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The Flight Home
By Teri Saya
Living with a wounded soldier is not an easy thing, and sometimes the wounds are not visible. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran. I've known him for 24 years and it surprised me that he had never told me about this experience. He still suffers from PTSD, even after all these years.
We had been living in Mexico for six years, and my husband had finally decided to sell the house and move us back to the states where our families live.
I had traveled with him on many occasions. Moving from California to Guadalajara, Mexico in an SUV packed full of our possessions was an experience in itself, but the few times we had flown from Guadalajara to California and back, he would become agitated in the airport which resulted in exasperating verbal abuse. I could not calm him down, even with a cocktail or two from the airport bar while waiting for our flight. A miserable experience.
This time, I bought my own ticket, knowing it would take a ridiculous amount of time to sell the house through the Mexican red tape. I figured that if I flew to the place in the states we had agreed to ahead of time, and began getting things prepared for us to settle there, it would make the process much easier for my husband to complete the sale without me, the dog, and all the luggage I would be taking. Afterward, all he had to do was meet up with me in the states. I was actually looking forward to a solo flight.
I thought he would be happy to know I was trying to help in our move. Instead, my husband became very quiet and depressed. I know better than to engage him while he was in this type of mood, so I kept to myself and continued to prepare the house for sale and for my flight which was still a long way off. After about four days of not speaking and the cloud getting darker and darker over my husband's head, I decided to kick start a conversation.
"Honey, aren't you excited to be getting back to the states?" I prodded.
He snapped back, "Why can't we fly together?! You are abandoning me!!!"
Abandon? WTF? Stunned, and a little confused, I tried to explain what I had said before, "I'm trying to make it easier for you…."
"You bought a ticket without even asking me about it!"
In my mind I was thinking, "first of all, I don't need your permission for anything, and second, I had been begging for three years to move back to the states with you." But instead, I said, "I am not abandoning you. I am trying to make things easier for you. Why do we need to fly together anyway? And to be honest, every time we've flown together, you become agitated and I end up getting the brunt of your anger. I don't want to go through that again."
His fists clenched, and I steadied myself for a verbal barrage. Instead, he took a breath and began to speak quietly. "When I was flying back from Vietnam, I was on a plane full of veterans who were also going home after serving their military terms. Everyone was laughing and joking and talking about their families they hadn't seen in so long. We all knew we were the lucky ones, the ones who had survived."
I watched him as his whole demeanor changed. He stared at the ottoman between our chairs and his eyes began to water. I leaned forward, and the hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle with anticipation. I knew he didn't like talking about his time in Vietnam, so I quietly waited for him to continue.
"We were scheduled to land at the Cam Ranh airport to board a plane leaving for the US. As we approached the airport, our plane suddenly leveled off and began to circle. The pilot buzzed the intercom and told us that the airport was under attack, and we were going to stay in the air as long as possible. We would have another 30 minutes until we ran out of fuel and had to land. The silence was sudden and intense. No one spoke during that whole 30 minutes. We thought we were going to die in battle after all."
My husband stopped speaking, remembering. After a long pause, he cleared his throat and continued. "When the plane finally touched the runway and taxied to a halt, the pilot entered the cabin and told us the attack had been thwarted and we were now safe to depart. No one moved at first, then slowly and quietly, we gathered our carry-on bags and walked off the plane and into the airport. I was in a strange, surreal frame of mind as I stood in line to have my ticket checked for the next leg of the flight. Keeping an eye out for snipers, I put my bag down for just a minute, and when I went to pick it up again, it was gone… stolen right out from under my nose at an airport that had just been under siege moments before. The thief could have easily killed me!"
He looked up at me. "Airports make me nervous. I'm sorry for being so agitated when we fly."
I wanted to go to him, hold him, whisper in his ear that everything would be ok. But he quickly stood up, knowing that I might be thinking just that, and walked into the bedroom without another word.
I knew it was painful for him to bring up the past, but it was his way of saying, he needed me. I calculated the approximate time the sale of the house would finalize, went online and bought his ticket, then changed the date of my flight to match his. We would be flying together. And I had gained a deeper understanding of my sweet, broken, war-torn soldier.
Teri Saya is the wife of a Vietnam Veteran. Both are California natives who recently decided to move back to the states from Mexico to be closer to family and the VA.