“I hope you make peace with your pain, and never lose your flames.”
“Fuck, what a ridiculous day,” I thought as I closed the door to my apartment. “I can’t believe my boss ripped into me like that. Telling me that he expects someone with military experience to perform better. Bitch, how would you know? I’m doing 90% of the work in my project while the other 4 guys sit on their asses. Maybe if you displayed a little more leadership around the office instead of leaving it up to me…”
My day hasn’t gone too well. Between my coworkers, traffic, and a trip to Walmart, it’s left me pretty bummed.
I flop down on my couch, loosen my tie, and glance at my cell phone. I’m in need of some cheering up and some human interaction.
“Maybe I’ll give my folks a call, see how they’re doing.”
After about an hour of small talk and odd silences, I hang up disappointed. It was like I was trying to make conversation where there was none. Pregnant pauses…
“Well, THAT was a fruitless and awkward conversation. They kinda talk to me like a stranger these days. It’s weird.”
I suppose 12 years of back to back deployments, then getting caught up in school and work kinda add up.
Standing up to head to the kitchen, I feel a familiar pain in my lower back where sharpnel had ripped through my vehicle (and me) 4 years earlier.
“God damn, my back is killing me. That reminds me. I gotta call the VA.”
Trying to keep my cool, I spend 15 minutes on hold and another 20 minutes talking to a woman that treated me like something she stepped in.
“My appointment was cancelled? How the fuck does that happen? That’s 3 times in the last two months!!! And did the lady have to act like my phone call is such an inconvenience? Jesus, people.”
I finally move on to the best part of my day. After 10-12 hours with dickheads and morons that don’t realize how good they have it, I finally get to unwind.
“I think it’s time for a little of my favorite beer: bourbon….and some of the ol’ boob tube.”
The news is the same thing every day. No mention of how our men and women are fairing overseas. STILL overseas….
“Oh…another celebrity dies of an overdose….stellar….and we’re putting our flags at half mast now. Fuck me to tears. A goddamn Major General was assassinated last week and not a word…the president is holding a press conference on the dangers of drug abuse now.”
Turning off the tv, I head to my desk, hoping the computer will bear more entertainment fruit than cable.
“Shit’s depressing, and I see Facebook isn’t any better. Oh cool! Pictures of my high school buddy’s 5th kid on his 3 week birthday…awesome….Oh, more people sharing bullshit news articles and arguing with each other. Thank God for Operator as Fuck. Goddamn that shit is funny…It’s like being back in the barracks again!”
Thinking of the barracks inevitably causes me to start remembering many, many hours laughing and joking and being bored out of my mind with my platoon in Iraq. I think of the good times we had on libo, and then I start thinking of the guys that didn’t make it back with us. My heart sinks into a dark place…and my mind begins to follow but for a small moment of motivation.
“Man, I really miss my old unit. I can’t believe I thought getting out was a good idea..I’m gonna reenlist..next week!!! Or that’s the bourbon talking….’rah.”
My phone rings. It’s my girlfriend. She’s cool, but she definitely doesn’t get it. She kinda thinks I’m just a bummer. I can’t say I blame her. I don’t really want to hang around her friends, they definitely don’t get it. They’re all a bunch of oblivious kids. I try to talk to her about things but she always says I’m being “irrational” and need to “get over shit in the past.” She always says, “not everyone could join the military after high school. That doesn’t mean they’re any less cool or important.”
“Terrific, she wants me to come to her ex’s acoustic performance at some coffee shop. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad except, the dude is always asking me if I ever killed anyone, and referring to me as “killer” and shit. It’s like that’s all he wants to talk and joke about. Oh, and the way she’s always asking me why I can’t just hang out and enjoy the crowds….I guess I’m just emotionally distant.”
After a while, my head starts swimming. My mouth is numb and my vision becomes hazy….I can’t say I don’t absolutely love bourbon. I head back to my desk and my computer. I’m going to get my Youtube education on. I knock back my… um, third glass of bourbon….maybe fourth…I think…
“I wonder how one would make an “old fashioned”. Sounds like a badass drink…”
“Sure, I’ll learn how to speak Cantonese.”
“Drunk girls falling down is funny.”
“Oh hey, my old unit has a bunch of combat footage on here….fuck yeah!”
I spend the next 20 minutes watching helmet cam videos of guys in Iraq and Afghanistan. My heart races as I remember my own time duking it out with insurgents in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt so alive. Life was simple: eat, sleep, patrol, repeat.
Like an idiot, I scroll down and start to read the comments.
“American troops are cowards and scum.”
“That’s what it takes to go to college?”
“Fuck you American pig fags…”
“What’s better: Navy SEALs or Marines?”
“FORMER CAV SCOUT HERE, ‘NAM ’77-’78….”
“FUCK THIS BUNCH OF GI BILL, WELFARE SOLDIERS”
“Should never have been there.”
“No honor, no courage.”
It doesn’t take me long to start drifting back towards that cold, dark, lonely place my heart was sinking to a few minutes ago. It shouldn’t bother me. It’s a bunch of trolls. But, I can’t help wondering if this is what the average American citizen REALLY thinks when they’re cloaked in the anonymity of the internet? It’s a disconcerting thought. All those people I hear and see thanking vets and military members…are they secretly going home and posting this kind of garbage?
My drunken haze leads me back to my deployments. I miss it. I head to my bedroom and stare at my shadow box for a bit. Then I grab my pistol. I need to keep the blade sharp, as they say. My drunk ass is going to practice clearing rooms in my apartment.
“Dig my corners.”
“Don’t ride my sights.”
“Width and depth.”
“Maybe I’m too drunk to be handling a gun….said no real American ever!!!”
“Did I just piss on my girlfriends’ cat?”
I start thinking back to Fallujah, and the cats and dogs, eating the corpses strewn throughout the streets. I think about my buddies, young men sacrificed before their prime. I think of all the people at home that go on about their lives, oblivious that there were people as selfless as these young men. I think of my job, and how it feels so unimportant. I think about the fallen, those with wives and children that needed them more than I need anything. I had nothing, yet here I sit, in front of my mirror, falling apart as I search for purpose in this new world.
In that dark place, I tread water with a weight above my head, as long as I can, but I begin to tire and drift…
“I miss my buddies….Why the fuck did I make it home and they didn’t. What the fuck am I doing here?”
“I’m getting fat.”
“Fuck you, you FUCK!”
“I should call my boys…”
“Fuck you, you fucking pussy!!”
“No one gets this shit.”
“I would be better off with my bros.”
“No one gives a fuck.”
“Fix yourself, boot.”
“One foot in front of the other.”
“I can’t stand this…I shouldn’t be alive….I should be with them.”
“Oh, you’re gonna cry and break shit now you fucking bitch? Why the fuck are you crying?”
“Get your shit together!”
“God, we were just kids….but men. Now what the fuck am I? Why did I come home?”
My thoughts reach a fever pitch and I find my pistol in my hand…tears streaming down the barrel and mixing with the blood on my knuckles. I see their smiling faces, all of them.
“I didn’t realize it was so hard to talk to yourself with a gun in your mouth.”
“Fuck…fuck this place….fuck these people…”
“I’m not meant for this shit…It’s too much.”
I take the slack out of the trigger and close my eyes…..
And like in a goddamn movie, my phone rings. I look at the caller ID and it just happens to be one of my boots that I’d trained back in the day. I try to pull myself together as I answer it.
“Yeah…a little bit….Ok, a lot bit….”
“Yeah man, I think about ‘em every day.”
“No man, I’m not doin’ so hot.”
“I know, I’m trying…”
“Cool man. I’ll see you in a couple weeks.”
“Semper Fi to you too…boot.”
He told me exactly what I told him when things got tough. He says for me to get back in the fight and not be a stereotype or a statistic. Today isn’t the day. I’m better than that. He tells me to think of my family and the guys we lost and the disservice I’d be doing them if I checked out early.
I hang up the phone and look at the mess in my bathroom, the blood on my shirt, the crack in my mirror. I go lie down on the couch to sleep off my drunk. A sobering thoughts enter my mind:
“Alright man. One foot in front of the other. Give it one more day.”