These are Tammara Rosenleaf's words, familiar with the struggles of women and men in the Army Reserves. For me they say everything you and I need to know about why we have to keep for elected officials to do more for military families. Tammara was as close as I'd been to the military since I worked with several in my practice. We met and talked after she appeared in Home Front 911: Military Family Monologues.
A small advertisement in a free weekly brought us to the Old Church to our attention. Why had I not heard online? Perhaps I had the wrong connections--peace and anti-war groups. When I became active in 2005 with New York City's Grandmothers against the War , couple of us suggested work beyond picketing, If we're using our "roles" as grandmas, wouldn't it be truly "grandmotherly to reach out to families of the military--those who had to live with daily consequences combat? The dismissive response led the other woman to leave the group.Ultimately the most vocal GAW members primary believed the way to make a difference, to end the wars was through publicity for their demonstrations. New York, home to most of the major media outlets, is seductive in this way.
"Homefront 911" felt more anti-war than those other groups. The message was very personal. War has a long history in many of these women's lives as well as ours.
"I was thirteen when I saw my uncle go to Vietnam...remember Granma saying that trouble always comes through the front door."
"The Five Stages of Becoming a Military Spouse" was next. #1, Denial. #2, WTF about housing ("The waiting list is how long?") On the way to #5, Acceptance," there was the realization by some wives that they were trying to ease their pain in ways not useful ("Doctor, Can I have a prescription for Xanax?")
"The Wedding Dress" monologue told about a wedding just before her soldier was shipped to Iraq and her decision to wear it again "when my husband came home in a coffin."
"How To Be a Boy" spoke to the problem of living in a military setting with no adult males for role models...of an 8 year old's pain as his father leaves for his fourth deployment.
Once the soldier returns home, his family finds he is never the same. Even if he not wounded in combat. The Oregonian ran a page one story last Sunday about a young man who committed suicide 7 years after his return. Oregon has the largest group of National Guard Reservists in the military and the highest number of suicides.
Another question/demand from Tammara still echoes--
In the talk-back afterwards, the small audience was asked to stand and share their own or a family member's experience with the military during wartime. My own experience was limited to WWII and my 8 year old's discomfort that my father avoided the draft by taking a second job in a war plant. With that in mind, I wonder why he did not count Peace in his many causes.
It was a shock when a man approached the stage where the presenters were sitting. "I was active against the war in Vietnam, now in Afghanistan, and I can tell you [he faces one woman onstage], I cannot get past the feeling of hatred toward your husband." It was if he'd whipped a weapon from his jacket. But no, he was simply behaving in an inappropriate way. While the audience was breathless, the women took his outburst in stride.
Many of us know the frustration of living with unanswered pleas for ending American wars, and the disappoinment among many Obama supporters that he has not made good on his campaign promise. I admit to feeling righteous about my pacifism. I wondered if relentless dedication to the cause of peace had somehow empowered this man to be insensitive to the suffering of others, to become war-like.
Returning Veterans Project, a co-sponsor of the event, was started to fill unmet needs of military families. Begun by therapists, RVP offers free services--mental health counseling and other health-related services by about 60 providers. We spoke with a couple of them at a reception afterward, learned about about their workshops for incoming volunteers. Frustrated that not keeping our malpractice insurance up-to-date means we could not use pre-retirement skills. We look forward to supporting their work in other ways.
To get a sense of the event, here's a video of Stacy Bannerman with her monlogue, "Letter to Julie." With women and men close to these issues, Stacy founded The Sanctuary for Veterans & Famlies. Founded in 2007, The Sanctuary another sponsor of the evening. She will appear in Eugene, Oregon on October 18--back in Portland, October 19 to talk about her book,"When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families they Leave Behind."
This was the first performance by Homefront 911 and they are looking for other venues. Could there be one near you?
[photo at top, Damon Winter/the New York Times, June 27, 2010]