In this emotional excerpt, Tyra relives the moment she was reunited with her husband's remains 35 years after his death.
In this excerpt, Tyra discusses life after Menninger and how she continued fighting her demons while pursuing her doctorate degree.
In this excerpt from Chapter Nine, "The Rose Garden," Tyra reads about her time at the Menninger Clinic. She vowed to leave "weller than well."
In this excerpt from Where the Water Meets the Sand, Tyra reads about her addictions, compulsions and decline into depression after Larry's departure for Vietnam. (Chapter One, "July 1970")
In this excerpt from Where the Water Meets the Sand, Tyra reads about the day her husband left for Vietnam. (Chapter One, "July 1970")
Where the Water Meets the Sand is a story of love and loss, struggle and triumph. After losing her husband, Tyra overcame a great deal to become the successful educator, mother, and author that she is today. Take a look at the book trailer here and come back for the releases of Tyra in Her Own Words, a series of recorded excerpts from the book.
"The reader of this gripping book will go away with clearer appreciation that it was not only the armed services members who fought in Vietnam...but also many loved ones at home who suffered as well."
– Nolan Brohaugh, Masters of Social Work, The Menninger Clinic (retired)
“Where The Water Meets the Sand is a touching memoir showing the remarkable resilience of a young wife and mother fighting for order in her life, while her husband is fighting in Vietnam – an ocean away. Tyra’s true story will move you deeply as she reaches deep inside herself to overcome unbelievable odds.”
– Naomi Fisher, USAF Nurse Corps, stationed at the 366th USAF Dispensary in Da Nang, Vietnam from 1970-1971
"I started the book and I didn't put it down until I finished it late that evening. The reading was accompanied by a wide range of feelings. She was eloquent and so articulate in describing the struggles and experiences which she went through."
– Dr. Walt Menninger, The Menninger Clinic
“Manning’s clear, honest voice is unflinching. Her love story, though tragic, is uplifting and beautifully told. Scenes with her young husband make him so alive and real for the reader that his loss is heartbreaking. Themes of love, death, and redemption reoccur throughout, like waves washing to shore. Manning lives bravely, letting life do what it does. Despite the hardships she faced, she has made something beautiful out of pain. Her resilience is inspiring, her story exquisite and not to be missed."
–Lisa Shatto Glasgow, author and editor
"Where the Water Meets the Sand is a wrenchingly personal story of devastating loss. Richly detailed, brutally honest, and vulnerable, this memoir traces one woman’s struggle to reclaim her belief in herself and in the world around her. Without hyperbole, Manning presents recollections which are simultaneously recognizable and unimaginable."
– Coleen Grissom, Ph.D, Professor of English, Trinity University
Where the Water Meets the Sand is a love gift to Larry and the men and women who gave their lives both literally and figuratively in the divisive war in Vietnam. Some veterans physically came home, but many continue to suffer the effects of PTSD, addiction, and mental illness, as do their loved ones.
The inspiration for my book has always been to highlight the struggles of families who lose loved ones in war. But all of us lose people we love in one way or another. While my memoir doesn’t soft-pedal the trials and challenges of living in the aftermath of horrific losses, depression, or addiction, it emphasizes that we can move forward. Mine is a story of hope, of believing there is a power greater than any of us that can help us heal if we are willing to embrace the opportunities placed in our path. Throughout my life that spiritual power has provided people who helped me and believed in me.
I am who I am because of my life experiences. Over the years I’ve become more accepting of my illness and appreciative of my recovery. As I revisited painful experiences through the very therapeutic process of writing, I felt ashamed and disappointed that I hadn’t handled some situations differently, such as becoming pregnant as a teenager and when I grew so overcome with fear and depression that I realized I was addicted to alcohol. There were many times while writing this book that I relived the devastation of my father’s early death, the desperation of my adolescence, and my confusion, hopelessness, and fear of losing Larry. The salve was that I reached out for help, and there was always someone there to help me. Always. This is one of the most important things I realized yet again from writing my story: I was so taken care of, even when I couldn’t take care of myself.
A willingness and openness to seek help and accept treatment is crucial. For some family members or friends, the person they care about may not be aware of their own need or may be unwilling to receive help. Some people I met in the hospital psychiatric unit in Texas, at Menninger in Kansas, and in addiction support groups all over received help because someone had intervened on their behalf. I’ve known others who’ve tried to help, but were unsuccessful. They too may need support. But the stigma and lack of empathy toward those who require treatment is still a gigantic hurdle. As a result, many of us discuss our own struggles and those of the ones we love in whispers and we keep our illnesses secret, perpetuating the barrier to treatment. Access to first class affordable treatment and the knowledge of where to find it is still a challenge. Having said that, there are resources for those who seek help if we persevere.
I have attended writers’ groups from time to time. I sought the support of writing coaches. I did a writer’s residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois, which helped me believe I was a writer and that what I had to say mattered. Ragdale was also where I took my very first writing workshop. Whenever I got discouraged about the book throughout the years it took me to write it, I heard the voice of one of my fellow workshop participants who said to me after I read an excerpt aloud in the workshop, "Keep writing. You have a gift and it’s a sin to waste it.”
Unlike some writers, I don’t write at a certain time or write a specific number of hours or pages each day. Over the years, when I missed Larry terribly, I unpacked his olive brown suitcase where I kept Air Force documents regarding his MIA/KIA case and went through them. It made me feel closer to him. My writing has been a similar unpacking process. I started the memoir in 1984 and worked on it sporadically, in fits and starts. While I was still working in Education, it was difficult to immerse myself in the past and live in the present simultaneously. Once I retired, meditating and surrounding myself with music—often Larry’s recorded music from Vietnam—were catalysts to finding a rhythm and cadence for writing my story.
Where the Water Meets the Sand was the title from the moment I made the decision to write my memoir. Before Larry left for Vietnam, we dreamt of meeting on the beach in Hawaii. Some of my favorite memories with my husband took place near the water, like the time he took me crabbing off the pier in Mobile, Alabama, and our ritual during Larry’s training in Florida, when we’d sit on the pier trailing our feet over the waves splashing below.
When Larry died I promised I’d always meet him on the beach in Hawaii, where the water meets the sand. Throughout my life whenever I missed him or needed to make a decision regarding raising our daughter, I’d meet Larry there in my mind. Eerily enough, although not all that surprising to me, when Larry’s remains were found and Laura and I went to Hawaii to escort him to Arlington, our hotel was right on the beach.
I realized as a teenager that my other friends didn’t drink like I did—alone and on weekdays. I often took beer and sat near my father’s grave on a bench engraved with our last name, Decker. I went there to talk with Daddy. I kept my talks with him a secret from everyone else. I knew my drinking was out of control, but, as a teenager, I didn’t know what to do about it nor did I understand the impact on my life. I didn’t want to give it up. It kept me from feeling the overwhelming sadness. Later, binging and purging and cutting fulfilled the same need.
With Larry, I felt safe. He accepted me and loved me unconditionally. I realized that I was in trouble and needed help when Larry left to train on the plane he would fly in Vietnam. His departure to Florida turned on a steady deafening drumbeat in my head. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, "What if he didn’t come home?" I was so depressed that I couldn’t take care of Laura or manage simple daily functions. I was ashamed and knew I needed help. My dependence on Larry for my well-being made it impossible to live with the raging fear that he might not come home once he left for Vietnam.
I don’t think my decision to go to Menninger was courageous. It was a necessity, not a choice. I wasn’t able to take care of myself, much less Laura. I was afraid.
I maintained friendships with other patients for a while after I left the Clinic. Because I was in outpatient therapy on the Menninger campus after my discharge, I often joined my friends who still lived at the hospital for lunch or dinner in the dining room. Some of my friends came with me to the award ceremony at Forbes Air Force base when Larry’s medals were awarded to me. Mrs. Locke and I also maintained a relationship once I left the hospital. I adored her.
After leaving Menninger, I earned my Master’s degree and graduated from Kansas University. As I made my way along the traditional walk for graduates through the Campanile, Dr. Roberts stepped out from the crowd of well-wishers lining our path and reached out his hand. Taking mine, he said, “Good job. You should be proud.” It was a gift I’ll carry with me forever. It was the last time I saw him.
The first day of classes in my new job as principal of Boswell Junior School, my social worker, analyst, and aides from my unit at Menninger brought their children to school to enroll. I was frantic at first, but my fears eased when I learned they were happy to see me. I had my own private cheering section, and I knew they were proud of my accomplishments.
I meditate. I say the Serenity Prayer five times out loud every morning and every night. It is my mantra. I say it and thank God for my grandmother Nennie. I treasure my daughter and thank Larry and God for her love and friendship. I don’t spend too much time alone, but rather spend quality time with other people. My closest friends are supportive and allow me to be the same for them. I never forget where I’ve been, and I remember that I am never alone. I believe and know that nothing is the end of the world, that all things are opportunities for growth. I volunteer on children’s behalf, I love to be outdoors, and I spend wonderful time with my Border Collie mix, Bella.
Since coming back to Texas, I’ve forged new and lovely relationships with my mother and my sister. For that, I am grateful. My addictions have not been active for years, and I will celebrate thirty-five years of sobriety—one day at a time—on July 1, 2016. I am devoting my energy to bringing messages of hope to those experiencing mental health issues and to the people who love them. I’ve experienced a sense of joy and deep satisfaction through giving to others. That helps keep me healthy.
My second husband loved Laura and was an excellent father figure. He cared for her while I worked and went to school and taught her valuable life lessons. For that reason, it would be disingenuous for me to describe my life at that time as being a single mother.
After our divorce, I faced the trials and challenges of single parenthood. By then, Laura was becoming a teenager. She grew interested in knowing more about Larry. There were so few stories to tell since she was two years old when he was killed. I tried hard to do things with her to make up for her loss, but given the loss of my own father, I knew no one could make up for that. It tormented me at times. Throughout her childhood and young adulthood, I struggled to make up for the loss of her father. Of course it was impossible.
When Laura earned her driver’s license, I felt traumatized when she left the house in the car I had bought for her. Because of my car accident and my irresponsibility as a teenager, I worried that she would have an accident and be severely injured. It was hard not to project my past behavior onto her. I received a call at work in Highland Park when she was sixteen. A glass company’s’ van had crashed into her car after running a stop sign. The RN in the emergency room called to tell me but insisted Laura would be fine. I was frantic. Laura had told her I would be and cautioned her not to upset me. When I saw the huge gash across her forehead, I fainted. The thought of losing Laura is impossible to describe even now.
When she chose a college on the east coast, I was devastated but didn’t tell her. Just as I didn’t tell Larry how overwrought I was when he fulfilled his dream to fly in Vietnam, I didn’t tell Laura how much I hated for her to go so far away. But her dreams and education were too important for me to interfere. Throughout her life, when I struggled about significant decisions that had to be made, I’d meet Larry on the beach at the water's edge and rely on his counsel.
I could never have afforded treatment at the Menninger Clinic had it not been for the military insurance our family received. From that perspective, I often say, “Larry Hull saved my life. Not only did he love me for who I was, but, without him, I could never have gone to Menninger for treatment.” An Air Force sergeant was assigned to me after Larry’s death, and many of the tasks he helped me accomplish—making arrangements for veterans benefits, getting a social security card and a military identification card so I could shop at the Forbes Air Force Base exchange and commissary after I left the hospital, taking me to the bank to deposit the life insurance checks that had been delivered to me at the Clinic by the USAA representative, and introducing me to the director of the day care facility on base so that I could consider it for Laura when she came to live with me—were priceless.
Years later, Sgt. Hanks and later Sgt. Nat Hernandez at the Mortuary Division at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, became my lifelines to the real possibility that Larry would one day come home.
Nat and one of his colleagues flew to Highland Park, Illinois to meet with Laura and me. The four of us planned Larry’s funeral in my living room as if we were all family. In a way, we were. We met Sgt. Doyle, our personal escort, in Hawaii. He took us to JPAC to view and accept Larry’s bones, then to the funeral home to see the casket, and he escorted all three of us back to Washington for Larry’s funeral. Doyle never left our side until the funeral and reception were over. We were his last case before his retirement.
“Closure” doesn’t begin to express the miracle of Larry’s remains coming home. When he was buried at Arlington, my sense of peace was complete, not like when we held his first memorial service. I felt empty and incomplete when that service was over, as if we had performed a perfunctory requirement. I wanted Larry to have a real service like my father had. I had kissed Daddy when he died, I had told him good-bye. Larry’s memorial service didn’t satisfy that need.
In spite of the odds, somewhere in my soul a tiny voice assured me that one day Larry’s remains would come home to American soil and he would be buried at Arlington as I had promised. Seeing and touching Larry’s bones in Hawaii at the JPAC Lab were a mystical experience. It was as if a surge of electricity moved through my body when I pressed my hands down on his bones. I knew at that moment I touched him he was present, with us. For me, it was not closure. It was a promise kept.