Strength in Vulnerability

By Jennifer Pacanowski


I have blue hair

I wear dresses

People ask me if I am a veterans’ girlfriend or wife

         because I advocate

And care so much about veterans’ issues and rights


I am a female combat veteran with PTSD.

But now, in an interesting twist of events

I am a step mom

Of a nine-year-old girl named Juliana

And a seven-year-old boy name Jaxon


I have a service dog named Boo

And a rescue dog named Moxie, also with a touch of

         the PTSD


I have days when my pain overflows onto the kitchen

floor while

I’m making lunch for the kids

The dogs gather at my feet to comfort me, to brace

        my fall


We tell the children I cry because

“My heart hurts from the war.”


Sometimes I sit alone and rick softly in the yellow


My stomach aches

My back screams

Boo lays his head in my lap

Moxie wiggles her tail, unsure


Juliana walks up the stairs

She recognizes the look

She walks over to me and brushes my bangs away from

         my face

And says,

“Everything is going to be okay.”

And I believe her


Jaxon says I am 65% man

Because of the way I drive like his Dad

Because of the way I talk (curse) like his Dad

However, I am not


One night I woke from a nightmare

Especially horrible since I had not had one in so long

As if time had added to the potency of the flashback

Jaxon was sleeping with us

I got up with a jolt and went into the living room

To breathe, to write, to calm

I could hear Jaxon whisper to his daddy,

“Doesn’t Jenny know dreams aren’t real.”


I cried harder

Unfortunately, my nightmares are real


Juliana says,

“Jenny acts like a big kid.”


I laugh a lot since I met the kids

And swim in the pool watching over them


And some moments,

I’m just me

Not my PTSD

I’m just me that loves my dogs unconditionally


I’m just Jenny

The stepmom with the blue hair and tattoos that laughs

         a lot


In L. Calica’s (Ed.) (2014). 4th. Warrior Writers, pp 249–251. Barre, VT: L. Brown & Son’s Publishing.