For Grady teacher, writing memoir a ‘healing project’

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Presley throughoutlly kept the listener’s attention during the Talk

Anna Poznyak

Dr. Christal Presley, literarure teacher and published author, gave a passionate speech about her memoir, Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD, in the Writing Center yesterday.

Dr. Christal Presley, speaking to the entertained audience during yesterday Author Talk
Dr. Christal Presley speaks to an entertained audience during yesterday’s Author Talk.

Presley began her presentation, which was free and open to any who wished to attend, with a simple question.

“Do any of you know what PTSD stands for? What is it?”

The disease, officially diagnosed a little more than three decades earlier, has made a profound impact on the author’s life.

Presley continued the discussion with a brief observation of the first pages of the book. In the beginning, she writes about her father, Delmer Presley, who as a 18-year-old soldier, went to “the country he had not known about before to fight in the war he did not understand.”

He came back home alive, but neither he nor his wife, Judy Presley, or his young daughter would be able to resume their lives as they had been before.

Presley described her initial confusion about her father’s behavior and her mother’s instructions to never to talk to her dad about Vietnam or tell strangers what was going on in their house. This confusion and forced silence led her to “explode,” Presley said.

At 17 she left for college with thoughts of “never going back, never talk[ing] to my dad again.” The prologue of the Thirty Days with My Father, part of which Presley read out loud during the talk, related her childish dreams of having a normal family without the influence of the Vietnam War or a sick father: The phrase, “In my dreams…,” starts almost every sentence of the prologue.

Presley also talked about the process of writing, publishing and marketing her book. After leaving her home angry at 17, Presley had not talked to her family for 13 years. She admitted that her decision to finally talk to her father was not some sudden impulse of bravery; rather, she was “just tired of being miserable.”

The author was warmly welcomed
The author was warmly welcomed.

In November 2009, she called her mother and asked if she could talk to her dad. After her mother said yes, Presley spent the next 30 days talking to her father on the phone and dutifully recorded their conversations. She confessed she had been afraid that their discourse would be all “doom and gloom.” Undoubtedly, there were sad stories of young boys dying in their first battles. But there were also funny stories as well about American soldiers’ ways to wash their socks in wilderness conditions. The book consequently relates all of these stories over 30 chapters, one for each daily conversation.

Following the footsteps of many current writers, Presley began the Thirty Days with My Father as a blog, intended exclusively for family members. Very soon, however, she mustered the courage to post her blog to her Facebook page. The morning after her blog went public she received hundreds of supportive and empathic emails. She initially misinterpreted the onslaught of emails as spam.

People all around the world somehow found her post and wanted to thank her for being brave and sharing her own experience. Presley said that at this point she realized she was not alone, that the world must know about her family’s experience. Three years later, after a laborious and successful search for a publisher and endless revising, she was proud of the published work, Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD.

Presley considers her life to have been very interesting during those two years. The year of 2013 she spent on a self-promoting book tour. Giving hundreds of interviews over that span has made Presley familiar with talking about her book. Still, her eyes welled up with tears and her voice sometimes trembled during her book talk on Wednesday. She admitted that meeting people with the same stories and problems makes her feel confident and that her work is important and significant.

Presley throughoutlly kept the listener's attention during the Talk
Presley thoroughly kept her listeners’ attention during the talk.

Currently she is in her first year teaching at Grady, although she has 14 years of prior experience as an educator, eight of them as a classroom teacher. She has also begun another book, a novel, with a similar setting, but a “totally different spin.” Presley also keeps working on the organization she founded, United Children of Veterans, which is currently a website for secondary PTSD victims.

Presley hopes her book will continue to draws public attention to the need for treatment and care of veterans with PTSD and their families. In her view, it is more highly important now, since there is a profound understanding of PTSD, to provide better support for veterans and their relatives, especially since there is a new generation of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans’ children growing up.

For the record, Delmer Presley is now 64. He is still greatly affected with PTSD with almost no chance of ever completely recovering from it. He enjoyed his daughter’s book and sells it from his truck.