I’m writing about losses we’ve experienced. Mister Counts, Dirty Bob, Fabulous Freddy Flitter, Horny Ernie, and those we knew who were instantly transformed to star dust when a Zuni Rocket cooked off and turned the Forrestal’s flight deck into a fulminating hell on earth, as well as others we saw die, but didn’t personally know.
Remember when we watched an unconscious Spad pilot strapped to his seat sink into the deep waters of the Tonkin Gulf—for always and forever? The long minutes it took him to disappear? Long minutes, but not enough time for the helo to drop a swimmer into the water. All who watched were helpless as we two. All stood by shaking their heads, then, in the end, turned back to the business at hand. By nighttime it was almost forgotten. Spoken of as though it were already ancient history. Next day—like it never happened. Such things weigh on us. They bend our shoulders and fill all the spaces of our minds with sorrow. So too, we bear the present conflagrations as though they are part of our doing. As if we, and only we, are responsible for the endless wars that engage us. We bear shame, too, because so many have suffered through greater losses. But remember, ours are ours and theirs are theirs. Same animal, different stripes. To diminish our sorrow is to diminish ourselves. We have an obligations to find ways that use the sorrow constructively.
The death of Freddy is the hardest to deal with. We should have been in that plane, strapped to that seat, not him. We watched it happen, again, impotent to help. In spite of what you think, we were faultless, as we were in the deaths of others. Brooding as you do is like climbing a hill of sand. Sometimes a step carries us backward more than forward. Mourning is not a badge of honor when carried too far. We think too much and write too little.
Writing is our booze, our heroin. It overpowers at times. Drags us to the precipice. It is an addiction we have to deal with. Dealt with properly it will free us. Improperly, it will become a cesspool of despair. I know sometimes you just want to jump in, to end it all, but I won’t allow that. I won’t permit survivor’s guilt to carry you into that dark place. I will keep you above ground and above room temperature. That’s my promise. My absolute promise to you. Talk to me when you drift toward that pit. I’m the only one who understands completely.
Long ago you were diagnosed with PTSD. See a shrink. Deal with it. Thousands, maybe millions have. Find a new gait, albeit with crutches. They don’t hinder in the slightest. Perhaps a shrink will help open our mind. Maybe mourning will become a positive force that drives our writing, and in the end, helps others understand.
I believe it can happen. In truth, I do. But if all you’re looking for is sympathy, look for it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. I remain your friend always. You’ll never find another like me.