I’m still afraid to open my eyes
There are some events in life that will forever change you as a person. I’m not the person I was when I went into the military and I’m certainly not the person I would’ve been had I chose not to enlist. Some things just stick with you for your life. This isn’t a military story though, I don’t particularly like talking about those days. Instead this is yet another story of my transition to civilian life and how difficult it was to make the leap. How even now, the stability I’ve found is only just so.
Like a countless number of Americans, I have no support system. No parents, much less wealthy ones, I can rely on for support should I need it. No family, that’s pretty much the sum of it. If I were going through a hard time I would have no way to stop all the bad things that come from life falling apart. Luckily my life has been semi-stable now for the better part of the last decade. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been rocky and/or touch and go, but for the most part things have been consistent, not great, but not all bad either. If that’s all I get out of this life I will be happy with consistent.
It wasn’t always like that and as I’ve mentioned in the past — not linking, but feel free to search — things haven’t always been the easiest. Transitioning to civilian life was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It wasn’t just the transition, it was the lack of support and the abrupt nature of the whole thing. One minute I was planning a life in the Marine Corps, the next I was a civilian with no job training, no prospects, no home, no job, no way to make an income.
I had savings and those helped, but I knew it wouldn’t last long so I tried to be frugal. To make the needed journey across the country back to familiar areas I grew up in I bought an old 1984 Pontiac Trans Am. Turned out to be a great investment on my part, seriously. The car was a tank and I could fix it in my sleep so there was no issues on that front. I did need to swap the engine once, which was actually kind of fun, but that’s a whole other story.
That car followed me around for the first five or six years I was out of the military. It was the only way I could get to and from doctors appointments or setup the care I desperately needed after I left the service. Basically that car was a lifesaver and the one semi-reliable thing in my life at the time. Sure, it had some years on it, had seen better days, and was basically duct taped back together again, but so was I. We were an obvious match and to this day I still think about that car like it were a beloved family member because I spent so much time with it.
This isn’t a happy story, but that car was definitely the happy point in the story. The photo above is actually one I took of the car from this story. I somehow managed to keep that photo after all these years along with a small handful of other photos that have managed to made the trek through time with me.
After I tried to kill myself, things slowly fell apart. Well more than they had been anyway. I soon found myself failing all my classes because I couldn’t for the life of me bother to focus. I had no savings to rely on at that point, years after I had been discharged, and I could no longer afford rent. So things quickly went from bad to worse. The fact that I didn’t try to kill myself again (or successfully kill myself) is an interesting thing here any you may be wondering why I would find myself in an apartment and suicidal, but homeless and not. The answer is simple. I was now distracted from every evil thing living inside my head because I could now focus on surviving. Funny how that works.
Some of you know this, others probably never thought of it, and some it just never occurred to, but being homeless is a crime. It’s not a crime in itself to be homeless, but setting up any sort of shelter for yourself, or gods forbid you try to sleep somewhere safe for the night, and you’ll learn quickly just how much society hates the homeless. For over a year while I was fighting with the VA for help, I was one of those people.
Frankly I was lucky, I had a car that ran (somewhat), I had an address prior to being homeless so I still had some financial aid from school. That meant as long as I took classes I could shower and wash up without too much hassle. There were plenty of rocky points. Run-ins with the police, excuses made for sleeping in my car, like traveling, or moving, things of that nature. I had my car broken into twice, once the crappy stereo was ripped out, the second time they just broke the windows for fun. There were days I thought I would freeze to death and days where I wish I would have.
Eventually the VA (barely) offered some relief and things slowly got better. I found an apartment again and just a few years later actually bought my own home. Over ten years later and the VA finally acknowledges that I really am very injured and I now get medical and monetary benefits because of it. So the story ends about as good as it can, but the experience stuck with me and to this day I’m still afraid of finding myself back in that position. It was roughly 18 months of living out of my car, but it was 18 months of barely sleeping, barely eating, barely existing.
The fact that it ended just as abruptly as my military career was also extremely jarring. Literally it went like this, I filed a claim with the VA through a not-for-profit. About 18 months later I had a small monthly income because they acknowledged I was injured due to my service and I got 18 months of back pay with the notice they sent to the person helping me (because I didn’t have an address at that point) so they knew before I did. The VA doesn’t help you right away when you file a claim, they wait until the claim gets fully processed to assist you so I went from having literally no money to having enough to move into an apartment again overnight. 18 months was actually shorter than it could’ve been, it was a long 18 months, but sometimes it takes years for the VA to review a claim. When I got the news I cried, I vomited, I profusely thanked the person who helped me. I had finally successfully filed a claim with the VA years after they discharged me.
I still deal with those evil things living inside my head and now that I am not fighting everyday just to survive I don’t have the option of ignoring them, which I guess is a good thing. The experience sticks with me though. I constantly wonder if I’m dreaming my life now. I would hope that if this were really a dream I would’ve had come up with a better life for myself, maybe more peaceful and certainly less pandemic. Then again dreams are weird. I’m always afraid that one day I’ll wake up still in my car. That’s what I mean when I say some things stick with you. I genuinely don’t think I’m dreaming during the day time. But when I first get up and I’m in that state where I’m not sure if you’re awake or in a dream, the one where I still don’t quite remember where I am, that’s where this fear lives.
It’s why when I wake up, I’m still afraid to open my eyes.