A Vietnam vet's wife fights a long battle with her husband's post-traumatic stress disorder in this poignant memoir.
When her husband Jim, a 27-year-old Marine, returned intact from Vietnam in 1969, the author hoped that the couple could resume their lives as before. But although Jim bore no physical scars from his year in combat, his psychic wounds ran deep. Indeed, he hardly seemed to have left the war. He was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks in which he would call for medevac choppers or imagine himself surrounded by enemies. He veered between hypervigilance and catatonic staring, insisted on sitting with his back to a wall so he could survey his perimeter, and was spooked by both loud noises and silence; only the soothing sound of crickets could convince him there was nothing lying in wait. Over the decades, Jim's illness took a heavy toll; he lost jobs and eventually became unemployable, withdrew emotionally from his wife and sons and endured periodic hospitalizations. (In the author's telling, the Veterans Administration long ignored the Vietnam-era PTSD epidemic and was more a hindrance than a help in coping with Jim's problems.) In her clear-eyed memoir, King draws a subtle, layered portrait of her lost soul of a husband. Sometimes he seems unreachable, sunk in memories of Vietnam and of his buddies who didn't make it back (or in guilt over his own survival) and unable to carry out the simplest project; but he also devotedly serves as a volunteer fireman and pulls himself together to help his wife through crises and grief. It is as much the author's story as Jim's, as she struggles to hold the family together and fathom the stranger her husband has become, and to reclaim her own personality from the ravages of "secondary" PTSD. With America's latest conflicts still generating victims, this is a very timely book: an anguished, unsparing, but ultimately hopeful view of the heartbreak of PTSD.
An absorbing firsthand saga of war's invisible casualties.