Watching a great documentary like The War Comes Home felt like falling on a football and having my wind knocked out, a punch to the abdomen, a hand reaching into my rib cage and grabbing my heart. It’s the free-fall of the Double Shot at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the highs and lows of the Giant Dipper rolled into one, but it’s not a thrill ride. It’s real as hell.
Facing the epidemic of suicide among veterans, joining the fight for prevention, and supporting lifesaving programs are potent stimulants. If I was in any kind of comfort zone before, even for a moment, interacting with the Save a Warrior organization bowled me over and challenged me to evaluate what to do next.
Watching the film and speaking with its players, other veterans, and the SAW team lifted me up and set me right back onto my emotional roller coaster.
I happen to love thrill rides, especially amusement park roller coasters. I love the analogy, because I long ago accepted and embraced my impassioned, excitable self. I’ve grown accustomed to the ups and downs of life and learned how to balance and lean. I dig that sensation, JUST at the very peak of the tallest hill, when my brain is telling me to hold on for dear life, yet my inner child wants to throw my hands in the air and shout “Whoooo!”
I anticipate the steep dive down into the lowest trough. I defy it with exuberance, because I know I will rise again up the next hill.
Some of my most cherished memories are the times my dad loaded us in the big, green station wagon at the crack of dawn and drove us north to Sandusky. My eyes grew wide in elation as we rounded the bend and caught the first, wondrous view of Cedar Point and the soaring, colorful mountains of the Blue Streak and the holy grail of rides, the Corkscrew!
My brother Jim and I, wise experts at navigating amusement parks, always headed straight for those biggest, baddest rides, launching our surprise, sunrise attack before the masses of mere mortal children had even finished their first snow cones. We hit those coasters early and often. We breathed in the morning air, rose to the first mammoth hill, surveyed the world around us like kings, and screamed in holy terror and glee as we rocketed down into chilling tunnels below. No amount of buffeting, rocking and rolling was too much. No stomach-turning upside-down loops could unhinge us. We slayed those beasts and howled our warrior cries of victory as we glided smoothly into the finish. We laughed crazily and sauntered dizzily away, trading exclamations of joy and amazement. Even when we felt queasy from the combination of a sugar-coated breakfast and coaster rides, invariably we would turn to each other and exclaim, “Let’s Go Again!”
Then, I was a child, and it was all about having fun. Now, I’m grown up and thinking about prevention of suicide. Shit got real.
The War Comes Home took me up and down, shook me around, and brought me back home. Days later, I am still drained mentally and emotionally. Yet, my overwhelming feeling is, “What’s next?!” After the roller coaster, instead of “Let’s go again” it’s more like “Let’s do this.”