Chapter Twenty-four

PTSD – Agent Orange

Thirty years later.

Jenna’s career as a psychiatrist was rewarding and fulfilling. She remained happily married to Mark.

Mark gazed at Jenna and said, “I’ve been invited to be the guest speaker for the last reunion of the USS Lawrence Mathers. Would you like to come with me?”

“That’s my ex-husband’s first ship. I need to think about that.”

A flood of memories came over her. She thought about seeing Brad again after all this time. She remembered the good and bad times with him.  What about Bubba? Could she deal with recalling all those memories? It was so difficult to face the past especially one so painful.

After contemplating the factors, she solicited Mark’s opinion. They discussed her feelings about her life with Brad. Mark knew the struggle Jenna was having, but he wanted her by his side if it wasn’t too painful for her.

“You know what, Jenna, it just may prove to be an interesting evening.  I’d love to have you join me. Do you think you could? I will be right by your side the entire evening.”

“Yes, of course You know I’d love to go with you. You’ve been there to support me.

After thinking about it, she looked directly into Mark’s eyes and said, “the answer is yes. Our talk made me feel better. Now I can’t wait. When is it so I can put it on my calendar?”

Mark pulled out his day planner. “It’s next month, Saturday, January twenty-first at eight p.m.”

“Got it.  Thanks for the heads up, Mark. This ought to be an interesting night.”

Even though she inwardly was worried, the time seemed to fly by for Jenna.  Before she knew it, January twenty-first was here.

Mark dressed for a business meeting.  He chose his navy suit, white shirt, and red tie. He looked great. The little bit of gray in his hair gave him a distinguished look. He didn’t show his age.

Jenna was so proud of Mark.  He was one of the best psychiatrists in the county.

What should I wear, she thought? She chose a simple little black dress accented with white pearls. She picked out black strapless shoes and the diamond earrings Mark got her for Christmas. Her dark hair was cut short; her skin tan and her beaming smile completed her ensemble.

“Ready?” asked Mark. “You still are the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen.”

Jenna shyly grinned at Mark, “Let’s go. I can’t wait to hear your speech and see some old friends.”

When they arrived, they were greeted by Paul, the President of the USS Mathers Association.  He welcomed them and ushered them into the main ballroom. A long table was at the farthest end of the room.  All the guest speakers for the evening sat at this table.  Jenna was placed next to the Association President, Paul, while Mark was seated next to Jenna.

“Are you doing okay?” Mark whispered in Jenna’s ear.

“I’m fine.”

Paul talked to Jenna about many things. He thought she would like to know about some of her old friends.

Just then she said, “Paul, what happened to Bubba White?”

“Jenna, we lost many men on the ship. We’ve been dealing with the effects of Agent Orange and PTSD. The VA recognized our ship as one that was exposed to Agent Orange while we were in the Mekong River Delta.  Our cancer rate is ten times that of the national rate. PTSD is finally recognized as a disorder and now qualifies for counseling and compensation.  I’m sure you get a lot of sailors who were on ships that have this problem. Bubba had a difficult time with PTSD and he finally couldn’t take it anymore.”

Paul continued, “Bubba tried everything, but nothing worked.  Bubba got married but couldn’t handle the fact that his only son had a birth defect because of his exposure to Agent Orange. Jenna, I’m sorry to tell you this, but Bubba committed suicide three years ago.”

Her mouth dropped. She knew the suicide rate was very high in the military especially among those veterans suffering from PTSD.

“I’m so sorry.  He was such a kind man.”

She pulled herself together and sat next to Paul quietly.

Finally, she couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself any longer.

“I guess it’s hell dealing with the circumstances overseas and then trying to return to a normal life. Agent Orange is another demon that interfered with the lives of your men I presume?” asked Jenna.

“Yes.”

The dinner, even though it was beautifully presented, somehow didn’t matter anymore.

All of Jenna’s old friends – gone. They died ten to fifteen years earlier than they should.

Paul stood up and introduced Mark as the guest speaker for the night.

“It is my pleasure to introduce our guest speaker, Dr. Mark Powers. Dr. Powers is one of the leading psychiatrists in the county. He is credited with saving the lives of many of our veterans by counseling them.”

Dr. Powers addressed the group from the podium. “It is my pleasure to be your guest speaker. First, I want to thank you all for your service to our country. We are free because of your dedication and bravery.”

Jenna wasn’t hearing Mark’s speech. Her thoughts were running rampant and she was doing all she could do to hold back the tears.

Just then Jenna’s eyes wandered throughout the room looking for Brad. Suddenly, her knees got weak. Oh my God, it was Brad. He was sitting in a wheelchair. She felt a tear running down her cheek as she gazed at him across the room. She thought to herself, this is how it ends?

Mark finished his presentation and sat down next to his wife.

The lights in the room dimmed.  A spotlight fell on a small table.  A voice came out of the darkness.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is the last reunion of the USS Lawrence Mathers. You see a table set with a white tablecloth. This is the table for Fallen Soldiers.”

“One place is set with a clean, white mat, plate, cloth napkin, and utensils.  This setting represents your wish the fallen men and women of the armed forces could be present at the happy occasion with you.”

The deep male voice continued, “A white taper candle represents the light of hope. The long-stemmed rose in a simple bud vase represents the families who love and keep faith with the men and women who serve. A yellow ribbon is tied around the vase represents those who are serving away from home. An inverted champagne flute represents the fact that the fallen comrade will not be able to participate in the happy toasts at the event. A lemon wedge is placed on the bread plate representing the bitter loss of the life of the fallen soldier.  Salt is sprinkled over the lemon and the bread plate.  This represents tears shed for the solider who is missed.  An empty chair is placed in front of the place setting to represent the missing comrade”.

The spotlight slowly dimmed to black, the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father played in the background softly.

“Thank you all for coming tonight Let us never forget our fellow brothers who have gone before us.”

Mark grabbed Jenna’s hand and put it in his hand. He gently squeezed her hand just to let her know he was there for her. Tonight, was a night she would never forget. She felt so lucky to have Mark by her side, in her life, and forever hers.

Eternal Father

 

 

 

 

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