The Story of a Photo of a Soldier

This free-verse stemmed from a free-write exercise at dVerse Poets Pub and it grew into a a poem from a post I had seen at the nonprofit Facebook Page “22 too Many.” It was about a young Veteran who lost his battle with Combat PTSD. This is in honor of him and his wife, Emily.


Photo by Caitlin McFall

His arms look sculpted–tattooed sleeves, wrapped around
Emily. It is a collage picture, this is the one on top, in black and white,
and I wonder if it was taken before or after he returned home from service. Curtis.
Curtis Johnson, US Air Force.

In the left corner of the collage they are together again, younger, sun
in their faces. He wears shades and pinches his slim face, and she
leans into him, this Emily, with a look on her face only women who have
found their match understand—that mischievous wisdom
and peace. Tattoos and piercings.
Two forces you can tell by the looks of them—two
perhaps strong-willed individuals who found sanctuary in
each other, as if they’d been through enough.
Curtis and Emily Johnson.

The bottom right corner is Curtis, alone on his bunk
in his uniform, a healthy weight gain, his tattooed arms
stick out from rolled up sleeves. His face is somehow
childish looking, maybe because it is rounder, but there
is no expression. It’s an empty room. And him.
Curtis Johnson. US Air Force.

Scroll, scroll, scroll through my news feed. My thumb slides the screen
up and up and up, a carnival of friends’ faces, recipes,
memes and epic fails, cats the goddamned cats, news bits-
pictures of dust explosions, Arab men and women, cops,
black lives matter, white lives matter, Muslims matter
new groups fill up and rallies are happening all around us
amassing members who share one thing in common: hate.
And if it’s not a group it’s family and friends fighting
against each other on right and wrong, separating
ourselves and each other only to strengthen
a swarming media we eat up in the comments.
All are offended. All have rights. All sit and slide the screen.
“Another shooting at Planned Parenthood…tonight on…”
“A white police officer shot an unarmed young man…more…”
“…ISIS? The terrorist’s had this planned
since before they married…all messages on their cell phones
are encrypted, making it difficult for the…”
“How many school shootings are there…” Gun Control.
“Syrian refugees…” commercial commercial, “Paris…”
scroll scroll scroll
zooming through the feed past the stories I can’t
do anything about–believing that the
news–these unconnected far away stories–exist only in my
bright screen that lights up my face at night, as I get
a “ding” on messenger and hope it’s so and so. Thumbs up.
Politics. Trump. Obama. Hilary’s emails, BBC, Huff Post Weird News, scroll. Pit-bull discrimination…?

OK, time to put it down,

but then
there is a lovely picture collage of a young couple, and I stop,
because this is the “22 too Many” page—
a non-profit organization honoring fallen heroes
who lost their lives to suicide, Combat PTSD. I expect
to read a snippet of where he served from the woman in the
picture, covered in tattoos as well.
“Curtis Johnson, US Air Force,
took his life December 5th, 2015 after his battle with PTSD.
His wife, Emily Johnson,
followed the next day, December 6th.”

And I can’t stop looking into his face, into her eyes, into the pictures
of him alone on the bunk. And there are tears coming because
I don’t know what he sacrificed or what he saw over there, what he
had to do…because I am part of the generation off path pavers
for social media time wasters, because I am on Facebook reading updates and
blurbs about news in chosen flashes
Not reading, not questioning, not asking
humbled into my own opinion by a large angry crowd full of rights
and I don’t know my history, and we don’t know our present
and there he is


who came home from a war in a land I bothered to look at once
who gave every part of himself away to be plagued and tortured
by his body memories and flashbacks.
Tears, because I look down to the right corner picture
where he looks like a child, a lost man alone on
foreign soil. Throat hurts, because he looks younger than me
and I can’t imagine his hell of body memories and flashbacks
and madness—a hell no one can enter or leave but yourself
if you’re lucky.
And Curtis couldn’t leave. In this country that opportunes me
everything I need and the tools to achieve and improve my life,
Curtis flew “over there” and fought for such freedoms, at the
expense of putting himself in the bottom of that well,
never to breathe freely again, never to feel a warm wind on his face
without slipping back into what took him, what reached down into him
and took out his insides, replaced them with a talking shadow,
and sent him home to die. And that “it” that took him,
that was Hate.



33 thoughts on “The Story of a Photo of a Soldier

  1. Oh Amy this is great.. I really felt what you are talking about.. This constant stream of images where only those darn kittens can balance the terrible news…. you really took it from that stream (which is almost like found poetry in a way… also a great technique) and then you are coming back to this news what happens to a real human of flesh and blood we send to this terrible wars… yes somewhere it’s hate… only hate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How the words about Curtis and his wife broke my heart. The hate is always there and I don’t listen/read it anymore because I prefer the cats. But the words about Curtis – this is what we need to listen to, not the constant hate junk, the me matters junk….that clutter up the news, FB, our brains….and that’s why I don’t do FB – it makes me crazy. And there are some vets I need to be there for weekly and to listen to their realness and give them a shoulder or an ear when they need it. Congrats on working on your degree! Excellent to be writing your style and thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It really is nowhere in my feed. Are people bashing it? Aw so it goes. People always gotta find something to say on fb. But about a poem?


  3. Oh, Amy–this is so heart-breaking. I can’t begin to imagine the pain but I do know that my mom, a WWII widow, told me once that the men on my dad’s crew who bailed out of his B-24, most likely had it worse off then he. They were taken POW and she heard that “they were never the same.” Of course, back then, PTSD wasn’t really recognized. To be blunt, reading this, that is, the ramifications behind their stories, makes me want to vomit. Will we never overcome hatred? You really brought out the emotional impact of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These sections are especially powerful:

    “and she leans into him, this Emily, with a look on her face only women who have found their match understand—that mischievous wisdom and peace”

    “two perhaps strong-willed individuals who found sanctuary in each other, as if they’d been through enough”

    “Curtis Johnson, US Air Force, took his life December 5th, 2015 after his battle with PTSD. His wife, Emily Johnson, followed the next day, December 6th.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A total slice of today, of cyber life, a quagmire of fluff that I navigate every day, to seek out outstanding photography, graphic arts, paintings, movie posters & lobby cards & classic Hollywood memorabilia, & other abstract stuff that interests me; like a treasure trove, a way to dip into international FB pages–but that’s just me, the King of FB. Only once in a while do I bump into something humane/human that snaps on my emotions; excellent illustration of what you want on the prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very moving and heart breaking to read ~ You captured the modern time of scrolling past the news feed, and then returning to focus on the o, the of the man with PTSD and his wife following him to the grave ~ Your emphasis in Curtis at the end is for me, the heart and soul of your post ~ Terrific writing to share with us ~

    Love the narrative style Amy and thank you for graciously hosting our prompt ~ Happy Holidays and wishing you the best ~

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I liked how you began this with an introduction to Curtis, and then Emily–and then the scroll, scroll, scrolling and seeing the news…shocking and incredibly sad. Such a tragedy, two lives wasted…but not on each other.

    Thank you, Amy, for your prompt and appearance at dVerse.
    Gayle ~

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t know what to say. I wonder if he knew she would go too, if it was decided that way. I can’t even talk about this.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes. The feed is our spleen of justified hatred, evil-green and rich as oil that we derrick whenever we click on our Facebook feed … but that’s just the cloud against the real pain, the real story of this too-young soldier who died of American terror. In 2013 I wrote a series of narrative poems called “Over Here,” questioning if the damage of PTSD is more a matter of taking a wild exposure to real death and then carrying the unbearable burden of that back into a culture so afraid of death, so toxically engaged with fighting it with denial. (Search “The River is a Desert Road” at Oran’s Well.) Maybe our reality is the unbearable mindfuck PTSD tries to correct, the way booze corrects the awful damage further down in the alcoholic brain … Anyway, fine, loosely-flung write, with the feeling of a scroll that stops at a hard truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. SMiLes.. the best thing about
    social media to me..
    iS an opportunity
    for people
    to tell their
    truth.. dArk
    or liGht
    comes out..
    and i WiLL rather
    see it in passing
    than never
    see it
    WE are
    WE are
    and top
    we are
    rare perhaps..
    but still common
    potential in most
    of us.. still living
    the best thing
    of aLL iS.. iT
    CAN be

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I keep coming back over and over reading this.
    I knew curtis he was an amazing soul a force to be reckoned with with a laugh that could cheer up anyone and a smile that could melt the snow. He is deeply missed.
    Thank you for taking the time to write about him.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. this was a nice article to stumble across today the one year anniversary of losing Curt and tomorrow losing Em. she was my friend and i do what i can to honor them both each and everyday.

    Liked by 1 person


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