The bright sunlight through the burgundy bedroom curtains made the dark bedroom seem like a redlight district. I’d been living out of bed for over seven years as of 2009. Brief weekends out of bed were followed by weeks of recovery from the exertion. I curled up in a ball around a tiny screen where I would communicate with my friends on Facebook. My phone was anything but smart, and it cost a modest extra fee to be able to have web service on it. But the access to a society who would laugh at my ironic jokes and understand my pain when I couldn’t sleep at 2 am was something I deemed a justifiable expense.
My daughter had been accepted at the University of Washington in the Fall of 2008 and as part of giving their students a way to get to know their roommates, the school suggested new students start a Facebook account. When my daughter was home for winter break, we sat together on my bed as I signed up for my own account. I thought it would be a great way to keep in touch with the daughter I missed.
Some of my friends are quite witty. One of those friends had acquired friends from the online community, meaning “friends” he had never met in person. At first, I was very apprehensive about accepting “friend requests” from people I had never met. But soon conversations and jokes carried over from the friends I did know in person and
I felt like I knew people from places across the country and even the world. Places hundreds of miles from any I had visited.
While laying in bed in pain, I composed quick thoughts and shared them. It became a release. When people began to respond, I felt I had found friends in the darkness. I connected with other people who were isolated for different reasons. Many of us were dealing with pain. Chronic, neverending pain.
While certain members of the federal administration seem to do anything EXCEPT validate chronic intractable pain, that type of pain is exactly what isolates and literally cripples people, making them incapable of living their previous lives.
Many people responded to the dark comments my mind and thumbs combined to leave on other people’s posts. Quickly I accumulated a large list of friends.
In October 2010, I decided I would rather take up my friend’s offers across the country to stay a day or a week, rather than rent a room in the gray dark winter of western Washington. I had only seen a few states of the country I lived in and a divorce after over 20 years of marriage was a great reason to explore. Many of my friends made plans to welcome me.
This last week, I lost another friend. It seems the death notices come more frequently now than they ever did. Many of the friends I met during my travels during the years from 2010 to 2017 are no longer around. Their absence in mortality does not lessen their effect on my life. In fact, the more friends who pass, the more grateful for all of them and the ways they changed my life and my attitudes.
At some point, I will write a detailed memoir, introducing you all to each of them…those who are no longer here. For now, I will say, I would not be around if not for my friends. My friends on social media pulled me out of several seasons of depression. These same people called 911 in 2009 when I was suffering withdrawals after a doctor prescribing me Fentanyl and Percocet discharged me without notice. My friends have saved my life in many ways and on many occasions.
Because I have been the recipient of such generous attention, I know the power of social media. I know when you just need someone to talk to, usually, there is someone at the other end when you enter social media. But I also know electronic connections are not substitutes for in-person socializing. They can supplement it very well, but at some point, my brain needed to meet the people I was talking to on the other end of the data stream.
Being disabled, to be able to afford travel, I sacrificed having a home to come to when I was not traveling. For the most part of seven years, I lived without a permanent dwelling. This was an experience of its own. I am in the midst of writing a book about a part of that experience, The Car That Ran on Prayers.
Many of the people I met in person during my travels joined me online to watch how my journey continued. When I finally made the decision to come inside and begin the task of documenting it all, many of my friends and family nearly cheered with relief. It had been a long seven years for all of us.
I reached out of my bed into a world I had no idea where or if I belonged in. Then, as I traveled, I began to reach into the people who reached into me when I was reaching out.
I have visited my friends, sat on their beds while they were curled up in pain. I love them all. I love those who have passed, and those who are still here. I love those who no longer consider themselves my friends. I love those who try harder every day, and I love those who just want a break and take it.
On the occasion of saying farewell to yet another friend, I can only reflect on all of my friends and the wonderful ways in which they have all expanded my world. I look forward to being reunited with them, and you, all when we are done on this side of the veil.
For now, I recommend calling a friend. Someone you know who gets lonely. Don’t worry, they will forgive you for not texting first. Too many of us are lonely in a world of friends.
Rest in Peace, Vin, Maria, Stephanie, Dana, Lisa, Bobby and so many more. I’ll see you on the other side.
My father had always said we had ink in our veins. So many of us worked in publishing, on both sides of my father’s family. When I began to delve earnestly into my family history, I soon discovered that when your family works on the backside of the paper, they are more likely than likely going to have their stories printed on the front.
When I entered the family history center that stormy April afternoon, I had one thing on my mind; I had never seen a photo of my father’s father. I was 46 and I had never seen my grandfather’s face.
I typed his name into the search bar on the site, Newspapers.com, “George R. Slighte,” the results came back instantly.
Under a photo, I read the words exactly as I had just typed: “George R. Slighte,” then the caption continued: “31, Pacific war veteran, surrendered to police as a driver of a hit-run car. -Tribune photo.”
I continued to read the story below his photo. It first detailed his surrender by phone, after striking an unknown object the night before. He was arrested and held that Christmas Eve day.
As I sat in the sparsely populated Family History room of the Stake Center, the hum of the computers and microfiche reader behind me and the constant quiet conversation of the volunteers on the computers to the right of me seemed to fade away as I was drawn further into my grandfather’s story. The bits and pieces I had been told as a small child hadn’t included anything about an accident. As I studied his face on the screen searching for similarities in my own and my children’s, I longed to know more about George’s life.
My grandfather’s sad tale played out like a soap opera in clippings from the Oakland Daily Tribune where both his brothers, Tom and Ray, worked. His father and he were also printers, working together at a private print shop at the time he enlisted in the Army a few years before.
The printers at the Tribune knew the story behind George’s brave service to his country and possibly they included his tale to temper the words that were so difficult to tell about another holiday drunk driving tragedy.
My memories about my grandfather were scarce and very confusing to my child mind. My father, in loud angry, insulting words, would describe how my brother was not named after his father, George, because my mother didn’t think George was the type of man you named a child after. My mother debates that statement. I grew up knowing this to be true. No matter who had said it, my perception was that my family thought George was a bad man. As I continued to read the words about his service to our country, my attitude about the grandfather I never knew changed. My respect for the hero that had served our country began to grow.
Through the mouths of several generations, a phrase was highlighted in my memory, I knew that he was injured in World War II, “hit in the back of the head by a Jap rifle,” was always how it was told. I was never told where, although a recent trip to the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. found me on my knees at an impression of the words, “New Guinea” in the concrete. Here it was in black and white:
“Slighte, a printer, who enlisted in the Army five days after the Pearl Harbor attack, was partly paralyzed during the fighting on New Guinea in 1943 when he was struck on the back of the head by a Jap rifle butt.”
The results of George’s injuries, untreated, created a domino-effect of trauma that is still echoing four generations later. Although our family attempted to erase George’s death through disposing of his photos and forbidding to speak of him; that didn’t keep his own son, then a great-grandson from following in his footsteps in the manner of their deaths. Sitting in that Family History Center, I realized that my own post-traumatic stress disorder could be directly traced to my grandfather’s service.
“George and his wife have one child, Ronald, 1 ½, and expect another early next year.” The last sentence shuddered through me. The other they expected, would be my aunt Pegi; My father was Ronald. Adversity hit the little family at it’s core before my aunt was born. Tragedy was to be her life for her first few years. The only years she was to share on earth with her father.
The one memory that was shared with me from the time I was far too young to comprehend its relationship to my abuse, was the memory my father carried about his father’s death. I don’t remember how old I was the first time I heard the words from my dad, “he took off his watch [speaking about his father], gave it to me, then went in his office and closed the door. The next thing I heard was a gunshot.” My father was four years old at the time. His little sister was 2. The man who was to cause my own mental illness, experienced the trauma that would be the undoing of at least two more generation’s psychological health on that day.
For the first 46 years of my life, one thing I knew about my paternal grandfather was the method of his death. I had no idea why, or who he was before he died. I had never seen his face. The day I saw his face, I also found another article in the Oakland Tribune about George Ronald Slighte. This piece confirmed what I knew to be true as well. It ran twenty-one years to the day from his grandson’s, my brother Jason’s birth, on 6 June 1949. It was printed on page 7:
In the three years since discovering those clips about my grandfather, George Ronald Slighte, I have continued to search for more clues.
The newspaper clippings continued the tale backwards and forwards in time from 1932 to 1999. My grandfather’s and father’s tales and traumas wove through the press. The ink in our veins was in fact splashed upon the front pages.
A newspaper person, a journalist, printer, typesetter, editor and even the errand boy all know one thing: Everyone sees what is on top of the fold on the front page. It is the display copy in the newspaper boxes, it is what was shouted from the corner newsboys. In my children’s generation the term translates into the readable webpage upon loading. Above the fold lies the news. Everyone and no one wants to be there.
On Christmas Eve day, George’s face fell above the fold. On the front page of the local section, his story ran in all it’s glory. The word in the black and white print that made me gulp, when I thought of the service the article delineated so well below it, was “surrendered,” I only could imagine how my grandfather felt at the same word.
Surrender. After having his head literally bashed in by the butt of a rifle, then carried over a ragged mountain range for eight days by natives, I imagine “surrender” was the last word George would have ever wanted attributed to him. But there it was in black and white.
This 5’6” man, my grandfather, stood the same height as both my grandmother stood and now I stand. For a man that’s not too tall at all. But he stood those five feet six inches proudly. He stood up for what he thought was right. This time he knew he had done wrong and it was time to stand up and say that too.
In my immediate family, I have tried to teach my children the value of telling the truth. Sometimes that was difficult, withholding a punishment you thought well-deserved just because the child came forward. As difficult as it was, such actions proved to teach the lesson that my grandfather already understood: No matter what, it’s always best to tell the truth.
The Tribune went on to describe how his honesty was not rewarded. He was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter and the family sued for wrongful death. The legal results of those cases have since been lost to the annals of time, but the personal result was clear: George was a broken man.
What wasn’t delineated in neat black-and-white newsprint, was the toll George’s actions and injuries were to take on generations to come. Trauma is like that. One traumatic event in a person’s life can scar generations not yet conceived in ways never imagined.
“Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by any trauma such as first-hand abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing any type of violence, car accidents, personal injury, or seeing death firsthand, not only in war. Although PTSD is commonly associated with veterans at war, this group in reality only accounts for 38.2% of all diagnosed PTSD cases. The other 61.8% is majorly made up of victims of abuse or violent crime” (Cole).
When my four-year-old father witnessed his father’s suicide, my grandfather effectively handed down the PTSD one generation. When my father acted out in his own trauma and abused myself and my brother, this non-genetic disorder of the brain was to affect yet another generation: My brother’s son passed in the same manner as his grandfather, down to the caliber of the gun.
It is not uncommon for a family to have a tendency towards PTSD. There has been recent research that indicates susceptibility to a PTSD response to trauma is possibly up to 40% genetic. In 2012 UCLA geneticists discovered two genes that appear to be linked to the development of PTSD (Schmidt, 2012).
SgtMaj. Casey D. Cole, USMC (ret) feels that the plague of PTSD-related suicides has to stop. So much so that he testified in front of a Senate committee on Veteran Suicide in 2011 about a simple programming addition that could be made into the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ (VA) automated answering prompts that would immediately connect a veteran who is calling for help to a person who can do so. That has currently been implemented. Since this happened, the number of veteran suicides has fallen from the infamous “Twenty22Many” to twenty every day. While we all agree that is still far too many, it is less. I was thankful to have the opportunity to thank SgtMaj. Cole for not only his service to his country, but also for his service to generations of families yet to be conceived.
As I learned about my grandfather’s service, and his life before both the accident and then his tragic death, I learned to respect the man that he was. Upon realizing that our family probably carries at least one of the genes that make us all more susceptible to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reactions to traumatic events, I realized that we have opportunities ahead of us as a family to help future generations by becoming more informed about this disorder.
Cole, SgtMaj. Casey D, USMC (ret). Personal Interview. 12-13 Oct 2016.
Department of Health Services, State of California. “Certificate of Death: George Ronald Slighte.” State file 49-042891 1 and 2 of 2. Certificate issued on APR 30, 2002.
Certificate barcode number 001380964.
Frissa, Souci, et al. “Challenges In The Retrospective Assessment Of Trauma: Comparing A Checklist Approach To A Single Item Trauma Experience Screening Question.” BMC Psychiatry 16.(2016): PsycINFO. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
King, John Charles. Personal Interview. 18 September 2016.
National Archives and Records Administration. “U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946: George Ronald Slighte.” Ancestry.com Operations Inc. 2005. Provo, UT, USA.
Oakland Tribune. “Accident Death Results in Suit.” Oakland, California. 12 Jan 1947. Page 13. Print.
The young woman who had fought, herself, so hard NOT to do it, that she inspired people WORLDWIDE to get the semicolon tattoo representing that they would “go on,” had no longer found the strength within herself to do just that. My heart was broken.
Today sucked for me. I tried to get some help on a large car repair bill and was denied. Then my puppy ate my denture. My only way to smile. The ONLY thing keeping me from looking like someone people don’t want to talk to: CHEWED. I was despondent. Coming two days after the news that the $900+ check I was expecting was NOT on it’s way and would never be, due to a recalculation in my student benefits. Suicidal? Perhaps… definitely more than ready to be violent to a certain male dog who’s time with his male parts has expired. But I kept in physical control, choosing the method of “sitting still,” and not acting where I could have done something I would later regret.
I have attempted suicide more times than I can count. It would happen every single year as a teenager and young adult. My suicidal ideations affected my children and my friends. I wasn’t a happy person to be around, and most antidepressants made it worse. I finally found a medication solution when I started using cannabis as my medicine in an eaten form. But my struggles with the moods and the trials continue. I have used methods I have learned from Dr. Low and Recovery International to help manage them.
I’m not the first person in my family to struggle. The Post Traumatic Stress that my grandfather experienced in the war along with a major head injury, lead him to finish himself off when my father was only four. My father, having experienced Post Traumatic Stress from his father’s suicide as a young boy, struggled until he also killed himself on my birthday weekend in 1999. My nephew was the latest, and the youngest, having only reached 18 in 2012 when he succeeded with ending his life. It runs in my family.
I have reached out to friends near and far, my poor daughter more times than I want to admit, and now I reach to God. I find comfort in a quote from Ezra Taft Benson, “There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you.” I think that is true. Another truth is that I have not been actively suicidal since I understood I am a daughter of God. Somehow, killing something that has eternal consequence seems different, worse. I am able to hang on and stay still when I would have previously done something I would regret.
My thoughts and prayers right now are with Ms. Bleuel’s family and friends, and ALL of those who looked up to her. It’s okay to keep hanging on. Just because she couldn’t, doesn’t mean you can’t. Stay strong, we are ALL children of a Heavenly Father who loves us. Help is around the corner, just ask.