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XXII

The Ink That Made Me

By Sara Splendore Published 4 years ago 5 min read

My arm says twenty-two in roman numerals, a number that has changed the lives of many but only a few understand. When I was seventeen I joined the Army. It seemed like the thing to do for a girl who had so admired her grandfather’s history and felt that her life was headed in no particular direction. Lost, like a child in the forest waiting for someone to come and tell them which way to go, but life doesn’t tell you which direction to turn to or where you will end up. My ultimate hope was that I would eventually be a helicopter pilot just like my grandpa so that I could make a difference in people’s lives. After all, what path could be more clear than one that had already been paved? Little did I know, the people I would meet along the way would be the ones to make a difference in my life, and the places that I would end up, would take me far from the path that had been laid out. I only spent three and a half years on active duty, a long time for people who cannot fathom joining the military, but a short time for those who have never known life another way. Like more people than you would think, I never deployed. Deployments were not happening all the time when I was in and the only one I could have gone on happened shortly after I had a major emergency surgery which made it so that I was unable to go. I served my time stateside as a mechanic. My journey started in South Carolina where I went through basic training and while I was there, I learned that I could do things that seemed impossible. Next, I ended up in Virginia where I learned how to be a mechanic and where I watched so many people give up and take the cheap way out of the promise they had made to their country and their buddies. After that I moved to Colorado where I learned how to be a part of a more permanent team and where I experienced one of the greatest losses of my life. Finally, a bit broken and a bit begrudgingly, I ended up in Texas where I met my first Twenty-Two.

At the time I met him, I had no clue that he would be one of Twenty-Two. In fact, with my limited experience I did not even know what this number meant yet. I knew that suicide was something we were all taught to watch for signs of in one another, but no one tells you what to do when you go your separate ways. For most veterans, civilian life hits harder than expected. You can move back home but you’re not the same person you were before and finding a job that matches your unique skillset can be challenging, and fitting in with your old friends is often next to impossible as many of them never left. The military brings people together in a way that makes our differences seem insignificant. Somehow, we all end up feeling closer to the people that we have almost nothing in common with than we ever were to most of our childhood friends. This one soldier in particular had a tendency to be a bit annoying, but when I needed it most he somehow always got me to smile. Like so many others do, I wish I had known how badly he needed someone to make him smile too.

Twenty-Two is the number of Veteran suicides that occur on average, every day in the United States. While healthcare is becoming more accessible there are still very long wait times for appointments and within that time many veterans lose hope that the treatments they receive will help, if they are able to receive them at all. I had a friend who was struggling quite a bit during the quarantine and eventually his primary care doctor at the VA decided his request to see a counselor should be granted and gave him the number to set up his appointment. Upon calling this number, he was told that it would be at least a month before they would be able to start seeing him. A month trapped in your own nightmares can be all it takes to push you over the edge. Especially for someone who recently left the military and moved to a new place only to end up stuck inside of their home without the ability to make new friends. There are crisis lines specifically for soldiers and veterans that they can call, but it isn’t always as easy as picking up a phone and asking for help. If veterans don’t continue to check in on one another even after moving thousands of miles apart, that twenty-two will stay the same for many years to come. A number that will not only be permanently inked into my arm, but will continue to be printed onto documents, and typed onto various forms of social media in a weak attempt to make others understand. To help them see the same flames that we see burning into our memories like our lost friends.

The needle that once pounded into my skin, giving my sadness the small, dark physical form of my tattoo is a reminder for me to check on my buddies when they’re making posts that seem off on social media, or when I haven’t heard from those that still keep in touch. The experience of losing a buddy to suicide after they’ve left the military has brought me pain, but it has also taught me to be the smile that someone else needs because no matter who they are, that could make all the difference. We live in a world now, where we would rather keep to ourselves. Where we believe most people are out to hurt rather than to help. Continuing to be a source of positivity can be difficult if not impossible. I have learned though, that most people are struggling just as much as I am. All it takes is a joke, a text, some homemade brownies... It is that simple. So while I got this tattoo when I lost a buddy, it also represents all of the other friends I made along the way, each of the people who helped to carve me into someone who can hold her head up and reach out a hand to those whose are too full. My tattoo is an invitation for others to ask what it means, so that maybe they can also learn from my experience. It might not have changed the world, but it changed me. And with a little courage and some curiosity from others, I believe that what changed me can make a difference.

My First Battle Buddy

veteran

About the Creator

Sara Splendore

-Fairytales, fiction, poetry… I have been telling stories since before I knew how to write them on paper.

-Just a fairy, pursuing her dreams until the end.

-I hope you love reading my stories as much as I enjoy writing them!

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    Sara Splendore Written by Sara Splendore

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