I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my stepdad. We lost him in January when his descending aorta tore due to an aneurysm. He was so young, and it was so quick. It was preceded by an anxiety attack caused by his PTSD. I was surprised at first that he was suffering from PTSD because I’d never seen it before. Then I started to look back.
Drew was a paramedic in his small town. I knew he saw stuff that bugged him there, but he always made it sound like he got a thrill from it. Then, he joined the Army and became a sniper. This always made me giggle, because Drew was cross eyed. He had several surgeries to correct it again and again through out his life, but he always ended up cross eyed again- especially when he was tired. He used to tell us these fascinating- and horrifying; stories from the Gulf War, but again, it always seemed it was more thrilling for him than scary. It wasnt until last easter, just after I found out about his PTSD, that I found out what came in the 15 years between the Gulf War and when he came into our lives.
He had stayed in the army, but he always moonlighted. When he had first arrived in our small town, he was an MP, a volunteer firefighter/EMT, and a cab driver. He worked 18 hours a day minimum. Every. Single. Day. He was still married to his exwife, and was raising 2 kids, but he still worked all those hours.
Fast forward to when he met my mom, and they fell in love. I hated him. I was a Daddy’s girl, I was 14, had just lost my best friend to suicide 2 months before, my childhood dog 6 weeks after that, and suddenly my parents are getting divorced and my mother is dragging me kicking and screaming into this relationship with some guy. I didnt appreciate him, and I made it my mission to make him as miserable as humanly possible. He was weird. He was constantly “go, go, go” and I think I only ever saw him sit down a handful of times (out side of driving). And still, even though I was the one that hated him, the one that thought he wasnt worth the oxygen he took up, I was the one with him on every fire call I could legally go on. We found our common ground in the adrenaline rush that comes from putting yourself out there for the sake of helping other people.
Looking back, I can see where all the signs were there of his PTSD. The constant movement and need to be engaged in something, the irritability when he had to sit, the obvious chain he kept tight over his emotions, and the almost desperate way he tried to make every one laugh. Drew never settled down.
After he and my mom retired, they went to Afghanistan to do security for the same troops they’d both trained for the last 15 years. They didnt talk about what happened over there, but I dont think it had as much impact on him as the First Gulf War.
He finally started slowing down as he got older, even at 47 his body couldnt stand up to the constant demands he put on it. He had to start slowing down. And it didnt serve him well, especially mentally. He started to have bad panic attacks, had to start medication for depression and anxiety. He was on so many meds, I didnt even recognize him when he came to see the birth of my daughter. He’d put on a lot of weight, grown out his beard, and the vibrant, enigmatic man I had basically grown up with was a slow speaking stranger that just looked stoned out of his mind. It was the last time I saw him, and I hated seeing him like that. Thankfully, its not how my brain has chosen to remember him. I can remember the adjectives I attached to him at the time, but his actual appearance and demeanor are hazy, completely overshadowed by the man from my youth.
I was so shocked when my mother called me to tell me he had died. It wasn’t even the news of his death that shocked me- that didnt sink in for almost an hour. What shocked me was that my mother was sobbing. Not crying, but sobbing. Its understandable, obviously, but in my 25 years I had never seen my mother cry. And, God forgive me, my first thought, it being before 5 am was “It better not be about her damned dog.” (My mother has an unusual attachment to her chihuahua, Vinnie.) It finally sank in what she was saying. That Drew had died. The weird, utterly frustration enigma my mom had married so recently, yet forever ago, was gone forever. The man that was always a champion for me, even when I didn’t deserve it, would never make another stupid joke, never argue the phonetics of Hurt and Dirt with me again, never light up like a 6 year old on Christmas whenever we waxed poetic about Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man.
I thank God I had the chance to make things right between us before he died. I’m so happy I didn’t let him leave without knowing how sorry I was about my behavior as a teenager, and how much I loved him. I’m glad I was able to thank him for everything he did, and for putting up with all the shit I heaped on him for so long. I was able to thank him for not being my dad, but for being my friend when I needed one, and kicking my ass (verbally, of course) when I needed that. I took him for granted as a teenager, but I didn’t as an adult. I am very thankful for that.
Drew was larger than life. A friend to any one that needed one, and a true hero. My only regret is that we didn’t have him longer.