Rosenblum: Iraq veteran's 'Lucky Star' shines bright after concert

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2012 - 5:09 PM
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Madonna performs at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul November 3, 2012.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Special to the Star Tribune

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Melissa Passeretti wants her life back. But the twice-deployed Iraq combat veteran, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, never imagined that Madonna would help her get it.

Thanks to the redemptive stories I get to witness with heartening frequency, Passeretti experienced an emotion last week that she feared was lost.

"This is the first time I felt pure joy, for me, in years," Passeretti said. "It's just what I needed."

Just days before Madonna would perform two shows at Xcel Energy Center last weekend, Passeretti was managing the lives of her three school-age children (another daughter is grown and lives in Florida), and trying hour-by-hour to accept her new normal.

The 43-year-old Alabama transplant deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2009 with the Minnesota National Guard. She was shot at. She watched a truck explode two ahead of the one she was driving. She returned home in 2010 with migraines, nerve damage to her neck and back, and heartache that she had to relearn how to be a mother.

Once comfortable driving cross-country alone, the divorced Passeretti found herself living "in a very small world that I've created," a world of her grocery store, her gas station. She struggles with insomnia. At coffee shops, she sits with her back against the wall to watch everyone as they enter.

"At some point, you get tired of your life as it is," Passeretti said in an interview featured on www.maketheconnection .net, an online resource center for veterans. "I'm miserable enough. I want my life back."

That life included making up a dance in eighth grade to the song "Lucky Star," by her favorite singer, Madonna.

Also last week, I got a call from Kathy Rivas. Rivas lives in Austin, Texas, and is married to Wolfgang Rivas, a 52-year-old staff sergeant on his second overseas tour to Korea. Wolfgang has deployed to Iraq four times with the Army.

Back in February, before he knew about Korea, Wolfgang bought two $375 fourth-row seats to Madonna's show to celebrate his Nov. 4 birthday. He fondly remembers Madonna from his 20s, "first rolling across the concert stage in her virgin outfit."

But why see her in Minnesota? Turns out the Rivases wanted to visit the other Austin. "Kathryn," Wolfgang e-mailed, "makes the best eggs and Spam in tortillas this side of Hawaii."

Once he got his overseas assignment, he encouraged Kathy to come up here with a friend. But then she had surgery and couldn't travel. They considered selling the tickets, but giving them away, Wolfgang wrote, "feels much better."

Kathy wondered if I might find a deserving home for the two fantastic seats. All she asked in return was that the receiver send an e-mail to her husband to thank him. And maybe send him a postcard, too. Wolfgang collects postcards from people traveling around the world. (I've included his mailing address below).

While she didn't specify that the tickets go a member of the military, it sure felt like the right thing to do. My colleague Mark Brunswick, who covers military issues, put me in touch with Sarah Ditto, veterans program coordinator for the St. Paul-based Metropolitan Center for Independent Living. Ditto connected me with Passeretti, but gave her a heads-up first. When I called Passeretti, she had only recently stopped screaming.

"I was jumping around and thanking the Lord," she said. "My kids said, 'You're just glowing like you're a teenager,' This does take me back to high school, to good memories," she said. "I plan to keep that hidden teenager around because my children enjoyed her so much."

Also glowing was Ditto, who was on Passeretti's last deployment and is dealing with a brain tumor. Passeretti gave Ditto the other ticket. "It was so awesome," Ditto said. "Madonna was totally rocking."

Passeretti said the seats were "awesome" and the night was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." The next day, with the kids at their father's house, Passeretti slept until 3:30 p.m.

Passeretti e-mailed her thank you to Wolfgang before the concert. "For just a moment in time," she wrote in part, "I don't have to act like I'm OK. For just a moment, I will be.

"How am I able to say thank you for that?"

Staff Sgt. Wolfgang Rivas hopes you'll send him a postcard when you travel. His mailing address is:

SSG Wolfgang Rivas

PSC 305

Box 2307

APO AP 96218

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350

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