By Katy Savage
Kyle Aines drank to feel something. He drank to feel anything.
When he came back from the war, “I drank to feel emotions. I was really shut down for a while,” he said.
Courtney, his then girlfriend, didn’t realize how much the war impacted him at first, but there were signs—like how Aines would would watch “Restrepo,” the 2010 documentary about the Afghanistan war, three times in a row. How he, seemingly out of nowhere, broke down and cried about the people he had lost and how he woke up in the middle of the night, screaming.
Courtney remembers trying to hold an intervention to stop his drinking. “It worked for a little bit but then it didn’t,” she said. “ I felt like it was getting out of control.”
Then, the gun went off.
On Aug. 31, 2013, Courtney had found Aines drinking at a bar past 2 a.m.
“I woke up and he wasn’t around,” Courtney said. “I worried and was calling him.”
She drove to pick him up, about a mile from their apartment building in Rutland.
They had an argument in the car about his drinking on the way home. Then, things escalated. He went into house and locked the door behind him as Courtney shouted to get in.
Courtney called Aines’ brother and his army friends to talk him down. When Aines opened the door, he had a gun aimed at his chin.
Aines tried to shoot himself but missed as Courtney screamed. Neighbors called the police.
Looking back, she wonders, “I was kind of in denial. I [thought], ‘I must be missing something—this can’t be him’,” she said.
Aines doesn’t remember much about that night. He remembers waking up at the VA hospital in White River Junction.
“His fire was totally gone – his spirit was gone,” Aines’ mother Diana Meierott said. “That was difficult to see. You could see the pain in his face.”
That was the last time Aines had a drink. That night was a wake-up call to Aines and those who loved him.
Aines and Courtney had met as students at Mill River Union High School in Clarendon – though they were just friends at the time. “He was a clown in high school and I really wasn’t into that,” she said.
Aines went into the military shortly after he turned 18, where he worked as an army medic. He was deployed 13 months his first tour, then 16 months in his second tour.
“With my second deployment, I grew angry – it became very personal to me,” he said. “My own humanity and values fell to the wayside.”
As he started struggling more and more, he and Courtney’s relationship grew. Aines asked her out on their first date in a letter. They had their first kiss at the Albany International Airport in New York when they were 23.
At 25, they got engaged during a hike at the White Rocks National Recreation Area. Through all he’s been through, “She’s my rock,” he said.
Aines and Courtney got married in 2011.
Aines, 34, now works as a benefit advisor for military veterans at the Community College of Vermont. He is getting his masters degree from Castleton University in education curriculum and instruction.
Aines still has nightmares. He dreams of himself and his wife driving in Iraq and being blown up. He dreams of his friends who are no longer with him. It helps him to help other people. “It really helps me heal when I can work with other veterans,” he said. “It’s important to me.”
It’s been five years since Aines tried to commit suicide and he and Courtney just celebrated their seven-year wedding anniversary. They appreciate the small things in each other, like making coffee for each other, warming the car.
They’ve been to couples therapy, not because they were unsure if they wanted to be together but because they didn’t know how to live and grow with the other entity that had affected both their lives—the PTSD.
“We weren’t good communicators,” she said. She feared asking the wrong questions.
He feared his problem would affect her. He didn’t like to talk about it. “I didn’t want to dump it on her,” he said.
Aines still takes anti-depressants everyday. His PTSD is mostly under control, he said, but he’s afraid of setbacks – and he’s had setbacks.
Before his youngest son, Grayson, was born about 7 months ago, things were going well, or so it seemed.
Grayson was born three weeks before a scheduled cesarean. He needed to be transported immediately from Porter Medical in Middlebury to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington because he couldn’t breathe on his own. Meanwhile, Courtney was hemorrhaging and needed surgery in Middlebury to remove blood clots. Aines went to Burlington with his son while Courtney stayed behind.
“That just set me back,” he said. “I was really afraid I was going to lose people I loved again.”
Aines said the war changed him. The war made him more resilient. It also brought him closer to Courtney.
They have also propelled each other through the hard times.
Despite it all, he said: “I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
Rutlanders Kyle Aines, a benefit advisor for military veterans at the Community College of
Vermont, and his wife, Courtney, celebrated their 7-year wedding anniversary this year.