Michelle Greco and
Robert Haydon Jones

Michelle Greco
Not All Wounds Are Physical
Pastel and Paint Pen on Paper

Robert Haydon Jones

Inspiration Piece

Connor Ryan’s life was changed forever by two very nasty surprises that were so shocking that days and months and years afterward he would suddenly be freshly astonished by them.

He was wearing his Captain’s bars for just four days and was just two weeks from the end of his third deployment, when a 81mm mortar shell plopped into the circle of officers and noncoms gathered around him for a last minute conference prior to an assault.

Of the twelve Marines in the circle, eight were blown into small pieces. Three were pierced through by shrapnel and died instantly. Connor appeared to be unscathed. His only visible wounds were a bruise on his chest caused by a jawbone that was impaled in his protective vest, a slightly bloody nose and a little blood oozing from his ears.

Connor was treated for traumatic brain injury and concussion. He was processed through an aid station, a field hospital, the big hospital in Germany and the very big hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.

Everyone worked hard, but Connor just couldn’t seem to get it together. He couldn’t focus on any one thing. He was distracted all the time.  If you asked him to think about a ball, he couldn’t help but think about a dog or a cat or a jawbone or his mother’s cherry pie or his wife’s left breast. If you asked him to think about his mother’s cherry pie, he would think about a ball or a dog or a headless sergeant or his wife’s right breast or his father’s way of diving head first into the breakers when the family would take a week on Martha’s Vineyard when Connor was ten.

Connor could see everyone in his Support Team at Bethesda was exasperated – and although they kept talking up his Recovery, he could see them accept little by little that if he was going to get a Recovery, it would take a long, long, time.

So, he wasn’t at all surprised when they had a big meeting and a Rear Admiral solemnly informed Connor he was being issued a Medical Discharge – and that he was being recommended for Full Disability.

Sarah, his wife, wept when the Admiral made the announcement. She had come from Connecticut and was with him all through the seven months of his treatment. The big hospital provided rooms for family members.

They took the Amtrak home. They had luxury reclining seats. About an hour into the trip, Sarah, started to weep. “I thought they were going to pretend you were okay so they could keep you,” she whimpered.

“By now, I think they have enough experience to know that I’ll never be okay,” Connor said.

“You may not be okay to be an Infantry Company Commander,” Sarah sniffled, “But you will be okay to be Connor, the beautiful man I fell in love with 1,000 years ago on my first day at Yale.”

It had only been a little over five years back. Connor was a ROTC Senior bound for the Marines after graduation. Sarah was a freshman just in from Choate. They met at a mixer and never parted. Friends referred to them as “The Red Menace.” Each had the exact same shade of dark red hair. Each had never been attracted to anyone with red hair.

A week after graduation, they married at Sarah’s family home on Martha’s Vineyard. A month later, Connor, now an Officer and a Gentleman, went to Quantico to start his six-year hitch. Sarah stayed on at Yale. Connor did his deployments. Sarah got her degree, Summa Cum, and then a Masters in Theatre. The Red Menace did a lot of heavy breathing on Skype and on R&R’s together in Hawaii, Paris, Perth, Rome, Dublin, Wellington, Madrid and back on The Vineyard.

The plan was to be married this way until he made Captain and would qualify for decent housing and then they would decide about his career in the Marines. Now the decision had been made for them.

So for the next year, they lived in a very pleasant cottage on Connor’s parent’s property in Greenwich, Connecticut. The plan was for Connor to work at his father’s insurance brokerage company when he felt better. It didn’t happen.

Three days a week Connor went to the VA Hospital in New Haven for TBI treatment. Afterward he attended Group Therapy sessions for PTSD. Sarah commuted to New York City. She joined the Actor’s Studio. A famous agent sought her out as a client. She got three small but juicy roles in films with famous directors. She was paid nearly $400,000.

A year out, they were home together on Saturday. They had breakfast on the screened porch. After they ate, Sarah told Connor that she was leaving him and would be living in the city with an actor she intended to marry when the divorce came through. She told Connor that it wasn’t because of his injury. She told Connor that it wasn’t because he no longer had any interest in sex.

She said she hadn’t really known what good sex was before. She told Connor she was sorry but her love for Harlan meant everything to her. They were going to have a baby right away. She wished Connor well. Then she was gone.

Connor sat there on the screened porch for a long time. It got dark and then it got light again. He was very surprised. He was very shocked. Nobody was dead this time but he felt like he had been at the center of a blast again. “Maybe I’m dead this time,” he thought.

He wasn’t dead – but he had to get processed again. First at the ER in Greenwich. Then at the VA. He didn’t do well. The problem was he had forgotten how to speak. He could think in words and he could hear speech but he couldn’t speak – and he really, really tried.

After three months, the VA assigned him to a Halfway House. It was a beautiful, old mansion right on Long Island Sound. He lived there with eight men. Each client had an Attendant during the day. Connor’s Lead Attendant was Gloria Pagano, a squat, morose, acne-scarred woman in her late 30s from West Haven. Gloria was a single mother; her 12-year-old son, Jerome, was living with her parents because Gloria had to work such long hours.

Connor got to know Gloria. They were together from 8am to 4pm. Gloria wasn’t much of a talker, but they told her to keep a conversation going with Connor. She didn’t have any idea of how to do it. First, she was annoyed with him that he wouldn’t talk. She knew he was TBI and PTSD and that he had broken down again when his wife left him. But even so, he should be able to talk. It was annoying.

First, she tried to just talk about current things – but there wasn’t enough going on to talk about. The weather? The food in the Dining Room? The other Clients? The other Attendants? Dr. Kennedy, the Lead Shrink? Sara Townsend, the Group Therapist?

So after a couple of weeks, Gloria started thinking out loud to Connor. She did this from 8am to 4pm, five days a week. After six months, Gloria told him about what had happened to Jerome. That took about a week. Then she told him that the detective who was investigating Jerome’s case had asked her to marry him – and that she had accepted for Jerome’s sake and so her parents could get their life back.

On her last day, she asked Connor to blink his eyes three times if he had heard her story about Jerome. She blinked her eyes three times and she started to cry and she couldn’t stop for almost twenty minutes. It was the first time she had cried since she had found out what her boy friend, Billy, had done to Jerome.

Then she left the job, and the room with Connor in it just as he was when he had first come. She felt bad for him. He was bad hurt – but she knew there was nothing she could do.


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