Labeled Disabled

 

I’m at the top of my game; one of the best drivers in Iraq. I have found several I.E.D.’s and never once allowed my convoy or my Marines to get hurt. It’s my second tour. I have already survived the battle of Fallujah. I’m 22 years old and feel completely invincible. Aug. 30th, 2006, I’m back in Fallujah. It’s 2345 and we are heading down the main street, which runs from MSR Mobile to the Euphrates River.

There is a dog walking across the road. We are three hundred meters from the George Washington Bridge. My gunner spots a small box in the middle of the road. I begin slowing down, trying to get eyes on it. Is it trash or is it a bomb? It’s hard to tell. The box looks like something a cell phone would come in. The wind blows and a small wire moves in the dirt. It’s a bomb.

I throw the M1114 Humvee into reverse. My Vehicle Commander is informing our Scout 2 truck to back up. I see headlights in my side mirror. I turn the wheel slightly. My side is exposed to the IED. I’m trying to get us out of harm’s way without slamming into my Scout 2. Scout 2 driver is a champ. He has been driving behind me long enough to know my movements and how to react to them.

He starts moving back almost as soon as I do. I see the bomb. I see the headlights in my side mirror. There is a blinding flash, a deafening pop, smoke fills my vehicle, we are down, but we are not out. Two hostiles start sending in the hurt from an elevated position. They assume because they have the high ground, they have superiority over the Marines. They were wrong.

Several Marines unload a can of unholy terror upon them, killing both of them. We won the day for the moment. Little did I know, my real battle had just begun. Top of the world Maw, Top of the world… and I came crashing down like an asteroid.

A little over a month later, I was back in the world of the big PX. I had all my limbs, was in great shape, and ready to go back on another deployment. This would not happen. I didn’t know it at the time but the IED blast destroyed most of my hearing in my right ear and some in my left. The Marine Corps has a policy: you can’t hear, you can’t shoot guns, so you can’t go to war.

I was told my war was over and I was going to have to get out of the Marine Corps. I was depressed. I loved being a combat Marine. It was the greatest thing in my life. I was getting to live out my childhood dreams of going to war. I had all my limbs, why can’t I still fight? I was going to live and die in war. I had my whole life planned out. I was pushed back into society and told I could never again do the one thing I was good at.

My EAS came up before I was medically discharged and I took the EAS. This was a dumb move because I lost out on benefits. I didn’t care though. I couldn’t be around it anymore. It was like having to work with the love of your life, now separated. You can still talk with her but you can’t score her.

You love her but she doesn’t love you back. This is what it felt like. I was heartbroken. I had been dumped by women before but this hurt the most. So instead of waiting and doing what I should have done, I opted out. I had to get away from the Corps because the more I was around it; the more I wanted to hurt myself for not being a part of it.

I felt like a loser and like I had done something wrong. On base I was not allowed to partake in PT, going to the field, no shooting range, like I was an invalid. I felt terrible for getting my friends hurt and I felt like I had let down my Marine Corps. PTSD to me was not seeing my dead friends or reliving the explosion. PTSD for me was feeling like I had failed my service, failed my country, failed my brothers.

Like most vets, I went to the VA. I got my rating and now I was labeled Disabled. Twenty-three years old and I am considered disabled? I felt like my manhood had been removed by blunt force. I was told I would need a hearing aid. My eyesight began to go bad because of the trauma to my brain. Now I needed glasses. My memory began to suffer. I forgot things easily. I had begun to forget details of my life: people, places, things.

The only thing I seemed to remember was the pity I felt for myself for letting down my Corps. The Marine Corps teaches you how to survive in combat but no one teaches you how to survive life after the Marine Corps. I was 23 but felt 83. My body hurt, I developed a drinking problem, I gained weight, wanted to hate myself more each day, refused help, and rejected women who were interested in me. How can I love someone when I can’t love myself?

This is meant to be the prime of my life and I was drowning behind a label – Disabled. I felt my life was over. It seemed like everyday someone had a joke to make about me being deaf or disabled. I laughed along with them but felt like shit inside. I am Disabled. I am an old man, without ever experiencing middle age. I hated my life.

Most of my peers had no idea what I was going through. My wounds were not visible. I had the scars from getting shrapnel but these were not what impaired me. Being labeled disabled was not a badge I cared to wear. I hated the look people gave me, that look of sympathy or confusion. I hated when someone would speak louder to me, practically screaming.

You’re young and strong, why can’t you do this simple task or keep your balance on one leg? Some Marine you are, people would say jokingly.

It took me years to embrace the truth. I was not disabled. I was not done with life. I had a slight problem but with time and work, I learned to adapt and overcome. I would survive and not be tied down by a label. Maybe I was labeled disabled but this doesn’t take away from what I did and what I will do. I will not let my son see me as a disabled person. I will be strong for him and show him that no matter what, you can persevere through anything. Disabled – it’s a label but it is not my character and I will not be defined by such.