Tag Archive: writing


The Debt We Owe

Greetings, dear readers. The Witch has been busy, lately. I’m back in school (carrying an A average, thank you very much), and enjoying the hell out of my English Composition II class. Our final big paper is a researched proposal, and our Professor cautioned us to choose a topic we could write volumes about. So I did. 

I’ve told you about my mother, in an earlier post, and now, I’d like to tell you a little about my father. He was a man of very few words. A World-War II veteran, from him I learned two things: my love of history, and that war is a terrible thing. When he first said those words to me, I was young enough that I didn’t quite understand the true weight of what he had said. Time and acquaintance with the world in all of its glory (or lack thereof) have lent new meaning to his simple statement. I fully support the men and women who serve not only my country, but nations all over the world. They have an unimaginably difficult job to do, and I wish them blessings, each and all. This is my final proposal from that class. I hope you enjoy my work as much as I enjoyed researching it and writing about it. This is about combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so be warned: it’s not my usual fluff…

 

Imagine, just for a moment, the most horrifying event of your life: a time when you genuinely felt your very existence was threatened. Remember how helpless you felt, knowing there was no escape, even as the adrenaline rush of terror urged you to “Run!” Now, imagine re-living that trauma over and over again, day and night, both in your dreams, and during your waking hours. While you’re at work, and when you’re spending a quiet afternoon with your family; perhaps while you’re fishing with your child, or out with friends in a crowded night club. Aside from the fact that you can’t escape from the horror you’re re-living, you have little or no warning before it hits, and when it does nobody can see or hear or taste the horror, except you. But they can see you, and how you react to what looks (to them) like thin air. Not understanding, they call you weird or crazy, and suddenly you’re more alone than you ever thought possible. You try to hide it, because you can’t explain it—to even try might make the horror even more real. And who would believe you anyway? This is reality, for many combat veterans who suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We owe it to the men and women of our armed forces to educate ourselves about the worst wound of war, so that—as a society—we can help them enjoy the freedom they fought so hard to win. It’s time to repay the debt society owes those who gave so much for the cause of freedom.

According to an article in Developments in Mental Health Law by F. Don Nidiffer and Spencer Leach, as long as humans have hunted animals, and competed with other humans for food, there have likely been stress reactions to life-threatening traumatic events similar to PTSD. Combat-related hysteria has been recorded as far back as 1700 B.C.E, ancient Egyptian physicians observed anxiety reactions to combat. Shakespeare refers to combat anxiety in Henry IV, but it wasn’t until two hundred years later, in 1678, that the malady was given a name—“Nostalgia” (6). Most who recall the Vietnam War know of someone who suffered from “Post-Vietnam Syndrome”, however it has only formally existed as a disorder since its inclusion (in 1980) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) (Nidiffer and Leach 3). The criteria that must be met for this diagnosis include “A traumatic event considered outside the range of usual human experience that would be distressing to almost anyone” (Adler 301). Those criteria continue to evolve.A subsequent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—DSM-IV—includes the following “…exposure to a traumatic event in which an individual ‘experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threat to the physical integrity of self or others…’ and their subjective reaction to this [A-1] event was one of ‘one of intense fear, helplessness, or horror.’” (qtd. by Adler 301)

Reactions to combat-related hysteria from military commanders have been varied and often brutal. During the American Revolution those suffering from PTSD were treated as deserters or malingerers, and punished accordingly—flogging and sometimes execution were common punishments (Nidiffer and Leach 6). During World War II, in a now-infamous incident, General George Patton encountered a young man suffering from shell-shock, and slapped the young man, telling him to get out of the hospital and back on the battlefield. More recently, in the wake of the Vietnam War, combat veterans returned to a country that had transferred its negative feelings about the war itself on to them, isolating them from the social and emotional support normally provided veterans. This fueled an already intensely negative self-image, making it even more difficult for them to return to a quasi-normal life. The emotional and psychological disturbances faced by Vietnam veterans were the basis for the formal establishment of PTSD as a mental disorder.

PTSD is a very real wound. Whether immediate or as a delayed reaction, an estimated 16-20% (Buchanan et al. 743) of combat veterans find that the training they’ve received—teaching them how to endure the rigors of life in a war-zone—aren’t something they can pack away with their uniform and try as they might, they find themselves unable to cope with day-to-day life on the home-front. The emotional detachment, hyper-vigilance, and obsession over combat-related experiences become a cross that proves difficult to bear, where once they were skills essential for survival. Combat-related PTSD affects sufferers every moment of every day. SSGT. Jeremiah Workman, a Marine Drill Sergeant and veteran of Operation Desert Storm who now suffers from combat-related PTSD, describes a typical morning for him:

“I slide out of my rack. When I hit the floor, I feel clammy and off. I haven’t felt right in months. Now that the booze remains in the bottle, the memories and nightmares plague me every night. What little rest I get is always interrupted.

Beside the bed, I stretch and yawn. A typical morning routine, but the engine’s not firing. Something’s missing.

Hope. Faith.

Oh, yeah. The realization wipes out the last of my sleepy grogginess.

I shamble over to the bathroom sink and find my razor. Water running, I start to lather up.

My eyes focus on the sink. I know I’ll have to look into the mirror, but I avoid it as long as I can. I dread this time. I cannot hide from myself. In my reflection, there is no escape.” (Workman 5)

Workman’s situation is far from uncommon. Approximately 10-20% of the men and women who have served in the Persian Gulf War (PGW) alone, are affected to some degree by PTSD—a daunting number, when you consider that nearly 1.9 million have served in-country during the PGW in some capacity. (Tanelian, 5) A personal friend—also a veteran of Operation Desert Storm—who wished to remain anonymous had this to say about his own experience with PTSD:

 “The bullet-wounds and knife-wounds heal, and the scars fade. Those are easy. But war? Fighting in a war, the things you do and see? That changes you. It makes you look at who you are and what you believe about yourself and the world. It scars your soul! And you can’t tell anyone the things you’ve done because they’ll think you’re a monster. It damages you. And if you believe in reincarnation? Your next self will still carry that scar, too. It just never goes away. I know I’m a monster. I hate what I became because of war” (Anonymous).

Yes, sometimes the personal demons win. While with continued treatment, a combat veteran may resume some close proximity to a normal life, for them the war never really ends. It changes them on such a visceral level, that a good night’s sleep, uninterrupted by dreams of the past is something a combat veteran with PTSD can no longer accomplish.

            Post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable, responding well to a combination of therapy, family education, and various anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications. These make the symptoms more bearable; however the already bad situation is aggravated by the stigma attached to admitting that there is a problem. Fear of being labeled a coward, losing a promising career in the military, or of being called a liar prevents many sufferers from seeking treatment. Lack of access to—or outright denial of—care and services (a problem that has existed since the Korean and Vietnam Wars, if not before) presents an additional barrier to healthcare utilization. (Buchanan, 744) Left untreated, many combat-related PTSD sufferers turn to alcohol or illicit drugs to ease the worst symptoms, or simply to get drunk or high enough to not dream—not to remember how damaged their psyche is. Their use and abuse of these drugs creates further problems with friends and family, causing them to further withdraw into their inner world.

The severest of symptomology of PTSD is difficult to wrap one’s brain around. How can the mind of one specially trained to have little or no emotional reaction to the horrors of war be so adversely affected by combat experiences, that the affected soldier re-lives it in the form of hallucination, dissociation, and/or vivid nightmares? Are they just making it up? There is an unscrupulous minority of malingerers who will try to benefit from the real suffering of others. Studies, such as those conducted by Porter, et al., Frueh and Kinder, and Morel, among others, have shown that, with the right information and a moderate amount of acting ability, it’s possible to successfully falsify answers on self-reporting questionnaires used to determine a diagnosis of PTSD, at least superficially. However, these same studies have shown that using several of these diagnostic tools in conjunction with each other, along with more traditional psychiatric tools, such as the Rorschach Ink-blot Test, decrease the possibility of successful malingering significantly (Freuh and Kinder 292).

According to Nidiffer and Leach, military training is a double-edged sword. In essence, soldiers are taught the behaviors that become Combat-Stress Reaction (CSR)—often a precursor to PTSD. In their words, “The irony of military training is that soldiers are trained to be hyper-vigilant…to remain unemotional about what they might have to do in injuring or killing others or tending to their own wounded comrades, and to obsess about previous combat related experiences, thereby enhancing their chances of success and survival” (Nidiffer and Leach 12). An un-named Virginia National Guardsman with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit put it neatly: “The military teaches you how to have PTSD” (Nidiffer and Leach 12).

But while they teach these behaviors as a matter of survival in battle, there is a marked lack of reintegration training for soldiers and their spouses or family members. Scott A. Lee, a combat veteran and PTSD survivor, has the following to say, in his blog: “Without… reintegration of the self, a combat veteran can and will run afoul of friends, family, and society. The returning combat veteran faces hurdles that they have not been trained to handle.” He states that compared to the hell a soldier has been through in battle, a returning combat veteran is misled by his training into believing that he will be able to easily re-enter civilian life. “…they are still operating from the combat value system and attachments, where in American society they individual is the central concern” (Lee). Lee describes untreated PTSD as a “permanent and debilitating mental wound”.  

Aside from the psychological damage to the individual there is a marked effect on those closest to the combat veteran, as lack of education regarding PTSD leads to a breakdown in interpersonal relationships. According to the study conducted by Buchanan et al. regarding partner education, less than half of the participants (spouses/intimate partners of returning combat veterans) had  received any formal training regarding the potential for and symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (746). This lack of training, coupled with the substantial barriers, both psychological and physical, to treatment-seeking that returning combat veterans face, serves only to exacerbate an already difficult situation. Partner education gives friends, family members, spouses, and intimate partners the tools needed to encourage their loved one to seek the treatment they need, and to support them throughout that treatment and recovery. Breakdowns in romantic relationships have been linked with poorer prognosis, lower treatment engagement, and increased risk of suicide for combat veterans (Renshaw and Campbell 953). Considering the case of Soldier X, whom we will assume is male, the chain of events leading to the breakdown in family relationships is fairly simple. It starts when Soldier X is deployed for active combat. We all know that war is a terrible thing, but nothing can truly prepare a soldier for what he (or, in some cases she) is about to face on the battlefield. Soldier X experiences numerous episodes of intense, stress-inducing trauma (e.g. being shot at, seeing others die, being physically abused or seeing others being physically abused, etc.) during combat, and the anxiety and fear related to these events. Assuming that he doesn’t lose his life in battle, Soldier X returns home after deployment, ready to return to his life pre-deployment (Buchanan, et al. 744). He attempts to re-integrate into ‘normal’ life, and finds that his/her world-view is altered to the point that he is unable to trust even those he’s closest to. The predominant feeling reported by combat veterans is a deep feeling that they are all alone both in combat and after it, that they felt deserted in combat, that all of their past and present relations had been severed in combat, and that everything had become meaningless (Dekel, et al. 416). Soldier X finds himself plagued by horrific, incredibly vivid nightmares, flashbacks, and/or other dissociative episodes, auditory or olfactory hallucinations, etc. Reacting to these episodes in a manner consistent with his military training, the soldier’s emotional detachment/numbing, hyper-vigilance, adrenaline rush, paranoia, and obsessive behaviors become more pronounced. These ingrained reactions make Soldier X seem withdrawn, distant, edgy, and irritable to their romantic partner and/or other family members. Lacking an understanding of the symptoms of PTSD, as roughly 2/3 of spouses or intimate partners do (Buchanan, et al. 746), the partner mistakes this withdrawal and irritability as being directed toward them (Renshaw and Campbell 957) Confused, the partner attempts to discern what they’ve done to prompt this behavior, or set of behaviors. Soldier X closes himself off emotionally. Fear of being labeled ‘crazy’, ‘cowardly’, ‘weak’ or losing their military career (Buchanan, et al. 743) prevents Soldier X from discussing his problems or seeking treatment for them, and he withdraws further into his shell. Soldier X may begin engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as alcoholism. According to a 2004 Study by Isobel Jacobson, et al., approximately 30% of participating veterans who were diagnosed with PTSD suffered from some sort of alcohol-related problem (667-668). As his family relationships deteriorate, Soldier X’s symptoms increase in severity—as well as his reaction to them. He becomes moody or angry much of the time, and aggressive toward his partner and other family members, largely due to the excessively high levels of adrenaline flooding his body, keeping him in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. There is an increased risk—up to three times greater—of domestic violence. (Buchanan, et al. 744) Statistics show 42% of veterans with PTSD committed at least one act of physical violence against their partner. 92% reported a minimum of one instance of verbal aggression (ptsd.va.gov). The likelihood of divorce increases—according to statistics reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs National Center for PTSD, in a study of 50 Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD 38% of marriages failed within six months of return from deployment. Furthermore, veterans with PTSD are three times as likely to divorce two or more times. (ptsd.va.gov)

We must find a way to erase the stigma surrounding PTSD, both in the civilian world and within the military itself. Following the episode described earlier by SSgt. Jeremiah Workman, he was ridiculed by his commanding officer, who called him weak and a coward, and accused him of malingering to receive a medical discharge (the superior officer had never seen a single day of active combat). He was then relieved of duty and sent to a PTSD support group by the base commander (Workman and Bruning 7-15), who was far more sympathetic to his problem. Fear of being labeled a coward, of losing a promising career in the military, or of being called a liar prevents many sufferers from seeking treatment. Lack of access to—or outright denial of—Veterans Administration benefits and services (a problem that has existed since the Korean and Vietnam Wars, if not before) presents a further barrier (Buchanan et al. 744). We must do what we can to support those who gave their all for us, ensuring that they get the help they need to become functioning members of society once more. Education regarding this disorder is a great place to start. We owe them that much, and more. It’s time to repay our debt.

 

Works Cited

Adler, Amy, et al. “A-2 Diagnostic Criterion for Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”

            Journal of Traumatic Stress 21.3 (2008): 301-308. Web.

Anonymous. Veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm. Personal Interview.

            31 March 2012.

Buchanan, Cassandra, BS, RN, et al. “Awareness of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans: A

Female Spouse/Intimate Partner Perspective.” Military Medicine 176.7 (2011): 743-51.

Web.

Dekel, Rachel, et al. “World Assumptions and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”The Journal of

            Social Psychology 144.4 (2004): 404-420. Web.

Freuh, B. Christopher, and Bill Kinder. “The Susceptibility of the Rorschach Inkblot Test to Malingering of Combat-Related PTSD.” Journal of Personality Assessment 62.2 (1994): 280-298. Web.

Jacobsen, Isobel et al. “Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Problems Before and After Military Deployment.” Journal of the American Medical Association 300.6 (2008): 663-675. Web.

Lee, Scott A. “The Combat Veteran and the Birth of Dissociation.” PTSD: A Soldier’s Perspective. Blogspot, 21 Nov 2008. Web. 23 Feb 2012.

Meis, Laura A. et al. “Intimate Relationships Among Returning Soldiers: The Mediating and Moderating Roles of Negative Emotionality, PTSD Symptoms, and Alcohol Problems.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 23.5 (2010): 564-572. Web.

Nidiffer, F. Don and Spencer Leach. “To Hell and Back: Evolution of Combat-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Developments in Mental Health Law 29.1 (2010): 1-22. Web.

Renshaw, Keith D. and Sarah B. Campbell. “Combat Veterans’ Symptoms of PTSD and Partners’ Distress: The Role of Partners’ Perceptions of Veterans’ Deployment Experiences.” Journal of Family Psychology 25.6 (2011): 953-962. Web.

Tanelian, Terri and Lisa H. Jaycox, eds. “Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery.” RAND Center for Military Health Policy. California: RAND Corporation, 2008. Web.

United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs National Center for PTSD. “Partners of Veterans with PTSD: Research Findings.” Ptsd.va.gov (12 December 2011). Web. 10 March 2012.

Workman, Jeremiah and John R. Bruning. Shadow of the Sword: A Marine’s Journey of War, Heroism, and Redemption. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

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It’s been a long, dry spell for my poor blog. Nearly a month, with no posting. I’m ashamed of myself. I had such noble intentions: a post a week, I told myself, was do-able. Little did I know that real life and my muse would step in, and prevent that from happening. It’s not that I haven’t been productive. I’ve been writing like mad! Just…not on my blog. Oops. I’ll also admit that Twitter may have had a thing or two to do with that, even though I’ve exiled myself from that, as well, as of late.

Much has been going on in the Witch’s life. I’ve switched jobs, which is probably a good thing. I start the new one Monday. Better hours, better money, greater potential for advancement, yada-yada. I’ll miss the restaurant, but I won’t miss the hot kitchen. Also, divorce-papers got filed last month. My divorce hearing is set for August 4th. It’s PIMA’s birthday. How amazingly apropriate.

So, I had this idea running around in my head, and it wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept poking at me with a rather sharp stick, whomping me in the head when I was trying to sleep, whispering things in my ear at work, etc. I sat down with my trusty MSWord program, and began to write. 22K later, it’s kind of taking on a life of its own. I’m in a sharing mood, so I thought I would share an exerpt from the first chapter of Reflections of Who We Become. That’s the working title, anyway, although I’ve been toying with changing it.  There’s a quote at the beginning of the chapter–one of my favorites–that I thought apropriate.  

Let me know what you think! I’m happy to improve myself, and my writing, however I may, so con-crit always appreciated:

“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in it’s proportion.” — Sir Francis Bacon.

It started like any other, ordinary Tuesday morning. Nick crawled out of bed at 5:30, when his alarm went off, and let the shower and the promise of caffeine wake him sufficiently to make his way from the dorms, across the quad, to the SUB’s coffee-bar. His first class didn’t start until 8 a.m. and Mocha Joe’s had just opened, so there was a dearth of customers. It was a perfect start to a beautiful spring day. Except…

What the hell was behind the counter? It looked like the SUB had hired a new server, because he’d never seen anything like that behind the counter before.  Nick scowled. It looked like some guy had had relations with a peacock, and this was their love-child. It smiled. Yep. Newbie. It would learn Nick didn’t do smiles before 10 a.m., at the earliest. He strode purposefully up to the counter, model-perfect face set in what his acting professor called neutral-face, except for the quirk of one eyebrow, which clearly asked ‘who the fuck are you?’

“Good morning.” A shy dip of his head (yes, it appeared to be a man…that mystery was solved, at least), accompanied by a brilliant white smile framed by full pink-lipsticked lips. Now that Nick really had a chance to examine the guy, he was kind of hot…if Nick swung that way, which he didn’t, thank you very much. Nick’s cheek-muscles pulled the corners of his mouth up in a small flash of a return-smile, before he got them back under control, and schooled his features back into the neutral expression of earlier (minus the quirked eyebrow, because…well, just because).

His voice was still rough from sleep, when he spoke. “’Morning. Extra-tall cappuccino, double espresso.”  

Lipstick-boy stood there, the silver bangles on his wrist clinking together and still smiling brightly, as he tapped on the counter with his black-lacquered fingernails. Nick frowned in confusion because he was pretty sure he’d spoken English, well, with possibly a smattering of Italian coffee-speak, but the guy should’ve got the gist of what he wanted. It was too early in the morning for anything beyond that handful of words, and Nick hadn’t had any coffee, yet. And smiley wasn’t moving, just smiling and drumming. Nick tried again, scowling. “Extra-tall cappuccino, double-shot of espresso.”

“I heard you, doll face.” His voice was pleasant—slightly raspy, not too deep, and not too high-pitched, either. He had a nice face, and a beautiful smile…Nick shook his head, not going there. It was the make-up the guy was wearing. Had to be. It was throwing him off, seriously, because he wasn’t into guys. Consequently, he didn’t generally notice when a guy was attractive and smelled nice. What the fuck? Where had that come from?

Nicked rubbed his face with one hand, frustrated, and seriously in need of caffeine. “Uh, then what are you waiting for? Christmas?”

Mr. Lipstick actually had the audacity to giggle. And seriously? It would’ve been a nice sound, if Nick had had a coffee in his hand—which he didn’t. At his bewildered look, Lipstick smiled even wider. “No, doll face. I’m waiting for the magic word.”

Magic word…what? What the hell was the magic word? Was it something he was supposed to know, and didn’t? His sleep-addled brain attempted to come up with something suitable. “Abracadabra?”

That giggle came again, musical and pleasant, his eyes crinkling as he shook his head, longish blue-black hair swishing against his collar. “Nope. Didn’t your mama ever teach you about the magic word?”

Nick was even more confused now, his voice taking on a pleading note. “Um…no?”

Lipstick threw his hands up in the air in a dramatic gesture of exasperation that clearly stated the Nick’s mother had failed him completely, as a parent because she had failed to clue him into the magic coffee-getting word. Hands on hips that were slender, but not skinny, Lipstick huffed out an irritated breath, “Please. The magic word? It’s ‘please’.”

Nick wanted coffee. Lipstick was not gonna give it to him. This was irritating, to say the least. But if ‘please’ would cause coffee to magically start being made, he’d give it a shot, because seriously? He’d already wasted fifteen important minutes of prime coffee-drinking time. Jaw clenching, he glared at Lipstick-boy, in an attempt to convey just how un-amused he really was. “Fine. Please? Coffee? Now?”

Lipstick smiled again. “Sure thing, doll face. If you’ll have a seat, I’ll bring it right out.”

Nodding, because this was the strangest conversation he’d ever had in the SUB, he turned to find a seat, when Lipstick’s voice sounded again. “Thank-you? Seriously, pretty-boy, your social skills are lacking.”

Nick, caffeine-deprived and feeling picked-on, stiffened, whirling around with an ease he wouldn’t have believed himself capable of at this ungodly hour, immediately on the defensive. “Dude, what the fuck? Of course my social skills are lacking! It’s 6:45 in the fucking morning, I’ve been awake for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, without coffee, I might add. Then, I come in here and find Miss Manners is now working here, and is keeping me from said coffee, because I have no social skills. Jesus H. Tap-dancing Christ! Just give me my fucking coffee! My manners will improve exponentially with coffee. I promise!”

Mr. Lipstick had the nerve to actually look shocked, and a bit frightened at Nick’s tirade, kohl-rimmed blue eyes wide under the fall of deep-blue bangs (they were black with a blue rinse on them, not that Nick noticed this sort of thing, because he so didn’t, but he had considered doing something similar to his own hair a time or two. Perhaps it bore more serious thought…). Silently, the younger man turned and began to make Nick’s coffee.

Walking toward a nearby table, Nick kicked himself, mentally. He had sounded a little frightening. But damn it! How much was he expected to have to put up with on a Tuesday, anyway? And where the hell was Shelby? She was scheduled to work this shift, he had thought. He sighed, disconsolately. The day had started with such promise.

As if on cue, two things happened. His cell-phone buzzed and Lipstick-boy brought a hot, extra-tall cappuccino with a double-espresso shot. Face sober, instead of wearing that smile that Nick could write sonnets about (if, you know, he was into that sort of thing), he carefully placed the cup, in its cheerful, bubble-gum pink cozy, on Nick’s table, and turned to walk away, shoulders set in a defeated posture.

“Hey…uh…” Nick realized, as Mr. Lipstick stopped, but didn’t turn around, he didn’t even know the man’s name. Couldn’t very well call him Mr. Lipstick forever, “Look, I’m sorry for going off. I just…I don’t do well without coffee, y’know? I’m Nick Holt.” He peered at his cell-phone…Shelby. It figured. Boy was she in for an ass-chewing!

Lipstick-boy turned, and his dazzling smile pushed all thoughts of how many ways he was going to ream Shelby far from his mind. The cell-phone continued to buzz, as the prettiest man in Nick’s acquaintance practically skipped back to the table. He held out a hand, and Nick returned the handshake, which was reassuringly firm. “Drew Lawson. And I apologize for sounding like Miss Manners. I’m nervous, I guess. First day on the job. And, well, I kind of have this way of calling a spade a spade. ” Lipstick—er, Drew had a pleasant voice, Nick decided.

Nick nodded. Bluntness was a quality he could appreciate. The two men stared at each other, the silence becoming increasingly uncomfortable, as they searched for something else to say. Nick’s cell-phone started buzzing again, he saw it was Shelby calling back, and thanked whoever was listening for her perfect timing. “I’ve gotta get this. But it was nice to meet you, Drew. I’ll see you around?”

“I’ll be here every morning, Monday through Wednesday, and Friday. Nice to meet you Nick.” He walked away, Nick staring at his departing figure appreciatively. He’d forgotten all about his phone, until the maddening buzz stopped. Crap. Shelby. Taking a long drink of his cappuccino, he sighed, and dialed her number.

“How’s he doing? Is he doing alright? Do I need to come in?” Shelby’s voice in his ear was slightly panicked.
“And good morning to you, too. How’s who doing?” He loved Shelby, but her habit of jumping into a conversation right in the middle, leaving the other half wondering what the hell she was going on about could get annoying, at times. Like now. When he was one sip shy of coffee-less. Once he had himself completely caffeinated, he could usually keep up. But he wasn’t. And he couldn’t.

She let out an exasperated breath that reminded him of Drew’s irritated huff earlier. “DREW! How’s he doing? Do I need to come help him? How’s his coffee? Because if he sucks? Martin trained him. If he’s the best barista on the planet? I taught him everything he knows.”  He could hear the grin in Shel’s voice. He took another long sip of coffee.

“Drew? Who’s Drew? And why is the coffee-bar still locked up tight? I’m in the cafeteria, forced to drink the swill that passes for coffee, to the unwashed masses.” He managed (barely) to keep from laughing at the loud screech that came from his phone’s speaker, causing Drew, who was only a few feet away, to look up, concerned. Nick held a finger to his lips, in a shushing gesture, and winked, gaining him an uncertain smile.

“I’ll kill him! I’ll be there in two minutes. That cafeteria shit will kill you, and then I’ll be friendless!” The line went dead, before Nick had a chance to tell her that everything was going fine. He bit his lip, a guilty look crawling across his face.

From his spot behind the bar, Drew frowned slightly. “What happened?”

“Prepare for world-war-Shelby. She called to check up on you, and I kind of maybe planted the idea in her sweet little head that you weren’t here? She’s on her way.” Nick and Drew shared a grimace. This would not be good.

Ten minutes later, Nick was well into his second cappuccino when a short, blonde hurricane stormed into the coffee house with murder in her eye. She pointed at Nick. “Nicholas Aaron Holt! I am going to kill you, you asshole! I looked all over the cafeteria for you, and you’re here? Do you have any idea just how little sleep I got last night, worrying about how Drew might oversleep, or might have some problem? And then you show up, and I call to see how it’s going, and you pull this shit? I absolutely hate you! Buy me coffee. NOW!

Nick took another calm sip of his cappuccino as Drew looked from Shelby to him and back again, finally managing to squeak. “How do you want your coffee, Shelby?”

“Strong, black, with as much caffeine as you can legally force into it. And if you were in on this, so help me!” Her words were for Drew, but her icy blue gaze was all for Nick who refused to cower under her surly, blonde presence. He absently picked some lint from the sleeve of his shirt, calmly took another sip from his cup, and smiled his most winning smile at the angry woman glaring daggers in his direction.

“Good morning, Shelby. How’s your day, so far? I don’t know where you found Drew, but you definitely need to keep him around a while. He makes the best cappuccino on the planet. Even better than yours, and that’s saying something.” His relaxed voice only served to further infuriate his friend to his great amusement. Shelby had been his girlfriend once upon a time, for about three months, so he understood well the delicate process of talking her down when she was in a snit. He continued, voice still soothing, “By the way, where did you find him? I thought you were supposed to be here this morning.”

Drew carefully set a steaming cup in front of Shelby. This display of anger was so far from anything he’d seen from the tiny blonde in their brief acquaintance that he wasn’t sure how to take it. He walked away deciding it would be better to let Nick handle her, which he seemed to be doing rather well. He’d have to ask her about Nick later, because the tall, muscular frame, dark blonde hair and hazel eyes were pushing every button Drew had. He wanted this pretty man, and it’d been a long time since he’d felt such a strong attraction so quickly. Checking to see that the other two or three customers were settled, he busied himself behind the bar where he could keep an eye on the proceedings at the front table, as the friends spoke in now-hushed tones. Nick winked at him conspiratorially, and the bottom dropped out of Drew’s stomach. Did he even know how hot he was? Drew suspected the answer to be a resounding ‘yes’.

Taking a careful sip of her hot coffee, Shelby sighed in contentment. This was what she needed to calm her nerves. Nick had scared the hell out of her but now the adrenaline was fading and she felt the anger fade along with it. She still might kill him, but not right this minute. “So, I didn’t want to tell you until I was sure I had the job. You remember the strip club on the edge of town, Caprice? I got hired as a bartender, there. I had to cut my hours here because I’m there mainly on weeknights. I met Drew there, and he was looking for a second job. He applied here and he is taking over my weekday hours, since he mainly works weekends.”

Nick nodded. “That’s great, Shelby. Congrats on the new job. So that’s how you met Drew, then? He works there with you?”

“Yeah, we sort of work together a few nights. But I actually met him in my dance class last semester. If you’d bothered to come to the final show, you’d have seen him. He’s an amazing dancer. I’m surprised you haven’t seen him around. He’s a double major—dance and theatre. I figured he’d been in a few of your classes too.” Shelby was nursing her coffee like it was mother’s milk, as she spoke. Their shared caffeine addiction was one of the things that had drawn them to each other, at first. Neither of them were morning people, per se. They just got up early to feed the caffeine-junkie that lived deep in their souls, which didn’t make a great deal of sense to anyone except them.

“I don’t think so. He’s kind of hard to miss, so I think I would’ve noticed.” They shared a laugh at this. Yes Drew was kind of hard to miss. Shelby had lamented, in her journal, many times that it was really too bad he was gay.

Checking the time, Nick rose to pay his and Shelby’s tab. Drew smiled as he walked to the cash-register. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. You just have to know how to handle Shelby first thing in the morning. The coffee was great, by the way.” Nick pressed a couple of dollars in the tip jar. “So you’ll be here tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I will.” Nick smiled broadly at the news, and Drew felt his knees grow weak.

Not sure why this news made him so cheerful, Nick nodded. “Good. I look forward to it, then. Have a great day, Drew. It was nice meeting you.”

“You too, Nick. See you in the morning.” Drew returned Nick’s wave, and the butterflies in Drew’s stomach fluttered at a fever-pitch as he watched the blonde-haired man walk away, making a mental note to grill Shelby for information later.

It’s been a bitch of a weekend. That’s all I’m saying about my blog post being *checks timepiece* 7h 40m late. So I’m quite sorry. Mea Culpa, and all that..

Major blogger-fail aside, I’m congratulating the hell out of myself, today. I did my utmost to prove that I am clearly insane. I entered three fic challenges (two original fiction, one fan-fiction) that had June deadlines. Why? Mostly to prove to myself that I could. To be fair, the fanfic challenge had a 6 month window, and a 20k word min. Challenge opened January 1, submission date: June 6.

The second, for a blog called ‘Reviews by Jessewave’, had a word-limit of 3500-55oo words (and let me tell you it’s a pain in the ass trying to tell a full story, with my own brand of dry humor, AND naughty bits, in 5500 words). That contest officially opened June 1. Submission date: June 15.

Here’s where it gets tricky…

The third is for the m/m romance group, on GoodReads. It’s called ‘Hot July Days’, and I’m looking forward to reading as much as I’ve enjoyed writing the story I’m submitting. Let me set the ground work: group member looks through the photo-archive, picks a picture, and posts an open letter requesting a short story to go with the picture. I claimed a letter (and posted my own) May 30th. Submission deadline: June 21. My story is 10k-ish (give or take 50 words, or so), called “Riding for a Fall” (it’s featuring Cowboys, because I love them soooooo much), and it’s done. It’s being edited by a good friend, or two, and I’m feeling the heady rush of excitement that comes with accomplishing this much in a short time. I hope, sincerely, that my letter-writer enjoys the story. I know I’ve enjoyed the hell out of writing it.

At the time, I was thinking…well, obviously I wasn’t thinking anything at all, except possibly ‘sure you can do it. you’re full of words!’. But I’m glad I did all three. I needed to prove that I could. To myself. The fan-fic is getting lots of kudos. And a little con-crit, which I always appreciate (apparently there were a couple of things I didn’t make quite clear…oops. Naughty author!). I haven’t heard, yet, from Jessewave. I’m guessing that I’ll know in a few weeks, as the readers get to pick the actual winner, after the judges pick the two best. I have no actual designs on winning, but it was fun to do. Definitely presented a challenge. The GoodReads story will be posted to the site in July, sometime. I’m anxious as hell, for the feedback from that one, as well.

My ultimate goal is to be published, and I think that’s true of most authors. In the meantime, I’m honing my skills. A couple of the stories I’d like to expand into full-length fiction. And I may do just that. One of them is at a good stopping place. That seems to be my major stumbling block: Stopping when the story’s done. But I think that’s what sequels are for, right? LOL!

At any rate, lovelies, life is going well, and continues to present challenges. As long as there are stories to be told, I will continue to do my best to tell them. And maybe, if  I’m lucky, someone will deem them worthy enough to share, someday. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones said it best: No, you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.

I bid you peace. *mwah*

WIP

Attempting to do something a little different, this week. A bit whimsical, if you will. I am working on several fictional short stories. Most of the WIP’s have a deadline sometime this month. Yes, I am insane, but that is completely beside the point.

I decided to share a bit of one of them. Fair warning: this is m/m romance. I stopped before I got the the really naughty bits b/c why would anyone need to read it when it’s done, otherwise. This is a work in progress, in this case, its currently being edited. I hope y’all enjoy. OH! and remember, I’m a complete feed-back slut, so please comment. ConCrit is always appreciated. If you love it, or if you hate it, let me know, as long as you’re willing to tell me why. 😉

A disclaimer: this is a work of original fiction. Any similarities to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

If he was looking for atmosphere, he’d certainly picked the wrong joint, but as luck would have it, Chris was looking for nothing more than a cold beer, and the neon signs in the window of Auggie’s pub proclaimed that they had several varieties. The general lack of cars in the parking lot almost guaranteed that he’d be able to drink, and think, pretty much all by his lonesome, and he was relieved. It had been a brutal day, what with the long drive from St. Louis, to Lyneville, MO, and then the funeral. It was beginning to wear on even his perpetual good humor. He walked through the door, and stopped, briefly, to let his eyes adjust to the light (or lack, thereof), noting that he appeared to be one of only two customers, this particular Saturday. Of course, it was still fairly early.

Not wanting to appear unfriendly, he sat next to the only other warm body on that side of the bar, and gave his order to the bartender, who was attempting to appear busy, polishing beer mugs. Taking a deep pull off his long-neck, he savored the bitter tang of hops and barley, and sighed with obvious pleasure, happy to just be, for a time.

Out of the corner of his eye, he studied his ad hoc companion, dressed to the nines in a black western-style shirt and Wrangler jeans, Stetson pulled down low over his eyes, as he nursed his own beer. Clearing his throat, Chris put the bottle to his lips again, and spoke, before taking another long swallow, “Nice night.”

The cowboy snorted derisively, not bothering to grace him with so much as a glance. His voice, when he spoke, was deep, rich, like chocolate, with a hint of a Texas drawl, “Yeah. Right.”  The stranger motioned the bartender for another beer, and continued to stare pointedly at a spot on the bar, apparently lost in thought.

He tried, once again, to make conversation, because Uncle Harry would have been rolling in his newly-occupied grave, if he hadn’t, “So….uh, I’m not really from around here. I was kind of wondering…”

The stranger turned to him, in irritation, and cut him off, cold, “Mister, my give-a-damn shattered a week ago. I don’t mean to be rude, but I ain’t lookin’ for conversation. I just wanna’ have a beer, or six, and forget today ever happened.”

Chris swallowed, nervously, and nodded in understanding, “Yeah…I, uh, I got it. Sorry.”

The cowboy sighed deeply, and pushed his hat back on his head, grinning ruefully, “Nah, man, I’m the one who should apologize. It’s been a bitch of a day, but that’s not your fault.  I’m Jesse, by the way.” He extended a hand, and Chris couldn’t help but notice, as he shook it, that it was well calloused–hands that were used to hard work.

“Chris. I…I was wondering what’s there to do for entertainment, ‘round here? I’m in town for a funeral, and looking for something to pass the time. ” The last time he’d spent a summer with his uncle, entertainment of the grown-up variety had been the farthest thing from his mind. Fishing, bike riding, the occasional horseback ride had been high on his list of priorities. Now, time and distance had dulled his memory to what the small town had to offer.

Jesse gave him a speculative look, studying him just a bit longer than necessary, which made Chris just the tiniest bit curious about this cowboy’s game. Finally, Jesse offered a small shrug, “This is about it, I’m afraid.” He motioned to Chris’s beer, “You want another?” Not waiting for an answer, he signaled the bartender, who busied himself filling the order.

Chris cleared a sudden lump in his throat, “I, um, my uncle was buried today. ‘S why I’m here, I had to stick around to talk to his lawyer, tomorrow, about some stuff.”

He held up his beer, “To your uncle. May he rest in peace.” The two men clinked the necks of their beer-bottles together, and took a deep swallow, as Jesse wondered absently whether or not he knew the kid’s uncle. He’d have to ask, later, if it didn’t come up.

Chris was amazed at how easily the conversation flowed between them, in the quiet dimness of the small bar. They made small-talk, about the weather, life, whatnot, which was fine, because he found himself drifting off into Jesse’s turquoise eyes, losing track of the conversation rather easily, whenever they’d glance his way. Somehow reasoning that applying more beer would do wonders for his focus, he ordered another round for them both. Such a bad idea, the voice of reason warned, just before he bound and gagged reason, and pitched it into the corner.

His imagination may have been playing tricks on him, with an occasional flirtatious look, but there was no mistaking the warm press of the cowboy’s thigh against his, and when that subtlety failed to get a response, a kick against the sole of his own boot. When he looked up, a question in his eyes, Jesse’s face held that a note of semi-amusement,  as he peered out from under the brim of his hat, his tone coy, “You tryin’ to get me drunk?”

Chris felt the corners of his mouth tug upward, in an answering grin, “That kinda’ depends–Is it working?”

“Well,” long, slender fingers played absently with the label on the bottle, “that kinda’ depends on what you had in mind.”

Chris searched the cowboy’s face for some indication that his words were intended to sound like a come-on, and wasn’t the least disappointed to find that same teasing smile. Chris shook himself, and returned Jesse’s grin, “You know, I was just thinking, you know, about my uncle. I hadn’t seen him in years. Life kind of got in the way. But I remember him being so exuberant, and happy, and just…over the top. I kind of think he’d approve of this, you know, sitting in a bar, drinking a beer, finding some way to celebrate life. You know what I mean?”

Jesse raised one eyebrow, a snort of laughter escaping, “Seriously? ‘Some way to celebrate life?’ That’s the line you’re going with? Why don’t you go freshen up, and see if you can think up something a little more original. Then we’ll see.” Chris excused himself, confused. Line? What line? He was trying to make simple conversation, attempting to cover up the fact that he’d love to do the tall drink of water seven ways from Sunday, and Jesse had somehow seen right through it? Was he really that transparent? Calling himself eleven different kinds of idiot, for even entertaining thoughts of taking the cowboy back to his motel room, he splashed cool water on his flushed cheeks. Reason had somhow slipped it’s bonds, and was screaming at him BAD IDEA! Really bad! This will NOT end well.

He was washing his hands, when he heard the door open, and shut, and the unmistakable snick of the lock being turned. He glanced up in the mirror, and saw Jesse, standing there, back pressed against the door, gazing at him. Chris shot him a questioning look, in the mirror. A lazy grin spread across Jesse’s handsome face, “I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. You’re so hot, probably haven’t needed much practice at pick-up lines—which you really suck at, by the way.”

That’s it! It’s all you get. Let me know what you think.

A brief introduction…

Hi there, dear reader. So I’m now all settled into my new, SECOND, second home. Happy to be here. I’m among friends, right?

They say, in order to make friends, one should share something just a little personal. NO, silly, not THAT personal. Just a tiny little peek at my soul, so to speak…

The past year has been interesting. I really wish I’d started this blog back then. But I was in no shape. It took a while for me to get here, but here I am. I’m not sure where I’m going, but it’ll be a fun ride.

I left my hubs of two years, exactly 11 months, and one day ago. I’ve made reference to him a few times. If you follow me on Twitter, I’m sure you are probably gnashing your teeth, and thinking “Oh, NO! Not again!”. And no. Not again. Just making note of the anniversary. It was a good decision, even though, at the time, it was terrifying.

I’ve come a long way, in a year. I write. A fellow writer asked the question, once, of his readers, ‘why do you write?’ And after careful thought, I answered because its therapeutic for me. I work out my issues through fictional characters. And while not wholly a lie, its not wholly the truth, either. So, James, here’s a better, clearer, and more fully honest answer (pay attention, dear, I’m only saying this once):

I have been a writer since I was 9 years old. That was the year I got my first journal. And the year I wrote my first short story. My teacher was greatly impressed. It was some useless drivel about a Prince, a Princess, and a Dragon. Pretty heavy stuff, for a nine year old. I wrote page after page full of angst-ridden journal entries, all through middle-school, high school, college…to get the crap out of my head. It helps me work things out, seeing them in black and white, on a journal page.

So, writing as therapy. Yeah, definitely. But I also write (at least in my journal) to hold on to memories, to share thoughts too private for anyone else to know, and, also, from habit. Its just something I did.

Until I stopped. I stopped for five years. Because I came home from work, one day, to find Hubs (who was then my boyfriend) carefully leafing through the pages of my journals. I felt like I’d been…well…raped, or worse. So I stopped journaling. I stopped writing fiction. I just…stopped. And for five years, I kept that part of myself locked away.

Of course, after the separation, it took time. In the first weeks, I filled page after page with angst-ridden (are we sensing a theme, here?), venomous epitaphs, extolling the depths to which I was surprised to see him sink. And then I remembered that book wasn’t about him. It was about me. And I began to heal. Again, writing as therapy. Better, and cheaper, than the nice doctor. A kind friend suggested I should sit down to my computer, and let my heart lead my fingers. A couple of neat little ficlets came from that weekend. And I suddenly remembered: I am a writer.

So, dear reader, I write because it’s what I am. And someday, I hope to be a published author. I write with abandon, though I’m perhaps not as dedicated as I should be. Perhaps you’ll find my stories interesting, perhaps not. But they’re mine. In the end, that’s what really matters.