It didn’t take Jessica and Landon Beck long to decide to marry. They got along fine, she had two children from a previous marriage and he, who’d served in the U.S. Marines, seemed serious and committed.
Then came their first night as a new family, in a new apartment in Daytona. Jessica’s daughter, 4, was upset at the change and had a meltdown.
“She started screaming, and Landon grabbed his ears,” Jessica said. “I guess the squalling got to him, and his demeanor completely changed for the rest of the night… I didn’t make anything of it, but over the course of the next couple of weeks it got really strange.”
He seemed paranoid, forever looking over his back. He didn’t want to be around new people or crowds. At noises, he saw danger, and dropped and crawled through the apartment.
Though he was close to transferring to Stetson University to study molecular biology, he got kicked out of his junior-college classes. He had trouble remembering things. Sometimes he could barely remember how to speak. Loud noises bothered him. He began yelling at people — even his new family.
Jessica knew she had to do something. She Googled the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and told him he needed to go get help. She and her children couldn’t take this.
Then one night they had a bad argument, and in the morning he was gone.
But he was back later that day. He’d gone to the VA and seen a psychiatrist. He knew it was something he had to do.
“It wasn’t really about me,” he said during a phone interview. “It was about her, the kids. I felt like I needed to do something to salvage a weeks-long marriage.”
Landon was soon diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and some doctors said he had traumatic brain injury as well from his time in Afghanistan in 2010.
One day there, the armored vehicle he was in struck a roadside explosive. He blacked out as his face was jammed into the buttstock of his weapon. He was taken from that vehicle and put in another. That too soon struck a bomb.
Twice in one day.
He’s improved since the early days of his marriage, but he still struggles with depression and stress.
Jessica has been with him every step , scheduling appointments, monitoring progress, advocating for him. Sometimes, he said, just holding him — that human touch helps.
For her efforts, she was recently named an Elizabeth Dole Foundation 2020 Dole Caregiver Fellow, a position in which she represents Florida and advocates for military caregivers. The foundation said there are 5.5 million military caregivers —spouses, family and friends — who provide an estimated $14 billion in voluntary care each year.
Landon is asked: What has she meant to him during his ordeal?
“Everything,” he said.
“Aw,” she said.
Landon encouraged her to apply for the Dole fellowship, so she did, though not expecting to be named.
“It’s really surreal because I’m not really a person who talks out loud,” she said. “It’s a new opportunity. Hopefully it’ll open me up to talking about my family … they want us to just raise as much awareness as we can in our community, to let everyone know what our life is like.”
He’s 31, and she’s 29. They live south of Palatka in Crescent City. “You blink and you’re already out of it,” Jessica said. She’s lived there most of the time since since age 5, when she came with her parents from Mexico. He grew up in nearby Satsuma.
They were married in 2012 and have had four children, making for a busy household of six children.
“I feel qualified now to be his caregiver, not just his wife,” Jessica said. “I’m honored to help him just get through every day.”
Landon said he sometimes dreams about being in the Marine Corps, which he joined at 18, looking for adventure and meaning.
And he thinks of pressure-filled Afghanistan in 2010.
“It was nerve-wracking at first, then it became really exciting,” he said. “It’s not something I’m really proud of, but I got to the point where I enjoyed pulling the trigger. I probably lost my mind a little bit there.”
The frequent combat changed him and those around him, he said. “I knew something was different. Everybody that came back that year with me was different. We drank a lot, smoked a lot, we got to the point where we were numbed out a lot. A few guys aren’t here today because of suicide.”
The Becks say a breakthrough came when Landon said he wanted to go to church again, as she’d been wishing. They began going to the church of his childhood, Church of the Heights, in Palatka, full of family and longtime friends.
Jessica got a job there, and now Landon sometimes comes to work with her when he’s having a bad day; it’s a safe spot.
Landon said his wife has been a rock. “The fact that she would stick with me and figure it out, through trials and medications and side effects of medications,” he said. “And when we go out she does reconnaissance for me, makes sure these places are good, to find places that are quieter for me.”
“I look for the triggers,” she said. “It’s become daily life now.”
Humor helps too.
“It’s taken a long time for me to understand his joking,” Jessica said. “But laughter has gone far. He’s so silly, I know now when he’s being extra-silly — but he’s so funny.”
“It’s the first time I’m hearing this, which is good,” Landon said. “We’re opening up something new here, doc.”
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