Where The Water Meets The Sand

Where The Water Meets The Sand

by Tyra Manning


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IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award GOLD Winner in Autobiography & Memoir

A remarkable story of love, loss, and hope

Author Tyra Manning learned that her husband had been killed in the Vietnam War from her psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic, where she had been hospitalized for clinical depression. After years of battling addiction and depression, and coping with the tragic loss of her father at a very early age, Tyra's worst fear had come true. Larry had been shot down over the Laotian jungle while flying a top-secret mission, just two weeks before their daughter’s second birthday.

In this beautifully written, poignant memoir, Tyra Manning recounts how she was able to persevere in the face of devastating loss. With courage, love, and determination, she overcame her grief and fulfilled promises she made to Larry before he left for Vietnam. She ultimately earned a doctorate of education from the University of Kansas and became one of the nation’s top school superintendents.

When Tyra received a call from the air force in 2006, she was able to keep one last promise to Larry. His remains had finally been excavated after thirty-five years, and she was able to honor his wish to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Where the Water Meets the Sand explores themes of loss, depression, addiction, courage, and love and offers hope to individuals and families who have also dealt with the loss of someone close to them.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626342729
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 05/10/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,153,363
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Dr. Manning defies the stereotypes associated with mental illness. Those who know her as a successful schoolteacher and administrator are surprised to learn of her long-time battle with addictions and clinical depression, trials she faced both before and after her husband was killed in Vietnam. After retiring from a forty-year career in education, Dr. Manning has devoted her energies to comforting those suffering in silence, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and opening doors to resources for support and treatment. Though she travels around the country delivering the messages and lessons in her new book, Dr. Manning is a born and bred Texan currently residing in Texas Hill Country with her border collie mix, Bella.

Read an Excerpt

Where the Water Meets the Sand

A Memoir

By Tyra Manning

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2016 Tyra Manning
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-272-9


July 1970

I awoke gently, having forgotten as I slept. My husband, Larry, was sleeping next to me in the trailer home we had purchased three days earlier. The unfamiliar room felt strange. It made me remember. He's leaving today. I squeezed my eyes shut and snuggled in as close to him as I could, careful not to wake him. The darkness of the early morning matched the gloom in my soul. In a few short hours, Larry would leave for Vietnam. I pulled the sheets over my eyes, as if I could hide from the day. How could I let him go? What if he didn't come home? One day, when I was nine years old, my father hadn't come home. It's not the same, I told myself. Daddy was sick. No matter how I tried to use logic to unravel the connection between my father's death and Larry's leaving, the two remained strung together in my thoughts like pearls of fear and dread. Until now, Larry's departure hadn't seemed real. Regardless, it was happening. My husband had volunteered to fly combat missions in Vietnam.

My brother, Rodney, had gone to Vietnam and returned. I tried to convince myself that Larry would, too, but the thought wasn't enough to console me. I got up, padded into the bathroom, and swallowed a tranquilizer.

As I slipped back into bed and cuddled close to Larry, he opened his eyes and smiled. "Today's the day." He sounded like a kid on Christmas morning. My husband had been counting down the days until he deployed, while I'd been marking them off with dread. I had vowed to support Larry's dream of flying planes as a United States Air Force fighter pilot. I didn't want him to know how distraught I felt as he prepared to leave for Vietnam. But the thought of losing the person I loved most, the one who made me feel safe and who loved me no matter what, was excruciating.

Larry hummed as he showered. I heard our fifteen-month-old daughter, Laura, stirring in her crib down the hall. I wanted to stay in bed, but time refused to stop no matter how hard I willed it. I had to get up and take Larry to the airport. I bathed Laura then dressed her in her cutest outfit, a blue and white checked dress with matching panties. Today was the last day Larry would see our daughter for a while. Maybe forever. I pushed that awful thought from my mind, trying to get through what I needed to do.

Seconds ticked by, synchronized with my heartbeat, a slow, steady drumroll announcing my husband's impending departure. I spoon-fed Laura toddler cereal and peaches. Larry shaved, dressed, and packed the last of his things. As he got ready to go, I had trouble controlling my thoughts. One minute, I flashed on a memory of my father gasping for air and asking for his nitroglycerin. Next, I imagined Larry's plane crashing in a fiery blaze. Despite my efforts to stay focused and finish feeding Laura, I grew more agitated with each passing moment.

I didn't tell Larry how afraid I was for him to go. I knew what flying meant to him, and because of what he meant to me, I didn't want to burden him. I wanted to ask him to stay, but I didn't dare. I finished feeding Laura. Larry loaded his luggage into the trunk then walked back to the front porch. He took Laura from me and carried her to the car, whispering, "I love you," as he blew softly in her ear. Squealing with delight, she wrapped her arms around his neck. Panic raged in me, yet I was eerily calm as I followed Larry and Laura to the car. My beloved husband's dream was coming true. I wasn't about to let him see how much it cost me.

This was the day Larry had imagined since he was a little boy growing up on air force bases in the United States and Japan. The two of us had watched every late night WWI and WWII air combat movie we could find on television. We'd seen most of them twice. Larry reminded me of the young pilots in the movies. His blond hair and blue eyes made him appear younger than his twenty-four years. But this was not the movies. This was my husband, Laura's father. When a young pilot in one of the movies was killed, Larry had said, "If I don't come home, I want to be buried at Arlington."

"I promise," I had assured him, not grasping the uncertainty of making promises during wartime.

We drove to the airport with Laura standing on the front seat between us. The blue metallic upholstery complimented her blue and white gingham dress. Larry looked handsome in his dress blues, his hard-earned silver wings pinned above his pocket. "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" played on the radio. I wondered if it was a warning of things to come.

The drive was over too soon. As we pulled into the airport parking lot, I prayed I would do as my mother always said and "act right" so that Larry wouldn't worry. I got out of the passenger seat, gathered Laura in my arms, and walked around to the driver's side, where Larry stood waiting. Perhaps he had rehearsed this scene in his mind, or we were mimicking childhood memories of his own father's good-byes when duty called.

"Don't come inside with me," he directed, as he gathered us in his arms. "You are my beautiful girls." Grinning from ear to ear with the excitement of realizing his lifelong dream of flying planes, he pulled two photos from his wallet. One was of Laura. The other was of me. "These are my two favorite shots of my two favorite girls. They're the ones I'll keep with me always. Honey, I know you'll do this, but be sure to show Laura my picture every day. Tell her, 'This is your Daddy, who loves you very much.'"

He turned to the baby. "Laura, be sweet and do what Mommy asks. Eat good so you'll be strong when Daddy comes home. Daddy loves you."

Sandwiched between the two of us, Laura twisted around to stare at the tears rolling down my face. Larry reached over and wiped them away. "Don't forget, if money gets tight, you have funds in our savings account for emergencies. Everything's going to work out. I have faith in you. It'll be time for R&R before you know it.

"We'll say our good-byes now." He slid Laura to his left hip so that he could kiss me good-bye. His kisses were always sweet and tender, yet strong. This kiss was no different, except it was longer than usual. He pulled me tight to his chest and squeezed. His eyes watered as he traced the outline of my lips with his finger. I stepped back to give him room to be with Laura. He held her out in front of him so they could see into each other's eyes, then pulled her close and kissed her on the cheeks and forehead.

"I love you. Now go to Mommy," he cooed, as he handed her to me. He straightened up tall and erect, as if standing at attention. "Good-bye. I'll always love my girls. Don't look back. The next time you see me, I'll be home."

I didn't watch as Larry turned and walked toward the terminal. In a burst of magical thinking, I hoped that executing his departure just as he'd asked would somehow protect us.

I drove away from the airport, Laura beside me in the front seat. She watched me as she sucked her thumb and hugged her stuffed, yellow lamb to her chest. Our daughter's blond hair, the shape of her face, and her blue eyes resembled her father's so much that at times it was painful for me to look at her. I could still feel Larry's arms around me. I treasured the sensation but grieved what I knew was coming all too soon — the moment when the lingering memory of his touch faded.

I dropped Laura off at the sitter's and headed back to the trailer. Just before he left, Larry had insisted we purchase it so Laura and I would have something of our own if he didn't come home. His acknowledgment of that devastating possibility had made me frantic. To me, the trailer house was a dark omen. It reminded me of the life insurance money my father had purchased. After he died, Mother always said, "It's a good thing your daddy bought that life insurance, or I couldn't have afforded to go back to college." When Larry made plans in the event that he didn't come home, my worst fear felt real, inevitable. Although I didn't agree, Larry purchased the trailer house on credit, along with insurance to pay it off if he didn't return. We'd just spent our last three days together moving into it.

I parked out front and sat in the car, looking at the still unfamiliar house. I'd experienced a lifetime's worth of loss by the time I met Larry. My childhood had been filled with the deaths of several family members, including my father's. I had started drinking at age fourteen to manage my anxiety and quell a lingering sense of dread left in the wake of Daddy's death. I didn't need to drink when Larry and I were together. He told me not to worry, that he loved me and we could do anything we made our minds up to do, and I believed him.

No matter how much I might have wished it, Larry wouldn't be coming home that night. I had learned my childhood lessons well. I could not count on him, no matter how much he promised to always love me. The only person I could count on was myself. Now that Larry was gone, I was Laura's only parent, responsible for paying the bills, going to school, and managing our lives.

This wasn't the first time I had been overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility. Ten weeks earlier, Larry had gone to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to train on the Cessna O-2. When we married, Larry and I had promised each other that we would love, cherish, and graduate. Larry's dream was to become a pilot in the US Air Force. I planned to be a teacher. We'd decided I should finish the semester at the university in Lubbock, so Laura and I remained in base housing at Reese Air Force Base while Larry trained in Florida. As his deployment to Vietnam drew closer, I had grown more fearful and anxious. Sleepless nights became the norm. When I did manage to sleep, nightmares left me exhausted.

An impending sense of doom took over, as if throughout the time Larry and I had been together, it had been lurking in the shadows, waiting to get me alone. My nose burned like it was on fire, a symptom of anxiety. It began with a tingle and escalated until it throbbed. The greater my fear and worry, the more my nose hurt. I finally confided in a psychiatrist. Alcohol was contraindicated on the bottle of antidepressants he prescribed, so I didn't tell him that I washed them down with a jigger of Jim Beam when I took them. Drinking was my first line of defense to relieve the dread. Binging and purging were also options. But sometimes, even those weren't enough to keep my fears at bay, and I had to take more drastic measures.

After an intense discussion of Dante's Inferno in class one day, I couldn't remember where I had parked the car. Like Dante, I couldn't find my way. I walked lost and confused between rows and rows of vehicles in two different university parking lots, anxiety building until I finally found my car. Panicked and hopeless, I sat in the parking lot for over an hour before I was able to drive to the psychiatrist's office. I was in pretty bad shape by the time I reached him. He admitted me to the psychiatric ward at Methodist Hospital for depression and acute anxiety.

Marjorie Lambert, a family friend who babysat Laura while I attended school, offered to keep her while I recuperated. Marjorie's parents, the Scotts, had watched me when I was little. I felt guilty for being gone, but I felt good about leaving Laura with someone I'd known most of my life.

After a few weeks of hospitalization, I returned to classes but spent nights at the hospital. Preoccupied with Larry's upcoming deployment, it was still difficult to concentrate. Time was running out. Finally, my psychiatrist encouraged me to take Laura and go be with Larry in Florida. I could return to school after Larry went to Vietnam. It was all the permission I'd needed to drop out.

Larry rented us a house on the bay side of the Gulf. My fears eased as we built bonfires and boiled shrimp on the beach with the other pilots and their wives. Laura and I built castles in the sand during the day, while Larry trained on the plane he would fly in Vietnam. At night, after Laura was in bed, Larry and I sat on the pier, trailing our feet over the tops of the waves splashing below. As we watched the sun dip below the horizon, he'd slip his arm around my waist and nestle close to me.

"When I'm gone and you're lonely and miss me, look up at the sky and think of me. On the other side of the world, I'll look up at the very same stars and moon and think of you and Laura," he whispered in my ear. The night sky over the water was spectacular. It reminded me of the wide skies of West Texas. But memories of unanswered prayers to those same heavens as a child spoiled my sense of peace.

As I sat in the car outside the trailer, I ached for one more quiet night with Larry like that one, sitting side by side near the water, just being together. My husband was on his way to Vietnam for a whole year. Larry could no longer save me from my desperation. I feared the nightmares would escalate, depression would set in again, and I wouldn't be able to get out of bed.

My nose throbbed. As I grew more and more frantic, I ticked off the tried and true options that brought relief. Binging and purging took too long. Drinking helped, but I didn't want to smell like bourbon when I picked Laura up from the sitter's. I was down to option three.

I got out of the car, hurried into the house, and moved straight to the bathroom. I reached for the "tools" I kept hidden under the sink. Like a surgeon setting out her instruments, I neatly arranged a double-edged razor blade, washcloth, cotton balls, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and a container of Band-Aids on the bathroom counter. I kneeled down before the toilet, my left arm supported on the seat. I hung my left wrist directly over the toilet bowl. Scared out of my mind, I went to work.


Falling Apart

Despite the cutting I did after Larry left, I kept things somewhat together for about three weeks. I took care of Laura and attended classes, relying on the emotional release of cutting and binging and purging to help me function. Up until Larry's departure, and even on that awful day when he'd left for Nam, I had only made halfhearted scratches on my wrist. I'd never heard about anyone cutting deliberately, but something inside me instinctively believed that if I could bleed out the bad feelings, I might get better. Once Larry was gone, I cut more and more frequently, needing to draw blood. As my emotional state grew more precarious, I stopped preparing for classes. I left Laura at the sitter's for longer periods than my schedule required in case I needed to cut.

I was seeing my psychiatrist once a week but didn't tell him about my secret coping tricks. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward a second time. I'd been there for nearly six weeks when my psychiatrist recommended that I go to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, for treatment. Menninger was one of the best mental hospitals in the country, and the air force would pay for it. My doctor believed I could get well faster with long-term inpatient care. I agreed. I was getting worse, and I was afraid: afraid that I couldn't take care of Laura as she deserved, and afraid for myself.

I felt guilty over not living up to my promises to take care of Laura and stay in school. Paralyzed with shame and disgust, I continued to give in to my feelings and cut or binge and purge. Sometimes, these behaviors released the pressure of the feelings building inside and gave me the energy to read Laura a story or give her a bath. Other times, cutting or gorging and vomiting were sedatives like drugs or alcohol, and afterward, I slept for hours. I was afraid for Laura to be alone with me. I wasn't afraid of what I might do, I was afraid of what I might forget: forget to feed her, or fall asleep and leave her alone too long.


Excerpted from Where the Water Meets the Sand by Tyra Manning. Copyright © 2016 Tyra Manning. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction xv

1 July 1970 1 Two: Falling Apart 9

3 Deployed to Menninger 17

4 Meeting Larry 21

5 Nitroglycerin 31

6 A New Class Schedule 37

7 Group Walk to the Pond 41

8 Going to the Dining Room 47

9 The Rose Garden 51

10 Lions and Tigers 61

11 Keep Dealin' 69

12 Silent Night 73

13 Cutting 79

14 Girls Like You 89

15 Engagement and Wedding 99

16 We Regret to Inform You 109

17 Be with Us 115

18 Memorial Service 123

19 Bringing Home the Bacon 135

20 Discharged from Menninger 141

21 Mother and Daughter Reunion 147

22 You Have to Go Back 153

23 One More Burden 161

24 Volunteering at the VA 171

25 Welcome Home Parade, Chicago 175

26 River Forest Voicemail 179

27 The Vietnam Memorial, Washington, DC 187

28 A DNA Match 193

29 Bringing Larry Home 199

30 After the Funeral Home 207

31 A Promise Kept 217

32 Full Military Honors 223

Epilogue 229

Author Q&A 231

Questions for Discussion 241

About the Author 243

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