A decision: to seek therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You were a professional soldier. Over two decades of military service in the Middle East, the Balkans, wherever the United States needed you. You subscribe to the ideology of democracy, you've fought for it, killed for it. As a soldier, as a man, you dismissed psychology and counseling as effete bullshit. But you've seen the good guys, your fellow good guys, kill innocent people in rage. When a warrior in your unit raped and killed an eight year-old girl you almost shot him but refrained, partly because you simply do not shoot men on your side and, more fundamentally, because you feared that a prison sentence would deprive your children of a father. So you blew the whistle and, in response, the military encouraged your silence. Then they honorably discharged you.
The hammer of justice never came down upon the rapist and murderer. He has retired. He lives near you.
You love your country, but your outlook is darker, more complicated. The good guys are no longer the good guys and guilt seeps into your every waking moment like poison gas hissing underneath a closed door. You could have saved her. Every night you wake up on the hour to re-secure windows and locks. Thinking about that eight year-old girl tears you to bits.
You can still make justice happen.
The Vietnam War veterans at your workplace tell you to get help. You refuse. Then, one night, your young daughter has a nightmare and crawls into bed with you for comfort. Unconscious, panicked, you throw her through a wall. Miraculously, she is okay, but the experience leaves both of you terrified. Yet you still refuse to see a therapist. When your son refuses to clean his room you destroy everything he owns, kicking his furniture into splinters. In the mirror, you see a lunatic, but you still refuse to seek treatment. Shrinks are for wimps and losers, women and civilians. Warriors solve their own problems.
It is late at night and you are in your truck. Armed. You know where the rapist and murderer lives. He does not deserve to live. You drive in circles. You drive towards his house. Killing him will be easy—you've planned it all out. When you are done, you will park at a nearby lake and watch the sunrise. Then you will kill yourself.
You keep driving into the night.
Then you stop. The motor idles and the transmission remains in drive. The soldier's crime has consumed you. It is ruining your family. It is very near to destroying them. Your act of vengeance is justified, but what are the ramifications? Who will be collateral damage? Your children. Your wife. You. You are a man, a soldier, and, suddenly, you realize that you cannot deal with this on your own.
You release the brake and make a u-turn on the empty road through the rolling hills under the black, black sky.
It takes two years and seven doctors before you feel like you have reached a starting point, then three years more before your life regains a sense of normality. But you still have flashbacks of the little girl getting raped and killed. You still feel that you could have saved her. You still know that, with a few slugs and the smooth turn of a key in your truck's ignition, you could cleanse the planet of her killer.
But you decided to get help and, carrying more baggage than any person could handle alone, you take slow, incremental steps into the future. Every day you fight bitterly to keep the memory from controlling your life and wrecking your family.
Whatever they say, you are still a soldier.