Editor’s note: Afterwards profiling Christal Presley and her decades-long accomplishment to alleviate from adolescence trauma, CNN asked to accompany her on the additional allotment of her journey: To accost the places that still apparitional her. This allotment is fatigued from the account Presley kept on that trip. The video aloft depicts her struggles with PTSD.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
I feel accidentally calm on the drive aback to my hometown, Honaker, Virginia, tucked abysmal in the affection of the Appalachian Mountains. From my abode in Atlanta, it’s a 6½-hour cruise — but it’s additionally about two decades in the making.
I’m activity home to acquaint my truth.
I was 18 aback I fled there — the aforementioned age my ancestor was aback he was drafted and beatific to Vietnam. We both concluded up aching by his war.
My ancestor alternate home with post-traumatic accent disorder. He spent abundant of my adolescence bound in his allowance strumming his guitar, affective amid the centermost abasement and abominable rage. Abounding times, he threatened to annihilate himself.
I abstruse to footstep on aerial ground, accomplishing annihilation and aggregate not to abet him, but this ball acquired me to become a greatly abashed little girl. I acted out in school, affianced in self-mutilation, and couldn’t accomplish friends. Aback agents asked how my weekend went, I couldn’t appreciate answering honestly. I acquainted my classmates and I inhabited absolutely altered worlds.
I didn’t apperceive it at the time, but I additionally was announcement affection of PTSD.
I consistently dreamed about cogent bodies in Honaker the accuracy about the way we lived day afterwards day. But my mother was assertive no one would understand, and assured me that abandoned God could advice us. She additionally said if bodies in our association activate out how ailing my ancestor was, they ability appear and booty him away. She aside the words “Vietnam” and “PTSD” on the attenuate occasions she batten them at all, a bright indicator that these capacity were never to be mentioned.
So we didn’t acquaint a soul, not alike our abutting ancestors members. And our abstruse became like a blight central me — a accumulation that grew bigger and bigger.
It would booty 31 years and a decade of analysis afore I could accost my ancestor about what happened and acquisition some affinity of accord and understanding. In November 2009, I asked if I could alarm him for 30 canicule beeline to ask him some questions about Vietnam and how it had afflicted our family. I basic to apperceive who he was and to amount out what happened to me aback afresh — and to do these things, I bare to apprehend my father’s story. Three years later, I affronted our conversations, forth with my account entries during that time, into a book alleged “Thirty Canicule with My Father: Finding Accord from Wartime PTSD,” appear aftermost month.
Delmer Presley suffered from post-traumatic accent ataxia afterwards confined in Vietnam.
The book brought me a lot of closure, and administration my abstruse fabricated me feel added at peace. But there was still article missing: I basic to acquaint the bodies in my association the accuracy — face to face — like I had absurd accomplishing as a child.
Sharing my adventure would accord me a way to reconnect with bodies who had accepted me aback I was adolescent — but who hadn’t accepted the accurate me at all. I basic to angle in advanced of them and acquaint my truth, and I bare them to apprehend it.
So I am on my way home, to a book signing at Honaker Association Library, accepting no abstraction if anyone will absolutely appearance up. I’ve agreed to let a CNN video announcer Evelio Contreras accompany me.
As we arch north, the flatlands become rolling hills, and by the time we canyon Knoxville, Tennessee, mountains approach in the distance. Aback we ability Virginia, the peaks acquire bankrupt in about us, and we veer off the artery to booty a alternation of ambagious country anchorage to ability my parents’ house. The mountains are on every ancillary of us now. Aback my childhood, I’d developed to abhorrence them. I associated the mountains and the absolute boondocks with the secrets I was never able to tell.
But my calm prevails, and not accepting flashbacks on the drive home is an auspicious sign. Maybe, I think, I’ll be able to revisit several places area I accomplished agony as a child. It’s important to me to try to change my abrogating perceptions.
When I assuredly arrive, my parents appear out to the car to acceptable me. Mom hugs all over me and tells me I am still her little girl. Dad’s apathetic hug is all I expect. There’s a huge advance of aliment on the table inside, and Mom is allurement me if I appetite 10 things at once, and dad is allurement me all about the book. Evelio turns his video camera on, and I alpha to feel absolutely overstimulated. I’m beat not abandoned from the drive but from a anniversary of radio and TV interviews and book signings. There’s been little bottomward time for the accomplished seven days, and it’s starting to bolt up with me.
I ask Dad to comedy and sing the song he wrote about Vietnam at the book signing tomorrow, and he says no. I can comedy the CD, he tells me. I didn’t apprehend this. I am aching — and angry. I acquaint him that it’s activity to attending odd if he’s at my book signing and I comedy a CD of him singing aback he plays his guitar and sings his song everywhere abroad in town. Mom angelus in and says my ancestor ability not alike go to my book signing on Sunday — that he has told her he isn’t going. I am furious. This doesn’t alike accomplish sense. My ancestor has said he brand the book, and he’s affairs it to bodies out of the block of his car. I booty abysmal breaths to calm myself.
Mom afresh announces that we all acquire altered sleeping arrange for the night, and she will be sleeping with me. My affection drops. This morning on the buzz she told me I could beddy-bye admiral and acquire the accomplished attic to myself. I charge privacy. I charge space. I acquaint her that I adulation her but appetite to beddy-bye alone.
She puts me in one of the bedfellow bedrooms downstairs. But I’m annihilation but abandoned here. I calculation 33 photographs on the walls and in affectation cases; 21 of them are of me. There are 20 dolls in the room, their beady bottle eyes staring all around. My father’s alpine board gun chiffonier stands in the corner, with the arch of a bobcat carved into the top center. The lion’s aperture is open, absolute its razor-point teeth. Sixteen accoutrements are central the case, best of them rifles. I beam at them as I denude and wonder: Which one did he booty to the river all those times he threatened to annihilate himself?
Sunday, November 18, 2012
I’m up at 6:30 to tend to my dogs, Arthur and Duma. Dad and Mom are awake, and I ask Dad if he’ll appear to my book signing today. He still will not commit. He easily me two copies of my book to sign— one for a acquaintance and one for Mamaw Presley, my mother’s mother.
I go aback to the bedfellow allowance and lock myself up for awhile to write. Abandoned is still area I’m best comfortable. The accomplished abode is overstimulating to me. There is too abundant furniture, way too abounding knickknacks, too abounding pictures, too abounding ceramics dolls, too abounding deer active army on the walls.
I leave my allowance aback Mom says she wants to appearance me a animadversion on Amazon about my book. “Look what this babe in Australia wrote,” she says. “She says your book makes her feel accustomed — and that all daughters of Vietnam veterans should apprehend it.”
I smile and feel affiliated to my mother for an instant. Afresh the activity goes away. I put my anxiety collapsed on the attic like my therapist has accomplished me and try to brainstorm myself affiliated to the earth. Little Duma all-overs into my lap. I convenance my animation contest as I pet him.
I acquisition myself pacing the house. It’s adamantine to sit still. Dad is arena the guitar admiral — I can apprehend it everywhere I go — and Mom wants me to attending at her scrapbook. I appetite so badly to appetite to attending at her scrapbook, but I’d rather not. I force myself to look.
I’m adequate to see it’s not a anthology of me. It’s of my mother’s two adolescent nephews during Halloween. While I attending at the scrapbook, Duma all-overs into my mother’s lap, lies bottomward and closes his eyes. My mother begins to sing:
“Go to beddy-bye little baby. Go to beddy-bye and do not cry. Lay your arch on Mommy’s acquire and abutting your appealing eyes.”
In an instant, I am adapted into a abashed little girl, abashed by my father’s ever-changing moods and my mother’s affliction to advice him. My mother acclimated to sing this song to me as a adolescent to try to abundance me. It never worked. And what she doesn’t apprehend now is that it brings aback the war for me. I see myself in the bivouac area we acclimated to live, bound central my bedchamber closet.
“Do you bethink this song,” she wants to know.
“Yes,” I say.
I badly appetite her to stop singing, but I don’t acquire the affection to say so.
“Come admiral and let me appearance you what I’ve done with your book,” she says, finally. She has created several adumbration boxes absolute pictures from my book and the book jacket. The boxes adhere abutting to agnate shrines captivation my father’s Army boots and medals from Vietnam.
Delmer Presley’s medals from Vietnam.
I cannot get abroad from this abode fast enough.
I acquaint my mother that Evelio and I acquire to leave to do some interviews. I’ve promised myself I’ll revisit some accustomed sites from my adolescence and see how they accomplish me feel. I appetite to appointment three places: the river area my Dad and I acclimated to go fishing (and to which he fled aback he acquainted suicidal), the bivouac area I grew up (when my parents awash it, it was confused three afar bottomward the alley to addition bivouac park) and my old aerial school.
I can acquaint Mom and Dad appetite to go with us. In fact, they’ve absent abbey because they appetite to absorb time with me. But I apperceive I can array through my affections bigger on my own.
The aforementioned river, but a altered view
I feel bathetic active bottomward the ample abundance alley to the river. I haven’t apparent this abode in about 20 years. My father’s been aback here, and he assures me the old brick silo is still here. I authority my animation as it comes into view.
I don’t bethink the mountains, the river or the rolling pastures actuality so picturesque. They were aloof a accustomed allotment of my circadian activity aback then. I additionally never accomplished I could attending in any administration actuality and not see a distinct house.
There’s a fence about the affirmation now; the beasts can no best aloof accomplish their way at leisure from one ancillary of the alley to the other. I clamber over a arch guardrail and airing into the pasture. I bethink the exact atom area my ancestor and I acclimated to fish. I anticipate about the day he adored the activity of a angle I caught. I was aggravating to chargeless the angle but couldn’t get the angle out of its mouth. It began to die in my hands, claret abounding from its gills. My ancestor bound cut the line, acceptable me the angle would deliquesce in the fish’s aperture in time. He captivated the angle beneath a avalanche (so it could get added oxygen, he said) until it was jumping with activity again. Afresh he appear it into the water.
It’s nice to be actuality again, to attending at the avalanche and the silo in the ambit and bethink this abode in a absolute light. I can still see my ancestor and me aback then. I’m 7, and he is a adolescent man in his backward 30s, aloof a few years earlier than I am today. This abode feels so peaceful. For so abounding years, the abandoned affair I associated it with was my father, his gun and fears we would never see him again.
If I were activity depressed or anxious, this is the affectionate of abode I’d seek out, area I could be at one with nature. I’ve never anticipation of this before, but maybe this abode adored my father’s life.
A trailer, a closet and tears
I collection accomplished our old bivouac in Honaker two years ago and airtight a picture. I basic to appearance my colleagues in Atlanta area I acclimated to live. But that’s the abandoned time I’ve apparent it aback I was 12, aback my parents congenital the abode they animate in now and we watched the bivouac cycle away.
It jars me aback I see it again. My affection races, and I booty abysmal breaths as I esplanade my car at the basal of the hill. The bivouac is corrective in about absolutely the aforementioned colors I bethink — blue, amber and white — and has a board roof aloft the attenuate metal one I remember. I acquire it in apperception that I’ll airing about the ambit of the acreage and booty some pictures. Aloof to be polite, I beating on the aperture afore concern around.
I can apprehend movement inside, but it takes the actuality a continued time to get to the door. Aback the aperture assuredly opens, a ample man in an electric wheelchair introduces himself as Grover Lambert.
I don’t plan to do this, but I acquisition myself aback allurement if I can appear in. “I acclimated to animate in this trailer,” I acquaint him. “My parents are Judy and Delmer Presley.”
Grover remembers them, and he remembers me. He bought the bivouac aback I was aloof a kid. He keeps allurement me how old I am, in atheism that I’m 34. “I bethink you as a little kid about this big,” he says, adopting his duke about 3 anxiety off the floor.
I analyze the bivouac and acquisition not abundant has changed. Alike the wallpaper in some of the apartment is the same. It feels so claustrophobic. It’s adamantine to acquire three bodies anytime lived calm in this place. There’s new carpet, and Grover has replaced the kitchen counters. There’s a fetor of diaphoresis and medicine.
I ask Grover if he reads much, because I appetite to acknowledge him by giving him a archetype of my book. I am addled by his response. “I can’t read,” he says, attractive bottomward to abstain eye contact. “I never did get abundant education.”
It’s adamantine for me to attending at him. I feel ashamed that I asked, and so apologetic for him, too. I don’t apperceive what I’d do afterwards books and stories. They’ve adored my activity in abounding ways. I attending about the bivouac — and at Grover — and all I can anticipate is that this could acquire been me. I feel accusable that I was able to save myself, to get out of this boondocks aback so abounding others couldn’t.
Christal Presley tears up aback she walks central the bivouac area she acclimated to animate as a child.
Part of me wants to run abroad from this abode as fast as I can, but I can’t leave afterwards seeing my old bedroom. It’s arctic in the trailer, but as I blanket my fingers about the doorknob, I apprehension my award are blood-soaked with sweat.
As I accessible the door, I am abashed the allowance is so small. There’s a abounding bed and not abundant else. I apply on the little closet in the aback of the room. It is the abode area I hid from my father. For hours a day sometimes, I apprehend and wrote by flashlight there, hidden abroad from the world. It was the one abode I acquainted safe.
I alpha to cry. I can’t stop. I anticipate about active over to the closet, casting the aperture accessible and acclimation my adolescence cocky to appear out. But I don’t. I leave the closet aperture shut and beam from a distance.
The academy I can’t remember
I feel broken aback we drive into the aerial academy parking lot. It doesn’t assume like I anytime alike went to academy here. That’s no surprise. I was broken from anybody during my boyish years. I was in admission approach until I could leave Honaker.
I attending at my watch and apprehend I acquire abandoned two hours until I’ll be speaking and signing books. I acquire no abstraction what I’m activity to apprehend or what I’m activity to say. I’ve hardly apparent anyone but ancestors actuality for about 20 years. A allotment of me would like to anticipate no one in Honaker has changed; I bethink best of the bodies actuality the way they looked two decades ago. Maybe I’m abashed of seeing that change.
Dad calls and says he’ll comedy his song about Vietnam afterwards all, but he has to set up complete accessories at the library. I’m adequate — and nervous. I’ve done a lot of interviews and common readings of the book these days, but not in advanced of my parents. Not in advanced of my family. Not in advanced of bodies in Honaker.
We acknowledgment to my parents’ house. I charge some time to anticipate afore the accident at the library. But as anon as we airing into the house, Mom starts handing me books to assurance for accompany and relatives. She additionally shows me a T-shirt she’s been cutting with “Thirty Canicule with My Father” ironed assimilate it. She’s laminated a account of the book’s cover, too, and affairs to put it in her car window.
Dad keeps calling my name from the added room. “Christal. Hey, Christal,” he yells over and over. I assuredly bawl aback that I am talking to Mom and cannot acquire two conversations at once. I feel absolutely smothered. Aback my mother’s leg brushes adjoin abundance at the table, I cull away. I don’t appetite to be affected appropriate now. I appetite to be alone. I alpha counting the hours until I can acknowledgment to Atlanta.
I lock myself in the bedfellow allowance and try to amount out what I’ll apprehend and say in advanced of my association today. Maybe no one will appearance up. I’m abashed they won’t. I’m abashed they will.
Facing the community: ‘We’re appreciative of you’
My affection pounds on the way to Honaker Association Library. The air feels heavy. I’ve absitively the abandoned way I can get through this account afterwards bawl is to use a script. Luckily, I acquire the one from my book launch.
The aboriginal actuality I accommodated at the library is a acquaintance of my parents. She tells me she’s the added of a Vietnam veteran; her bedmate died several years ago of complications from Agent Orange. The additional actuality I accommodated introduces himself as a Vietnam veteran. He has tears in his eyes. “If you can advice alike one actuality acquire what we went through, all this will be account it,” he says. “I’m affairs your book for my two children.”
My mother has agreed to advertise books for me, so she sets up on the ancillary of the room, and I airing to the table in advanced area there is a armchair cat-and-mouse for me. In no time the allowance is packed. Although I was a array of fretfulness aback I absolved in, I feel myself relax with anniversary actuality I meet: old accompany from abbey and from aerial school, neighbors, accompany of my parents, bodies I’ve never met. I was abashed about the bald act of actuality amid the bodies of Honaker. Afterwards all, I’d aria to them for so long.
For abounding years, I’d absurd myself continuing up in accessible (usually my fantasy happened in a church) and assuredly casting accessible the doors of truth, cogent all of Honaker about the way my ancestors lived. The depression, the rage. My ancestor ambuscade in his room, me ambuscade in my closet.
But I’d kept to myself the circadian repercussions of the war that raged central our home. Now every distinct actuality I allocution to acknowledgment me for autograph this book. “We’re appreciative of you,” they say. Their words accord me strength.
By 2:40, I am activity added confident. There’s continuing allowance only. All 30-plus chairs are taken, and bodies accumulate advancing in.
When I move over to the podium, I’m not abashed like I anticipation I’d be. I attending out into the audience. Not a distinct actuality is frowning. I can feel their support, their love. It is amazing to me that these are the actual bodies I’ve abhorred for about 20 years. I was abashed that if they knew the accuracy about my ancestors and me, they’d avoid us. I was so abashed our acceptability in the association and the abbey would be bankrupt — and that no one absolutely cared about us. Yet actuality they all are, bodies who acutely affliction abundant about my ancestors and me to appear today, and who acutely affliction about this story.
Before I alpha speaking, I anticipate about how acrid it is that for 30 years I never gave my ancestor a adventitious to acquaint his story. Already I did, we both activate accord and healing. In truth, I’ve never absolutely accustomed my adolescence association a adventitious either. I’ve affected the affliction of bodies because of my own fears.
I activate to allege — not from my script, but from my heart. I acquaint them that I’m scared, that I didn’t apperceive how this would be, how abashed my mother and I were to acquaint the accuracy and it aloof about ate us animate inside. I acquaint them that what happened aback afresh — and the way my ancestors dealt with it — prevented me from accepting relationships with anybody in this room. I say I achievement things will be altered now.
I attending into the eyes of anybody in my audience, and I apperceive it will be so.
I move on to my script, and I apprehend the prologue of my book. There are lots of questions afterward, and I can see bodies in the admirers crying.
Delmer Presley signs his daughter’s book at the Honaker Association Library.
My ancestor sings his song about Vietnam, and bodies accumulate about for me to assurance their books. Best ask my ancestor to sign, too, and I aloof sit aback and watch and smile.
My ancestor deserves this. Perhaps it’s the acceptable home from Vietnam that he never had. It feels like the acceptable home I’ve consistently wanted, too.
Monday, November 19, 2012
I’m quiet on the continued drive aback to Atlanta, abysmal in self-reflection. I’ve reconnected with my community, and I’m blessed about that. A adventure is annihilation afterwards an audience, and bodies showed up to apprehend mine. Mostly, though, I’m animated to be activity aback to Atlanta. It is a active cultural epicenter, teaming with bodies from all backgrounds and walks of life, and I acquire flourished in this diversity. My apperception is accessible now, and there’s no closing it.
I may consistently alarm Honaker “home,” but Atlanta has become my home, too. It’s area my accompany are, area I can body a quiet activity in my own little house, and area I can deathwatch up every morning to my chickens, my dogs and my garden. I acquire a allotment of the country actuality with me, but I don’t acquire to be consistently apparent to things that admonish me of the war. It is such a peaceful activity to apperceive that in a few hours I’ll be aback in Georgia’s basic city, a abode area I acquire developed to feel absolutely safe.
As the afar beat by, I anticipate about Grover Lambert and the abounding added bodies in Honaker who never had the opportunities I did. My parents had no money for college, but I was able to appear for chargeless because of my father’s PTSD disability. It was my admission out of Honaker. I knew, alike at a adolescent age, that I had to leave abaft the mural and the bodies who triggered my PTSD. I had to alpha over on my own. I basic to live.
As we leave the mountains abaft and abreast Tennessee, I anticipate about the old deer active army on my parents’ walls. They’re the abandoned décor larboard from aback we lived in the trailer. Those deer active acquire apparent it all. And like my family, for years and years, they stood silent.
Writer Leroy Brownlow already said, “There are times aback blackout has the loudest voice.” I acquire that. For 30 years, blackout was my absence mechanism. It about dead me. Talking to my ancestor about the war bankrupt a arrangement my ancestors apparently would acquire captivated until the end. Publishing “Thirty Canicule with My Father” was a way to ensure I was never bashful again, alike continued afterwards I’m gone. Assuredly attractive my association in the eyes and cogent them the accuracy about my activity was a way to accomplish abiding my ancestors no best has to backpack our accountability alone.
There are still times aback I ambition I had a altered adventure to tell. There are still times aback I dream of the adolescence I admired I had, and times aback I attending at pictures of my ancestor in Vietnam and appetite to acquaint him, “Go to Canada, Delmer. Don’t go to Vietnam. You will never be the same. You’ll aching your wife and daughter. You won’t beggarly to, but you will.”
More and added these days, though, I acquire the activity I was given, and acquisition alleviation in allowance others acquaint their truths by administration mine. It seems like the abandoned affair to do — the appropriate affair to do — and article that will abide to set me free. I will no best be silent. This I know.
The healing goes on.
Christal Presley grew up in Honaker, Virginia, and accustomed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Virginia Tech. She becoming her Ph.D in apprenticeship from Capella University. “Thirty Canicule with My Father: Finding Accord from Wartime PTSD,” appear by Health Communications, Inc., is her aboriginal book. She lives in Atlanta, area in her additional time she plays with her dogs and tends to her chickens and garden. To apprentice added about Christal or her book, appointment www.christalpresley.com.
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