Erick W. Miller
Some people prefer to be alone. I”m one of those people. l”m happiest when l”m in the middle of nowhere, be it in the desert, forest, or flood plain, day or night, as long as it’s peaceful. I used to be quite sociable. I drank a lot and abused a wide variety of substances in order to stand noise, lights, and people. It Wasn’t like that when I was a child. I had close friends to share childish secrets with or do fun things with or just be with when I didn’t want to be alone. Sometimes talking wasn’t even necessary. Laughter came easily.
It was like that through my teenage years too. When I entered the service, I made friends easily enough. We “were all Bozo’s on that bus!” When I got to Vietnam. I made more friends, some of them good friends. I started walking point on a permanent basis. That was a very dangerous thing to do. I felt that people were looking at me differently and I”m sure many were. A few may have thought that I was suicidal, some thought that I was trying to prove my manhood. Some may thought that I was truly brave and others thought that I was nuts or stupid and didn’t care which, as long as they didn’t have to walk up front.
The truth is much more simple. I felt that I was the best man for the job. I was small, tanned, alert with good eyes and ears, smart, and most importantly, a good Christian. Very few people figured all that out, but eventually, everyone felt safe walking behind me. I had a good feel for the jungle. I could tell from the animals and insects if everything was all right Spider webs across the trail were a good sign that I wasn’t following anyone. If I got bad vibrations, we could either change the route or recon by fire.
After being on point for several months, my nerves got so bad that I grew isolated from even my few good friends. None of them could understand the change. When we weren’t on the move, I needed peace and quiet. The best way to obtain this was to be alone. This condition grew worse, in fact so bad that even in 1997, I still couldn’t stand noise and people. I felt like I was always on guard. I Was still listening to the animals and insects.
I finally turned myself in at the V A when my chest pains became more frequent and rapid or irregular heartbeat was a daily occurrence. I still thought it was heart trouble and went to the emergency room for an EKG. That proved negative so they had someone escort me to the mental health waiting room. The psychiatrist knew what buttons to push and I basically had a nervous breakdown in the office. That day I was diagnosed as having chronic and severe PTSD. Two more doctors confirmed it even after I’d been on medication for weeks. The VA kept upping the dose and seeking new pills until I hit a tolerable state. They gave me sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, antidepressants, and a strong dose of something in the Valium family to stay calm during the day. Nothing gets rid of the nightmares, but I’m grateful to spend my nights in bed instead of looking out the windows every hour or so when some slight sound or change in the insect noises brought me to full alert. It would take forever to get back to sleep as I waited for the crickets to resume and my heart to stop racing.
Even with all the medication I prefer to be alone. After all, how many Vietnam pointmen are around to chat with? The ones who lived would probably like to be left alone, just like me.
Erick W. Miller 11 Nov. 1997 Rewritten and revised 12 July 2002