(Part 3 of 4) Four months later, in March, my husband was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. (He received a job offer the day after his diagnosis. Sometimes life is funny like that.) In the midst of treatment we received a call from our local Storycorps associate letting us know that NPR wanted to use our story on Weekend Edition, and that they would make their own edit to use on air. On a lazy Saturday morning, we stood in our kitchen listening to the radio and sipping coffee while I made breakfast. Our voices travelled through the air as radio waves and broke upon the scratchy speakers. Our conversation now sounded like this:
Drew: I remember I called you and told you that I shot a man. And, you didn’t really know what to say so you said, “well, we’ll deal with it when you get home.”
Molly: I had a hard time responding to some of the things you would tell me.
Drew: I did a lot of bad things
We got the real Ira Glass treatment, complete with sweeping music to play out our heartbreaking story of war and love. I immediately noticed that two things had changed drastically in this iteration of our story. The first is the addition of my husband saying “I did a lot of bad things.” This sentence is taken from about twelve minutes earlier in our conversation. At that particular moment my husband was describing what it was like to be in Afghanistan when Osama Bin Laden was killed. He remarks that the moment was empty because Bin Laden had already turned Americans into what he wanted them to be: people who did terrible things and perpetuated violence. My husband laments his own role in the face of a larger, cultural shift towards endless war. Taken in context, I and we are not far apart.
The second change was my removal from the conversation as an active participant. My husband’s words, which started in a place of vulnerability and yes, anger, become more pointed. My response contextualizing the mutual process of emotional withdrawal becomes a statement of confusion; I did not know what to do? I did not like the manner in which this edit portrayed me. Yet, I brushed it aside. The truth is that outside the world of radio waves, I had stopped being an active participant in my own life. I spent my days shuffling between the VA hospital and various government assistance offices. I had no appetite. I was constantly starving. Nights spent in the ER bled into early morning classes. I was thinking about dropping out of my Master’s program.
That April, my sister visited us in the City to pick out her wedding dress. The same week Drew developed pancreatitis from chemotherapy treatments. He called me at 1:00AM in a panicked rage, begging me to come to the hospital and tell the attending doctor not to pull out his pic line as they searched fruitlessly for the root of his inexplicable fevers. In June he achieved remission and we immediately started preparing for a bone-marrow transplant. On a hot July day he called me from the street outside the hospital while I was at the bursar’s office settling a tuition bill. His speech was garbled and heavy. He said he was lost. Over the next day he lost his speech, gross motor coordination, and his memory. At the hospital, a young resident brought me into the hallway and explained that he didn’t believe my husband had the capacity to make decisions. He then asked me about advance directives and do-not-resuscitate orders. It was August 3rd, and I missed my sister’s wedding.
Drew recovered his memory and speech, another side effect of chemotherapy. He received a bone marrow transplant in October. I had to wear surgical gloves and a face mask when I came to see him to protect his non-existent immune system from the outside world. For over a month all he saw of me was my glasses, perched above the mask. In November my father texted me, “I think I heard Drew’s voice on TV!” My parents have an incorrigible habit of keeping the TV on in the background at all times. As they got ready for work, they happened to catch my husband’s voice floating out of the screen. As part of a pitch for their “Great Thanksgiving Listen” initiative, Good Morning America aired a segment on Storycorps. The host introduces the piece and describes Storycorps. A series of five-second snippets from people’s stories flash up on the screen. The photo Drew and I took after our interview pops up. I look terrible, you can tell that I’ve been crying and my smile is forced. The audio plays a single line from our story:
Drew: I did a lot of bad things.
Our society hungers for easy stories. We want the guilt and shame of a fifteen-year long war we’re still waging to be condensed onto the individual actions of a single soldier. We want to lament the suicide statistics while ignoring the underlying disease caused by rampant militarization and economic depression. When we tell war stories on the evening news we talk about masculinity, patriotism, and justified aggression. In this final iteration of our story, I ceased to exist. Within the context of how we, as Americans, tell the story of soldiers and veterans, of warfare and its aftermath, it’s possible I never existed.