The Yellow Birds connection to the Changing World:
When soldiers serve their country, they have different experiences. But despite the mixed reactions of the soldiers, their emotional damage can not be ignored. Despite the seriousness of PTSD, soldiers are still expected to adapt to their old life as if their service never occurred. But to adapt to such changes, one must accept that it is a multi step process, there is no one right way, and failure along the way is not weakness. In Powers novel, The Yellow Birds, we are told the tale of how the main character, Bartle, personally deals with the after effects of war. Dealing with death in one’s own terms accomplishes self peace and reflection more effectively than following other’s procedures. An individual must react to change in their own terms, not how someone else has succeeded, or how one believes is the “right” way.
Throughout the novel, death is one of the most prominent themes. The main character, Bartle, makes a best friend while enlisted named Murph. As the are deployed together they experience a lot of death, both of the enemy and of their brothers. Shortly into the war, a woman carrying a surrender flag starting walk to the soldiers and they open fire, not realizing she came in peace. The boys had mixed reactions, but Bartle and Murph were part of the newbies. This was their first rhedo. “Holy shit, that bitch got murdered.” Murph said. There was no grief, or anguish, or pity in that statement. There was no judgement made. He was just surprised, like he was waking from a long afternoon nap, disoriented...” Their LT then walked over to comfort each of the boys, telling them they’d be OK. “it was hard to believe that wed be OK and that we fought well. But I remember being told that the truth does not depend on being believed...we lived murph and me.” (Pg. 22-23) War can invoke different emotions out of different people. Throughout the book we see how very different characters cope with death. Murph unfortunately died because he tried to process death the way people around him approved of. From that day forward, death became a daily part of the boys lives, and they were expected to deal with it as their sarge did, despite the lack of time to adjust. Their LT gave them a pat on the back and moved on normally. No one talked about killing an innocent civilian or acknowledge what they would do to the soldiers, until after their home and counselors are shoved down their throats, but pressured to not accept them. The more experienced soldiers are able to sweep instances like this under the rug, Murph is able to to recognize it and try and process it but Bartle just floats along. By finding a coping mechanism that fits for himself, not everyone else, he is able to handle lose more effectively.
A common stigma in war is that one can not be weak. Soldiers can not break done and let their emotions get to them while in War. They can not analyze what just happen, they just have to keep moving. In an interview with The Guardian, author Kevin Powers, Iraq Army Veteran, he states,“I was interested in trying to describe this state between apprehension and comprehension. That is one of the primary characteristics of the experience of being at war: it's so intense and you don't have time to process.” (Powers) A lot of Powers personal experiences and feelings were transferred into his writing and shown through Bartle and Murph. People sitting at home watching more and more soldiers return home with PTSD tell them they have to process what happened. Which is true, one must process what happened, how it made them feel and how they are able to move on if they wanted to continue their life. But they need to do so at their own pace, in their own comfort zone. To be able to self reflect on such drastic changes that death carries happens in phases, different and unique to each individual. While processing death in these environments can be near impossible, they should also not be completely ignored because a lieutenant can handle it. In order to come to peace with the horrific things that happen in war, one needs to allow himself to cope within their own terms.
When Bartle returned home from his tour in Iraq, he had some difficulties adjusting, understandably. He had not yet started processing what happened in Iraq and how much that would change his life when he got back home. Everyone was so excited to be going back home, not just because they missed their family, but because they made it. But none of them spoke of how returning home didn’t mean slipping back into the life they once had, but starting a whole new one. ““You all right, hon?” My mother said...” Yeah, ma, I’m fine.”...I was disappearing. It was as if I stripped myself away in that darkened bedroom… I would be another number for the cable news shows. I could almost hear it. “Another casualty today,” they’d say, “vanished into thin air after returning home.” (Pg.110-111) When Bartle returned home, he was under pressure from his mother. Despite her best interests, returning home from war at his age with his experiences is not something he wants to discuss with anyone, let alone his mother. He needed time; something that he did not always have in Iraq. He was restless at night, but he slept that night, once again dreaming of Murph. He needed to figure out how to let go of Murph and all the other ghosts in his head in his own way or he would never truly be letting them go. He wasn’t done experiencing new things and even something as familiar as being in his mother’s house would feel like he was doing it for the first time. By taking the time he needs to self reflect and come to terms with what happened over seas, he will give himself more peace in the future.
While some may argue adapting to change in “this way” or “that way” is unhealthy, it is not for them to decide. When servicemen return home, they are entitled to the freedom they fought for. They are allowed to go through the anger and skip back to denial, they do not have to follow a 12 step program. Adapting to a new world, diagnosed PTSD or not, can be tremendously hard for anyone. Allowing them to react in their own space will allow them to feel like they still have power over something. They can go on their own terms and their own pace, benefiting them more than someone elses “right way” ever could.
Personal Connection to the Changing World:
My thesis previously mentioned dealing with death in one’s own terms being a more effective method of coping, than following what worked for someone else. Trying to connect this back to myself is hard.. the only real loss I’ve felt was my great uncle dying. When he passed, it put death into perspective for me. I felt like death was real now and that it could happen to anyone around me at anytime. My uncle and I weren’t super close, but I seen the way his death hit everyone around me. So when I was alone in my room, I would just think about my uncle and all the people that died in my family before I got to meet them and prayed that I wouldn’t lose anyone else.
I don’t know if I can really say my prayers worked because my pop is sick. I’ve surprisingly told a lot of people about my pop being sick, but I think it was more so an explanation of my tattoo. I don’t really talk about what’s going on with my pop because it gets me so upset. So when I got a tattoo of a cross with rosaries inside of angel wings, I wanted it to represent him. I wanted it to bring God on his side. I wanted him to have all the help in the world because I don’t know if I would survive if I lost my pop. Just thinking about losing him gets me emotional. Thinking about him being sick makes me think about my nan as well and if, when, the same thing is going to happen to her. Or my mom, my dad, my uncle, my sister...
My pop started getting sick before last christmas. No one told me that he was sick for a really long time. I had to overhear conversations between my mom and nan to understand that something was going on. I was in 9th grade I believe, when it was known that he was sick, but no one ever came up and told me personally. That christmas everyone just talked about it and asked him how he was doing. I had no idea what he was sick from or how serious it was. I would come to know that he had sclerosis of the liver, the same thing my Uncle Stevie had passed from in 2011. That was really hard to deal with because I assumed he would have the same ending as my uncle. Little did I know, cirrhosis wasn’t the only thing wrong with him. His cirrhosis has now progressed to liver cancer and without a transplant...
My pop got increasingly sick this past summer. He was admitted to the hospital several times because he was incoherent and spaced out. He had already been diagnosed with diabetes and he became insulin dependent. That was when I basically moved in with my nan. I only had my permit at the time, but it was enough to help get my nan around as she doesn’t drive. She depended on my pop to drive her wherever she had to go, but he was too sick to stand let alone drive. I remember one time he was feeling really bad and wanted to go to the hospital. My nan and I was the only one home so I drove them to the hospital and had to drive the car back myself. It was a bittersweet moment- it was my first time driving alone, but the reason why shadowed that.
I’ve been mostly living with my nan from about August, when my pop started getting too bad to drive. I didn’t understand everything that was going on. All I knew was that my pop had the cirrhosis, he had bad diabetes, his cirrhosis had enhanced to liver cancer, and he had hepatitis C. I began to understand how serious things were when he started radiation treatments and chemo last year. But I still had a lot of hope.. the treatments can, will, work. My hope began to fade the week before school started.
I was at my house with my best friend Grace from grade school watching my little sister. My parents had went to Atlantic City for the weekend and they were supposed to be on their way back to my house. But my nan called early that sunday morning and told me they had to take poppy to the hospital so my parents left A.C right way and went to the hospital. They didn’t come home until late that night. My whole world changed after my dad and I took my friend home. As we pulled away from her house he told me he had something he wanted to let me know. He thought I should, that I deserve to know. My dad told me that poppy was worse. The cancer had taken over most of his liver and he would need a transplant to survive. They were giving him 3 months to live.
I felt like my whole world fell apart. I was struggling to breathe through my tears but my dad wasn’t done. He told me that I needed to prepare myself and to help my mom out, but also not to tell my sister what was going on. I didn’t know what to do. How was I supposed to deal with losing my pop? How is everyone else going to deal? I felt like I had to do what everyone else was doing...ignoring it. My mom didn’t mention anything when I got home and I felt like I shouldn’t either. But my mind wouldn’t stop racing, thinking of everything he was going to miss out on in my life. I needed to talk to someone. My family might be able to act like nothing was wrong, but that didn’t work for me. So I texted Grace about how I felt..How I felt knowing he wouldn’t see my graduate..wouldn’t see me get married. It killed me inside but I didn’t feel like ignoring the situation would help me.
When school started, one of the main things teachers asked was what was something that would interfere with my work this year or something I would want them to know. At the time, I put that my pop was sick because I thought he only have a little bit of time left. Thank god he has been doing better and is on a transplant list, but that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything going on. One day my life was fine, and the next I barely see my parents and sister and my pop is sick. It has happened in school a few times this year and my friend Gabby has been there for me each time.
My immediate friend group knows my pop is sick, and after my tattoo everyone does. But not many people know what “sick” means. I didn’t bother telling people because I didn’t even know what “sick” meant for a long time. But I’m now at the point where I can tell someone my pop is sick, when before I just ignored what was going on. That wasn’t working for me so I coped by talking. I continue to cope my crying when I need to. I don’t follow what others around me are doing and I don’t listen to things I see online. I need to process the change death plays on my mind in my own way, just as Bartle did.Following someone else's success does not guarantee that it will work for you as well. There is no right or wrong way to deal with death, just as coping does not discriminate against gender. No one needs to “man up” and “quit being a girl”. Dealing with death is whatever way you see fit may not seem healthy at times, but giving yourself that control will help you overcome the grief and give yourself peace better than any steps other people tell you.