkanazi gypsy horse thief great grandfather.

But back to my friend. In her desperation for children, she compromised on love. Perhaps forfeited is a more appropriate word. A willful, independent, forceful personality saddled but not tamed by parenthood. She seethed resentment though dare not voice it because it’s hard to complain to a lonely, childless woman. My mother said “It will get easier in a few years when they get into school and she has a few hours to herself again”. But watching her struggle and I, bored to actual tears, wondered if this was a lesson for me, G-d reminding me to be careful what I wish for. What is worse? Living, sleeping, and dying alone or being trapped in an unhappy marriage and mommyhood?

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“I’m not alone cuz the TVs on yeah…”

“I’m not crazy cuz I take the right pills everyday…”
One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. When Jimmy Eat World released their album “Bleed American”, it was a week or two before 9/11. Heightened sensitivities of the American public after that led the band to pull the original album off shelves and immediately re-release it as self-titled. My copy still says “Bleed American”.

The Veterans Administration has a Vocational Rehabilitation program to help vets either separating from the military prepare for the civilian sector, help vets who are struggling to find work in general, or help vets find a different line of work which does not ‘aggravate their disabilities’. I have been saying for years that I need another ‘do over’. I’ve had the fun jobs, the rewarding jobs. The first doesn’t pay and the latter gives me nightmares and none are what I call ‘stable’ work. So I showed up with DD-214s, resume, and a stack of VA jobs that I have applied for over the years through usajobs so that I could ask why I never got so much as an interview from any of them. But first, the eligibility screening…

The Career Counselor—I suppose that’s what she is although she’s really a Social Worker—had access to my VA medical records and reviewed them prior to our appointment. Fine. She needs to ask some questions to determine my eligibility so she asked about my back, my knees, my neck…let’s face it, no one who served more than two terms of service walks away without bumps and bruises. By our 30’s,m ost of us have the back and knees of someone twice that age. She asked about my asthma, she asked about my history of depression…now here is where it starts to go downhill: She’s looking at my medications. “Are you still taking the Wellbutron?”

Yes.

When was the last time you were seen by the psychiatrist?

Last year.

Why so long?

Because she said I was doing fine and to come back and see her whenever I needed to. Otherwise, I’ll check in once a year. I was going to ask her about stepping down off the Wellbutron too.

But I see here you are also on Xanax. She didn’t prescribe that to you did she?

No, my civilian doctor did.

Why?

Because I told him I was heading back overseas and I wanted to make sure that if I needed it, I would have it.

Why woud you need it?

Because it’s AFGHANISTAN.

“Xanax is just a band-aid”

I just look at her.

She continues, “You stopped going to counseling a few years ago. Why?”

Because when my original therapist left, I was transferred to someone with whom I didn’t…click.

Why didn’t you ask for a different therapist?

Because I felt fine UNTIL I came for counseling and then I felt like shit for days afterwards. It was an emotional blood-letting and I was tired of it.

But that’s what it’s about. Talking it out. Eventually you feel better.

I felt better without it.

But now youre on Xanax.

(I’m getting angry now) “The VA prescribes pre-Vietnam era formulary and refuses to equip Veterans with anything better. My civilian doctor gave me a 2 month supply of Xanax. That was the first week in February. It’s November 20th and I still have at least 12 pills left.”

Good so you aren’t abusing it. Do you drink?

(No, but I’m going to start after this, I thought) Yes, usually a glass of wine at night.

That’s all?

“That’s all” I smiled “Try not to look surprised.”

I still think you need to come off the Xanax and consider rturning to therapy.

For what?

To finish what you started.

Are you a therapist?

Yes, actually I am but not so much in this job.

(Then why are you practicing on me? I wanted to ask)

She continues “Tell me a bit about why you were in counseling and why you are on WEllbutron.”

I stared “You have my medical records in front of you”

Yes but I want you to tell me.

That’s not what I came here for. I don’t want to talk about it.

(She gets a bit red in the face) Well, you have to tell me something. This is part of the screening. You don’t have to get specific. Just in general.

I take a breath…”Death, abandonment, betrayal, guilt and the burden of taking care of everyone else except myself.” I paused. “And loneliness. A great big cake of burden frosted in loneliness.”

She writes all this down and to my relief, moves on to the next health question. The pituitary tumors. Yes, Im still on medication, will be the rest of my life, MRI’s twice annually, bloodwork every three months…then she hits me again “I see in your records that this condition can affect your ability to get pregnant. Do you want children?”

I almost choke! I just HAD this conversation with someone about how I wanted kids and probably couldn’t have them. Instead of answering I asked a question in return, “Why did you ask me that?”

Because it’s in your record…

No, I mean why did you ask me if I want children?

As if realizing she has no good excuse, she backpedals and says “Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you” and moves on. Didn’t mean to upset me? Too late!

My next stop was another woman who reviewed my resume. It was to her that I handed over the stack of VA jobs that I had applied for and asked “What am I missing? Do I not qualify?” She studies my resume and the jobs and determines that although I may have to ‘dumb down’ my resume for some of the non-military types reviewing it, she says I am more than qualified. I said I just wanted to get my foot in the door. “Oh your Counselor should be able to help you with job placement.”

“She said they don’t do job placement.”

The woman looks confused, “Why would she say that?”

(Because I’m on Xanax and she hates me) “I don’t know”

“Maybe it was a misunderstanding.”

“What is there to misunderstand about ‘we don’t do job placement’?”

So! Another score for the VA! To my doctors, Nurse Nancy, my mom who goes to great lengths to take care of her patients and those like her… I thank you! To No Names Mentioned Wanna Be Therapist Pushing Paper in the Vocational Program, go to hell. Do not pass go, do not collect $100.