Napalm in the Morning

Napalm in the Morning

When he was three years old, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a variant on the autism spectrum. By the time he was five, I had read everything I could get my hands on about what they (at the time) referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome. “A syndrome is a recognizable complex set of symptoms and physical findings which indicate a specific condition for which a direct cause is not necessarily understood.” Though I suspect there is a direct correlation between agent orange exposure in Vietnam War veterans and the rise in Autism among their grandchildren.

Asperger’s is generally marked by:

  • Emotional Sensitivity.
  • Fixation on Particular Subjects or Ideas.
  • Linguistic Oddities.
  • Social Difficulties.
  • Problems Processing Physical Sensations.
  • Devotion to Routines.
  • Development of Repetitive or Restrictive Habits.
  • Dislike of Change.

There also tends to be a co-morbidity between mood disorders like anxiety and depression and behavior disorders like attention deficit disorder (ADD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And please note, in this context, the word behavior is defined as a particular way of functioning (i.e., can’t focus) versus how a person chooses to conduct themselves. 

When Covid hit and schools closed, I became Jason’s teacher. I then realized how far behind he was academically. Unfortunately, he is not only cognitively impaired but also socially impaired. And because of it, he was being bullied at school.

He often ate alone at lunch (he later told me it was easier because he didn’t have to worry about what to say). He likes quoting Francis Ford Coppola movies (Apocalypse Now is his favorite movie) and telling you the specifics of various World War 2 military battles. And let me tell you, those are not exactly great 6th-grade conversation starters.

And then, one day, a girl asked him if he’d be her boyfriend. I knew this girl and his troubles with her in the past. I warned him, but he was thrilled. And when he said yes, she proceeded to mock him and joke to everyone that he would never stand a chance. As his mom, this hurt, of course, but I also believe in getting hard knocks out of the way early. The school handled the situation remarkably, and Jason learned fundamental lessons about the human condition.

I kept him home for the next two years and became the county’s least-paid full-time middle school teacher. And that’s when I realized how bad his attention deficit disorder was. Not being able to focus also caused us a lot of anxiety. But he also comes by his inability to concentrate, rightfully. I could’ve had this piece written in two hours, but I got up at least 12 different times to do 12 other things. The squirrels in my head are also fast! But I don’t like labels and told Jason that if he can harness his ADD, it can be his superpower. 

We got ahead in school because we could stay with a topic until he “got” it. But I knew that was not possible in high school, where they covered a subject and moved on. I had held off on medicating him but knew his ability to focus was critical to his success. So, we did it, and he started meds over the summer. And academically, he’s doing great!

Thankfully we stopped his moodiness and outbursts when he was little with no meds needed. I read about the correlation between food and Autism and removed all dairy (specifically the casein protein) and gluten from his diet. There is a direct correlation between the severity of symptoms and these sticky proteins.

Anyway, high school has been great. He is good in math and bad (but getting better) with girls. He is also taking medication for anxiety (which he also gets from me) and for ADD. His grades are good, and he genuinely seems to be happy. Still, when he told me he had put his name in the ring for Homecoming court, my first thought was, “Aw, crap.”

My oldest, who loves her brother and wants nothing more than to protect him, pleaded with me to convince him not to run. But I told her that was not possible. He was way too excited. My only warning was to run a fair and well-mannered TikTok war with his opponent!

And guess what? He won and was elected to the freshman homecoming court. It turns out they were right. You are free to be yourself in high school, and nobody cares. Before he started high school this fall, he nobly reached out to the kids he had issues with in middle school and apologized. Those same kids have grown to know and embrace Jason and were instrumental in getting him the homecoming sash.  

If I had discouraged him from running, I could have robbed him of his success, of getting the win. And what a shame that would’ve been. He came up to me after this picture was taken and told me it was the best night of his life! That made this momma smile and even cried a little.

Uncommon Valour

Uncommon Valour

My father died last week. He had just turned 70 years old. The official diagnosis was Agent Orange Related Parkinson’s Disease. The official cause of death was asphyxiation. He died choking on his blood. And though he may have died on January 29, 2020, the truth is, Agent Orange exposure killed him 50 years before. He died a slow, painful death.

He told my mom once that being a soldier was the only thing he was ever really good at. Yet, after doing his duty (with honors), he came back to a nation that spit and yelled at him. Can you imagine?

For the first two years of their marriage, my mom was the recipient of many a late-night trip to the floor as my father would grab her and toss her, yelling “incoming.” The only story I had ever heard about his time in Vietnam was one in which he was riding shotgun, holding an M-16 rifle, as their convoy passed through a small village. As was often the case, the villagers in town would gather on each side of the road as the soldiers would throw provisions and food. The young Vietnamese children would run up yelling, “chop, chop,” which meant candy.

My Dad said he often knew when they were among the Viet Cong because no one gathered. But this particular day, as the crowd parted, a young Vietnamese girl about four years old walked from the crowd and stopped about 20 feet ahead of them. My father saw the grenade. As the truck stopped, he got out and slowly made his way over to her. He spoke to her in Vietnamese and asked her to drop it. He asked again, and he asked again. In one failed swoop, my father made a decision that changed his life forever. He never got over that little girl.

I get pretty indignant when I see opportunists and careerists treat our Constitution like a placemat. Why have good men and women died brave and honorable deaths while the reprehensible cowards and power-hungry seem to thrive? I fear I’ll never know.

The only other story I have heard about my Dad, and Vietnam, came last week at his service. This letter was written by one of my Dad’s platoon buddies. Jay had reached out to my Dad via email before he died, but my Dad could not respond. So after letting the pastor know about the email, he decided to reach out to him. This was his letter.

Hello Reverend Apple,
Thanks so much for letting me know about Glenn’s passing. I am sorry to hear that he is gone and wish we might have had the opportunity to reconnect. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.
Glenn did indeed save my life on Easter Sunday 1969 (April 6) in a clearing in the jungle near Black Virgin Mountain Nui Be Den) in Vietnam. Our company’s lead platoon was ambushed earlier in the afternoon, with two men either killed or badly injured laying in the clearing, exposed to fire from North Vietnamese Army soldiers concealed in well-camouflaged bunkers. Our platoon was called forward to try to reach the casualties, and the platoon leader instructed me to send a fire team (3-4 guys) forward toward the nearest body to pull it back. Leading the team, I crawled across the clearing but was suddenly hit by a burst of fire from an AK-47, which tore my rifle from my hands and also punctured my left lung, just missed my heart, and wedged within an inch of my spine. About the same time, a rocket-propelled grenade went off in a tree at the edge of the clearing, and I was also spattered with shrapnel. I did some serious praying, and God sent Glenn Dale and the platoon leader across that bullet-swept field to pull me back. The enemy was still very much present, as I was shot again in the leg after being pulled back to our side of the clearing.
I suspect that Glenn did not receive an award for bravery for his actions that day (enlisted men seldom did), but he certainly deserved to do so, as he openly exposed himself to the enemy fire in order to carry me to safety. Without his action, I would certainly have died there and then.
Later in the afternoon, I almost missed the medevac helicopter, as they thought I was a goner. When I finally lay on an operating table at a MASH hospital in Tay Ninh, a priest gave me the last rites. You cannot imagine my surprise when I awoke the next morning. I spent the rest of 1969 in military hospitals until discharged – from the hospital and the army – on December 31, 1969.
Please express my condolences and my eternal thanks to Glenn’s family for sending him to me on that Easter over a half-century ago.
Jay Phillips
P.S. The two men we were hoping to rescue, Angelo Figueroa and Melvin Lee, did not survive, and their names are on panel 27 West, lines 24 and 25 of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

I love you Dad.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

The other day I got a letter addressed to me from AARP.  Yep, the American Association of Retired People.  I did a double-take and was immediately incensed that someone thought I was old enough to get a letter from Matt McCoy.  I tore it up and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  

The truth is, I’m turning fifty in November.  When I was a kid, I thought that a fifty-year-old person was old.  I mean, they weren’t old, old, but they were definitely old.   Then again, anyone over the age of 30 was old.  But what I am is neither young nor old.  I am no longer sprightly, yet not weary.  I am not foolhardy, but not wary and skittish either.   Sandwiched by aging parents and younger children, I am somewhere in the middle of all these things.  

If the year were 1921, I would have already lived 83.3% of my life. Yep, exactly one hundred years ago, the average lifespan for a woman was sixty-one and sixty-years-old for a man. Thanks to substantial health improvements (although this is declining in the US), we are all living longer lives.  They say fifty is the new forty, and technically it’s true.  Globally our lifespan has doubled since 1900.  We live longer, but our quality of life is diminishing, and the stigma of getting older still exists.  

For me, middle-age hasn’t meant much. According to my doctor, I have the bloodwork of a healthy twenty-five-year-old. I credit my plant-based diet, my yoga practice, and my love for physical activities. I have also recently taken up kayaking and trail running. After years of pounding the pavement, I am now more of a dirt and roots kind of girl. I am seeking things that challenge me physically and mentally push me out of my comfort zone. I am, as Thomas admonishes, “raging against the dying of the light.” I know that it is up to me to keep the flame burning bright. I think, therefore, I am.

But if age really is a state of mind, then I will leave you with the wise words of my Guru.  

“Growing old is a long-established habit of losing the authority to remain vital. It’s an approval and disapproval that’s passed through generations of DNA with body language, eye and facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures with the hands, and countless conversations about exhaustion. Staying young and vibrant throughout life — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — requires maintenance of an authority to be unique and never give up. This means honoring the cells of your body; the ideas in the mind, and the freedom to relate in a heart-to-heart way with everyone.

When conscious of this, you grow wiser and remain vital, and life’s stresses dissolve in a healthy awareness. Human beings need to capture this immortal authority. . . random traits with no real value, or vitality that do no good. To remain youthful, vital and healthy, you must give yourself permission to be full of yourself, and then validate this freedom. This freedom discovers the true nature of evolution . . . a step by step process of progress. It’s a trial with errors and healthy forgiveness with loving kindness . . . a check and balance that assures the ultimate accuracy of your growth. This allows you to keep up in the midst of “normal” doubt and the “looks” you’ll receive for impacting the Earth so dramatically.

Our prayer is that you choose to remain this vital and free, rather than following the habits of the crowd; that your ideas remain as tolerant of others as you expect others to be of you; that you connect your physical world to your immortal soul, and allow this marriage to guide you through a kind and loving life on Earth that extends the envelope everywhere, and does this well beyond one hundred years.” —Guru Singh Yogi