I grew up in Tampa, Florida, raised by a pretty badass dude. As far back as I can remember, my dad was a hardass. He was a military personnel and had completed Ranger school when I was small, and after he retired, he rode rodeo (bulls and saddle bronc) professionally for a few years – the best dad ever. This made for a pretty awesome childhood for me.
I remember a lot of my childhood. I remember as tiny human getting phone calls in the middle of the night from far away places I’d never even heard of. When I asked where he was, he almost always lied to me because he wasn’t allowed to tell me. I remember him being a really intimidating war hero to boys I dated in high school. I literally had the father who would lay his weapons out on the kitchen table and clean them while chatting up a nervous 17-year-old boy waiting to take his daughter out to a movie. I remember getting some severe ass whoopings and then being sat down after, nose still running, and having my dad explain to me why I was in trouble, why he spanked me and him making sure I knew he loved me.
As an adult, we butted heads constantly. I think he was a little pissed he had raised an almost exact female version of himself. I also remember a lot of times where weird things would happen. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to my dad screaming into the darkness of his room. He’d realize what was happening, tell me to go back to bed and that he was fine. I walked in on him sitting on the couch once, crying. What was this shit? My dad didn’t cry!
I didn’t understand why for most of my younger years, but I do now. We couldn’t go to many concerts. We didn’t go to fireworks displays on the 4th of July. We never watched any movies that had any military themes. There were just things that he didn’t like doing, and I wasn’t allowed to ask why. When I asked, he would tell me he was fine. “No worries.” he’d say. No worries. He stuffed every feeling, every memory into a shoebox…put the lid on his mental issues, and never opened it in front of anyone.
When my dad died in 2008, I sat in his hospital room just staring at him. Watching a man who was 215 pounds of muscle shrivel away to 135 pounds within six months. Cancer is a funny thing. The ONLY good thing that cancer brought to me was the fact that I got to have some real conversations with my dad, my hero, for the first time in my life. I took photos of the entire six months, preserving.
He told me a lot of things he probably shouldn’t have. Places he’d been. Things he’d done. People he’d killed. I think it was a mixture of reliving some good times in his life and coming to terms with them. It’s been eight years, and I still find myself thinking about that. The memory of his memories still swirls around the back of my mind. Wondering if things would’ve been different between us had I just known what he was going through. Maybe I could’ve helped. Perhaps I could’ve been a better daughter.
Only in recent years had I learned the term PTSD. I had a lot of friends who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and once they started coming home, I began to see. I saw younger versions of my dad, but worse. I saw friends who were once funny, happy, and easy-going guys come home…a shell of their former selves. Trying to get back into everyday life, while carrying the memories or people they killed, the smells, the sounds…the sights. Brothers they lost. I can’t put it into words, obviously, because I’ve never been through it, but I’ve seen it. Lived with it. I was raised by it.
By now, most everyone in this country of ours is familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We all know someone who’s suffered from it, or been touched by someone who has. These people come home and are expected to assimilate back into society as nothing happened, and when they can’t, instead of digging deep to help them cope with their mental disorder, we shove drugs down their throat and turn them into zombies. That’s no kind of life. That’s just existing…not living. A while back, I read a story that was written by a soldier and was immediately inspired to do these photo ideas.
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