Jenny Pacanowski

Assessing the Damage

I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in August 2007 by Dr. Howard Cohen
However, my mother stated I had PTSD the moment she saw me when I returned to Germany
Or was it over the phone when I was still in Iraq?
It does not matter when she knew
She just knew
It is always easier to talk about mothers
They are intuitive, loving and comforting
My mother made the call to go and meet the service officer in Philadelphia
My best friend, Melly, flew in from Indiana to try and explain what was happening
To my mind, my body, who I used to be and why SHE did not exist anymore
She was living it too
And my father was the muscle, I was going to listen
After the initial week of evaluations and paperwork in Philly with my mom, Melly and my service officer, Bill Perry
I submitted my disability claim and got my VA card

Now, it was time to start assessing the damages of war
And my father was going to take that ride with me
Tuesday was Philadelphia Day with Dad
Every Tuesday for six years,
My dad used every sick day, vacation day and family hardship day
He drove me two hours to the Philadelphia VA for my appointments and then to a suburb
To Dr. Cohen’s office for my "real" psychology appointment
Then two hours home during which I usually slept

I lived in a cabin tucked back in the woods with a guy
Who was completely indifferent to nearly everything
This suited me fine because I didn't need anyone getting in the way of my self destruction
I could see my Dad's car ascend the driveway
From the large picture window in our dining room
As I scurried around to get ready
He hated when I was late
Some days he would come in and say hello to my dogs
I liked this, because it allowed me a few extra few minutes to gather my pieces together
He gave me the strength to walk out that door
I was hoping today would be the day he would not notice the stench of alcohol
Emanating from my body
I hopped in the car
"You smell like a brewery."
"Yep."
I wanted to tell him: I can't sleep, I can't stop.
I felt so guilty that I lived that way that he saw me that way
But all I said every Tuesday was
“Yep.”
We descended the driveway and every time Dad would ask,
"Is your boyfriend ever going to fill these potholes?"
He grunted and groaned as his nice car bumped and careened through the very large holes
"Probably not. He works a lot."

I felt ashamed that I put my Dad in this situation and helpless for the first time in my life
I was no one
As I sat there, my hands shook,
Looking at the ground, looking out the window
Angry, sad, not knowing who I was
But this man, this Marine,
My Dad thought I was someone
And showed up every Tuesday

My mom made my Dad coffee in a to-go cup and mine was right next to his in the cup holder
We both loved that woman
He picked me up at 7:30 am, the drive was usually pretty good
We would talk about football, art, dogs, dog training, our family, my medications, PTSD, the VA and veterans
He had the play-by-play, week-by-week of my therapy and moods and is one of the only people in the world who could handle my rage

My rage:
The reason my Dad drove me to my appointments is because my road rage got so bad
That, combined with having no fear of death or speed
My parents and Dr. Cohen were worried
Especially when I started running people off the road,
Having flashbacks, scanning for bombs and swerving to miss bombs
Once while driving I followed some dude back to his house to yell at him about his tailgating
Dr. Cohen and my parents decided it was a good idea I not drive for awhile

Being with my dad was like having my own secret service
In the car, I could relax
He is a great defensive driver and never strays into other lanes
We learned together that getting mad at other drivers does nothing but get us upset
He would park the car so I was not late for appointments
When other veterans were blocking and arguing over parking spots in the lot
Once inside the VA, we sat against the wall in the waiting rooms
So we could watch the door
Or we stood in the hallway, if a veteran was freaking out in the waiting room
On one particularly bad day, I was checking out at the front desk in mental health services
A Vietnam veteran was on a cell phone
I could not hear the receptionist to set up my next appointment
I told him I was having a bad moment
And asked if he could please walk farther down the hall to continue his conversation
He started screaming at me
I lost it and we were screaming back and forth then I felt a hand on my shoulder
It was my dad and he said we needed to go
As we quickly walked to the elevators
We saw security running down the hall to scoop that guy up
But not me
My dad protected me, watched my back

Then we headed down to the pharmacy to pick up
The newest concoction of pills the shrink had come up with
It was usually a two-hour wait
My dad and I would joke around and listen carefully to the older vets
On many occasions, one or two veterans were discussing
The best way to blow up the pharmacy
One veteran explained to us how to place sticky bombs on the ceiling
Another one wanted to set up a line of claymores
There was always talk of driving through the front doors with a large truck, up-armored vehicle, tank or something of that sort and shooting up the place
After the VA circus, my dad drove me to see Dr. Cohen, my real psychologist.
Doc taught me that my mind was a toolbox
And the sledgehammer was not always the best tool
He helped me understand that there was nothing wrong with me,
That PTSD:
Post traumatic stress disorder is my HUMAN reaction
To the extraordinary circumstances of war
Dr. Cohen wrote me a prescription for a service dog, who would give me my freedom back

My father never lied to me
He tells it like it is even when it hurts
He never broke a promise to me
He challenged me to “shake it off” and do my best
And people may think that is harsh but I think it was great
I'm a survivor, because he raised me that way
My dad once said, “If you are a failure, I'm a failure.”
So I guess that means if I'm a success, you are too
Here’s to you, DAD!

Beheading Innocence

Yesterday ISIS beheaded innocent people Innocence
Who spoke it first?
Out of mouths of little babes, right? What does it look like inside the bag … Over their head.

Is it darkness?
Is it a new beginning? When do they see the light? What if
There is no light.

We are going back You know Backwards
I was there You know
Convoying those streets Trying to heal
Those people Those children Our guys

Visiting Iraq

I visited Iraq today. I was taking the dogs for a walk and as usual scanning the roadway. (Scanning means looking side to side all down the road and about 8 feet around the road, for anything "out of place" in 30 second intervals about every 2 to 5 steps, repeat continuously as you move forward). Moxie is the point man of the convoy and BOO is the guy watching my Six(my back). There is commotion over at the park pavilion building, Another birthday party. Fine. Then as Moxie is posted at the edge of the park, Alert and BOO is checking the road behind us for ambush. I hear it. The pop or pfoof boom, that concussive sound that goes through my flesh and shocks my heart. I ALMOST kissed the pavement. The insurgents were on the wire and mortars coming in. OH wait, no it is firecrackers from the party goers. BUT I can't get my heart to stop beating so fast, I can't stop and let the dogs play because, THEY are coming for us and WE need to be on alert. I rush through the walk, scanning, scanning, scanning. BOO and Moxie sense my urgency to get home. Moxie starts running, BOO drags along but gets excited when a person moves through the shadows. AN INSURGENT broke through the wire, oh crap we are outside the wire. IT is a another party goer running to his car. We get home, I'm annoyed, frustrated and guilty for not giving the dogs as long a walk as I wanted too, but we were in danger and visiting Iraq is no joke.

I Keep Moving

I sat in my Army barracks
Germany
Alone
In a barely furnished room
3 weeks before deployment to Iraq
(Pause)
Crying

Moments before I had glided down the hallway
To see ABOUT a boy
A palace
A drink
A dance

My very best friend with the long brown eyelashes
A perfectly sculpted jawline
His green eyes
luring me,
taunting me,
to follow him

I would
I did
Showing him my impulsive fire
Now
I wanted him to feel my warmth
My light
My heart
Underneath the fierce bravado
I dressed
Black boots that skimmed my knees
A sheer black skirt
playing tag with the edges of my boots
I stood 4 inches taller
I only had to tilt my head up slightly
To penetrate his gaze

My favorite red shirt
Cut low
Showing
my tattoo
my first love
A strawberry
with a bite
Right off the left corner

Matching red
SUPER push up bra
Black thong
Raven hair
Straight
Fine
Pulled
Slightly away from my face.
Brown eyes with green speckles
Daring the world in a glance

He opened the door
(breath BIG sigh)
He was in his pajamas
The disappointment ensued

"Happy Birthday"
"why aren't you ready?"

Attempting
to hide the disdain
the wailing
as I was sinking

"I don't feel good"
the boy stated.

"Oh you will feel better after a couple drinks"
"And it is your birthday!"
I squealed.

Being with him
made me feel like it was MY birthday

The way my heart beat so fast
I could barely catch my breath
My stomach bounced into my diaphragm
like bionic butterflies
Brushing against him
Flushing my body with waves of heat
Red
Heat
his arm
his embrace
Ignited me
(PAUSE, Breathe) "No"
"Sorry"
The boy closed the door

I trudged
Dragging myself
Down the hallway
To my chair
The tears come
I don't stop them
My make up
On duty
Stays put

Mazzy Star rasps in the back ground
wailing steel guitar
(Singing) "I want to hold the hand inside you"
"I want to take the breath that’s true"

a little tambourine

(Singing)
"I look to you and see nothing"
"I look to you to see the truth”

piano accentuates

(Singing) "fade into you"
"I think it is strange you never knew"

Knock
"What!"
Hoping it was him

The head of another boy
pokes through my door

Hey
Don't cry
Dance with me
I shook my head
He lifted me from the chair
We swayed
(singing) "fade into you"
"I think it is strange you never knew"

I will go to the palace with you

WAR.
HIDDEN.
LOST.
ALONE IN A CROWDED ROOM.
HOPING

HOPING
FOR
DEATH
THE
LIGHT

It is opening night
I am ecstatic
wondering
wanting
to share
the amazement with him
the theater
the actors
the playwright
the director
the friends
the imagination
the life on stage
(SLOW)
bring him into me

I texted
I called
I begged
I cried
I pleaded
"please this means so much to me"
PLEASE

The man states
"No"
"Downtime"
"Other plans"
"Downtime"
"No"
(INHALE) Again

The man that made my heartbeat so fast I could barely breathe
The bionic butterflies smacking my diaphragm
The heat rushing
Brushing against him.

I laid down
Melted
deflated
depressed
Self-pity
no need
to go
it doesn't matter
I don't matter?
(BREATHE)

The girl in the barracks room
Appears
Sitting alone
crying
rejected
waiting for a boy
to take her to the palace

Numb
Sliding off the couch
The life of water
Flows
Becomes
A red v neck
Boots with spikes
That play tag with the flowing black skirt
A sheer cape
Blast off

I hold the steering wheel
White knuckled
I look for no one
Nothing
in my rearview mirror
My hands ache

I am a woman
Going
Not waiting
For anyone
I go
Forth on fire
Keeping them at a distance
Alone
Floating
More Perfect
Than the palace.

I am a woman
Going
Not waiting
For anyone
I go
Forth on fire
Keeping them at a distance
Alone
Floating More Perfect
Than the palace.

Heart of the Enemy

The day you waved at me
For the first time
The convoy was
Transformed
Into a parade
I lowered my weapon
Waved back like a beauty queen
In desert camo …
A parade of freedom
Of winning hearts and minds
Of this liberated country
My mission was clear
I was present
We had arrived
To help
To save
To heal
To love

We convoyed into your village
With our green ambulance
The leaders
Presented you and the other children
For US
To poke and prod with our instruments
Of medicine

I taught you about cough drops
How not to swallow it
Whole
To take in the medicine first
You nodded
And I smiled
I listened to your hearts
The bounding and the slushing
As blood pulsed through your veins
My heart burst with purpose
We lived another day
Together
Immersed in war

I left
You stayed
I was assigned
To the road
To convoys
You went to begging
Then to rock throwing
We laughed when we saw you
Flicking US
The bird

Until …
The explosion silenced us
Your screams were deafening
Or was it mine?

I scrambled around the crater
The dust was blinding
Until I saw the blood

Desert sucks up blood
Quicker than water

I saw you!
Running away
With that cell phone
That detonator
In your little brown hand

Die You Little Motherfucker
You were no longer a child
With a beating heart
Sucking on cough drops
YOU ARE A THREAT
Running across your desert
Of Sand that rakes my skin
Much like your existence
Rapes my idealism

Die you Little Motherfucker
You have come into a world
That hates you
Wants to kill you
You little terrorist
We can’t tell the difference between insurgents and civilians
You all look the same to us
Different than US
You are the enemy
Die you little motherfucker

I see 2004 like a movie
Reeling backward in my mind
Drawing forth the
Moving targets
I mean….
Civilians
I mean….
Children
I mean … The Detonators

You are THE blurry in my pictures
You are as indistinct as the shambles of concrete
You call “home”
How do I return home?

What if I said I didn’t know?
I didn’t know how to stop the machine
Not the convoy
Not the war
Not even myself

I reached out …
But my weapon
Separated us
I wanted to pull you in
Close
But,
All you could feel was
Cold hard steel

What if I said
I was sorry
We ever occupied
You
I want to hold you
Redefining
Love unconditionally
Giving you my blood
After we had gutted
You
Your country
Please help me
Put away
My gun
My armor
My hate
And redefine my love
For humanity
Including you
Please
Let me come home
Please
Let us all come home
From the war
Inside
US ALL

Fade Into You

I sat in my Army barracks
Germany
Alone
In a barely furnished room
3 weeks before deployment to Iraq
(Pause)
Crying

Moments before I had glided down the hallway
To see ABOUT a boy
A palace
A drink
A dance

My very best friend with the long brown eyelashes
A perfectly sculpted jawline
His green eyes
luring me,
taunting me,
to follow him

I would
I did
Showing him my impulsive fire
Now
I wanted him to feel my warmth
My light
My heart
Underneath the fierce bravado
I dressed
Black boots that skimmed my knees
A sheer black skirt
playing tag with the edges of my boots
I stood 4 inches taller
I only had to tilt my head up slightly
To penetrate his gaze

My favorite red shirt
Cut low
Showing
my tattoo
my first love
A strawberry
with a bite
Right off the left corner

Matching red
SUPER push up bra
Black thong
Raven hair
Straight
Fine
Pulled
Slightly away from my face.
Brown eyes with green speckles
Daring the world in a glance

He opened the door
(breath BIG sigh)
He was in his pajamas
The disappointment ensued

"Happy Birthday"
"why aren't you ready?"

Attempting
to hide the disdain
the wailing
as I was sinking

"I don't feel good"
the boy stated.

"Oh you will feel better after a couple drinks"
"And it is your birthday!"
I squealed.

Being with him
made me feel like it was MY birthday

The way my heart beat so fast
I could barely catch my breath
My stomach bounced into my diaphragm
like bionic butterflies
Brushing against him
Flushing my body with waves of heat
Red
Heat
his arm
his embrace
Ignited me
(PAUSE, Breathe) "No"
"Sorry"
The boy closed the door

I trudged
Dragging myself
Down the hallway
To my chair
The tears come
I don't stop them
My make up
On duty
Stays put

Mazzy Star rasps in the back ground
wailing steel guitar
(Singing) "I want to hold the hand inside you"
"I want to take the breath that’s true"

a little tambourine

(Singing)
"I look to you and see nothing"
"I look to you to see the truth”

piano accentuates

(Singing) "fade into you"
"I think it is strange you never knew"

Knock
"What!"
Hoping it was him

The head of another boy
pokes through my door

Hey
Don't cry
Dance with me
I shook my head
He lifted me from the chair
We swayed
(singing) "fade into you"
"I think it is strange you never knew"

I will go to the palace with you

WAR.
HIDDEN.
LOST.
ALONE IN A CROWDED ROOM.
HOPING

HOPING
FOR
DEATH
THE
LIGHT

It is opening night
I am ecstatic
wondering
wanting
to share
the amazement with him
the theater
the actors
the playwright
the director
the friends
the imagination
the life on stage
(SLOW)
bring him into me

I texted
I called
I begged
I cried
I pleaded
"please this means so much to me"
PLEASE

The man states
"No"
"Downtime"
"Other plans"
"Downtime"
"No"
(INHALE) Again

The man that made my heartbeat so fast I could barely breathe
The bionic butterflies smacking my diaphragm
The heat rushing
Brushing against him.

I laid down
Melted
deflated
depressed
Self-pity
no need
to go
it doesn't matter
I don't matter?
(BREATHE)

The girl in the barracks room
Appears
Sitting alone
crying
rejected
waiting for a boy
to take her to the palace

Numb
Sliding off the couch
The life of water
Flows
Becomes
A red v neck
Boots with spikes
That play tag with the flowing black skirt
A sheer cape
Blast off

I hold the steering wheel
White knuckled
I look for no one
Nothing
in my rearview mirror
My hands ache

I am a woman
Going
Not waiting
For anyone
I go
Forth on fire
Keeping them at a distance
Alone
Floating
More Perfect
Than the palace.

I am a woman
Going
Not waiting
For anyone
I go
Forth on fire
Keeping them at a distance
Alone
Floating More Perfect
Than the palace.

Parade

The funeral procession from Syracuse airport to Ithaca NY was over 50 miles long.
Dragging his dead body through town after town of people, families and children waving flags.
The fallen HERO had finally come home.
I wonder how many children who saw this, will someday want to be dead HEROS too.
I did not wave a flag that day or anyway since my return.
I still can't help but think that could have been me, but it wasn’t.

The hero was hit by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle, struggled to live but didn’t make it.
That was not me.

I was missed by IEDs, bullets, mortars, RPGs.
Is it luck?
Was it training?
Was it GOD?
Was it the Devil?
Why did I survive only to come home to a war with an invisible enemy in my own skin?

I live in a dream called my life. Where the good things don't seem real or sustainable.
I live in the nightmares of the past called Iraq and PTSD that never run out of fuel.

Is it better to be a dead hero?
Or a living fucked up, addicted, crazy veteran?

Suicide rates soar, but no one calls them heroes.
So, on this day, I'm going to have a parade for those brave young men and women that killed themselves.
I was not brave enough to follow through and I admire them.

These dead decided they couldn't live with who they became, who they are, accept what happened or find healing.
The barriers and obstacles that they weave through, while carrying the burden of war, consumes them with despair and failure,
And their actions are branded on the soul as reminders of what they did "over there",
These failures are punishable by death.
To those who were able to escape death in a combat zone like true warriors,
But could not thrive in a society that does not understand them or help them understand themselves.
I wave my motherfucking flag.

The parades run every 80 minutes, blood drips from the small towns to the big cities, the grief consuming millions of miles.

Than I wonder,
WOULD those flag wavers ask...
Why are we there?
Why are we at war?
Why are the soldiers and marines killing themselves at home?
What have we done?
How cans this stop?

Or would they just duck their heads and wave their flags? For the dead heroes.

We Are Not Your Heroes

We are not your heroes.
Heroes come back in body bags and caskets.
We are now society's burden,
ALOCOHOLICS
DRUG ADDICTS
POT HEADS
CRIPPLES
We are displaying our pain.
Begging for help that falls onto the VA's deaf ears.
Pill popping to silence us into numbness and dead eyes.
WE ARE NOT YOUR HEROES.
We are now a mental disease.
NO VACCINATIONS FOR PTSD.
NO CURE for Post traumatic stress disorder.
We fight for our cure with our
ALCOHOLISM
DRUG ADDICTIONS
SMOKING WEED. . .
We are hurting ourselves,
Letting society watch our pain and suffering.
WE ARE NOT YOUR HEROES.
We are your BURDEN
Smacking you in the face with our honesty of this needless war.
WE FOUGHT
So you have the freedom to JUDGE us.
I wish I never came back.

I Remember

I remember signing my name.

Giving them my warm body to transform into a cold uniform.
I remember the uniform being thin light and tan.
Giving the illusion it would not become a representation of the burden I now carry.
I remember standing at the end of a long hallway coated with sand, INSIDE the hospital.
A single lamp giving light to a small dirty room next to the clean wards full of the injured.
I remember in the shadows I could hear the doctors whispering, what to do.
My friend Chris stood at the bedside, giving his comfort by holding the Marine's hand.
I remember the bandages wrapped around the marine's head.
I stood there unable to move only stare.
My rifle strapped around my back seeming to tighten and straggle me.
NO one saw me.

Even now, I hear their whispers,
"who jumps on a grenade?"
"the squad was checking houses and it just rolled in"
"The Iraqi women and children screamed"
"I wonder if they knew anything"
"He saved 6 members of his platoon and the Iraqi's"
"All we can do is try and keep him alive till he gets to Germany so he can say good bye to his mother"

My friend Chris touched my arm; I shied away from his touch.
He said, "I tried to explain to him, he is going home and to hold on. I think he blinked."
And I blinked away my tears.
I remember loading him into the helicopter.
I remember watching that helicopter fly away and thinking this shouldn't have happened.
Giving one life to save many
Destroying many lives for WAR.
For what?
It is said the people of the USA are safely sleeping in their beds,
Protected,
Because of the battles that our boys and girls are fighting in the Middle East.
He slowly died, b/c he loved the people serving next to him.
NOT YOU, NOT ME, NOT WAR.
But the marines standing next to him.
Would you jump on a grenade?

We Are Not Your Heroes

Parade

Whose Soul Is That?

Mirrors

Jennifer Pacanowski

I am a Writer/Poet/Public Speaker/Facilitator.

I joined the Army in 2003 at age 23. I selected the M.O.S. of health care specialist/combat medic with plans to work in a hospital and to someday become a nurse. In 2004, I was sent to Iraq. During the deployment I worked as a combat medic driving a military ambulance serving as medical support for convoys with the Army, Air force and Marines. I logged thousands of miles throughout Iraq including war zones in Al-Asad, Tikrit, Mosel, Samarra and the Sunni triangle.

In 2007, I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I began writing again to process the many issues I was dealing with after war. However, while training and fostering bullmastiffs I was able to reconnect with my compassion and humanity. The following year, I attended an artistic/writing veterans retreat with Warrior Writers at Martha's Vineyard, where I found peace in the other veterans' company and also a venue for my writing/spoken word.

My work is published in Remaking Sense, After Action Review and the Warrior Writers 4th Anthology. All three books are available from Warrior Writers. My passion is facilitating writing workshops for veterans and military family members to continue to inspire people to write and discuss the cost of war. I want to teach people how empowering narrative writing can be.

In my work with Trauma and Resiliency Resources, I facilitate a narrative writing course at the Warrior Camp program. Veterans coming home from the military culture need a place to process and express their stories.

Recently, I participated in a 2 year Playwriting workshop for veterans by Paula Vogel which culminated with "Veteran's on Stage" at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, where my work was performed by the cast of "Don Juan comes home from Iraq." I have performed at Poetic Theater in "From table to Stage," "Shades of love," “Love, Redefined” and "Women Center Stage". I was chosen to participate in Poetic Theater’s "Conscious language" festival, where 6 poets wrote 10 minute plays in 3 days that were performed by professional actors.

My goal is to help guide and educate civilians and veterans to create community and understanding of our own humanity to ease the transition from war and military culture.

jennywarrior2277@gmail.com