By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When Mitch died, Suzanne says, "I had just done all the laundry that weekend. I had nothing in the house that smelled like him."
Later, Suzanne mentions that her family marked Memorial Day by going to a ceremony at the VA cemetery where Mitch is buried. Afterward, she spread a blanket out over his grave and they all sat for a while, sharing memories. Her granddaughter looked over at her and said, "I'm sorry Granddad's gone, because you need him here with you to fix things in your new house." And she was right. Sometimes, Suzanne says, when she's struggling to change a lightbulb or move a piece of furniture, she looks over at a picture of Mitch and gives him a piece of her mind.
"I yell at Ian all the time," Becca volunteers. "We have most of our conversations in the car."
Her language gets a little salty sometimes, she says.
The women giggle and dab at their eyes.
They were in the car when Ian finally said it, when he finally breathed the syllables that are so hard to breathe: He needed to see someone, he said.
It was March 2012, a few months after Ian got home. Becca and Ian had finally taken a long-planned getaway together. They were spending a few days at Becca's parents' house when the couple realized something was wrong. Ian wasn't sleeping. He wasn't hungry. He didn't want to work out, and he'd worked out all the time. He thought he needed to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.
Becca agreed. But she knew from her psychology training — and from the never-ending flood of stories about soldiers with mental-health issues — that she needed to ask some hard questions right away.
"Are you homicidal or suicidal?"
They'd had this conversation before. A mutual friend had killed herself. Ian told Becca, with no hesitation, "I would never do that to you." And his answer hadn't changed.
"No, not at all," he said, looking her right in the eyes.
The following Monday, Ian showed up at the Thomas Moore Clinic at Fort Hood and waited for more than three hours, she says. Finally, someone told him that because he flew helicopters, they couldn't see him there. He'd have to see his flight surgeon instead. He was sent away empty-handed, Becca says. (Officials at Fort Hood did not respond to multiple interview requests.)
When he finally did see the flight surgeon that afternoon, Becca says, Ian came home complaining that the man was brusque and cold. He prescribed him Ambien, grounded him from flying helicopters — a huge blow to a pilot — and told him to come back in a week. Ian also tried the next day to enroll in a sleep study on the base and was told there'd be no openings for a month.
Two days later, Ian saw a second flight surgeon. This one quickly diagnosed him with major depression, then gave him prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.
Recognizing the seriousness of that diagnosis, Becca urged Ian to go to the R&R clinic on the base, their equivalent of an emergency room. He did, talking to her on the phone the whole way there. But he soon left after being told that the wait was more than two hours. He drove home instead, where he waved to the couple's neighbor, parked the car in the garage and went inside. He left his shoes lined up neatly by the door.
The couple had been texting back and forth all day; in late afternoon, heading into her evening classes and still worried, Becca suggested Ian call a 24-hour military crisis hotline called Military OneSource. He promised that he would. About 45 minutes later, he texted her to say that he was still on hold. At 7 p.m. or so, while she was leading a group therapy session and couldn't pick up the phone, he called. He didn't leave a message.
Becca got home a few hours later. She walked into their bedroom and found his body surrounded by blood, a handgun lying nearby.
Anna Toquero was just about to get into bed at her house in Killeen when her phone lit up. Her husband, James, another Apache pilot, had been deployed with Ian in Iraq, and their wives had grown close while the men were away. James had been deployed before, so Anna helped Becca prepare, telling her what was normal, making sure she didn't worry when she couldn't get hold of Ian for a few hours.
Anna picked up the phone. It was Becca. She was hysterical.
"We didn't believe it was true," Anna recalls. "We thought maybe that she thought that it happened and it really didn't." She told her husband what she'd heard on the phone, but with a caveat: "Please don't call anyone from work," she said. "Maybe she thinks she sees something that she doesn't."
The Toqueros rushed to make the 35-minute drive to the Morrisons' house. Anna quickly took Becca to a neighbor's place. James waited while medical personnel took Ian's body away.
"How did this happen?" Becca kept asking. And, "Is this real? Why, why?"
Rocky Top Therapy in Keller offers equine therapy through their Horses for Heroes program. Great program for DFW-area vets. Ask for Brooke.
Thank you guys so much for reading. Becca also wanted me to mention that TAPS operates a national helpline for suicide survivors in crisis: 800-959-TAPS. She says, " If you are in crisis please call. Get help. Reach out. You are important."
This is why Pathways, www.createagreatlife.org , and "Soldiers Serve with Heart" have such an interest in helping those who return home to bring them ALL THE WAY HOME.
NVRS 5/5 well done, a sad story to read for sure. And sad to hear this is your last story for the Observer. Good luck you in your endeavors and let us know where you go. We must never let the Vagina rating die. I can only imagine what the new vagina writer for the observer will think the first time she sees that rating
@bvckvs Wow, you are so militantly anti-Christian. I assume that extends to all other religions. But thanks for at least being sensitive about it.
@bvckvs ... and that his soul in now burning in Hellfire for eternity for the heinousness war crimes he participated in.
... or for gross hypocrisy.
@DonkeyHotay Trolls...doing what they do.
@ScottsMerkin She'll have to decide, as I did, whether to be offended or amused. I'm glad I went with the second one.