have courage. take heart. bear witness.
Mary: We are talking about our lives as a military family and dealing with my son—and Shanley's oldest brother—John, who was a Marine, and he did two tours in Iraq, and so we invited him to come and live with us, 'cause he was having trouble.
Shanley: He had nowhere else to go.
Mary: Right. And it really kind of turned things upside down for us. So you want to say how you feel about some of those things, or tell your experience?
Shanley: Well, my experience was being a little sister, so I . . . any time that I was allowed in his room it was, you know, purposes for him to yell at me or say, "Don't watch my television and don't play my video games." It was a little different.
And I remember at Christmas, my brother . . . my brother Chris' shoes were in John's room, and John wasn't happy about it, you know? So he took out the boots and he said, "Chris, why are your shoes in my room?" And he said, "They're just in there—must have forgot them when I left last night."
So John threw them at him, and Chris was, like, "What's that all about? It's no reason for you to be doing that." And John got enraged and ran at him and grabbed him right by the throat. And that was a pretty major setback. And we went away for about three or four hours after that. And when we got home, John was hugging Chris and apologizing about a thousand times, and crying.
And it kind of turned out okay at the end, but it was very scary to experience that with him and to know that he's my older brother and he was always protective over me, and he's definitely a lot different now that he was in the military. And it really scares me to think that he had done a lot of those things that they say that they have to do.
And I remember before I knew what war was and John would come back and visit and I'd say, "John, I got into a fight in school today. Have you ever hurt anybody like that?" And he said, "Shanley, I don't want to talk about any of that. It really doesn't make me feel very happy." And I'd always go out and just sit down on the couch and try to think of what he meant when he said that. And it really scared me when I thought that he meant real war. 'Cause I'd always seen the video games on his bed when he was, like, a teenager, and "Oh, he's playing another video game—about war. How boring." And I'd walk out.
And then it would always be pretty weird to think that he was actually a part of that—when I actually found out that that was what war was. So that really scared me when I realized that he had done that kind of thing to people. And I know he didn't mean any of it and he didn't want to do any of it, but it happened. And I couldn't do anything to stop it. I couldn't do anything to help him, but try to be the best sister I could be and do as much as I could to keep stress off his shoulders and make sure that he was okay.
And he always said this one quote: "I wouldn't wish war on my worst enemy." And then that's when I realized that John really isn't a bad person because he went there, he just thought he was serving his country to be there and have that experience.
Mary: And your sister—do you miss your sister?
Shanley: I do—which, actually, John is the reason that she's not here anymore. Sarah started to get stressed a lot and depressed, and she never really talked to anybody. She was just always in her room, you know, being quiet. And I remember a couple times, John would yell at her, or something and she would get really upset and run out on the front porch and just sit there for awhile, and John would go out and say, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." And Sarah would always, "Just go away. I don't want to talk to you anymore." You know, so that was pretty bad, there.
And I miss her because, you know, she's my sister. She used to give me advice—not on makeup or anything, 'cause she never wears any. But advice like, "You should stay in school, because school's a very important part of your life," or "I'll show you some good books that you could read," or just, you know, big sister, little sister stuff, and I didn't get any of that after John left, I mean, after John got here.
Mary: She has finally forgiven John, though. She was unable, in the beginning, to excuse his behavior, and she's now gotten to where she realizes that it wasn't her brother who was treating her that way—it was this sick, damaged person who treated her so poorly. She's . . . she's forgiven him. It was pretty hard. I mean, it tore us all apart.
So we've . . . we've had varying issues. When John was here, he was on medication. And we had a couple of dogs, and he, for some reason, couldn't remember to shut the door, and they would go out and they liked to chase . . .
Shanley: Get in the neighbors yard or chase cats . . .
Mary: Well, they liked to chase cats, and . . .
Shanley: . . . and they'd, break the fence or they'd get out and rave at the other neighbor's dog or they'd do a lot of destruction. And, apparently, a couple of our neighbors called the police, and they said, "Why can't he take care of that?" And Mom would always say, "Because he has a sickness and he sometimes can't remember to do that kind of thing. You have to understand that he's not a normal person anymore."
Mary: We really did a lot of different safeguards, but he let them out a couple of times, despite our best efforts. And so the point of all that was just that the community, I think, and communities in general, are resentful—or at least that was our experience—resentful of bringing in this, you know, damaged interloper. I mean, we were already pretty laden down with burdens, and it just seemed like the littlest things and we'd have this whole other burden on top of it, and scorn and ridicule and so forth. It was a very eye-opening experience for me.
However, now that he has been through three months of therapy at the hospital, and he's learning to control his meds, and so forth, and he's going to school in California, he has . . . seems to have found a fairly supportive community there. And they are tolerant of his difficulties, and supportive and helpful. I mean, it was kind of miraculous, so I'm . . . he's in a much better place . . .
Shanley: Now than he was.
Mary: . . . where he is, than when he was . . .
Shanley: You know, here.
Mary: . . . living . . . living here.
Shanley: You know, his dog can play at the field and in his back yard, and everything. John has a better life now than he did before. We're all really happy that he found a place that he likes to be. And I'm going to actually see John for Christmas. I'm going to stay with his dad and I'm going to stay at my other brother's and so it's going to be all six of us all together.
Mary: So how do you feel about him, now that he's not living here?
Shanley: Well, you know, I love him, and stuff. I think, now that John's not living here anymore, he . . . he kind of has an observation of how he should be, and that he has, you know, an idea of what his life will be like now that he's not here.
He's been doing pretty good. And he's got a lot of friends that are trusted and nice to him and understanding of what he's going through. And his dad knows what he's going through, and his dad understands that he needs to have a good amount of time to rest, and so his dad bought him a place. He has a nice job, and he's got a nice little dog he can have fun with, and he's got friends and good family—I'm not bragging. You know, he's got good family and people who really care about him, so I think he'll be . . . he'll be doing fine. So how do you feel about it?
Mary: Relieved. It's certainly a lot more peaceful here, you know, without your brother.
Shanley:: Yeah. We do miss him sometimes.
Mary: We miss him, and the question . . .
Shanley: But I don't miss the yelling and the heaving on each other.
Mary: . . . the tension, yeah.
Mary: Yeah, I don't miss that either.
Shanley: But we do miss his company. He's pretty fun to hang out with, you know, play video games with on X-Box.
Mary: He . . . when he first came here, it was, I think, the right thing for him to do, and it was the right place to be. But he eventually outgrew my skill set, and it got to a point where I was no longer helpful. I was probably more of an enabler than a helper. Once it reached that level, it was really worse for him, as it was for us, just because I was no longer competent to get him over the next hurdle. So the hospital stay in Roseburg was . . .
Shanley: Very helpful.
Mary: . . . perfect for that. I mean, the difference between him when he first went in and even two weeks later was pretty monumental, and . . .
Shanley: But we did get to see him on weekends. And a couple of the weekends he came up and he got to see Cooper, which was staying with us. And Cooper's a chocolate lab, so he's pretty big. On our back deck there's this big kind of roof thing, and there's little ledges you can, like, put stuff in. He used to put sticks up there, and Cooper would jump super-high to get them, and everything.
I always loved seeing Cooper doing that, because he'd always end up getting the stick, and then John would be, like, "Good dog! Good dog!" and he'd have a huge smile on his face. That always made me feel pretty good. But it's always fun to see him happy, and he's happy now, so that's . . .
Shanley: . . . I just love seeing that smile on his face, 'cause I never saw it when he first came here. Like, when he finally, when he got Cooper, it was, like, everything changed. That dog is like a miracle for us. It was just amazing. But Cooper also chewed up many of my shoes, so that was kind of lowdown there, but . . .
Mary: Yeah, Cooper ate a lot of things.
Shanley: Okay, this story always made John laugh. It's really short—I promise. Cooper, he chewed up the right flip-flop. It was a twenty-dollar pair of flip-flops and he chewed up the right one. And he went out and he got the exact same pair of flip-flops. And then Cooper chewed up the right one again. And John's, like, "Why couldn't you just chew up the left one this time? I mean, I would still have a matching pair of flip-flops, and just chew up the left one next time, okay? I need shoes.
Mary: John did say about that dog that Cooper had helped teach him to love again. So that was good. That was . . .
Shanley: And he still has Cooper, so I guess Cooper's his, like, soul mate—not like woman-wise but, you know, his playmate, his "man's best friend," you know. Cooper would love to be with John. They'd take walks together after a really rough day—he would just cheer up immediately. And even when he had to clean up Cooper's accidents, he'd still love it.
That reminds me—I loved watching Alex and John. I like watching them laugh and have fun together, because Alex and John have had some severe setbacks, actually. I remember once, they were playing video games together in his room and John was, like, "You know, you're really pissing me off, and I don't know why, but you're really pissing me off."
And Alex didn't know what to do. He didn't know why, he didn't know how he was going to fix it—he didn't know what it was. So Alex was, like, "Okay, how am I pissing you off?" He said, "I don't know, but you're pissing me off."
And so Alex left the room. "I'm going to go get a cigarette." And he was sitting out on the front steps outside our house and he was, you know . . . We came out and looked at him, and tears were just running down his face, and he said, "You know, I haven't cried in years. This is actually a relief. I always tried to cry and I could never do it, and this really . . . really helps me, you know."
And John came out from the back door, and he was standing over there. And he was, like, "Alex, can I talk to you?" And Alex walked over there. "Yeah?" It's like, "I'm sorry. You know, I'm just going through some real tough times right now and it's . . . I didn't mean anything, and I'm sorry."
And they hugged, and mom and I hugged and walked back inside, let them have their little moment, you know? But it was . . . it was pretty nice to see them crying with each other, 'cause, you know, I never—not that I like to watch people cry, but it was kind of nice to see that they were bonding. It's not the best way to bond, but it is . . . it is a way.
Mary: He . . . Alex told me that brought home for him what the war had done to his brother. And, of course, you know, no one ever felt worse after any of these altercations than John.
Shanley: . . . than John did.
Mary: John seemed to be doing things that he deeply regretted, just minutes later, but he just couldn't stop that. And I think that's true of so many veterans—is they spend their whole life in a state of regret, because they aren't getting the help that they need—and the understanding. And I'm so glad that Sarah has finally been able to . . .
Shanley: Forgive and forget?
Mary: . . . forgive him and acknowledge that that person who hurt her . . .
Shanley: Wasn't him . . .
Mary: . . . wasn't really him.
Shanley: . . . but somebody that had gone through quite a bit and was trying his best to get through it all. And she finally decided that she was going to let it go, and she just remembered that he isn't . . . he isn't the reason that she was so upset, but war is the reason that she was so upset.
Mary: Anyway, we've . . . I've certainly gotten a lot out of this experience today, talking about this. And just like veterans need to be able to tell their stories, their families need to be able to tell their stories, too. And I'm really glad Shanley was able to contribute.
Shanley: Well, actually, this has been a pretty cool experience for me, too. It's actually the first time I've, you know, cried, besides a couple weeks ago, when my mom, she played a video that she'd made about John and what it was like when he was a kid.
And I think it's really important that John has a good life, and he lives a long, long time and always has the perfect friends—nobody that would mess with him or mess him up, or anything like that. So as long as everybody understands that he's going through a lot and it's hard not to love him, but it's also hard to love him sometimes.
Mary: Thank you, sweetie—I love you.
Shanley: I love you too, Mom.