Written by Susan Brooks
Charlie dozed in his leather recliner. The large screen TV flickered in front of him, but Charlie didn’t see the images. He was asleep, with other images dancing in his sub-conscious. In his lap, his hand still clutched the TV remote, his side table was littered with an half-empty glass of warm bourbon, used napkins and the remnants of cold pizza.
Amy crept silently into the room and stopped. She stood looking at the man in the chair, blissfully sleeping. He was unaware of the anger and hurt Amy still felt hours later after their fight. Why couldn’t she make Charlie understand how he made her feel when he lashed out at her? She knew he suffered from PTSD from his combat service in Vietnam. But that was fifty years ago and in the years that had passed, Charlie had had a very successful life. Surely he had managed to control his PTSD during that time in his life. What had changed to suddenly make him so angry and dismissive of her and her feelings?
The recliner creaked as Charlie shifted positions. He mumbled something about getting in formation so he must be dreaming about his time in the Army. Carefully Amy sat down on one of the chairs in the room and watched Charlie sleep. She felt tears welling in her eyes and soon they were running down her face.
Amy loved Charlie. She knew he loved her and certainly he needed her. But his needs were oppressive and unrealistic and wore Amy out trying to fulfill all of Charlie’s needs. Sometimes she felt as if it was expected of her to wait on Charlie hand and foot. She didn’t like that feeling; it made her feel less than equal to Charlie. She knew Charlie did not support her part-time job and since it paid very little, it had no significance in Charlie’s eyes. Charlie measured success by how much money you made or had in the bank. It was the yardstick he had used to measure his personal success and he passed it down to his children who were all obsessed with money and material possessions.
She and Charlie had a comfortable life. They paid their bills and pretty much bought what they needed or wanted. They weren’t extravagant but money was not a worry. They were very fortunate, and they tried to share their good fortune by giving to worthy causes throughout the year.
Charlie’s generosity was one of the traits that attracted him to Amy. As the years passed Amy noticed how Charlie’s grown children took advantage of Charlie’s generosity. Initially Amy kept her mouth closed about what she saw but after seven years together, Amy had started to speak up. Not surprising, Charlie reacted badly to Amy’s criticism of his children. Angry words were spoken on both sides and though Amy suspected that Charlie realized that Amy was right, he could not admit it. His PTSD prevented Charlie dealing with anything that was painful or difficult.
How naïve Amy had been about PTSD when she married Charlie. She thought she only had to understand his reluctance to be in crowds, his avoidance of fireworks or his preference to sit with his back against the wall facing out when they went to a restaurant. Amy never realized that Charlie’s PTSD would mean that she would be the one who had to deal with every single household issue from a leaking faucet to taking out the weekly trash to meeting with any contractor who she hired to work at their home. If there were any problems, Amy had to resolve those problems on her own because Charlie couldn’t and wouldn’t be involved.
The stress Amy felt on a daily basis was akin to carefully walking through a minefield. She hoped she would not inadvertently trip a hidden mine buried deep in Charlie’s world of PTSD. When she did, the blast was quick and violent. Amy was always left in tears, running to nurse the wounds made by the cruel words Charlie hurled at her presence. Sometimes she was surprised at Charlie’s reaction to something she said or did.
A proud man, Charlie’s pride would be deeply wounded if Amy shared his behavior with anyone. His veteran buddies would acknowledge that PTSD was the root of the problem and not Charlie. Hell Charlie was a great guy. Even Charlie’s family would likely support him and find some reason to pin the blame on Amy. Everyone liked Charlie and Amy couldn’t risk those relationships by telling her family and her friends how Charlie treated her when they weren’t around. So she kept silent and carried on like a brave little soldier.
Never telling, always supportive, desperately keeping quiet and hiding her secret way of coping with her life with Charlie and his PTSD.
Dedicated to my friend Amy who finally shared her story with me about her life with Charlie and to all those wives who live a hidden life married to someone who has PTSD.