Soldier Tim Kenney falls deeper into post-war depression and anger
MONTROSE — Normal. That is all Tim Kenney wants to be.
Normal enough so that he no longer is compelled to check ridgelines and corners for danger. Normal so he can sleep without nightmares that have him flailing violently at his wife. Normal so that he can walk one of his daughters down the aisle in a month.
But normal is no longer coming easy for Kenney more than a year after he returned wounded from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Instead of feeling better as the days stretch out between being an Army infantry gunner near Bagram and being a family man and small business owner in a quiet rural town, Kenney’s post traumatic stress disorder is worsening.
“I’m not doing so well. Things are not good. My life pretty much sucks right now,” Tim said with candor fueled by a second glass of vodka.
Tim quit drinking 18 years ago but recently started dulling his wounded psyche with alcohol. He started that after giving up the pain pills that had tempered his back pain, as well as his mental trauma since his return. He is seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor and is on psychotropic medication.
He is learning from his counseling sessions that he needs to find a new normal. But he isn’t there yet.
“When you kill someone, you cross a line and you can’t cross back,” he explained.
Tim killed more times than he can count during combat. Those deaths of enemy combatants aren’t the ones that torture him in the dark of night. There is one he had buried in his subconscious. It came out during therapy sessions.
“I think I killed a little baby…” is his startling beginning to that story.
He was traveling in a convoy of armored vehicles when they had to avoid a beggar woman sitting in the middle of the road — a common occurrence. She was holding a tiny baby. Tim tossed a water canteen to her: It was his habit to throw water or packaged meals or anything he had that might help. But this time he is pretty sure the water bottle hit and likely killed the baby when he threw it from a vehicle moving 40 mph.
“I was trying to do a good thing. I’m such a family man you know,” he said.
The memory of that, along with the recent suicide of his armored vehicle driver, triggered a breakdown. It happened when he accompanied his wife to Colorado Springs for her Air Force Academy reunion last month.
“I just went berserk. I snapped,” he said.
When they returned home, he moved into one of the outbuildings on their property. He and Patricia, who have been married nearly 25 years, are back in marriage counseling. The tension got so bad that after his wife talked to his Army superiors in Salt Lake City, Tim said they considered placing him in an in-patient treatment program.
That hasn’t happened, but Tim said the threat that he could be pulled away from his family has added to his stress.
He admitted he has learned through all this to say what his counselors want to hear. When he first returned, he said he answered the standard questions honestly.
“Did you kill people?”
“How did killing people make you feel?”
“It felt good.”
That caused the military to flag him as a behavioral risk and channel him into counseling.
“Now, he said he answers that last question differently.
“It made me feel terrible,” he has learned is the proper response — and one he has learned is more true than he ever knew.
When he enlisted in the Army National Guard at the age of 42 he thought his relatively old age would protect him from the after effects of war. It obviously didn’t.
He was awarded a Purple Heart and some people view him as a hero, but he said he doesn’t feel like one. He reserves that title for his wife. She raised their four children alone while he was gone. She cared for him when he came back broken and was allowed to recuperate at home rather than in a military hospital. She has stuck with him through his troubles since his return. She is currently planning their daughter’s wedding while Tim said all he has had to do is get fitted for a tuxedo.
“I am just not up to talking about it now,” Patricia said when asked about her husband’s current state.
Tim said it bothers him that he can’t figure out how to become the head of his household again. He is trying for smaller goals: He has to try to pull himself together enough for the wedding scheduled for four days after Christmas. He wants it to be an honor for his daughter to have her dad walk her down the aisle — not a disgrace.
“I am going day-by-day. I am trying. I am trying. I am really trying,” he said wearily. “I haven’t done anything stupid — yet.”
Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/nlofholm