The pressures on Mónica and the roles she plays keep mounting. She used to regularly go shopping and out to lunch with her elderly mother, who lives in her own home but with a full-time caregiver. These days, Jorge often makes it a threesome because she’s afraid to leave him alone. And when Jorge and José get into arguments, Mónica becomes a referee.
Ever the doting grandmother, she now worries about how her grandchild is affected by Jorge’s illness, Sánchez Ayéndez says. The elder Mendozas and the maternal grandparents help with parenting duties and contribute financially. The Mendozas also pay for their granddaughter’s psychological counseling. Just as her father is no longer the vibrant, fun-loving daddy she knew before he left for Iraq, she’s not the same bright, cheerful little girl. Now she gets angry and shuts people out, they say.
Mónica has had to move up her retirement date—but not to retire in the way she had previously envisioned. Once expecting to leave her job at age 62, her last day of employment will be in December 2008, at age 60. That way she can be more involved in her granddaughter’s upbringing and better able to take care of her mother and son.
“If you were to see [Jorge] in line at the movies, you’d never know there was anything wrong with him,” Sánchez Ayéndez says. But very few people know how the Iraq war lives inside his head day in and day out. Or the turn the Mendozas’ lives have taken.
At the Ready
Service is a tradition in Puerto Rico. With more than 7,000 troops—42 percent between age 40 and 60—its Army National Guard is the 18th largest in the nation. Since 9/11, more than 90 percent of the island’s Guard members have been deployed, many for more than one tour of duty. And more than 146,000 veterans live on the island.