He was a Marine. First, foremost, and always. He wasn’t ever going to tell you about it, but you could see it and hear it. I remember his anger and his hand like a vise on my child sized arm. I know my mother’s stories, knowing I will never know the extent of the terror and fear he inflicted upon my mother and her family. The neuroscientist in me now recognizes the symptoms of PTSD and TBI in a WWII veteran, and know it had a hand in this. Explosive, incendiary anger, the need for control, the drinking, rigidity, the black and white thinking, the knife hand while yelling at your children and grandchildren for not intuiting your rules and regulations. The time you were only 18 months old and got in trouble for making a mess with your spaghetti. The olive green canteens of liquor that came along with your grandfather whenever he visited you in Texas. Knowing so much of what went on in your mother’s childhood, but still knowing you know only a fraction of the story and there are much darker things that will perhaps grow a little less dark with your grandfather’s passing. One time, your mother let slip that your grandfather hit her in front of your dad when they were first married and no one, certainly not your father, did or said anything. No one ever said or did anything. These things are secrets to all but a select few.
And then, the side of the man that was completely comical and charismatic. The man that would tell ridiculous stories and say ridiculous things just make me and my brother giggle as small children. The man who was always polite, who believed adamantly things like in pulling out a woman’s chair for her, and always did the right thing–with strangers and friends. When my grandmother was dying, he softened and started telling stories I’d never heard before. Stories about him and “Syl”. Even stories about the war. There’s a distinct feeling that the world outside of our family knows him as a completely different person and it’s these different people that I’m trying to make sense of now that that the man himself is gone. I wonder about the man before Guadalcanal and if he was any different from the grandfather I knew. I read his letters, letters to and from other Marines depicting lightness and carmaraderie that I never knew my grandfather was capable of. When did he change? Did he change? How did my grandmother end up with him? She must have seen SOMETHING. I do know that somehow, there’s still a hole, there’s still loss, despite all the things you know—you still shed tears for this man, who could be so monstrous, who WAS so monstrous and yet just a man.