Tomas Young, Presenté! A Veterans Day Salute (My Way)


Good morning from Cedar-Sinai Hospital. I’ve come to bring my friend to surgery. He was going to come by himself but I talked him into letting me bring him. We need to get back to being more connected as a human tribe. We need to remember not only how to help one another but also how to let others help. We rob them of their blessing when we don’t allow people to help us in ways that we need. This is one of my greatest challenges. I love to help, I love to give— but I still notice how uncomfortable I get when the help is coming in the other direction. Although I’ve only met this guy a few times, I already consider him a friend and it made me sad to think of him coming here all alone this morning to have his body cut on. I think it makes a difference to have someone who cares about you holding you in the light when you’re going through something like that. One of the loneliest moments of my life was when I had spine surgery at the VA in Salt Lake and I was alone. Adam had gone to school that day. Nothing, absolutely nothing comes between Adam and what he wants. As they came to administer the anesthesia I remember thinking that there was nothing that could have kept me from his side if he was getting his spine operated on. I’m sure there were other friends who would have shown up for me if I had asked. I wanted him. I wanted my husband. That was just one more in a list of a thousand bits of evidence that he was not the husband I deserve. Still, I stayed for many months more. If you are in a relationship where you are not cherished, don’t stay thinking “maybe it will get better, maybe [they] will change.” The change that needs to happen is in you just like the change that needed to happen in my case was within me. I am free of that hell now. But the healing from it all continues. My being able to be here for my friend this morning is a way I can heal around the hurt of having gone to surgery alone that morning three years ago in Salt Lake. For that I am grateful.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Tomas Young, my friend and fellow Iraq Veteran peace activist. I first met Tomas protesting outside the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Thereafter we were part of many peace actions and veterans retreats together. Once, at a peer support retreat weekend for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, we ended up as partners for an exercise. Tomas got so upset he started to get physically ill. This has happened to me many times so I completely understood what was happening. Vomiting came to be such an emotional release for me that I began to walk a very dangerous line with making it happen. I would make myself puke, especially after overeating (which I have often done to self-medicate) and would feel so much better after. I’ve faced just about every other form of addictive/compulsive behavior so (luckily) I was able to make myself stop that behavior (for the most part) before it go too dangerous. It continues to amaze me how my most embarrassing and difficult experiences have later put me in a unique position to help others and because as I was no stranger to vomiting (and a lot of it), I wasn’t threatened or frightening when it became clear that day that this was going to be a way I would need to be a support to Tomas. We made our way to the men’s room and he just said, “I’m going to need some help.” He still had more control of his body than he later would but was wheelchair bound from the time of his horrific injuries only days after arriving in Iraq. In addition to the emotional upset, the medications he took together with his myriad injuries meant that he was often nauseated and in pain and there was only one way forward that day and it was through a lot of retching and heaving. I began to worry that he would choke on the vomit so I lifted his hips high to let gravity help. He was frail already but since he wasn’t able to help at all, his body was heavy and unwieldy. Human bodies are heavier than they seem when they are “dead weight” which is what a lot of his body had become to him. He was angry, and embarrassed and in pain. We were both in tears. He apologized to me. I threatened to drown him in the toilet if he apologized again.

I work hard to forgive the very sick people who murdered Tomas and 6,838 American service members (Iraq and Afghanistan veterans) and more than a million more Iraqis who died as a result of what we did. I went there to help them. I was willing to die for these people I’d never seen. Many of them died, some say over a million, because of something that I was a part of, not in spite of it. All Americans bear responsibility for what we did. I was just closer to the trigger than most of you, a lot closer.

Phil Donahue has been an advocate for us Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Peace Activists and made a documentary about Tomas called Body of War. I appreciate the help he offered us in helping to get the message out. But I winced yesterday when speaking about Tomas’ death, he called the Iraq War a “blunder.” It was no “blunder.” I have come to know that in the ways that the real orchestrators of the invasion of Iraq wanted it to go, it went (and continues to go) exactly as planed. I laugh when people try to tell me that we went to Iraq for oil. That shit is chump change. It’s like a burglar drinking the liquor in the bar when they’ve really come to clean out the house. The BIG money is in war— a war in perpetuity which is actually what a “war” on a ideology/tactic (“terrorism”) is. The fact that we have declared a “war on terror,” together will our blanket policy of “not negotiating with terrorists” has created the perfect storm. We will be at war forever or until we abandon this ridiculous addiction to war as a (very ineffective) way to resolve conflict or destroy our enemies. All we do is make our next generation of enemies. How powerful do you think ISIS would be if it weren’t for our actions? (failed foreign policy + oil dependence) If you answered more that “very little power,” I think you are delusional. Congratulations America, you have given the keys to criminals and they ain’t givin’ em back.

And my friends and I had to pay for it. Some of us continue to pay. For Tomas, the payments are over. God rest your soul, Brother. No more puking.

See y’all tomorrow.

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