Veteran’s Day is a time to remember those who have honorably served in the active military, naval or air service, as well as those who still serve the country today. While many young people learn about wars from the 20th Century such as the World Wars, Vietnam and Gulf War, more recent conflicts are often not yet taught in history class. Many may not realize that America is still at war in Iraq, and has been for quite some time. It is this Iraq War that inspired associate professor Erin Celello’s book Learning to Stay.
Celello has been around veterans all her life. She’s had several grandparents, uncles and close friends who have served in the U.S. military. She draws from these experiences and her own research in Learning to Stay, which portrays the fictional events of a woman Elise Sabato dealing with her much changed husband after he suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq.
“I worked for Governor Doyle, and was on the road a lot during Iraq and Afghanistan. I went to a lot of military funerals to see and witness these families. It was something that just stuck with me,” says Celello.
In the novel, the main character Elise struggles with her husband’s altered attitude. He was once a thoughtful, brilliant and patient man. But after the injury Elise must give him more care and attention while she works in a demanding law firm. She has to make the decision of living the life she’s always wanted, or living the life she is now dealt.
While Celello herself never had a husband return home from war with brain injuries, she has dealt with similar experiences to Elise. Celello’s husband caught a bad case of the H1N1 virus, which put him in the Intensive Care Unit and resulted in a long recovery period. Combining her military knowledge and similar experience of caring for an injured husband, Celello was able to build a strong character in Elise.
Another source of inspiration for the novel came when she was teaching a class. UW-Whitewater offers a veterans English course. Here she was able to connect with veterans as they eased into civilian life.
“As a result of teaching that course I was able to meet more veterans. I was able to understand their sacrifices and see them make that transition from combat to classroom,” says Celello.
Learning to Stay was a book written to honor all veterans of the past, present and the future.
“Many veterans only want one thing, and that’s for the rest of the country to care – to understand what they mean when people ‘say thank you for your service,’” Celello says.