Reborn (and Battle Scars)

By Jennifer Schneider

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I started journaling while stationed overseas. I penned haikus. Short, tiny bits of text. Daily snapshots in a world with no electricity. Perfect to fill our short, tiny bits of free time. I hid my work. Later, after Ron found my notebook, I shared.  At night. When we should have been sleeping.

I thought Ron, a fellow soldier, would laugh. All 6 feet, 5 inches of him stood still. Staring at the words on the yellowing lined pages. Instead, he cried. I watched. Frozen, first in fear, then disbelief. Ron’s eyes welled as he faced me. Silence. Turns out we all feel. Even those who act like nothing scares them.

My writing was hopeful back them. Now, it’s an outlet for darkness. “Let it out. Don’t hold back”, Sally (my therapist) urges. I comply. Once a soldier, always a soldier. Sometimes I wish it were harder.

11:12 AM: I use the same journal. Deep brown, worn leather. Frayed at the corners. I flip through, reading some recent poems.

Born and raised stateside.

Homies. Fought hard. Overseas.

Strangers with no home.

Proud war veterans

Lost limbs.  Haunted dreams. Ignored.

No degrees. No jobs.

11:24 AM: Being out of work is rough. That’s why I’m back in school. VA benefits pay for my courses. Online. From my kitchen. Nobody sees my battle wounds.

When I was overseas, I’d write home. Over time, my letters got shorter. Then stopped. Words hurt. Waiting for responses even worse. Now, trying to erase all I’ve seen, I’ve lost my ability to write. Gone, like my former self.

“Write what you feel”, Sally advises. “Others understand.”

I try.

11:47 AM: My first assignment wants a bio. I start drafting.

11:48 AM: “Hi, I’m Dom”. Awful. “Hey, my name is Dominique Joseph and no, I don’t like DJ.” Worse. “Hello class, I’m Dominique, a Vet from Missouri.”

I keep trying.

The clock’s minute hand completes two full circles. When did everything become so hard?

1:52 PM: I try everything. Coffee doesn’t help. Springsteen on and the dial turned to the maximum only takes me back to a foreign land.  

“Born in the U.S.A.”*… most days I feel like a stranger in my “hometown jam”*. In my own body.

2:48 PM: A smoke outside gets me thinking. Just as dangerous as not. Maybe the doubters are right. My dog is more consistently productive than I am. Ah, Daisy. Needs a walk and food.

4:22 PM: Back at my kitchen table. Cold coffee and two more clock rotations. For my efforts? Nothing.

4:28 PM: Same story. Different place. “Nowhere to run. Nowhere to go” roars*. Spontaneous laughter. Drunk on caffeine, something clicks in my broken mind. Starting with nothing, I have nothing to lose. Cliché? Yep. Freeing? Oh, yeah.

4:30 PM: I start typing:

“Hi everyone. I’m Dominique (but call me Dom). Life hasn’t been easy. I figured I might as well share, as I really don’t know how not to. My past is as much a part of me as my present. I’ve made mistakes but learned from them. I’ve served. Our country. Other ways, too. I’ve lost everything. I frazzle easily. My patience is gone. I struggle with trust. Despite everything, I’m still here. It’s a message, I’m sure. Going for my B.A in Human Services. I’m gonna give back and share what I’ve learned. For lost friends, like Ron. The bills, too. I need work. My life – no more cover-ups. Thanks for reading.”

4:42 PM: I pause. Glance at the clock. Woah. Ten minutes and over one-hundred words. My story. I clicked submit and my words reappeared in the classroom portal. I feel giddy and hopeful.

4:49 PM: A quick dance with my tiny pug. She’s my hero and I’m hers. Then, back to the books. Ready to tackle my next assignment.

4:59 PM: Elation is short-lived. Always.

No book. No readings. Another obstacle. Damn flashbacks don’t help, either.

Four steps. Stop. Smell air.

Burnt rubber. Bacon. Bodies.

Jumbled thoughts. Need help.

5:00 PM: At my last session, Sally reminded me to reach out. Ask instructors my questions. I try. Via email. This instructor’s name is Ashley. 

5:02 PM: Email sent. “Ashley – Hey, it’s Dom. I need some help.”

5:16 PM: Nothing yet. Maybe it didn’t go through. “I’m one of your students. I’d really like a reply.”

5:54 PM: Losing my cool. “Ashley, what the heck is going on here, and why am I always assigned women instructors?”

6:58 PM: One more. “FedEx screwed up. The app scheduled delivery for 5:00. They left a note on my door at 3:00. I was walking Daisy. I have no book.”

10:15 PM: “Nvm my last email, the truck just left.”

11:00 PM: “Ma’am. I’m flippin’ mad. I ordered a new copy of our text. They sent a used copy. I’m afraid of germs. Can’t touch it. It’s going back.”

11:16 PM: “My head’s tired from the stress. I’m calling it a day.”

12:22 AM: “I can’t sleep. Darn PTSD. I’m sorry about what I said. I know it was wrong. I’m working to manage my emotions. Now, they manage me. Please bear with me. And please accept my apology.”

12:40 AM: “I know you don’t need another email, but the bookstore is sending me a new copy. Maybe there’s hope for me, after all. I’m going to take this as a positive sign. Goodnight.”

9:00 AM: Ashley hadn’t logged on since 5:00 PM the day before. Coffee brewed. The computer powered up. Log-in accepted. Emails loaded.

Easy, quick replies. Ashley confirmed receipt of a late submission. A yes to a student seeking a summer internship. Several questions about a project topic. One needed an extension.

Then, a whole bunch from one address, a new student. Teaching courses on criminal justice, Ashley was no stranger to emotionally charged discussions. Ashley scanned the emails, debating how to respond. Ultimately, Ashley saw an apology and, with that, inadvertently let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. Another human facing demons no one should have to battle.

Ashley started typing.

9:14 AM: “Dom – Thanks for reaching out. Good news on the book delivery. There are things in life both of us can’t change, it seems. I’m here to help. Best, Ashley”

Ashley paused, then typed once more

9:16 AM EST: “Dom – one more thing. Have you seen Gone With The Wind? As Scarlett O’Hara said, probably referencing Ashley Wilkes, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Let’s make it the best we can. Ashley”

9:20 AM: Hey, Teach. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I do what I do sometimes.  I’m trying. I really am. Sometimes, my memories get the best of me. This class, this program – it’s my second chance. Going for another proud battle scar. My “another day”. Reborn. Right here. In the U.S.A. Online version. I don’t want to mess it up. Thanks again. And Ashley, you’ve got a cool name. Dom

*Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.

About Jennifer Schneider

Jennifer Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. Her work appears in The Coil, The Write Launch, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Popular Culture Studies Journal, unstamatic, otoliths, Zingara Poetry Review, 42 Stories Anthology (forthcoming), Voices on the Move (forthcoming), Visual Verse, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.

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