Last year she attended a VA-sponsored weekend retreat for women veterans at a ranch near Spokane, where they were offered horseback-riding lessons, art classes and trust-building exercises. “I went in with no expectations, thinking I would get nothing out of it,” Milonas says. But something shifted as the women sat around the bonfire talking about the experiences that still haunt them at night. “I came out of this retreat telling myself I was going to have more good days,” she says. Milonas now feels ready to join a women veterans’ therapy group and is working on her driving in the hope of attending evening sessions this fall.
Teaching is still a trial, however—so much so that Milonas is talking to her doctors about whether she should apply for 100 percent disability benefits, which would enable her to focus full time on her recovery. Absent that magical “pink pill,” she is still facing a long slog. For example, she is driving more, “but I’m numbing more” to get through each effort, she admits. “I’m afraid that if I let my emotions show, I won’t be able to control them.”
So she gathers what strength she can muster and pushes on. “I’m trying,” she says about her grandchildren. “Usually, I shut myself off and say, ‘Hi, bye, see you guys later.’ But now I try to be a little closer, and I try to hug ’em.” It’s still not easy, and it still doesn’t feel quite right. But she does it all the same. “I just look at it as one of the things I have to do in order to get better—until it takes hold and becomes a part of me again.”
She turns from her dolls and picks up a quilt she’s been working on. It’s not as intricate as the ones she and Elizabeth Burris used to make, but its colors are vibrant: sunrise shades of gold, yellow and blue. In the middle of each square is a silhouette of a dark-skinned woman, arms outstretched. Perhaps Lt. Col. (ret.) Robin Milonas will be able to link together enough pieces to create a new whole.
LOUISE FARR is the author of The Sunset Murders. She is based in the Los Angeles area.
Originally published in the June 2011 issue of MORE.
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