Tag Archives: Daniel Somers

A book about a soldier grappling with PTSD and suicidal thoughts, written by a woman, that doesn’t suck.

7 Jul

I read very little in the way of fiction, because most of it, quite frankly, sucks. My favorite fiction writers tend to be men, because they write with more universal themes and about more interesting topics than women, in general, tend to.  I’d rather read The Economist cover to cover (instant coma!) than read a novel about shopping or finding true love in the form of a rich cowboy who worships the ground I walk on or dealing with the heartbreak of divorcing my husband on a whim.



I love Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell and Yann Martel and George R. R. Martin and Robert Sawyer and Allen Steele and I am always blown away by Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume.  Infuriating and amazing and disgusting and hilarious all at the same time.


My favorite writers really don’t have anything in common except for the fact that they are all men, and when you pick up one of their books, it seems to be written for you alone.  When a woman picks up a pen to write, it always seems like her audience is OTHER women, and that irritates me, likely because I’m not very much like other women and I find the voices of women who presuppose to know something about me really annoying.


Cormac McCarthy speaks to everyone, no matter what race or gender or age or any other identity you inhabit. And he does so without sacrificing an ounce of his own identity.  He is all man and his words convey that, remarkably.  Beautifully.


Of course there are exceptions.  Some women write with all the power and insight and depth of men, and I love those writers, too.  E. Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows.  All outstanding authors.


One thing that is immediately evident when you confront fiction by women is that women writers almost always have women protagonists.  It’s unusual to see women write books with male protagonists outside of science fiction or murder/mystery.  E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News has an amazing protagonist named Quoyle, rendered perfectly by Kevin Spacey in the film version.  Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake features a character named Snowman, living in a post-apocalyptic America, trying to survive.  It’s a really terrific book, as is the follow-up, The Year of the Flood.


But generally speaking, women don’t write male protagonists, and the book I am going to promote today, by a woman named Erin Celello is no exception.  The story is told from the point of view of Elise, but it’s about her husband Brad, recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.


The book is called Learning to Stay.  The title refers to three things simultaneously:  a dog learning the command to stay, a wife learning to make sacrifices to stay in her marriage, and a soldier contemplating suicide learning to stay alive.

There is nothing exceptional in Celello’s writing, and the main character Elise, is quite frankly, not very likeable.  There are a few moments when I wanted to jump into the pages of the book and slap her mouth shut or give her a solid shake, but I didn’t throw the book away because the character of Brad is just so compelling.  His struggle to come to terms with his new normal is both inspiring and frightening.

Veterans committing suicide is a shockingly common occurrence.  Every day, we lose 22 men who have served their countries, and then come home to find themselves lost in a world that no longer makes sense.  And yes, most veteran suicides are men.  Female veterans make up less that 3% of all suicides (p. 23).



Here is one example:  his name is Daniel Somers and he was a sergeant in an intelligence unit, where he ran 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee. According to his parents, Howard and Jean Somers, their son was diagnosed with PTSD, a brain injury, Gulf War syndrome, fibromyalgia and a host of other medical problems in 2008, one year after the end of his second deployment.


Daniel described what it was like to come home a shattered man.

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure.

All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety.

Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war.

This is what brought me to my actual final mission. Not suicide, but a mercy killing. I know how to kill, and I know how to do it so that there is no pain whatsoever. It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free. I feel no more pain. I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations. I am no longer constantly depressed or afraid or worried

I am free.

I ask that you be happy for me for that. It is perhaps the best break I could have hoped for. Please accept this and be glad for me.

You can read his whole note here.


On June 10th, Daniel carried out his final mission, leaving a wife and parents to grieve his loss and try to understand.

I hope they somehow stumble upon Erin’s book because it does a very decent job of explaining what it is like to suffer from PTSD and how a man who looks perfectly normal on the outside can be horrifically, catastrophically wounded on the inside. And more importantly, the book offers a suggestion about what we can do to help those men who are injured in this way.


Because that’s the real issue.  It’s not enough to grieve and mourn and tally up the bodies.  We need to have some plan of action to help returning soldiers, some concrete THING that we can do, and Erin’s book explores at least one strategy that helps.  Men with traumatic brain injuries, usually the result of IEDs, do not look injured, but they are every bit as wounded as amputees.  No one flinches at the idea that soldiers who have lost their limbs or suffered other visible injuries should be compensated and helped and given the very best medical treatment available.  Are there any taxpayers who object to funding prosthetic limbs?

Then there should be no objection to funding services that help soldiers with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, either.

Learning to Stay is a wonderful story that goes deep into the mind and motivations of a soldier coming home and trying to survive in a world he no longer understands.  We see most of the story through the eyes of Elise, the soldier’s wife, but it still does an amazing job of helping us to understand what goes on in the mind of a man too trapped in a war to be at peace, and too damaged to be at war.

And it doesn’t just reveal the human condition, it offers a suggestion, a way that any one person can help.



Twenty two veterans every day.  Every day.  It’s too much.  Even one death a day is too much.

We owe them more than that.  We need to help them learn to stay.

ptsd 2

Whatever the price.

Lots of love,


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