“They were wide open, they were scanning, looking for safety and looking for danger,” White says. “If you see the stare, it’s not something you forget. … The memories stay in my mind, even if I don’t focus on them. And, of course, there’s the mystery _ what happened, how did he recover, what impact did it have on his life.”
Some people, she says, are disturbed by her painting; others think the raw image isn’t even art.
White, who turns 65 on Tuesday, is retired from nursing and grappling with service-related PTSD, which she says has grown so intense that she has become agoraphobic. “Just going to the grocery store is a challenge,” she says. “Sometimes I just stay in my house.”
Painting has brought some solace, and also puts her in contact with a world beyond her Missouri home; she follows the works of artists who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and sees a commonality in their creations. “It gets back to the same song, just another verse,” she says. “War is war.”
“I don’t regret being there,” White says of Vietnam. “There’s a lot I wish I could have done. I got off the plane, did what I could. I got back on the plane and came home. Some people didn’t. So this artwork is like leaving a sign behind that I was here. It’s like a cave painting. I never intended it to be that, but in a way it’s a legacy.”
A toy soldier is trapped in an orange pill bottle, the lid screwed on top. His arms are raised over his head, his rifle is held high in one hand, his right knee is bent as if he’s trying to climb out.
This print _ created on paper made from an old Army uniform _ hints of Malachi Muncy’s two life-changing tours with the Texas National Guard in Iraq.
He was just 18 when he first deployed, and once in the combat zone, Muncy says he began taking sleeping pills to shut out the world. The constant dangers he faced on truck-driving convoys were overwhelming.
“So much bad stuff happened,” he recalls. “Watching IEDs explode, and mortars hit. Being pinned down on bridges, you wonder where the fire is coming from. You just sit and wait to get shot at and you have no control over whether you’re going to live or die … I was having nightmares. I really felt I was going to do stupid things and hurt the wrong people. I was having thoughts I couldn’t expel.”
Muncy got into trouble, he says, pointing a weapon at a superior after a mission in which he went 36 hours without sleep.
When he returned home, life unraveled. He slept all day, he says, started hanging around with the wrong crowd, got hooked on methamphetamines, amassed a pile of speeding tickets and was arrested for shoplifting. He took an overdose of pills _ he’s not sure if it was a suicide attempt.
And yet, almost inexplicably, he returned for a second tour in 2006. Muncy, who later was diagnosed with PTSD, says he wanted to get away from “the mess” and all the pills.
That second stint went far more smoothly and Muncy, now 27, began keeping a journal. When he returned to Texas _ he works at a coffee house in Killeen, outside Fort Hood _ he attended college and became interested in poetry, photography and other arts.