This little vignette is meant to tell the fictional story of a veteran suffering from PTSD who is lucky enough to find help and in the process love and understanding. My hope is, that those suffering from this condition, whether from a war or some other disaster, will realize that there is help out there for them, all they have to do is ask or look for it.
Cindy Williamson had just celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday when she mustered out of the Navy, well... celebrated was really too strong of a word, she and two other nurses and a doctor had gone over to the Marine Officers Club at Camp Pendleton and had a couple of drinks, at least they had, Cindy had way more than two and the next morning her headache proved it. Cindy had joined the Navy Nurse Corps two years previously thinking that she would learn some practical applications of her nursing profession before she joined the civilian workforce and boy had she received some learning lessons. Serving fourteen months in a field hospital in Iraq had shown Cindy more blood, broken bodies and cruelty to humanity than she had ever realized was possible.
It was a bright and sunny Southern California Monday when Cindy drove off of the Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton for the last time and headed her car South on Interstate 5 towards San Diego. When she hit the Del Mar area she took the exit for the Del Mar Race Track down to Highway 1 South and then meandered lazily down the old highway until she finally arrived at Pacific Beach, a somewhat bohemian beach area of San Diego. Cindy pulled into a 7-11, got a cup of coffee and a copy of the San Diego Union newspaper and sat in her car looking through the want ads for a place to rent. She had plenty of money, besides her mustering out pay of over $8000 she had saved almost everything while she was in Iraq and had amassed over $70,000 in her bank account.
She was on the second column of 'Apartments for Rent' when she spotted an ad for a two bedroom, one bath, two story apartment for rent. It advertised that it had a view of the ocean and was easily accessible to the downtown Pacific Beach/Ocean Beach areas. Cindy pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number in the paper and made an appointment to look at the place after lunch. She knew that she had turned into a bit of a pessimist and so she really wasn't expecting much but was she was wrong.
After walking in the front door Cindy knew that this was the place for her. The living room was large, at least 15x25 and it had a small separate dinning room and a cozy kitchen. Upstairs there were two bedrooms and the single bath separating the two. The master bedroom was the same size as the living room and had a small balcony and the second bedroom, a much smaller 10x9 would be perfect for her office/sewing room, and the price - $975 a month plus utilities was a steal. And it did have a view of the Pacific Ocean for it sat a mere 15 feet off the boardwalk. You could open the living room curtains and look out across the boardwalk to the beach and from the upstairs bedroom Cindy could lie outside and tan and listen to the ocean as the waves rolled in and out. The only drawback that she could see was the amount of foot traffic on the boardwalk, but that was not enough of a detraction that she didn't sign a one-year lease on the spot.
Cindy moved in that afternoon and for the next two weeks she decorated the apartment. She seldom ventured outside during the day preferring to tan on her private balcony then go out for food in the evenings. She hadn't bothered to look for a job knowing that with the nationwide shortage of nurses she wouldn't have any problem finding one when she was ready.
Most nights were the same; Cindy would dress in her normal formal attire - a pair of jeans and a t-shirt or sweat shirt depending on the temperature, leave the apartment and go to dinner in one of the many dives along the beach. Most of the people who lived in Pacific Beach and the adjacent town of Ocean Beach were young, bohemian, anti-war and drunk on drugs or booze, or both, and that suited Cindy just fine. She would eat, seldom spending more than ten bucks for her meal, return home and drink glass after glass of boxed red wine, the cheap stuff they sell in most grocery stores everywhere. She would drink until she was drunk and the inner pain stopped, at least until the next morning. Cindy had PTSD and she knew it but wasn't about to go to some crappy VA hospital for a monthly refills of pills.
Three months had passed since Cindy had left the Navy and her routine seldom varied. Wake up each morning and take some aspirins, fuss around the house, tan and watch TV, then go out for dinner and get drunk. But tonight was going to be different; she was determined to do something different. It was just after 8 p.m. when Cindy took off her jeans and t-shirt and stepped into the shower. She washed her hair for a good ten minutes; soaped down and cleaned her sun screened painted body then rinsed off and stepped out of the shower to dry off. She walked naked into the bedroom and opened her closet door and looked for something different to wear. She picked a nice off-white peasant blouse and a pair of khaki shorts and set them on the bed. She rummaged through her dresser drawers until she found a pair of white French cut panties and a matching bra and she tossed them onto the bed too. Cindy turned and looked at herself in the full-length mirror.
She was the quintessential California beach girl, 5' 7", a 122 pounds, 34C breasts and long blonde hair. She had no sag to her breasts and her butt stood out proud and hard. She didn't have tan lines either, preferring to tan nude on her private balcony. Cindy turned first this way then that way as she evaluated herself. My God I look good and yet I haven't been with a man since... she thought back to her last sexual encounter, the one with the doctor in Iraq. How long ago had that been? Four months? No, Oh Christ it was four months before she left the service and that made it almost eight months ago!
Cindy blew dry her hair and put it into a ponytail. She put on her bra and panties then the shorts and blouse. She locked her apartment and went down to the carport and drove out of Pacific Beach down to the Gas Lamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. She found a parking place next to the new Padres ballpark and walked down the street looking for a place that would grab her attention. Then she saw it, it was called the 'Gas Lamp Strip Joint, ' a raw red meat, cook it yourself, steak house. The play on names was enough for Cindy and she walked inside. The main dining room was packed with both locals and tourists and after a couple of minutes of standing in the doorway a waitress approached Cindy.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for a table."
The waitress looked over the booking list. "Looks like it might be a while, most of these folks just arrived."
Cindy looked around and saw a long old Western style oak bar off to the left side of the room that seemed to have seating available. "Can I eat at the bar?"
"Sure, no problem. Just go grab yourself a spot and the bartender will get you a menu."
Cindy saw an open stool at one corner of the bar and boosted herself up and onto the seat and waited on the bartender who was in a deep conversation with another patron at the far end of the bar. When he finally noticed her he sauntered down the bar to her spot.
"Hi, can I get you something to drink and a menu?"
"Sure, a glass of Fat Tire will do nicely."
"Coming right up." He set the glass of beer in front of Cindy and handed her a menu.
"How does this work, with the steaks I mean?"
"You order what ever steak you want and I'll go and get it for you. Comes with a tossed salad and garlic bread. You take your steak over there," he pointed to a huge grill in the center of the room, "and cook it until it's done to your specifications. That's it."
"Hummm, well that takes all the 'you didn't cook it right' complaints off the board."
"Sure does. Look, my name is John, John Connelly."
"Pleased to meet you Cindy, obviously it's your first time in here, are you in town on business?"
"Nope, I live over in PB, you know Pacific Beach."
"Oh. Well it's a nice place if you're a bleeding heart liberal."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I'm sorry Cindy I didn't mean anything by that, I apologize."
She selected a sirloin strip steak and John brought it to her and she wandered off to cook her dinner. When it was done, to what she thought was a medium rare, she took it off the grill and went back to the bar and started in on her dinner.
"One more?" John pointed to her empty beer glass.
"Sure, why not."
Cindy finished her beer and steak, paid the tab and excused herself. She left a nice but not abnormally high tip for John and walked out into the San Diego night.
The next evening Cindy was sitting on her front porch watching the sunset, a glass of wine in her right hand, watching the young people on roller blades skating down the boardwalk and she thought back to the bartender, what was his name, oh yes, John. He thought all the people who lived in PB were bleeding heart liberals and maybe they were. As the young people went by her porch she realized that many of them were the same age as the kids she tried to repair in the emergency room of the hospital in Iraq. Those with arms and legs missing from the car and roadside bombs, those will bullet holes in their bodies, maybe John was right about the PB citizens. After all, at this age one should not be thinking about war but about school and girls and getting laid, all liberal thoughts she mused. She went inside and refilled her glass and when she returned to the porch everyone who walked by reminded her of someone she had met in Iraq. She knew that this wasn't a rational thought process but nevertheless it was what she was thinking. She drained her glass of wine, locked the front door and went upstairs where she stripped off her clothes and climbed in between the sheets and with one hand between her legs gently rubbing her clit she wept as she thought about some of the young men who hadn't been lucky enough to come home alive.
The next morning she woke up even more depressed and with a hangover. She searched through her medicine cabinet until she found the bottle of Valium. She took two capsules out and popped them into her mouth and washed them down with a glass of wine then, naked and unwashed, went outside to tan. She had either fallen asleep, or was it a drug-induced slumber, and didn't wake up until the sun had gone down. Going back inside her apartment she decided that she needed something to drink and maybe some food too so she showered, brushed her teeth and dressed. She put on a clean pair of Levi's and a Padres t-shirt and headed out the door.
With no particular destination in mind she was somewhat surprised when she found herself back in the Gas Lamp district. She walked by the steak house determined to find some new place for sustenance but something, maybe the impertinence of the bartender, drew her back down the street and into the restaurant. She walked right up to the bar and, for whatever reason, was pleased to see John behind the bar. He saw her and walked down and greeted her.
"Cindy, isn't it?"
"Yep, sure is."
"Hummm, another Fat Tire?"
"No I think I'll have a Dewers and ice."
"Be right back. Menu?"
"No, not right now."
By one o'clock in the morning Cindy was still sitting at the bar sipping on yet another Dewers and ice and she was drunk. "Gimme another one John."
"Sorry Cindy, no can do."
"What? Why not?"
"Because you're drunk, that's why."
"Well fuck you John, I'll go somewhere else and spend my money."
"Look Cindy, no bartender is going to serve you. I don't know what your problem is but it has to be serious, now why don't you go home and sleep it off."
"I don't have a Goddamn problem John, none! Good night."
"Cindy you can't drive like this, you'll either end up in jail or in a hospital, let me give you a lift."
"Oh sure, that's what I need, a helpful, hands-on bartender, no-thank-you."
"OK but if I see you even pull your car keys out of your purse I'll call the cops myself."
"Fine! You can drive me home but if I feel even one single finger of yours touching me I'll scream so loud you'll need a hearing aid for the rest of your life."
He laughed at just the thought. "OK Cindy, no touching now come on let's go. He punched out and took her by the arm and she led him to her car. Once inside she gave him the directions and he drove her home. He parked her car in the carport and opened the front door and they went inside.
Cindy's eyes eased open and she starred out at the bedroom window with its bright rays of sunshine filtering in through the curtains. She remembered the previous night and her throbbing headache told her how much she had to drink, then she remembered the bartender driving her home. She pulled the covers aside and looked down and saw that she was nude, her normal state for sleeping, but she didn't remember getting undressed. How... did he... she got out of bed and found her robe on the back of the bathroom door. She put it one and went downstairs to get some coffee brewing but half way there she could smell the coffee and... what... bacon? She descended the final few steps and looked into the kitchen and there was John, cooking breakfast. "What? What are you doing?"
He turned and smiled at her. "Well it was almost nine and I thought some breakfast might be in order."
"You... you're here? All night, uh, did we..."
"No Cindy we didn't do anything at all. I drove you home and you went upstairs to go to bed, that's all. Well, there was the sight of you in your panties and bra, bringing me down a blanket and pillow, now that was a nice touch." He laughed.
She blushed at the thought of this stranger seeing her in her underwear and even more so because she didn't remember anything about the night after they had gotten home. "I see, well thanks for making sure I got home OK."
"No problem but you'll have to give me a lift to my house when you're ready."
"Sure, it's the least I can do." They sat at the kitchen table eating the omelet, bacon and toast John had cooked and just making small talk. She looked across the table and really looked at the older man for the first time. He looked to be in his early fifties, tall, probably over six feet and in pretty good shape. He had a salt and pepper crew cut and a small diamond ring in his left earlobe. For the first time Cindy realized that this man was kind of sexy. After breakfast John helped clean up the dishes then Cindy said, "Ok John, thanks for the breakfast, if your ready I'll go upstairs and get cleaned up and I'll drive you home."
Cindy took a quick shower, put on some clean clothes, took three aspirins and went back downstairs. "Ok, I'm ready, let's go."
As they drove down Pacific Avenue towards Highway 5 Cindy asked where he lived.
"Hillcrest area, just behind Balboa Park."
"Well, isn't that the gay community?"
"Yea, it is now but it wasn't when I moved in. Nevertheless they are a good group of folks who keep to themselves so who cares?"
"Well isn't that just liberal of you to say!"
John thought back to the comment he had made the first time they met. "Touché." He directed her down to an underground parking lot and she parked her car in a visitor's space.
"Here you go John, and thanks for last night."
"You're welcome. Look Cindy it's an absolutely beautiful day so how about you come up to my place while I get cleaned up and then we'll take a walk through Balboa Park?"
She wasn't sure that she wanted to get involved with this man but it was a nice day and so far he had been the perfect gentleman, so why not she thought. "Ok, but that's all, just a walk."
"Fine with me." He got out and opened the door for her and they took the elevator up to the seventh floor and he let her into his apartment. The first thing she noticed was the huge bay window that overlooked all of Lindberg Field, the San Diego International Airport and off to the left was San Diego bay and she could even see two Navy carries that were in port.
"God John, what a great view, this place must cost a fortune."
"Naw, not really, I own the building."
"You're shitting me; you 'OWN' the building?"
"Well I made a few good investments in technology stocks in the early eighties and got out of the market before the Silicon Valley stocks went south, so I invested a portion of it into this building."
"What in the hell are you doing bartending?"
"Well it keeps me busy and I like talking to people so it's the perfect job especially if you don't need the money. Look I'm going to get cleaned up, you make yourself at home. There are drinks in the fridge if you want something, I won't be long."
She opened the refrigerator and took out a can of soda, popped it open, and as she sipped it she began looking around his apartment. Off to the left of the living room was a smaller room and when she peeked inside the door she saw that it was his home office. A pretty typical setup; desk, chair, bookcases, computer desk but behind his desk was a wall full of framed photographs and certificates. She walked over and began looking at the pictures. There was one 8x10 of two young men standing in some far off place in tiger-stripped jungle cammys both of them toting what looked like M-14 rifles and one of them looked a lot like John. Farther down the wall were several framed military certificates, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. Very impressive she thought, you don't get Bronze and Silver Stars for just showing up for a war.
"Hey, I'm ready."
They spent the afternoon walking through the park, wandering through a number of the exhibit halls and just plain enjoying themselves. It was the first relaxing day Cindy could remember having since she returned from Iraq.
"Are you hungry?" He asked
"What? Oh I guess a little, what did you have in mind?"
"I know a great little Italian place close to my apartment, we could go there."
They walked several blocks until John pointed out the restaurant and Cindy and he went inside and asked for a table. The owner showed them to a nice booth in the rear of the restaurant and as they settled in John ordered a bottle Chianti. He poured two glasses and they toasted the beautiful day they had enjoyed together.
Cindy smiled up at the handsome man sitting across from her. "I noticed your certificates this morning, were you in Vietnam?"
"Uh huh, why?"
"Well I saw your decorations and I guess I was curious, that's all."
"I see. Well generally I don't talk about it a lot; it was a long time ago. Why not tell me something about yourself, like what you do."
The sudden change in the direction of the conversation took Cindy by surprise, but she answered him anyway. "Well I'm a nurse by trade but I haven't found a job yet."
"That shouldn't be hard to do, the job market for nurses being what it is. How the hell can you maintain your place without a job?"
"I've got some money saved up; I really don't need to work for a while. I'll start looking soon. Can you tell me what the Vietnam War was like John, I mean really like?"
"Why would you want to know that? I mean war isn't something that women generally have any interest in knowing about and besides it's just a little bit too graphic to discuss in polite company."
She sat there looking at this man, almost a complete stranger to her and old enough to be her father and she started crying.
"Whoa, what's going on here?" He slid around the booth until he was sitting right beside Cindy and he gently put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to him. "What's going on inside you little girl to make you just start crying like that?"
"I'm sorry John; really I am, it's just that I can't get it out of my head."
"Can't get what out of your head?"
"Why are you thinking about Iraq? Do you know someone over there?"
She nodded her head then looked up and into his eyes and with tears streaming down her cheeks she haltingly spoke. "John, I just came back from fourteen months in Iraq. I was a Navy nurse in an emergency room in a field hospital and I can't get the memories out of my mind." Then she started bawling again.
"Ah, I should have seen it before now. The drinking, no job. Cindy I believe that you're suffering from PTSD."
She was still sniffling but she felt protected in his arms. "I know that I am but I don't have a clue what to do about it and that's why I was asking you about your experiences, I thought maybe knowing what you went through might help..."
He pulled her even closer to him and kissed her on the forehead. "Look Cindy, I was a combat corpsman flying MedEvac's out of the Naval Support Activity in DaNang and it was hell, pure hell, so I have some idea of what you must have experienced but truthfully it's a lot different for women, especially women combat veterans."
She held onto him tightly. "I don't know what to do John; I can't get their images out of my mind. They were just boys, most of them. The broken bodies, the death..." and she started crying again.
John paid the tab and took her in his arm and walked her to his apartment. Once inside her sat her down on the couch and went into his office and made a phone call. Upon returning he sat down next to her and held her hand as she wept, wept for all those boy and men that she had known in Iraq. When she finally got it all out, he handed he a box of tissues and she blew her nose and smiled at him.
"Thanks John, I appreciate your support."