Read When She Came Home Online

Authors: Drusilla Campbell

Tags: #Fiction / Family Life, #Fiction / Contemporary Women, #Fiction / War & Military, #General Fiction

When She Came Home (5 page)

BOOK: When She Came Home
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“That’s because it’s effing impossible to operate the damn machines.”

Glory tugged on Frankie’s sleeve. “You’re in uniform, Mom.” She knew what was expected of a Marine in uniform even if it was just cammies. “We can wait, it’s okay.”

“Are you telling me what to do?”

Glory snatched up a
magazine and buried her head in it.

“I’m not going to buy that so don’t ask me. Put it away and stand over here.”


The shopper’s card was declined.

“For godsake, just give her the goddamn groceries. I’ll pay for them.”


Frankie knew she was humiliating her daughter. She even knew that later in the day she would regret all this. She should not make a scene while in uniform—under no circumstances should she berate this woman—but she couldn’t stop herself. She felt the terrifying headlong rush of being on a bike going downhill, feet off the pedals, bouncing into potholes and over bumps, so far out of control that she could only surrender to the disaster she knew was coming.

In line behind her someone grumbled a few words, someone else laughed. She didn’t hear the comments, but she knew that she was being criticized or ridiculed for giving voice to what all of them in the line were feeling.

“You’re happy standing here?”

“That’s it,” Glory said. “I’m walking.”

Frankie grabbed her. Above the elbow Glory’s arm was tender as a satin pouf.

“You’re hurting me.”

“Don’t. Move.”

A week later Frankie had her first appointment with Dr. Alice White, a private practitioner. They spoke of nothing important: family information, the terms of her enlistment in the corps. Frankie imagined the psychologist like a rock climber probing for a handhold, and she thought
of what she would tell Domino, that psychotherapy was a waste of time and money; but on Thursday of the second week, she heard herself admitting, “I got a little out of control the other day. At Vons.”

“How did that feel?”

Frankie stared at her hands.
It felt free.

Her hands were big and her fingers were long. In Basic School one of the stupid-ass guys had told her she could jerk off an elephant. She had fists like a man. Standing in the supermarket she knew that if she wanted to, she could knock over the magazine rack or send the Big Red chewing gum and Snickers bars flying. She liked that thought. She liked the image of M&M’s lofting in all directions like little multicolor grenades. Sitting in Dr. White’s office, she remembered the sticky rubbery feel of the cart’s handle against her palms as she jerked it out of line.

“Therapy only works if you talk to me, Frankie. If you can’t say how it felt to lose control, tell me what happened.”

“I dumped the cart. On its nose.”

Two hundred dollars’ worth of groceries spilled across the floor of Vons. Steaks and sausages and chicken thighs, cheese and bagels and a package of tortillas and cans of beans and soup, a carton of organic milk that split and splashed and a flat of eggs that broke.

“It’ll be a long time before I go there again.” Frankie knew she should be ashamed of herself, but she could not muster the requisite guilt, not when it had felt so good.

“Did you write about it in your journal?”

Dr. White had been talking about journal writing since Frankie’s first visit. Keeping a diary had never much interested her. Not since she was ten years old and someone gave her a five-year diary with a lock. Fearing that her mother or brother would read what she wrote, she hid the key so well that for several weeks she couldn’t find it herself, and by the time it turned up, she had lost interest in keeping a diary.

“Writing your experiences and feelings can objectify them. Give you distance. It’s an opportunity to understand our lives from a fresh perspective.”

“It won’t work for me,” Frankie said.

“You’re so resistant. Where does that come from, I wonder?”

Frankie hated the question and for the moment disliked her therapist.

“Do me a favor and just try it for a while. Humor me, okay? I’d like you to write in it every day for, say, a month. Give it a chance.”

Frankie had said she would do it, but she forgot her promise as soon as she left the office that day. Almost six weeks later she still hadn’t bought a journal.

Chapter 6

n the lot at Arcadia School, she sat in her car and tried Dr. White’s number for the third time. This time she answered. Words tumbled out of Frankie:
closed doors, too many windows, Ms. Peters, Colette, guns and threats.

“What I’m supposed to do about Glory? Have you heard of that condition, secondary PTSD?”

“I have.”

“Are you saying she got it from me?”

“I can’t say, one way or another, Frankie. I don’t know Glory.”

“Great. Can you say anything? Anything at all?”

“Where are you?” Dr. White could not be goaded into a fight. Frankie didn’t know if she liked this about her.

“I’m still at the school. In the parking lot.”

“Well, stay where you are for twenty minutes. You shouldn’t be driving right now.”

“I have to get Glory from extended care. I’m already late.”

“Focus on your breathing—”

“I told you on Monday, that meditation stuff doesn’t work for me. My mind jumps around too much.”

“When it jumps, just come back to the breath. This isn’t meditation, Frankie, it’s very basic stress management.”

“I’m not stressed. I mean, I am, but I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for this school… stuff.” She had learned to swear in the Marine Corps. Now that she was home she had to watch her mouth all the time.

“Mindful breathing works. Just try it.”

The problem with cell phones was she couldn’t slam down the receiver.

“Have you gone to the PTSD group at Veterans’ Villa yet?”

“You only told me about it last week.”

“It meets every night.”

She might go if she wasn’t too tired or busy or if she didn’t forget.

“The man who runs it is named Dekker. I heard him speak at a conference last month. He’s a good man, Frankie, and he knows what he’s talking about.”

“I’m already seeing you twice a week.”

“Dekker has skills I lack. And he’s experienced in ways I’m not. One of his groups would be something special for you. It would give you a chance to talk to other soldiers and Marines who’re maybe going through the same thing you are.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” She was tired. She
was angry at Glory’s damn teacher. It would all pass. Coming home was never easy.

“Please try it, Frankie. And mindful breathing too.”

And journaling. And standing on my head in a bucket of ice water.

“Yeah. Okay.” She would force herself to follow directions. Maybe then she wouldn’t have to sit in a room full of shipwrecked soldiers, sailors, and Marines talking about Iraq. She didn’t want to talk or think about Iraq. She wanted to wipe Iraq out of her mind.

As soon as Glory got in the car, she started in on Frankie. “You forgot me, I know you forgot me. I waited
Why can’t I ride the blue van?”

“I didn’t forget you. And I’m sorry you had to wait but there were things I had to do and there was nowhere else for you to go.”

“I rode the blue van last year.”

But now Frankie was home and she wanted to be the one Glory saw waiting for her at the end of the school day.

“Did you have any trouble, Glory?”

“What are you talking about? What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t know, I just asked the question.”

“Why are you mad at me?”

“Should I be? I’m not.”

“I can tell you’re mad. You sound mad.”

“You’re the one who sounds like she’s mad, Glory. Are you? Mad at me?”

Glory looked out the side window, gnawing on a hangnail.

“Don’t chew your fingernails.”

Dramatically Glory sat on her hand.

All at once Frankie felt very tired. “It’s been a long day, Glory.”

“You always say that.”

Because every day

“I wanna find Candace and Domino and get some ice cream.”

“I don’t know where they’re parked.”

“Candace says sometimes they stay up by All Souls. Can’t we at least go see if they’re up there?” To Glory, the idea of living in a van that never stayed in one place for more than a day had a kind of gypsy romance with no connection to violence or poverty. “You could call Domino.”

“You know she doesn’t have a phone.” She called Frankie when she could borrow one.

Glory’s sullen lower lip would trip a train.

“The church is on the way home. We go right by it. Could we just check?”

But the van wasn’t parked at All Souls. Across the lot the back door to the parish hall opened and eight or ten animated men and women exited. Frankie and Glory watched them go to their cars, still talking and calling to each other.

“Stay and do your homework. I’ll go in and see if Martha’s around. She might know where they are.”

Frankie had known Martha Wainright since she came to All Souls as a young priest, fresh from the seminary. She had married Rick and Frankie and it was she who had given her Dr. White’s name and number. On occasions when Domino and Candace parked in the church lot, she let them shower in the parish hall facilities.

In the hall the gray folding chairs were arranged in irregular clusters. A podium stood at one end with a large, clean, whiteboard behind it. Through the kitchen pass-through Frankie saw Martha struggling to dump a coffee urn into the sink. She was small, a pretty woman in her forties. The clerical collar looked large on her.

“Let me do that.” Frankie took the cumbersome urn from her. She rinsed it and set it upside down on the drain board. “Have you got a minute, Martha?”

“Actually, Frankie, I was going to call you. You saved me the effort.” The priest began to fold and stack chairs. “I was going to ask when you’re coming back to the choir. To tell you the truth, it’s beginning to sound a little shrieky. We really need a strong alto to balance all those sopranos.”

“I can’t yet. I brought some kind of laryngitis back from Iraq. I wouldn’t add much to the choir at this point.”

“Maybe you should see a doctor.”

“Harry says it’s tension.” Tension, stress: it was like having one of those musical worms in her brain. She kept hearing the same thing, repeating over and over wherever she went.

“How is your brother? I see Gaby at eight a.m. sometimes, but I think he worships St. Mattress on Sundays.”

It was a tired old joke, but Frankie laughed anyway.

“He works hard,” she said.

“Oh, Frankie, I know he does. I don’t begrudge him his Sunday mornings, and I’m sure God doesn’t either. Can you believe the crap he has to put up with just so he and Gaby can do something worthwhile? I was in the drugstore the other day and someone wanted me to sign a petition saying the clinic had become a public nuisance.” Martha grabbed the back of a chair and pulled the seat up with more force than was necessary. “What in the world have they got against a children’s clinic?”

“Ocean Beach’s changed.”

“It sure has,” the priest said. “It used to be the one place in San Diego where you didn’t have to be rich to live near the water. Now Mrs. Greenwoody and her committee want to turn it into La Jolla.”

“I volunteer at the clinic on Saturdays and there’re always protesters out front. Harry even gets hate mail.”

They talked about this as they finished the job. Martha rolled the whiteboard to the side of the room.

“Glory’s plaguing me to find Domino. Have you seen her around?”

“Not for a couple of days. She said her husband’s in town.”

“I was afraid of that.”

Jason had never accepted the divorce and stalked his wife and daughter from Kansas to San Diego. According to Domino he suffered from a mood disorder exacerbated by
his years in the service, and his moods swung from manic to depressed to angry at himself or the world or Domino in particular. The last time they were together he had grabbed her so hard his fingers left deep red bruises on her upper arm. He threatened to do worse if she and Domino didn’t return with him to Kansas.

Frankie leaned against a table at the back of the parish hall and stared at the toes of her boots.

“Frankie, you didn’t drop in to help move furniture or talk about Domino. I appreciate your help, but I wonder what else is on your mind.”

“I’m seeing Dr. White on Mondays and Thursdays.” She considered telling Martha about the meeting at Arcadia School and decided not to. She wasn’t sure why. “She wants me to keep a journal and she says I should meditate. It seems pointless.”

“You don’t believe in meditation? What about prayer?”

“Are they the same?”


“I can’t shut my mind down for long enough to do either one.”

“Have you spoken to her about meds?”

Medication meant that Iraq had made her sick. As the General might say, it meant that she
didn’t have the guts for it.

“I’m not depressed. I’m just sort of…”

Not here sometimes. Too much here at others.

“She wants me to go to a support group at Veterans’ Villa.”

“You might see Domino there.”

“I know group therapy helps some people, but you know my family. I was raised to keep my feelings to myself. Can you imagine the General in group therapy? And besides, nothing much happened to me compared to those guys—”

“Which guys are you talking about, Frankie?”

“The guys who go to support groups.”

Martha looked mildly amused. Frankie resisted the impulse to take offense.

“Okay, I’m having a few adjustment problems. That’s normal, right? If I came home from the Suck all jolly you’d
I was crazy.”

“No one’s talking about crazy.”

“Don’t you read the paper? Every Marine with a headache has PTSD. It’s insulting. My mind wanders and sometimes I lose my temper, but basically I’m okay.”

As she heard herself say the words, she realized that she did not truly believe them. No matter how she tried to dismiss it as not really important and certainly not symptomatic, the memory of letting everything go at the supermarket was as vivid in her mind as any memory could be. The experience had left her shaken and frightened, but at the same time, exhilarated. She had let herself go to the limit and beyond and at that moment had felt more fully alive than she had in months.

BOOK: When She Came Home
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