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#369083 - 08/29/11 06:26 PM
Loc: American South
I drive the 5-ton to the field every morning. This time my TC is P____ and Jackson. Last night it was two other privates.
I have to zone out the conversations around me.
One of our best Platoon Sergeants took one of our worst privates out into the woods and smoked him, then punched him in the head.
Afterward, the Private was sent to the Troop Medical Center.
Graffiti on the porta-jon wall:
“The only sensible way to live life is without rules.”
This time my TC is my Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Denton. He tells me I’ll be the gunner for the armored supply truck. I'm accurate with the fifty cal.
SSG Ledger likes to place his hands on top of my head like he is touching an orb.
“If only I could tap into that knowledge,” he exclaims.
Due to Robert, I am fast with numbers, can sense them instead of count them, as if money, as opposed to humans, remains predictable.
SSG Ledger is passed out in the driver’s seat. He smells of alcohol and sweat. 1SG Hall prefers SSG Ledger, while SFC Denton, the state-side Readiness NCO, leans on me. Meanwhile the commander, Captain Kenley, leans on SFC Denton, the hardest worker in Delta.
I choose to listen to SFC Denton.
“Use less,” I say to my peers. “Always.”
More and more SFC Denton is perturbed that we aren’t blood thirsty.
Most are more worried about the battery in their IPOD.
There is a Specialist named Boyd who is popular with girls and who likes to be my TC. Everyday he walks up to the supply truck grinning, waiting. I say what I always say: “So tell me your adventures today ...”
He jumps up on the water buffalo hitched to the five ton and begins telling his stories. Sometimes Moser, one of my battle buddies, will stand behind him with exaggerated gesturing and mouth the words: 'he is so gay.'
So now everyone in the unit calls me Chuck.
I wash up and shave out at the water buffalo, which I have parked at a corner of the training field.
My two best pals here, Moser and Sears decide to do the same.
Since it is easier to compete with each other indefinitely then to compete with an abstract army, we are battle buddies.
Laughing and joking and horse playing, we finish as the dawn breaks pink.
“No-No” Moser says. “Wait--Chuck!” He pushes Sears away in order to force me to listen. “No--you can do it.” He turns back to Sears. “Listen to him,” he turns back to face me, “Do it Chuck--something crazy.”
“You know the reason why babies aren’t born talking … They could be, you know.”
I start to laugh, because my voice sounds different. Sears’ eyes sparkle.
“But they aren’t,” I begin again in the low baritone. “So they couldn’t be, not in this environment.”
“Huh?” Sears says with his smile, “Say that again …”
“You cannot be human and have forgotten what it was like to not have a language.”
The guy who has disliked me the most this month, SFC Denton, finds me exiting the breakfast chow line with my tray, about to find a table.
“Come sit with us,” he says.
The table is filled with Sergeants and Officers.
In a battalion, the flow of money can be disheartening: first HHC, then Alpha, then Bravo, then Charlie, then, finally Delta company receives the least money to work with.
“Meet Delta Company’s actual Supply Sergeant,” he says to them as he sits down and grabs the salt shaker.
She tells me the road is her favorite place. I decide I want to sleep with her.
On the ride to the hotel she is a little drunk. She looks out the window and talks about Jesus.
“I feel like I have this higher level of energy or something,“ she says. “It's kind of why I left him. Anyone else would've been happy.”
As soon as I arrive home I sit in the recliner and fall asleep. I wake up in the dark. I hadn’t realized I was that tired.
I shower and lay to sleep shirtless in the cold, feeling like some lover boy.
(New Year’s Eve)
The twelve block walk through historic downtown Raleigh is worth it: first a poet, then violin, chello, then fiddle at the concert.
Moser’s parents adopted him. He has a half-brother who hangs out with us.
Moser gives me a beer; he shows me his house. I meet his parents, an elderly Caucasian couple.
“It’s called Facebook,” he says, showing me how fast the internet has gotten. He lets me check my email.
We basically deploy for real tonight, for maybe the third time. Our next stop is more drinking at Hooters, then the armory where Sears will baby-sit us onto the bus.
We notice the wind blowing. There is no scenery but dark, muggy delta land.
“No listen,“ Moser says excitedly, turning around to face the backseat of the HHHMWV. He gives me another huge smile only matched by the huge black goggles he wears just under his Kevlar.
“And you think they’re talking about me … ” I say trying not to sound accusing.
“Yes, of course … “ he says, as his grin is making me smile.
“I heard him say it myself,”
“What … “
“Think about who else could he have been talking about --”
“But you overheard it.” Moser says.
“They’re not talking about me--Moser--” I shake my head.
“I’m telling you, all that happened in my day was those three conversations -- No -- it was different than the way he always says it.”
Moser exhales, exhausted.
“Are you sure we never met before … “ I say.
I lean back into the seat, then lean my torso forward. He looks down to speak to me.
“I’m his driver, Chuck -- Listen to me -- And then later -- only in a different conversation --”
I start chuckling. “Moser, stop--What does it matter.”
We notice the Commander stepping out of the building.
Moser is my best friend right now. He is the Commander’s driver in HQ platoon, D.
While Moser is the one who will go outside the wire the most, I am in logistics. That’s where you put the suicidals who know they are suicidals, because the Commander’s vehicle is the obvious spot the enemy will hit while logistics is the weakest, most distracted point. The logistician is incidentally the last man standing; he came to his final conclusions an eternity ago. The Commander is America’s representative, so he can come across to me a kind of jester, a kind of actor, but Moser cannot lie, he is all instant emotions, confidence, and movement.
“I’m just -- “ I say, then look back up at him. “An efficient person.”
“Uh -- huh.” SPC Royal says, leaning his back against the mortar barrier as he pulls on his cigarette. He has just given me some pills to fight the fever I break each night.
“Ummm…” I look back down. “Overly decisive -- quick.”
“A hard worker.”
“Hard work is human dignity, itself. You can’t go wrong.”
I know that Royal and I are to be friends because my double life has been known to throw me a bone. He's the friends I would've had all my life. I compete and compensate and try hard to make the difference between the tough one and the brave one.
I’m being considered for promotion to a slot two ranks higher than the one I am in right now.
My Military Occupational Specialty keeps me busy, so in the end I was the last to know. Moser, Sears, and Royal have heard dramatic rumors of it.
In the dark shadows of the connex yard Sears pulls me aside and forces me to listen.
Sergeant First Class Denton and Commander Kenley chuckle as I wait for him to sign documents.
The Captain finds an error, handing one back to me.
“You understand these are legal documents,” he says. “Right, Chuck?”
Em____, talking about his stepson’s douche of a father, while the two of us are on guard duty:
“Was your father a bastard to you …“
“Yeah, I’ve had a douche life.” Em__ says. “My step-father raped me from when I was seven to eight, then molested my sister. Actually she was molested first by our biological father, then again by him. Then I told my Mom and she chose him … You … “
“Either that or I was a bastard son … ”
“The key to starting a business is to know ahead of time that you‘re starting a family,” I say to Royal.
I don’t know what that means.
I am alone in logistics; there is no supply sergeant or armoror. I was trained at both jobs during the four-week class in Arkansas, so things seem fair enough.
My XO worries about things high-and-mighty -- officer stuff -- while I pay personal cash for Gatorades and scrounge up MRE’s for training events … I manage, but some in my own unit find it convenient to label me ‘Thief.’ I’d never heard the term with such honor before. Distrust has formed around me, one that feels convenient to me also, because it happens to help protect the supply room.
Royal leads me to a secret, proper restaurant he’d heard rumor of, half a mile down from the Delta CQ.
“Basic was fun,” Royal says as we walk.
“I seemed too passive.”
He pulls on his cigarette; looks at me.
“I had this Mandella meets MLK meets Ghandi way of handling it.”
“I think most of these guys just need to kill somebody.”
In the evening I disagree with Royal. I think Nature versus Nurture is elementary. People can surprise you because they are not two dimensional.
“Once you‘re aware of nature and nurture‘s power, it‘s not a part of your identity anymore,” I say at some point. “It’s something you’re aware of. It‘s part of your human experience. When you’re born you open your eyes and begin to react. You see what’s in front of you. What if you had been born something else instead of human. You’d do the same thing, and you’d still be you, and you‘d still be just as connected to ancient genetics. You’d just keep reacting to what’s in front of you, deducing this and that, until you remember yet again that none of this dust has anything to do with who you are.”
Royal doesn‘t buy it. He shakes his head as he looks for more fever pills in his combat medic bag.
“The fever is getting better, I think,” I say.
“Good thing I've been giving you placebos,” he says.
“Who is Landrews ...” I ask SFC Denton.
“A punk,” he replies gruffly.
We have been drinking because it’s Super Bowl Sunday and First Sergeant Hall is encouraging it.
The Commander is not as spiritually oriented as the First Sergeant. He’s not good with people.
“I mean, when I heard about deployment,” Royal says while sitting in the CQ. “I really looked into pacifism.”
Everyone laughs but the Commander.
Em_____ has wanted to talk with me for weeks. I never had the time. Now he’s locked up in the military’s mental hospital.
That evening, I pause to lean against Royal's bedpost to hold myself up, flush with fever.
“You haven't been taking the pills?” Royal exclaims from his bottom bunk.
“You said they were placebos,” I manage quietly because we are in the barracks.
“I was joking,” he says, quickly getting up. “How could you think I wasn't?”
In the small vault, SFC Denton has remnants of tears in his eyes.
“I didn’t get promoted,” he says lowly to me, as if it were a secret he wishes to quickly get out of the way. He means he only got promoted one rank higher than his present one, instead of two.
When he looks me in the eyes it’s as if we’re on the same team, as if his loss were my loss.
Later, I find out I won’t be promoted either. According to Moser, the Commander’s dream team was a 1SG Denton and Supply Sergeant “Chuck,” but after Battalion sends 1SG Trenchton and SGT Landrews to fill those slots, the Commander changes his story concerning Denton and Trenchton, while going out of his way to still seem to favor me over Landrews.
“Landrews might only be here for a few weeks,” CPT Kenley says sternly to another Sergeant.
SGT Landrews seems to be waiting to be promoted before he takes over the unit’s logistics.
With constant movements of location the supply room is a method of madness while SGT Landrews is like a bull in a china shop destroying whatever systems may have already been in place.
We butt heads as he takes charge of some things, doesn’t take charge of others, choosing what he wants to put his signature on.
“You are not allowed to say anything negative about your own Sergeant‘s work,” 1SG Trenchton demands of me.
“I must report discrepancies,” I reply.
“You just don’t know who you’re dealing with do you?” he taunts.
(In the hotel room)
“See, being American,” I say to him. “Being inebriated with information all the time …”
Royal looks at me with a thoughtful expression.
“All it would take is a virus. The whole mass of people can be quickly manipulated,“ I say to him, the only one of us who isn’t brainwashed.
“I mean they keep going on about how they don’t brainwash soldiers,” he says. “But they do. They keep trying to tell them that this is a life, when it’s not, it’s not natural to wake up in sweat because you think you’re late for some formation. And why would you then discuss the issue of brainwashing with the Army, why would you deal with the people who are telling you what to think. You should think naturally and never f_ck with the rest.”
Royal plays the First Sergeant’s guitar in the CP. I’ve never seen him play before. I’ve never truly watched his expression.
I remember Tom Joad waking in the camp, stretching, then standing as he yawns.
I remember those relaxed days in the old blue house when I would stand on the bed half-asleep in the mornings playing violin. The balls of my feet would wake first keeping sleepiness from keeling me over, quickly-followed by the calves.
When Royal plays his guitar he goes from his soul to his body to his guitar and blocks everything else out.
“Just sociopath enough, to make it work,” Elise whispered to me once.
(hanging out with Royal at the local Walmart and Captain D’s)
“Do you ever miss being a kid … “ I ask him.
“I don’t really see the difference between my days then and my days now,” he answers.
“I don't think I ever was a kid.”
“Matt Damon was a part of the older crowd I used to compete with as a teenager.” I say to Royal as we stealth to our seats in the dark. “Meanwhile … as a teenager I read books that would happen to later be turned into Matt Damon movies.”
It was the first real clue he gave me about himself, out at the FOB, discussing SFC Denton: “I think he’d let us get away with a lot ...”
Royal likes weed ... Maybe you’re not supposed to earn confidence. Maybe it’s a human right, part of the original human condition.
They call me Sergeant now.
Though I’m not one.
As we are waiting in the van in the Walmart parking lot, Royal keeps asking why I won’t entertain the idea of going into writing when I go to college. He’s gotten excited about the idea. He won’t let up.
“I’m nothing like them,” I whisper to him. “They are on that track because they want to be writers. I write because I have to.”
His blue eyes widen.
While I prepared Delta for the next movement, SGT Landrews loaded our sensitive items connex with our new armorer, Mace, fresh from military school.
After Landrews and Mace left for NTC in California, turns out no inventory was kept of what sensitive items were placed in the connex before it was officially sealed and sent overseas ahead of us.
Over the phone, Landrews instructs me to make a packing list out of notes and tick-marks on an old print off of Delta’s sensitive items rollup. I do as he says but silently refuse to actually sign the document before sending it on its way.
(driving to Orange Beach)
The orange sunset is difficult to see through.
“It’s just -- you can -- a … “ I say toward the road. “Come across as kind of a con-man,”
Royal continues working on his laptop in the passenger seat.
“That’s just the reality of being in this world,” he says. “It‘s not who I am.”
When I think of Royal I think of Saturday morning cartoons.
Royal’s words from the other night are jarred in my head. We were discussing Malcolm X and Thoreau at the bar on the beach.
The idea to act free, want freely, feel freely, despite not being free … How could that possibly work out.
(National Training Center, California)
Another clue Royal gave me about himself is when he talked about his girlfriend. “Her social skills, man, sometimes she says things and I just look at her like … How did you just say that … ”
Social skills are his natural talent. We sit at the Mexican restaurant we’ve been using as a chow hall as he looks at me saying, “Um …” Socializing must commence. As he says “Um …” he’s thinking of something to say.
I stood up to Landrews when he called me a liar.
I step into the Alpha company barracks and Forester says, “I heard your voice out there and I was like, that’s Chuck. Sounded like you were really giving it to someone ..”
Afterward, in the cigarette smoking area, Royal laughs and says, “I’m living vicariously through you, Chuck. Oh my God ...”
There are strong whispers in the dark. I collect my toiletry bag and towel and leave to take a shower.
First Sergeant Trenchton and Sergeant Bryon both have voices that when raised, sound like a part of a scene in a restaurant.
Staff Sergeant Lowery looks around for some other Headquarters platoon leader. He’s angry, I think to myself. Pissed.
The shower water is ice cold, it’s like showering in shavings of glass.
When stepping back into the warehouse building I again maneuver around Royal asleep on his cot asleep with his knees bent and in the air.
“Since we have no -- fucking -- equipment for this training,” Captain Kenley hisses angrily, looking over the heads of the others toward me.
He assumes because he is an officer his anger is worth more than mine. With casual, silent resignation I sit with the First Sergeant, Sergeant Landrews, and Captain Kenley and finger the same paperwork I had already pieced together at Camp Shelby. The First Sergeant is talking quickly, using his usual foreign-sounding logistic terminology. He begins spouting numbers confidently.
I recognize the sound of his voice to be a salesman’s. I watch as he uses the same tick marks and random notes SGT Landrews used over the phone at Camp Shelby. I notice the Commander’s same attitude of resignation as he watches 1SG Trenchton and SGT Landrews.
“So you can see here, now,” 1SG Trenchton says in his usual Southern rhythm. “Everything is accounted for.”
He glances down at the floor. He heard my toes making that sound where my right big toe keeps popping the muscle on the toe next to it with rhythm.
Scratched into the Porta-Jon wall: “Peritus Veru”
“Tell them to stand down … “ asks Sergeant Thomas lowly because half the TOC is sleeping.
“Yes, stand down. Mission canceled,” answers the Lieutenant from the shadows.
“Tell them to stand down,” says SGT Meadows to me.
“Stand down, Bravo,” I say over the radio in wee hours as Royal works on correspondence courses beside me. I had been reading Vonnecutt by the light of his laptop.
“Yes, Stand down, Bravo,” SGT Meadows says into the mike in my hand.
“Roger. Standing down,” Sergeant First Class Stewart replies.
SFC Stewart is the immaculate one, the youngest E7 anyone has ever come across so far, like he was born to be promoted. A “burner” they call them.
Next morning, turns out Bravo did not stand down, but stayed in-the-ready over an hour before Stewart commanded them back to their bunks.
“So what do you think I should do about this … “ SGT Landrews says, pacing before Royal, Mace, and I standing in a row at Parade Rest.
“I think we deserve vindication,” Royal says, somehow knowing the sound of his voice alone would trump SGT Landrews. Landrews, yet again, cannot get any of us into the front leaning rest.
SFC Stewart covered his tracks, rising early to tell his version to anyone worth the trouble. I recognize his movements, as he does mine, us natural enemies. I know the reason he can see other storytellers is that he is one.
Sat with Royal in the uncovered back of an LMTV in the motor pool for an hour talking, then sat in the back of the LMTV later on that night, talking for another hour. I think we might be friends.
“Ocean waves crashing into each other,” Royal laughs in agreement, “All that mismatched information. Why not.”
“Still everything deadly relevant.”
He follows me into the tent; he always tries to be around me. His eyes always find me, like how it was with Willahford.
Royal made up the idea of my doing an IV, just to keep me around him. He implied like an OC was pushing it, but really he just came up with it. Afterward, I tried to leave to relieve Landrews but Royal called after me and stopped me.
When Royal’s tired, he talks more and more quietly to the point I can barely make him out. He doesn’t know he does that.
(am First Sergeant’s gunner; first time out with him)
I ask Royal if he found any of this soldiering difficult.
“Well, it isn’t simple ...” he says.
“I’m going to teach you how to think,” 1SG says.
Me and Royal are so close 1SG thinks we’re gay.
“Well, as long as it doesn’t freak you out,” Royal casually retorts to Highsmith.
Wish I could’ve seen Highsmith’s face.
Royal hates incompetence. It angers him that he’s going to war with incompetent people. “I'm not doing that,” he says. “Dumbing down so we all get along with our superiors. It never ends.”
I’m not a good driver. I’m good enough, but not a good driver.
Meanwhile Royal keeps leaving the lights on in the HMMWV after he drives it. I regularly notice he's back and step out to turn them off.
“Did you have a lot of acne as a teenager or something?” Sergeant Simpson asks as I drive the HHMWWV during the convoy.
“Yes ...” I say uncomfortably, glancing at him in the TC seat.
“.. But, Chuck, dealing with the 1SG is risky,” Royal says.
“Yeah, you risk getting yelled at for nothing.”
“No, it’s not that, it’s being tasked out again.”
Royal often goes out of his way to make the point that being treated like sh_t doesn’t affect his mood.
“They weren’t mad?” I ask Royal at the smoking area, laughing.
“Like I cared,” he says. “That unit was a bunch of pushovers. I got to do whatever I wanted. I worked hard but there was never a point where I had to do something.”
(Royal and his girl, as we rode up I-95, crossing into God‘s Country at the beginning of pass.)
They have country voices, they smoke, they drive a beat up car, they are both good looking.
They remind me of God’s Country yet they’re normal …
More and more I’m becoming the guy I would’ve been. It makes my chest hurt.
(Tuesday night, 07-08APR2009)
Royal's girlfriend smiles as she talks from the front passenger seat of Royal's old Honda. I am crushed with mine and Royal's gear in the back. “You're either better than all men or you're less than …” she is saying. “One's a top, One's a bottom.”
“You haven't noticed a few things?” Royal says as we walk back from having sneaked off post.
“I’m socially awkward. Maybe I don’t see it because of that.”
“You’re not socially awkward. I mean, you say things differently than others, yeah, like you say ‘absolutely‘, and that night where you let Moser and Highsmith have it, that was a little different. You’re just so direct and to the point when you speak.“
“Girls like that – ones who don't have friendships with other girls,” I say later in the conversation. “Seems like they always come from rape.”
“What are you psychic … “ he mutters.
Royal and I wonder Camp B______ at night, when the temperature is better.
I have been asked by the XO to be concerned about another rumor concerning a job position in my AO: that SSG D___, already-deemed untrustworthy with money, would be flying in from America to fill it.
Royal told me that I shouldn’t care anymore. “Haven’t you learned yet,” he asks.
What he says seems profound to me, like some new revolutionary idea. To be a sh_tbag without being a sh_tbag.
“Just be happy,” he says casually, as we walk to the USO to play ping pong, same as we do every night.
“But once you learn comedy you never come back … ” I say bluntly, as if it were the worst crime.
“Well, yeah … “ Royal says, as he pulls on his cigarette, as if all were decided.
“Well, no wonder than … “ I say.
“What?” he says, with the beginnings of smile.
“Shakespeare Should be writing about us … “
He looks at the sky, then back at me.
“While everyone mistakes the hero to be anyone other than the jester. Shakespeare would save the role of the jester for himself.”
Royal is talkative on a pill as we wander the PX at midnight after watching Scorsese' s Taxi Driver.
Afterward, we discuss it outside, over cigarettes. “You know what I did not long ago? Just guess,” he says, chuckling. “I bought a unicycle.” He laughs. “I woke up in the morning; found I wanted a unicycle, so that same day I went and got one.”
“I think there’s no such thing as morality,” I say.
He looks at me, pulling on his cigarette.
“At all?” he asks.
“At all. No one is moral. They’re giving the perception of morality according to how the human race perceives morality at that time and place.”
We continue walking.
“There’s just loyalty to a few people, and then some more through them. But it doesn’t make sense that there’d be one right and one wrong per every situation in every context. Because every person’s point of view is biologically unique – and should be, like every star in the sky.”
We walk in silence.
“I don’t think Mace likes me much,” I say lowly.
“I don’t think I like Mace,” Royal says loyally.
“He's into football; I don't know football.”
“I never understood people who root for a team like that,” he replies.
“I don't know football I mean … “ I begin, wary because Royal is a natural athlete. “I get how athletic movements are of the highest forms.”
My hands have a mind of their own. They will make a fist while someone is talking to me.
I’ll simply notice my right hand’s position and wonder what on earth.
(Sunday night, 26/27APR2009)
“I mean, when I do something,” Royal says as we hike the three miles from the connex yard. “I want to excel, like in the connex earlier, Mace wouldn’t lift the box, he wasn’t even really trying to lift it. You come along, move him out of the way, see that it has to be done and then change your footing and position so you can. You know? People just aren’t like that here.”
As Royal and I are walking to the DFACT for lunch chow he talks about how he overheard PFC Null talking shit about him.
We stop at the mortar barrier for him to finish smoking.
“It doesn’t hurt my feelings, not at all.” he says convincingly.
I had to hold onto the shower head and close my eyes as I took the pain of it.
I don’t understand last night’s two shifts or what one had to do with the other.
I step outside the shower trailer to Royal with his arm raised doing his best, most honest, joke, sending someone the peace sign like he's casting a spell to everyone.
Royal and I are still trapped in the HMMWV at the connex yard during the sand storm.
He chose to be here -- college-student money problems … We talk about our early twenties because the film 'Into the Wild' has made us nostalgic.
I step inside a Hodgie office in the ‘Training Set’ trailer. I meet hospitable professionalism, am offered a seat, and am told to make myself comfortable.
Several minutes later I am handing a phone to one of them and suddenly all of them, conversing, go silent at my rude interruption.
A female E-6 picks me up as I am walking to the SSA. She is attractive in an athletic way and funny. She says she is the logistician for her unit who just left for up north. She will meet up with them in Iraq in a couple of days.
“I’m trying to drag it out,” she says laughingly, “’Cause I hate those fuckers.”
Played ping pong with Royal.
“Competition is always with the opponent first, not yourself,” he says.
“It's one thing to be the winner,” I reply with a countering spin, “Another to be the best.”
Shifted to the Camp B___ logistics offices. The air conditioning is unusually sufficient.
“American?” she says. “That people is on their way out.”
The old, Arab woman’s behavior is Western, but her voice had cackled with ancient desert.
I stand in silence, confused.
She steps to the printer, then looks over my paperwork. She has long salt-and-pepper hair down her back.
“They follow rules and live peaceful,” she continues. “They are culture-less. In the end they will have nothing to fight for.”
“I don't understand,” I reply.
"That language will fall."
She looks up from the papers as the printer kicks on again.
“Because their language will inevitably -- their oral histories -- will become jibberish.”
“I have a novelist’s blood,” I say to Royal as we walk across the promenade. “It means I’ll be forced to decide exactly where literature and nonfiction meet.“
Pigeons flutter out of our way.
“Decide for myself I mean."
“You know what I heard,” comes Royal's classic joke-telling baritone. “Thing about literature, old age is in its infancy.”
As I’m packing for the next movement, I realize I can’t find my FORSCOM ammo. I recheck my steps, starting with where I smoked cigarettes last night. I walk to the USO where we played ping pong last night.
I walk to the MWR theater, which is where I think will be the best spot for the job. Inside, I see a few people sleeping -- waiting for the film to start. Their ammo is in good position.
I run out of time and make my way to formation. Luckily, the formation time had been changed to 1530. I check with SSG Meadows who tells me to find the ammo and he’ll cover for me.
I walk back to the MWR theatre, with the sleeping three. The place is packed because “Miss March” is playing.
I sit on the floor same as a crowd of other people because there aren‘t any seats left. I sit behind an old man, one of the three. The butt of his weapon is in my crotch as I sit Indian style. I wait for what I know is the funniest scene of the movie.
She has an epileptic seizure as she’s giving the bl-w job and locks jaws on his d-ck. The audience goes wild. I rip the Velcro, even drop the mag, am still fine. There were compromises, like Willahford being in the theatre, but when I run into him later he seems oblivious.
I whisper the whole story to Royal over cigarettes by the mortar barriers. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard,” he whispers back.
Having waited in line for two hours so Royal could use the phone, the soldiers in the call trailer look at me for not using a phone myself. I only know one number by heart.
Her voice still sounds young; she seems very calm and unsurprised, taking the call in stride. I continue lightly brushing off sand-fleas.
She tells of the laundry mat, and of how Rachael Ray has taught her how to cook a few things. She says her and Rose have been emailing back and forth for a month now.
She says Grace is casually mean to her. She told Grace if she didn’t enjoy her company, she shouldn’t do what she didn’t want to do. She says Rose has been trying to hunt me down. I think I was right in figuring that was Rose checking my MySpace everyday.
(Movement from Kuwait to Iraq)
An American soldier enters the Troop Medical Center and opens fire, killing 5 soldiers.
A mortar attack occurs in a neighborhood just outside our wire.
There is always the sound of sporadic gunfire.
The day started with me waking up to Royal still awake on Aderoll.
“All I could think was, I’d never say that to a guy,“ Royal laughs concerning Moser when he complains we don’t hang out with him anymore.
We‘re now in our new home, in the middle of nowhere.
The FOB is one mile in circumference.
“So exactly how self-aware are you trying to get?” asks Royal.
“The book acts as if you just keep getting more and more self aware forever until you're looking at your own reflection.”
Royal pulls on his cigarette as we walk to chow,
“Until I become self-aware enough to make out the morality behind emotions. Once I get there, then I‘ll be done with Tolle.”
I am a first person fighter in a video game.
I fight both Mace and Royal back with a knife.
It turns out unfair of me and I shift back still trying to explain to Royal:
“I had to make room for myself so I could fight off the truly bad guys.”
Yesterday Royal brought me a water out of the blue, and today he saw me in the chow hall and sat down.
Everyday Royal can do less wrong while each imperfection becomes more a necessity, every flaw fundamental to his faultlessness.
I understand that I will never have a best friend. It goes against reality. Even a best girl, maybe.
I step into Royal’s tent and wait.
SGT Preddie is bothering him. Royal rubs his head obviously having just woken up.
He wears a grey A-shirt.
He keeps looking at me with a wry smile like he wishes we could talk.
“Yeah, I guess we’ll get together each night before my shift to make sure I leave the stuff you need like movies and gear.” Royal says.
He acts as if it is a given.
He tells me about a workout band system he is going to get “in case you want to use it.”
Three died today.
Royal doesn’t go right to sleep at the end of his shift, because the electricity is out. He tells me about his Bravo platoon adventure as we step to chow. He doesn’t understand why I assume everyone likes him.
“Well, they at least know you’re cooler than them,” I say.
“Well, yeah, of course,” Royal cracks.
Everyone is sick, always in the latrines or unexpectedly puking.
There are birds here, about the only live thing around.
“I've got you beat,” I say to Sears. “I've done bench for five days now.”
SGT Thomps had set up a bench, bar, and a hundred and fifty pounds just outside. I bench pressed under the night stars.
I see a slight turn of Royal's chin in the corner of my eye.
“If I’m living here,” Royal says to me, suddenly thoughtful. “This is changing.”
He starts moving things around, making certain spaces.
“This is all being rearranged,“ Royal exhales before he makes another quick movement.
Royal walks up to my AO yesterday in PTs so I ask him if he was on his way to doing Physical Training at the make-shift gym.
He says no, he is picking up some medical supplies.
Later I am instructed to find Royal. Sergeant Lowman says Royal told him hours earlier that he would be at the gym.
I walk into the gym to let him know about the medical supplies. He is there.
“Hey …” I say, awkwardly.
I think my pinky finger is broken. I busted it while working. Everyone has something broken or busted. Uniforms torn up, pieces hanging.
We look pretty scrappy.
As I work alone in the connex in the dark, heaving Guardian totes bigger than me, I feel present for awhile.
I remember those early years after having left God’s Country, how effortless being myself was despite having little memory.
Royal knows he’s cooler than the XO and he knows the XO knows it.
“I mean, when he gives out those little safety briefings,” Royal says, “And has those little punch lines, none of that stuff is original.”
Royal’s been present for so long I don’t know if my white-knuckled toughness can keep up with his sheer effortlessness.
Maybe Royal talks so much -- and so well -- because he’s not much in his head.
He needs to talk, or otherwise he’d never articulate at all. It gives expression a whole new definition.
There are chickens here now, turkeys and a rooster, kept by some soldiers and locals living near the chow hall. At night the workers will watch a small television outside, its gray light reflecting over the rocks covering the ground. One is American; two workers sit Indian style over one bowl of chicken and rice.
The show is low quality; it cannot relay intelligence, It has no connection to anything true.
Royal went out on his first mission outside the gate last night and tells me the story.
“How do I fall asleep while my heart is pounding?” he says through laughter, “I can’t believe I did that.”
Shifted from Big Nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won’t let me at the bird to deploy because she says I have failed too many times.
She changes to the cashier window at a college where she says she won’t allow me to enroll. “You’ve failed schooling too many times,” she says.
The anger at Royal is present when I lay down at night and when I wake in the morning. I don’t understand it.
Out of the blue, Royal steps into the CP and tries to start talking to me. I excuse myself and go to the latrine. When I step out of the porta-jon, he is sitting against a mortar barrier, smoking a cigarette. He is turned the other way and doesn’t see me as I walk by.
He has this look on his face that looks hurt and confused and I wonder about it.
I am relieved from the CP and go to the chow hall to smuggle out some Gatorade shakes. They are a hot commodity for one of our platoons because mission times and chow times almost always cancel chow out. The smuggling job works well enough but for carrying the forty-eight-can pack across the FOB to the barracks.
Royal is at his bunk. I give him the sheet set I had gotten for him before they sold out -- the make-shift PX can rarely restock itself.
My voice is different, I notice, less rehearsed, lower, measured, as we talk. He insists that everything he owns and has received in packages of late -- like ping pong paddles and balls, PT mats and food -- are all as much mine as his.
He seems genuine to me, not con-man like at all.
This place must be Markland, I catch myself think, but I call it Novia Scotia, because it reminds me of that place. I live here alone as a backpacker.
Across the river is a wooden bridge leading to God’s Country and the House, where Mom still is.
One day a girl my age crosses over the bridge. We never speak to each other. She stays because she prefers my company.
Born on land he assumes automatically claims him, he later realizes this same land is his mother. He would have to fight to keep it that way because true soldiers are indigenous.
Ironically living like a foreigner in his own land, the CIA agent lives in fear because he knows what a secret really is … his loyalty, his greatest weakness, the known secret he keeps to himself.
Selfishly, he sticks to his one experience of the true America, his true home, the one he remembers, the one that worked.
“And how is it that you’re indigenous,” he is asked by a stranger.
“Because this is where I’m standing,” he says, always undercover.
#369085 - 08/29/11 06:32 PM
Re: E) Tour
Loc: American South
I casually trash Kerouac, Kesey, and Thoreau in front of Royal, making Mace laugh.
Royal doesn’t like it, but is good-natured about it. He seems to have picked up on the fact that I secretly like their books.
While we are doing the fire safety class with Mace and the rest of HQ platoon, I give joking around a shot.
Royal steals a look at me I’m not supposed to catch, like he is glad for me.
He has blonde-brown hair and a low, frat-boy sounding voice. Upon quickly meeting us, our new XO continues on down the hall with SFC Locklear.
I turn to Mace quizzically. “A Surfer-dude?” I ask “From the Colorado National Guard?”
“Yes, Chuck,” Mace says with his deadpan. “And please let’s not say anymore about it.”
Mace unrolls and pins up the most professional-looking chart I've ever seen him produce. “It's a jerk off chart,” he says with his wry grin and chuckle, then points. “The bathroom stalls, showers, and portajons of the FOB were easy, but these offices here, here, and here, those are the real targets and with your … special skills ... I think I can get to them.”
“Can you drive like that?” I ask Royal.
“Yeah … it’s pretty fun actually,” he says.
I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to go a summer and fall on the best weed, then go into deployment cold turkey.
“I’ve never been high,” I say.
“How is that possible?”
There are rumors of problems overseas. Twenty-thousand, to forty thousand dollars is a problem whenever dealing in finance because the financier can move his numbers into the black by leaning either toward the low number or the high number.
The distance between the two numbers becomes a diamond mine, a cone of passageways into the earth. Financiers dig away, finding out more until they come to the core.
At that point, timelessly, the diamond’s value is decided, according to that present-day American economy. Each day the American economy’s state shifts. Each day the definitions between all the economies around America’s economy shift along as ocean waves collide.
I wonder about the silence that is American. The Democrats are loud because they should be, making sure all is represented in their peaceful land, the world now flat, not round, running from one peaceful border to the other. The Republicans are silent, they listen and perceive differently. They are the old guard who begot begot begot along the way of making land peaceful.
I wish for a Republican to meet the Latinos as they cross the Mexican American border, not a Democrat. The American immigrant was and remains a foster child surrounded by spoiled children. Identity becomes complex. The exact, unique look in another's eyes important. Meanwhile I think all that talk talk talk of the Democrats is a trick, making them seem degraded.
“Who cares?” I whisper to Mace sitting inside the cracked door of the supply room “What does it matter …”
He slowly leans forward in the lawn chair, the room behind him illuminated by a laptop screen.
“Even on your own evidence you see the same as me,” I whisper lowly. “The item was identical but for the serial number.”
Mace remains silent.
“The look in their eyes, the way they handed me the piece of paper,” I finish.
“What if they can get away with it ...” Mace whispers, looking toward my countenance as if he's about to smile. “Or they've already got it worked out.”
“What if we stay out of it.”
Some sort of board meeting.
“The humans tend to use these “V” figurations when they fly airplanes,” the lecturer says.
I look out the window and see that we are in a high tower of a futuristic city. Money could be the root of all evil.
“Their planes show up on our radar ,“ the lecturer says. “We think this biological network of human cells correlates …”
A sun slips behind a cloud and the boardroom dims. In order to defend Earth all human beings would have to willingly work for free.
“With our own beginnings. We don’t know why.”
Shifted to a boxing ring. Though I am alone in my corner, and Ray, Mom, Grace, and Flower, are standing in the opposite, I am being punched by some invisible force.
Turns out war is an art. In order to have a standing Army, a people must accept Eisenhower’s military industrial complex. In order to have a military industrial complex -- regardless of what country it happens to be standing in -- the complex requires an indigenous logistician.
An indigenous logistician naturally looks out for his family, his community, and his people, because military money is new money, temporary money, happenstance. This remains true regardless of whether he is a foreigner according to that people’s military industrial complex, or not.
He knows his nature, if not his nurture, by knowing himself by the term Indigenous because he remembers the day he was born.
In the shower trailer, Specialist Pleasant says he’s heard a rumor that I am going out on mission with third platoon on Sunday to the market.
I joke it off but the excitement sticks.
I tell Royal about my first dismount last night and the convoy passing by me at the same time. It was over fifty civilian eighteen wheeler fuel trucks, in a country war torn over oil. After that convoy another fifty eighteen wheelers came by. I was going to tell him more, like when S____ and J___ went at it, and about the pillow/IED.
Royal says quickly, “Yeah, they have to have convoys like that to supply all the FOBs,”
I congratulate SGT Smalls on his promotion. “We were just talking about you earlier,” he says. “How you should’ve been promoted.”
I feel guilty for his kindness.
The deterioration of mine and Royal‘s friendship seems obvious.
We hardly talk at all. He seems to think I am tired.
He shows me where a couch is. “I’ll cover for you while you sleep,“ he says.
“So when are you going to move?” I ask.
“Me?” Royal says.
“Yes. Switch with Mace. I’ll be roommates with Mace instead.”
“So instead of you moving because you don’t want to live with me, I’m supposed to move out.”
“It has nothing to do with what I want. We’re not friends, we’re not battle buddies, there’s no point in us living together. This arrangement is fair.”
He looks around at the room he designed and that we built with the scrap wood I’d collected from around the FOB. He looks at Mace’s dumpy corner area.
“Fine,” he says softly as he walks away with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging in a gape.
“How could you think I thought I was better than you?” Royal asks finally.
“What does it matter,” I reply.
“You throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Royal says as he packs his things.
I arrive back from ECP 2 with Mace waiting in Royal and mine's room, pacing on his own. I place my book, my bag, and undress from my gear. I've been reading The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times, by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones, for shorter than expected due to a sudden four-hour wait.
“Protect the Commander Protect the Commander Protect the Commander,” Mace half-yells, half-whispers as we stand in the middle of the empty basketball courts, moonlit because the FOB keeps as few lights on as possible. “Otherwise we'll never be able to look Sergeant Denton in the eye.”
“I know I’m competitive,” he says. “Do you know how many Nintendo remote controllers I’ve broken as a kid?”
You only have to be better than me, is what I want to say.
“You never want to work out with me,” he says angrily.
Working out was such a sensitive issue, I stayed away from it.
Whenever Sergeant Thomps lets me go for chow I go instead to the gym where Royal is waiting, just about to put out his cigarette. I live off Clif bars for now on.
“The new XO won’t like it,” Mace says, just like Rob in Married with Children.
“He’ll loathe me,” I say, hurriedly setting paperwork together.
“You could handle things differently,” he says from his folding chair in the makeshift supply room.
“It’s just the latest requirement, Mason.”
“It’s like you’re your own officer, Chuck.”
I’ve been reading Stud Terkel.
"Why do you worry it so much?” Mace asks, finally.
“It’s just problem solving … “ I say as way of apology. “Apparently, I have big problems.”
“Don’t make fists or you’ll have sweaty palms,” he says with a smile.
With only forty five minutes before SP, I hear from another soldier how he had seen a refrigerator for sale. I ask him where and how much. Having little time, I ask a stranger who had just driven up in a HMMWV if he would give me a ride. He obliges, taking me by Finance first since I have no cash.
When I walk into Finance only a Sergeant Major and I are in the customer area. When I walk up to the counter they say their systems are down. I can’t believe it and say so. “I’m not from FOB ___,” I say, “We do not have these amenities. We certainly don’t have access to Finance ... “
This speech has little affect on the tellers. The Sergeant Major asks me how much the fridge cost. I tell him seventy dollars. He gives it to me out of his wallet, I am to pay him back a week later. I run out to the stranger waiting in the HMMWV. We ride to the place where the fridge is for sale.
As he drives he tells me why he is a driver this deployment. The last deployment his legs got full of shrapnel.
While the old Arab man explains the details of our deal, I accept the deal and pay him. There is no time to check if it is running. I heave it over my shoulder and sneak the refrigerator onto the convoy at SP time by setting it with another soldier’s gear.
Upon arriving back at our own FOB, Royal is out on mission. He left me a note, explaining to me how his buzzers had stopped working after he had only buzzed half his head. He went and got my new buzzers out of my locker; “hope that was okay,” he wrote.
I clean the fridge out and scrape off the stickers, then fill it with water and smuggled Gatorades. I wait for him to come back from mission. I want the fridge to assert grandly: Friendship reestablished.
When Royal does arrive, late at night and sandy, he doesn’t notice the refrigerator. He tells me the story of how the 1SG went out with them this mission. Later, outside, as he smokes a cigarette, he tells of how the 1SG didn’t seem to have the correct attitude, something superficial about it, little details Royal couldn‘t quite forgive.
Four die in an IED shortly after nightfall, twenty clicks outside the wire. The impact kills them, their bodies burn up inside the HMMWV.
“Some people are too good for this world,” 1SG Trenchton says to the formation. “That's why we send our best to die.”
Royal and I sit out in the dark and talk about Moser, war, the world, capitalism versus democracy, then Moser, till two in the morning.
(Early morning on convoy to FOB F__)
Things are eerie. Our gunner almost shoots someone. The convoy commander is angry because when the gunner was stopped from shooting comments came over the radio as if the decision to stop him had been weak.
Since last night, those of lower enlisted rank have been acting angry. The officers and senior NCOs have been acting pleased and excited.
The word Fobbit was used freely over the radio, which insulted the commander because his company is rarely outside the wire of the FOB.
The Chief Warrant Officer I am waiting for stays on the phone over twenty minutes as the room of desks shuffles humans. “Yes, they've packed up the soldier's lockers and gear properly to send home,” he is saying. “... The HMMWV is totalled; we're having it towed to FOB ____ … “
“Soldiers die,” he says to me kindly, as if by way of explanation. “Make peace with that and you'll be thorough and quick enough to be of use.”
Flower sends a message saying how dare I deploy without running it by her first.
I reply that I find her behavior unconscionable.
I ask Royal about his high school friends. He tells about Jo____, the one whose Mom sees the joint on his bed sheet beside an ink stain, and goes off about the ink stain.
He says Jo___ moved around a lot, always coming back to B____, then moving away again, then coming back again. Jo___ kept getting into drug trouble, and trouble in general.
(“I was definitely doing drugs by seventh grade,” Royal says, then laughs, the deep baritone in his voice penetrating the darkness. “I was twelve? A twelve year old druggie ...”
“Was everybody at your high school into drugs?” I ask.
“No, man, I mean there were the bookish ones and the prep kids and the rednecks – oh my god there were so many rednecks – and then there were the ones not as well off ...”)
De___ tried to act extra cool around others, but acted normal when it was only him and Royal. He had a grandpa who was always drinking, always sitting in a recliner.
(‘What, was his bladder made of steel?” Royal says.)
They would get drunk and high on his front porch, never getting caught, because the guy would never get up. De___’s family had an old, dilapidating house twenty miles from B___ out in the middle of farmland. From sixteen years old to graduation, his age group in B____ partied there regularly.
(“Didn’t you have curfews?” I ask his silhouette, a cigarette cherry burning a few inches from his lips.
“We just played them off each other. De___ would tell his parents he was spending the night with me, I would tell my mom I was spending the night with him.”)
C___ and S____, De___’s little and older brothers completed the group. The first time they went up to Green___ to visit Royal in his first apartment, they have a wild night. Two of Royal’s friends skull-f-ck the fat girl, while Sh___ and Royal try to get high off psychodelics.
In the early morning, Sh___ is at the street corner, saying over and over: “I got this corner, I got this corner,” after chasing the homeless man away.
(dismounted through Iraqi city)
Of all the places I’ve been, this third world country reminds me the most of God‘s Country.
The brothers stand apart from each other. One is named Hero, I can see it by the advertisement on his T-shirt: “Five dalla Heee row”
The other is named Jester. Like Cain and Able, the brothers face each other.
The day is bright through Oakley's, The farms are spacious with row after row and deep canals cut throughout.
“It's easy, man,” Adam, my usual dismount partner, is saying while looking the other way. “While the officers are all trying to learn war one way – as if there was one.”
“Mistah! Mistah!” the poor Iraqi kids call out around us as we survey the midday, tree-or-house-ridden horizons.
“They teach us to be robots – bad soldiers – telling us to look at the twelve o'clock, then the three o'clock then up at the sky, then down to the ground or vice versa or something.”
“Fute bol!” beg the Iraqi kids in their holed-up t-shirts and khaki shorts “Soker bol!”
“All you have to be is an American in Iraq.”
“Fute bol!” I say back to the kids, nodding my face right to left and back again. “Soker bol!”
The kids laugh.
Every time we are dismounted the kids flock around me as if they're trying to get me to impersonate them again. I don't mind because their clothes are thin enough there are no bombs strapped inside.
Haven’t slept in three nights.
The mental noise has been strong and increasing in pitch … Late in the day the only fix was the easiest thing to do in the world -- wildness.
I brush the roaring away and it is gone.
“I feel big as a mountain,” Bromsden says to Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The problem is, I’m a dog: born in the year of the dog and the month of the dog. When I have my name read, or tarot cards laid, or psyche felt, it’s always the same descriptions: Loyalty, sensitivity.
Like the dog in that story where a man takes his abused dog out on his boat in order to drown the dog; instead the man begins to drown and the dog saves him.
“I was a ninny,” says Jessica Lange in “A Thousand Acres.”
Mace watches like some skeptic trying to figure out a magic trick.
Using the S4 copier I remove the Commander's signature from several months of documents created by First Sergeant and Thomps.
Mace watches from beside me as we stand before his desk and the room fills with papers.
Like an angry robot Captain Kenley works through the stack, quickly marking errors, sheet by sheet, swiping each paper into the air.
“There's no way to tell her about my day without it sounding … dramatic,” Royal says upon returning from the phones. “Every story starts with: We went on patrol, or, We were on our way to a raid.”
“Those guys who'd tell deployment stories to people who hadn't deployed yet … I think a lot of them were purposefully allowing the advantage of their upper hand.”
“When I get home I”m never telling deployment stories like that,” he says.
“Except when quoting John Goodman from Big Lebowski,”
Graffiti on porta jon wall:
Only slow change lasts
Royal was transferred to a line platoon because he turned out to be one of the best medics. Now our day to day missions occur separate from each other.
“I have three levels of friends in the military,” Specialist Schmtty, my fellow logistician and battle-from-AIT, tells me in his Midwestern clip, “The vast majority are total dou-che bags -- people I’d never want to know if I didn’t have to. Then there’s the ones I can tolerate, who I enjoy for a conversation here and there, who I can be around all day without a problem. Then there’s the ones I seek out because I enjoy their company. That’s how me and D___ are. We are in different companies and don’t live in the same tent, but we still eat most meals together.”
I still work at the gas station and have the same restaurant job. I still live in the House, in lock down.
As the dreams play out I can just barely remember something about how I used to have a car, and maybe some sort of life outside of this place.
We sit outside and talk for over an hour over cigarettes. Mace overhears me ask Royal if he needs me to pick him up some cigarettes from FOB ___.
“You’ve never offered to pick me up cigarettes,” Mace says.
“Yeah, but Royal’s my battle buddy,” I say.
“I’ve worked side by side with you in our AO for six months.”
Royal jumps in and says, “Yeah, but you did it because that’s your position. You didn’t help Chuck all through Camp S____ out of the kindness of your heart.”
During the day I labor thru half-Arabic, half-English exchanges, and drive an up-armoured truck for different operations. There is a world on the FOB at night that most never see, where I meet and take charge of convoys of fuel and ice, supplies and subsistence.
Before, my work hours were consistent, while Royal's mission SP's were random. In order for us to workout together, or play ping pong, I would sometimes have to get up at three in the morning to go to the gym with him before his mission, then go back to bed until a more reasonable hour.
Last night he asked me about my schedule. “Cause, when my package comes in,” he said, “I don’t want you meeting some convoy drunk.”
Late the other night, I snuck out to a desolate area of the FOB, where I had seen a heavy tarp earlier that day. I managed it to our room without waking Royal. Next morning we set and tied the tarp outside our tent door so Royal could smoke his cigarettes in the shade.
Later, we drove out to the wood pile and found a long crate and a pallet. We built a bench using my stash of rusty nails.
I mention to Royal the old abandoned gym down from the House in God’s Country, where I would play basketball in.
He says, jokingly, “Sure you didn’t grow up in Bisc?”
Except it wasn't until I watched Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford that I saw the school in its original form instead of the three-story standing ruins I explored alone as a child, including their enormous auditorium.
He tells me about a guy in his medical unit in the States.
“How did you know … “ I ask him.
“Don't make me say something gay,” Royal says with a sigh and a roll of his eyes before continuing in his too-deep baritone. “He was obviously attractive but not pursuing any girls.”
“Oh,” I reply.
“My brother would joke to me about him,” he says. “Saying he wanted get between my fat calves.”
Shifted to ECP Three. It is a gate where locals slowly stream in to make claims.
“He enjoys meals, yes. He will sit in a home and enjoy such a ritual,” the interpreter explains.
The sand-colored elderly man sits between us, staring straight ahead at desert.
“But he does not live off nutrients.”
I stare at him.
“You have to understand that these are spiritual people living on holy land.”
Sergeant Keith, Sergeant Cordona’s battle, is medivac’d. He was the driver of a vehicle hit by an IED today.
The Truck Commander, SSG Lowery, was also medivac’d for head injuries.
PFC Null is the medic who tended the hit vehicle.
“Sergeant Keith’s ass and thighs were all blown open,“ he says, “It looked like cottage cheese.”
Royal‘s dad may be sick. Royal is twenty-five. His dad is almost seventy. “I’m fine,” he says.
I step over to my bunk and start getting my gear together. Royal had given me a new spray bottle of foot powder. I put it in my locker, pulling the two old cans out. “No more need to try and squeeze the last drop out of these things.” I say.
Royal turns and says, “I mean, I’m not clammed up, you know?”
As Royal and I walk up from a ping pong tournament, we meet Mace drunk on our bench. He cheerily makes drinks for us out of the bit he has left. Later, he hangs out in our room while Royal is gone making a phone call.
As Mace sways and laughs and leans against unstable things, he tries to explain: “Chuck,” he says. “When we get home, you can call me anytime, just to hang out, or hit the town, or whatever. You and Royal -- are two of the few people around here who are real. I mean, Godda-mn, Chuck, I’ll say this about you, it doesn’t matter what rank -- I mean -- you’ll say whatever needs to be said. I remember when the first sergeant was getting on you for something -- that wasn’t your responsibility! -- and you told him, “Frankly, First Sergeant, I don’t give a F-ck.” Having given extra emphasis to the last word he starts laughing. “And look at you now, Chuck. Got it made. I don’t think I could’ve done it. That’s probably why I’m still stuck in that section with those a_s-holes.”
He says, proudly, with a child’s look on his face: “I’ve got to -- go smoke -- a CIG-a-rette.”
As I lay back to go to sleep I hear the sounds of him stepping out the tent door and rocks scattering as Mace crashes ground.
(Out on dismount with Adam)
The vehicle revs its engine and speeds up. I turn, stepping in front of it.
I raise my weapon while lining up the sights; my right thumb pushes the safety lever to semi. My eyes glance over to the soldier nearest me. He is the E7, the Platoon Sergeant, looking at the same vehicle; his weapon is not raised.
I look back through the sights. The vehicle does a U-turn and drives away.
I hadn’t realized shooting someone was that easy when you're among your friends. Easiest thing in the world.
In Basic I would have the same dream over and over again. It wasn’t really a dream, it was what I always saw on the back of my eyelids. A brunette in a one piece bathing suit, exiting a pool, over and over. I slept in a mud puddle once with that same ten second dream on a reel.
The sly misfits would joke about masturbation during Fireguard but I knew never to believe anything from them at face value. I once read the book Sperm Wars by Robin Baker, Ph. D., showing medically that when a man comes upon another man having sex, his evolutionary impulse of competition kicks in, giving him an erection, one intended to be used on the woman next, the act of sex itself cleaning her out of the previous man's sperm and replacing it at climax with his own; it explains porn.
During Advanced Individual Training I agreed to be Private Schmtty’s battle buddy to Lutheran service at the Chapel on Sunday mornings. At first I didn’t want to but then I got a look at the preacher’s daughter.
In the church latrine, it felt like my balls were splitting and some sort of tubing twisted. It came out brown – blood in it.
Through quiet laughter Royal says I’m going to hell for it.
Royal’s labored breathing fills the air as he sleeps.
He told me yesterday he had a cold.
Mace’s snoring cuts in from over the wall.
Both were out on mission all night.
Mace and Royal smoke cigarettes outside.
“Why you want to hang out with him if you know he’s sick?“ Mace asks.
“I just want a little adult conversation,” I reply.
A soldier in our AO is on suicide watch so my section pulls shifts keeping eyes on him. I am scheduled to go to FOB ____ to run some errands for our section. Sergeant Schmitty and Hawkings want me to do the night shift, then go to the FOB next morning.
“Bullsh_t,” I say, “Not gonna happen.”
They look at me, exasperated, and fold.
“Okay,” I say, and serve.
“Wait, so the score, is --”
“Okay, that’s the score.” I try to serve again.
“No, I’m serious.”
“Okay, that score’s fine.”
“But I didn’t say the score.” He grabs the ball. “So it’s ...” he says, questioningly.
“It’s seven to nine.”
There is a blackout, meaning there are most likely casualties. I sneak away from my duty station.
I walk to our room and sit under a lamp to read, since the main lights are off.
Royal steps in for a moment. I squint in the semi dark, to make sure it is him.
He notices, says, “Hey.”
I reply, “Hey.”
He leaves; I leave.
“Cocky ... I’m not cocky.”
“Chuck,” Mace says. “I hate to be the one to break it to you -- but the way you see yourself, and the way everyone else sees you, are two completely different things.”
The Soul of Sex, by Thomas Moore, teaches that want is the soul’s language. To Moore want is the temple’s guide.
I’m at a FOB full of women. All I see in the gym are bare legs, all I see in the chow hall are girls’ skin.
“Royal,” I finally say into the darkness. He opens his eyes in a squint.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey.” There is silence. “I just wanted to say hey.”
“Well, hey.” He tells a story about a football game he just realizes he’s overslept through, one he was supposed to be the official medic at.
He tells stories about his past missions and SFC Stewart, his sometimes-ridiculous platoon sergeant. Royal is good for that, instantly acting like everything is back to normal.
Turns out Mace has to go to the same FOB for training as I do. The walls of the barracks we use the first night are made of something akin to paper and full of spider webs. On the second day I lie and finagle us a proper chu, with beds, lockers, air conditioning, everything, as The Hurt Locker plays to an empty waiting room.
I hear Mace laugh to himself, from his rack on the other side of the wall of lockers. “It’s just like we’re in our rooms at FOB ___,” he says. “Me going to sleep to the sound of you typing.”
“No, Chuck, thing about you is, you’ll call anybody out on their shit,” Mace says to me very seriously, then laughs. “I got to give it to you for that.”
The Sicilian word, mafia, tattooed on my arm, means: “A beautiful form of violence, sometimes used synonymously with the word for independence.”
I think of drill sergeants, yelling pushups.
I’ve never had athlete’s foot before and have been spraying my foot with Desenex.
Royal informs me it’s not athlete’s foot.
The doctor pumps me with a bag of antibiotics, then tells me what he has to do will be painful. The doctor tries to numb the foot, but is unable to.
Moser occasionally reaches out an arm and absentmindedly presses my torso down. He gets lost in watching the gore occurring to my foot, it's so colorful.
“Apparently, I don’t cry, bite down, or faint,” I say to Royal in aside. “I squeeze the edges of the stretcher with my hands in fists.”
“So you don’t watch porn ... It doesn’t do anything for you ... ” I ask him on the way to a restaurant, relieved to clarify that we are the same, 'uncool' in the Army's culture's eyes, but not religious either.
“I mean, it’s not like I feel its disrespectful to women or something -- even though it is -- but that’s not the reason. It goes against real sex, stems from an opposite direction. People who recognize porn aren't in reality. I don’t recognize it, so it doesn’t do anything for me. I mean I can look at pictures of beautiful girls, but I don’t have any use for a porn stash you know?”
“For over a year I was good friends with this guy,” Royal says after our Arab-attempted pizzas arrive. “Like hanging out everyday. Everyone else at the college knew was gay but me.”
“He wouldn't ever tell me,” he says. “I thought we were better friends than that.”
“Maybe he had his reasons,” I reply, changing the subject.
It helps me that I was chosen by the best guy in the world. I was his battle buddy during a deployment during a war with too much love for him to ask him. If he had asked me if I was in love with him, I would've said yes, if just to mark myself as the brave one.
“I'm being forced to take leave,” Royal says. “Two weeks in the states. It's going to be awkward.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I'm being forced also. I chose the four day pass though. Qatar.”
I walk back to the BAS for a follow up on the bump on my foot. I am quickly strapped to a stretcher and flown on a bird to a hospital in Baghdad. Supposedly it is a poison trying to rot my foot off.
When Arabia judges sins, she demands limbs.
In the emergency room I squeeze the sides of the stretcher again as the medics cut into me. I stay in the ICW for three nights.
They also board the mentally unstable here, yelling their heads off all night.
When I am released and housed in the regular ward, I meet another guy who has been released at about the same time. His name is Rodriguez. He is a reservist from Arizona. He is Latino, with the same bilingual way of talking as the guys I had hung out with in Kentucky.
“People can‘t guess my age because of the way I carry myself,” he explains, as he shows me around the base.
Everything about thirty-something soldiers is cool: worldliness, sophistication, a style and language that combines into a setting of eternal youth, despite the quick marriages and divorces along the way. They talk wine for hours outside the recovery chu's; at some point I start talking Mondavi.
“--Wait,” one male says.
One female laughs up into the night sky, hearty and rich from where she is sitting.
“Are you talking about American wine?”
There are a few girls here.
Everyone’s story is similar. The doctor treats the wound but says it will be best to cut it off.
“Careful when you sleep …” she jokes.
#370223 - 09/15/11 10:54 PM
Loc: American South
I take off my gear in mine and Royal’s room.
“What was it like being waited on by young nurses when you haven’t seen a woman in so long?” Mace asks.
I told him I always had to lay sideways.
“Yeah, rumors were flying,” Irby says, his voice echoing in the shower trailer. “They were saying you weren’t coming back, that you were going to Germany to have your foot amputated, we heard some of everything -- Where’s Royal been? I haven’t seen him in awhile.”
“He may not come back you know,” Irby says. “It’s so close to our next movement, I heard we might not see the ones going to the states until we get there. And that’ll be two months. But I heard that only applies to people leaving at the end of the month, not the beginning.”
(Saturday, 31OCT2009, Halloween)
Eric’s house was a sanctuary when I was a teenager. He had problems at home, but they weren’t extreme. We never talked like that, we were too busy trying to be normal. I noticed years ago that most of my close friends since then have simply been another version of Eric.
He went into the Marines as soon as he was old enough, did well. When I knew him all he talked about was the military and weapons and campaigns. His father made fun of him for it, acted like it was a sign of his weakness, as he was on the outside looking in on manhood.
I think about if he met me now, if Eric and I were to run into each other at one of these FOBs, what he would think of me ten years older. If he calls me on it I’d tell him: Neither Jesus or Satan could’ve done better.
A scene from the movie “Singles” plays on the television in the hanger. The most amiable, eligible guy is a wreck, his apartment and hygiene unkept. Him and his girlfriend have decided to be friends because their relationship has gotten so close it begins to have a power they are afraid of. He has changed his mind and tried to get her back but failed.
His neighbor comes by to check on him. He tells her, “You know, in modern society it never becomes necessary to leave your apartment. Everything can be delivered, work can be emailed.”
“I don’t understand what’s wrong,” she says. “It was just a girl.”
“I trusted my instincts,” he says. “And they were wrong -- the opposite of right.”
The kid-from-love sits near me on one of the buses to Qatar. I ask him about his case.
“It’s a travel guitar. Do you play?”
“No. How do they make a guitar that small?”
“Yeah, they put the top part at the bottom.”
“Oh,” I said, as if I understood.
His name is Jon.
“Oh, you slap-e-da base,” I joke, referencing a movie.
“I love that movie!” Jon says. “Paul Rudd is funny in that.”
Jon is a little guy, with brown curly hair and dark eyes. He looks like something out of a 1990s Calvin Klein ad. Tank is a big guy, with glasses and a short army hair cut. Joe is effortlessly popular, talkative. He's only twenty-two and already on his third deployment.
Jon and Tank are musicians whose MOS has them travel Iraq to entertain soldiers. Jon's father is a preacher.
I take the first shower I’ve had in three days. Since I haven’t slept in so many days I am surprised to be punch drunk.
I pass Jon in the hall. He stops me and asks what my plans are.
“You know, just going to relax for awhile,” I say.
“Well, we were thinking about heading back to the USO and tomorrow going swimming or something,” he says.
I wake to the sound of an effeminate male voice.
“Hey,“ he says. “Do you want to go on the mall run?”
Jon says something amounting to no, then turns back to sleep.
Our group goes swimming, then we eat at Chili’s. Dan, the effeminate voice, somehow, joins us. He is more obviously taken with Jon and the meal is awkward.
Afterward, we enjoy how lost we are, trying to find the USO and make it in time for a comedy show and our three drink maximum.
Tank forgot to pack civies. He raids the free closet. He steps out wearing a Hawaiian shirt that might be a target for Russians.
We all raid the closet. Jon steps out in a green smoking jacket and Joe a slimming bowling shirt straight out of “Big Lebowski.”
The three of us discuss what Joe’s nickname will be. We ask each other references in infantry movies. We decide on Gomer. Joe doesn’t like that at all, so we decide on Murphy. Joe can’t believe this, so I say Joe will be his nickname, “You, know, like a GI Joe.”
“Joe’s already my name,“ he says, exasperated.
Jon's wallet slipped out of his pocket in the backseat of the van used to take us out on the beach trip. The company found it and will return it to him tomorrow. I advise him to explain the situation to his bank so they'll put a hold on, just in case.
“But I don’t want them to cancel my card,” Jon says.
“Say that in the email,” I reply.
“Maybe I should just call my Mom.“
It catches me off guard when he says that.
Joe blows up, cursing and exclaiming.
Jon tries to be conciliatory: “But I don’t understand, I had it, I was talking to them just fine, then you walked up all loud.”
“I was trying to help my friend!”
Offended, Joe stops talking to us for awhile. Jon and I look at each other and finally have to go on without him. On the bus ride to the pool, Jon says “There’s always one guy like that, wherever you go. Always with the drama.”
In a discussion covering the latest in theology, science, and current affairs, Jon says thoughtfully: “You might be one of those people who thinks it's possible to know. As an empire peaks, the ease of education will cause its children to build the same tower of Babel...”
"Like ... a radio tower ..." I reply. He laughs.
(Day 3, On boat trip)
I hang out with Tank for awhile. Like an old man, he plans to dangle in the water all day in his life jacket.
I peg him for a stoner. He laughs. “After this deployment,” I say, floating beside him. “I'm going to become a hippie.”
Jon meets a girl, Karen.
Joe is excited because Jon is still talking to her and making us wait. “He seems like one of those guys who would ditch his friends over a girl.” he says.
Jon steps out too-cool-for-school in his brown aviators. “I know that girl from a past gig,” he says. “I’m meeting her for dinner tonight.
“You asking me if I’m a virgin, then yes I am. I‘m going to wait till after marriage,” Jon says proudly after his date at Chili's.
“I have friends at my FOB that are virgins.” I say. “For some reason I attract the virgins ... “
We move to the now-empty hot tub.
“Oh, you were adopted?” Joe asks.
“No,” I say.
“Because I was.”
“You must have been a good looking kid.”
“Why didn’t you get adopted?”
“I don’t feel bad about it. I would’ve been a foster parent’s nightmare. Not even a year old and my whole life already in my own hands.”
“I was never really a foster kid.”
“I couldn't imagine already being distrustful and being in foster care,” I say. “You'd notice how the ones related can gossip while it's not gossip, while the one not, must learn to be a gossip in order to pass … crimes would add up...”
“How did you get past the anger,” Jon asks.
I don’t know how to answer him. “I would have these memory problems because I would have such bad dreams as a kid … “I begin. “So I would take notes, write things down. Sometimes I’ll post them online for like a few weeks, you know, just to answer a few questions I have … like a social experiment --
“-- he keeps a blog … “ Joe says, ending the conversation.
I lean forward to answer Jon properly. “Anger was my best thing …” I say lowly.
Joe tells of why he joined the military. Upon high-school graduation his parents sat him down and told him how they weren't actually his parents. His aunt and her tragically-killed husband were actually his parents. She was so devastated by his death she felt she couldn't take care of her baby well enough. He doesn't go into what must've been done to the details of his life, his mother turning out to not be his mother, but I understand why he has such an underlying anger about him, like he's lost and struggling to still come across as normal.
(Day 4, On Doha City Tour)
Turns out Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world. Peaceful, content, home to Al Jazeera, world class medicine, education, music, and art, the land brings me back to my ancient days in Palermo. Islamic, non-democratic, and powerful, there is no such thing as moving up from class; meanwhile there is no such thing as taxes. They adhere to Arab law and send their criminals to Saudi Arabia to have their hands – and the like – chopped off.
“You guys ain’t shit compared to me,” Joe growls beside me as we sit on the bus. He’s referring to the fact he’s deployed three times.
“I’m ready for him to leave,” Karen says from behind us.
We sit at the Starbucks, where a black coffee is nine American dollars. I ask how they feel about Joe.
“Frankly, I’m to the point I don’t give a shit,” Jon says. It was rare for Jon to curse, he always says things like That’s so F’d up. Literally, he would say the letter F.
As we walk down the sidewalk back to our bay, Jon hangs his head down like a little kid would. He walks beside Tank, the two of them in front of me. “Why did the girls leave early?”
“Because it’s now two in the morning,” Tank says, in a low voice. “And they go running at five in the morning.”
“But it was our last night and who goes running at five in the morning?”
“The rest of the people in the Army -- besides us -- are morning people.”
“We’re in a rock band, we’re night owls. That's how it works.”
“Good thing Dan didn’t keep on us too long,” I say in the hallway as we all work, packing and cleaning our barracks.
“Yeah,” Jon says, “We met him actually, before you did; that’s why we were trying to hang out with you when we got here.”
Most of my travel home is the same itinerary as Joe. Jon and Tank's itinerary sent them North instead of South. I am easy with him.
I step into a temporary quarters at an air base and see a familiar face. I say hi as I shuffle to a cot with my gear, my duffel long digging into my shoulders.
“How was Qatar?” SGT Cordona asks in his easy New York.
“Man, it might have been the most fun I’ve had in my life.”
“Of your life?” SGT Cordona says, with an inquisitive cock of his head and a smile.
Willahford rode on the same truck as me to our home FOB.
“I had to tell my story at Qatar-- more than I told you -- because everyone else was telling theirs,“ I say over the hum of the MRAP. “One of the guys said, ‘But you’re so normal.' It was surprising because I had a hard time when I first got out of that place I come from.”
“I know you did,” Willahford says softly.
Mace scuffles a bit on the other side of the wall, then appears out of the darkness yawning and rubbing his stomach. “Wanna hang while I smoke a cigarette?” he asks sleepily.
As he lights up, I ask him what’s been going on way out here in the desert.
I lay low. Though I've signed in, my superiors never figure out I am back from pass so I manage two more days off.
Later, through a clever twist of events, I manage two more days off.
“Man, I thought I was a good shammer,” he says, laughing. He bends low with his hands pressed together. “You have surpassed the Master, young grasshopper.”
I am on guard duty when Moser walks by, telling me Royal has just arrived via Blackhawk.
He cocks his head and squints at me, like he thinks my reaction is odd. “So you got your -- roommate -- back,” he says, his lips forming the word ’brother’ before self-correcting and saying ’roommate.’
After my shift, I shower while thinking, You have your own. I use the internet café, then enter the tent, wary of triggers and the wildness I have known. I poke my head into Mace‘s room instead of my own and say hi.
“Oh, you come in here to hang with me when your brother’s back?” he says. “I’m shocked.”
“Is he back ...”
“Yeah. When he stepped in, the first thing he said when he saw you guy’s room was What the f-ck?”
“He said that …”
“Yep,” Mace says with his devilishly friendly laugh.
I clean the room even though it is already clean.
Royal enters with a sudden swing of the door and a grin when he sees me. We catch up outside over cigarettes. He has flawless ease. Everything I try hard to do, to understand, to feel, he does effortlessly.
He says the first thing he saw when he entered the room was the new coffee maker. “I’ve never seen you drink coffee, Chuck.”
He tells of how he and his battle tricked the airport into giving them an extra day, the eight-ball they acquired, the strip club they used at, and the comedic chaos of getting their cab to the airport in time while tripping.
During the revelry Royal and I look at each other.
Hidden by the mortar barriers around us, he begins his chicken jerk, writhing intently with tightly-closed eyes.
I bend down, bump my knees together and cross hands in rhythm to tantric head-twisting.
Royal says it’s only his girl that has these ideas of their permanence. “Just because she’s got herself thinking like that,” he says. “Doesn’t mean I’m leading her on. I was always clear with her.”
We stand in a circle between the back-entrances of the two tents.
“When I get home I want a daughter,” Moser says to me with a grin. “I want to be a father. Maybe have a wife, really just me and my little girl, me running down the street with her in the stroller.”
“When I was on leave,” Royal is saying to Moser. “She had met this guy who started out gay, then bi, then went straight.”
“Like an accessory … “ I ask him accusing while laughing.
Royal receives a red cross message saying that his dad is in the hospital and not looking good. He will be leaving shortly.
He says he’ll have to travel back to us in country, just to turn around and redeploy back to the states with us. I feel relieved. Later he tells me that the red cross message will most likely be extended, and that he probably wouldn’t be back. He is told he is leaving tonight.
He talks a lot, like old times. He says often, “when we get home.”
We play ping pong, like in the early days when we first hit Kuwait and played ping pong for six hours at a stretch.
“Would it be wrong for me to get my red cross message extended?” he asks.
“No,” I say.
“But then I wouldn’t come back,” he says, “This would be it.”
“Deployment is so close to being done with, there’s no point in coming back.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he says.
He talks about college and about how he has changed his outlook. He doesn’t want to go to third world countries as a cultural anthropologist anymore.
”Not only do the Ivy Leagues disagree about American history,” I say to him. “But Russian history books teach Russia as the winner of World War II and the Cold War with a treaty to prove it, not to mention the history of the world from the Far East's point of view.”
He doesn’t want to spend a year of his schooling in Africa.
“I noticed how the Arab's practices look so much like the Jew's,” I say. “And the Jew's like the Catholics. They have some idea that they're going to sit and wait for God to do something in order to show the world there is a God and that He is their God.” I keep on him, slicing my paddle, after having proved a new serve. “It's so primitive – necessary, respected, but not important now – This idea that there are 'peoples' and each has a reputation according to history and human life is to be lived within that context. The mathematics of it always lead to the Final Solution. Meanwhile American Presidents still bow down to two crossed sticks, expecting magic, due to storytelling designed to seduce.”
“I hate these people, now,” he says. “I hate the Iraqi’s. I hate the Arabs -- not as individuals. But just being around them all the time, it pisses me off. They sell their sons and daughters to men to be raped. They rape and beat and oppress their women. Look at all the homos everywhere … Only the sons from wealth are allowed to copulate with a woman. They're society is savage. All this time one after another was standing right in front of me not perceiving like a human.”
I stand still with the ball in my hand. He motions with his paddle for me to start playing again.
“Apparently, to be in Arabia is to be wandering in the desert,” he says, then pauses, as if changing his mind. “It is possible to rape a culture. They have to start from scratch learning not to hate themselves. And I get that. I just wanted an experience, you know,“ he says, the baritone underneath his voice filling the empty room. “Of some kind. This deployment was supposed to take the place of that but it turned out to be a load of sh-t.”
“I think I know how the world works,” I say quickly, as if we were running out of time. “If you won the last war you get treated well, if you didn't do so well in the last war, your people get treated like shit. And you get born when you get born. That's just the way it is.”
Royal is to immediately board a convoy to start his journey. He has last minute notes for me, laundry he hasn’t done, packages to be sent. He acts casual.
Shortly after he leaves, Mace looks at me and jokes: “Chuck, you look like you’ve lost your best friend.”
Several minutes later, Royal suddenly walks back in. He looks at me sheepishly, because it has been so many times: “Do you have a pair of eye pro I can borrow?“
There is an awkward pause as Mace leans forward in his chair; he says, soberly: “You know … you’ve come a long way, Chuck.”
Postal has arrived at our FOB and will stay for three days. It had been a lot of work, packing up Royal‘s stuff, figuring out the logistics of it. The first day I waited four hours to mail off two boxes.
Mace looked at me mournfully, back in the room, the night before, watching me stuff the crumpled paper into the corners of the box before I placed the address label.
“No more guitar,” he said, mostly to himself.
The next morning I wait three hours. The soldier beside me in line is Specialist House, who I work with but isn’t in my company.
He is a skinny guy with average height. Twenty-three years of age but looks eighteen because of his build. He has green eyes, short dark hair, tanned skin, and tattoos all over his arms. He used to be in a line platoon, but started a fight, broke a guy’s arm, and was removed. I’d look for him whenever the convoys came in late at night, dreary-eyed and yawning, glad to see me.
While waiting another seven hours at postal, I ask Willahford about the Nature Nurture question.
“What .. ” he says, incredulous, “You think that stuff doesn’t shape who you are, who you become?”
“I think people can surprise you,” I reply.
“I don’t think something bad necessarily means anything at all,” he says. “Because you then make that bad into good. And that good shapes you. It made you who you are. So it's good. ”
Sometimes I think Willahford is the most mentally healthy person I know.
“When I was in high school,” he says. “Me and Canon hung out with a third guy who I always ragged on because he was such a poser. I mean I was brutal. Then one day he just turned on me and said I was not gonna rag on him no more, never again or he was gonna beat me into the ground. When I came back from Basic three months later he was dating the hottest girl in school.”
I’ve gotten into the music Royal gave me. Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Cream, The Who, the Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails … listening to them on black market copies while reading about them.
I stop by House’s duty station. He makes a point of stepping outside and talking for an hour over cigarettes.
“Did I tell you about my Mom having a boyfriend I didn’t know about?” he says, as if it were assumed he tells me everything.
I don’t believe him when he tells me.
“Yeah, I know right?“ Specialist Hawkings says. “It’s New Year’s Eve.“
We laugh as we direct the incoming supply convoy.
I walk to the internet café. Willahford happens to be there and asks me if I want to get a few hodje near-beers and hang out in his room.
We have a five hour conversation where I give him the account of the salon. I tell him about the affair, what it was like traveling the countryside with Elise.
Willahford and I hang out again a couple night’s later, and again a couple night’s after that. We eat at the local Arab restaurant.
Willahford and I haven’t talked about the year long break in our friendship. We act like it never happened, even though it’s still present, a certain aside look here, a re-posturing there.
Royal and I go on a backpacking trip together They are simple scenes: eating at a restaurant, cycling, hiking, acting the same way we had through the deployment.
At one point we argue. The dream shows the argument twice.
The first time is honest, genuine, and goes well. I do and say everything on impulse. The second time I am overly polite and overly-professional in dealing with him.
House, standing outside my duty station, waiting on the forklift, talking about Willahford:
“Can’t stand him. Never could. Total fag. All he's about is being a cop.”
I step into one of the dining rooms in order to get a particular flavor of Gatorade and see the back of Willahford’s head. I almost said hi, but he doesn’t quite see me.
A minute later Willahford sits himself in front of me and starts talking.
“But I liked you then.” I say.
“Oh, as in you don’t like me now.” Willahford replies, jokingly.
“No, I like you; I just mean, not everyone liked you then.”
“Who didn‘t like me?”
“I mean that you seemed to always be around me back then.”
“Well yeah, you were the only one in our unit who wasn’t a total dou-che bag.”
We find a tower we think might be suitable for hanging out in. We climb to the top as I begin the sordid story of deployment. We remain black silhouettes under a midnight sky bright with stars. Back in artillery we chose this brigade as the best to deploy with because we would be grunts surrounded by grunts. What did we know. Grunts are treated like grunts by the non-grunts. When we get to the top, the tower is occupied by Ugandan guards. They seem to believe I really did go all the way out here just to check on them.
Willahford doesn’t understand how I can be effortlessly steadfast without being effortlessly confident. He tries to fix me with stories of others he has known who were once insecure but changed into confident persons.
I am checked out by a medic following up on my foot.
He says, “You have very low blood pressure. Mine is too low, so I have to take medication because they say I‘m hypo-something; you’re just above that.”
While Royal makes me want to smoke pot and back pack the world for five months, Willahford makes me want to go back to work, cash in the GI Bill, meet a girl, settle down.
He seems to be exhaling, barely pausing between stories, stories I didn’t ask for or lead into.
He tells me about his three best friends at his job, how they are a second family for him. He tells me the reason for the break without my asking him. For the two years Willahford and I were close friends he was with a girl named Holly. In the beginning she was eighteen and from an unfortunate home, he was nineteen and just back from a violent deployment.
Willahford explains how Holly sees the massage parlor on their credit card statement, even though it lists under a cryptic name. Willahford couldn’t explain himself well and finally went with the story that it was my idea and he was tagging along. They were married shortly after. I wasn’t invited. Turns out there's even more to it: how Holly comes from rape, how she never liked Willahford having such a close friendship with me. “She would roll her eyes whenever she caught me sending you a text.”
“I understand if you hate me,” he says, looking down at the table, then up at me. “And don’t want to be my friend.”
Breathlessly, he leads into another story, this time about his time while on leave and how he almost cheated on his wife, but didn’t.
He explains that the reason he came so close was because she had betrayed him during this deployment. He explains that about a year after they had married, divorce was imminent.
“We were taking each other for granted,” he says. “I was really focused on my new career as a cop, something I’ve wanted all my life, you know, but I worked all the time, you know.” He describes Holly as being a strong woman who deserved better and had demanded it.
He says that the deployment has been difficult, that the majority of their conversations on the phone were made up of him complaining to her. She got tired of it. Finally there was an argument.
Over the phone, she told Willahford about her betrayals, and again divorce was imminent. Still, within weeks, Willahford forgave her. He says it is because she asked him to, because he had gone online and researched if marriages could still be good after betrayals, and because his battle buddy during the deployment had advised him to.
I was the second person he had talked to about it. The first person, his battle buddy, was a fellow cop who told him that cop life was hard, and that his marriage was normal. “He was the closest thing I had to a battle buddy,” he says. “He had to leave early – maybe a month ago – and when I found out – I kind of stopped talking to him.”
“So what do you think?” he asks me, slumping back in his metal folding chair, his slanted eyes studying mine.
“What do I know … Don't ask me.”
“Just tell me what you think.”
We walk back to Willahford’s tent. House lives there too and asks me if I want to smoke a cigarette.
Outside, he asks me about the West-coast bicycling trip I've made an itinerary for.
“It’ll probably be a few weeks after getting home,” I say.
He tells me about a get-together he is planning for when we get home, involving an expensive hotel suite on a street full of bars.
“Only the cool people here know about it,” he says. “Maybe you don’t know them, but if you did you’d like them. Obviously, some people won’t be invited,” he adds, pointedly, as Willahford walks back from the latrine and enters the tent.
Shifted to a series of rooms where either Royal or Willahford are caught up in sexual tensions with me. At one point Royal and I are arguing because I lay down to sleep and he made a move toward me, as a challenge, and I allowed it, but then didn’t.
He says he did it because he needed to know who I was. In the dream I don’t get dressed, so that the scenes are like those French films where the characters play out scenes nude. That’s the thing about being in your twenties, it doesn’t feel different being unclothed or clothed; it doesn’t matter, you’re always in the wild.
The dream starts again, this time with Willahford, and a similar thing happens. I wake up, the dream still trying to insist the seamlessness between friendship and sexuality, human connection and sexuality.
“My throat’s hoarse; it‘s not used to talking so much.” I say to him, rubbing my vocal cords. “Maybe if you had been around the last two years I wouldn’t have so much to tell you.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he retorts as we piss in side-by-side porta jons.
“Where’s your weapon and cover?” Willahford asks him as he steps out of the porta jon.
“Man, don’t f-ck with me right now,” Gadly says, brushing past Willahford in the dark.
I step out of my own porta jon, rubbing hand sanitizer over my hands. Willahford stops Gadly. They stand in the light emanating from the open door of the MWR. “Hey, I’m talking to you,” he says.
“Man, who are you to even be talking to me at all?!” Gadly yells back.
“I’m a f-cking Sergeant and you’ll address me properly from parade rest!”
“Like f-ck I will.”
“Yeah, I know you don’t give a f-ck, that’s why you’ve been demoted four times this deployment.”
“You studied war,” Willahford says, sitting among the empty cots. “You've found a way for every aggressive attack against you to be taken advantage of.”
“There's no way cops have anything to offer me,” I reply. “I was this tall.” I hold out my flattened hand in front of me. “I know cops are oblivious to someone in danger.”
“We are trained to not be too good at that. You could end up lost,” he says.
I repack my gear, trying to see how little I can get away with carrying back to the states on my back. Ever since the unit replacing us has arrived, there hasn’t been much to do but pack and repack. I hear SGT Fyke calling my name, “Chuck!” he says, “You have a visitor.”
It is Willahford. He has never come to where I lived before. “Hey, man,” he says with a grin as he enters my new cubicle of a room, “Just wanted to stop by, out of boredom, really.”
He has just come back from his meeting with the First Sergeant about Gadly and wants to tell me about it.
(at midnight chow)
“Are you the guy who was talking to me outside the MWR?” he asks angrily.
Willahford sets his Pepsi down on the table, then turns his attention away from the game playing on the TV in front of us. “First of all, I’m not the guy, I’m the Sergeant, and yes I’m the one who spoke to you outside the MWR.”
“What’s wrong with you that you’d just walk up to someone and ask ‘where’s your cover and weapon.’ I mean where the f-ck did you get the idea --”
Willahford turns his whole body to face Gadly. “-- Are you ever going to address me properly?”
“What by calling you Sergeant? F-ck no. Never in my life will I ever address you as sergeant -- “
Willahford holds up his hand, “Okay. You’re done. Have a nice night.”
“No, I’m not done --”
“You’re done, have a nice night.”
“-- you don’t seem to know who I AM; I’m Gadly! No one can talk to me that way! I’ll beat your ass.” He walks toward the exit door of the chow hall, talking to no one in particular, causing a scene. “NO one talks to me like that. I’m GADly,” he says as he leaves the make-shift building.
I help Willahford carry his bags out onto the flight line; his section is slated to start their journey to the States.
Mucci is there and asks about Royal.
“Maybe he only wanted to be friends during the deployment,” I say. “But not after.”
The birds are expected and I have to go. “In case I never see you again--” I say to Willahford while walking away backwards.
“-- you’ll see me again-- “ Willahford says.
“ -- but chances are ... Have a good trip.”
House and I were to be on a convoy at 0500 so I walk back to my tent to get my weapon and ammo ready and don my gear.
It is my third day not sleeping. During the convoy House remains curled up in the corner of the vehicle. He opens and closes his eyes like he is deciding whether he might can catch a wink. He looks at me and smiles, “This is our first adventure, Chuck.”
Something strange happened, so House and I suddenly have to dismount during the convoy back.
“Okay so if they come from over there,” House says, “We’ll flank to the left, and if it comes from over there, we’ll flank to the right.”
I look at him inquisitively.
“I’m just f-cking with you, Chuck.”
The ramp opens and we move out.
SPC P__ stood up in the FOB church and announced he was gay.
Turns out he actually got caught with a guy, and everyone knew it, and the preacher referenced the fact that some in the audience were dealing with homosexuality, which basically outed P___ , causing him to then react.
Later it comes out that actually a third person is involved, one of higher rank, who turns out to be a close Sergeant in my chain, who I’ve always found suspicious in a shower-room kind of way. He then makes a pass at Gadly, who gets violent, and ends up arrested for real.
“They went too far,” SPC Hawkins says to me of Gadly. “They beat him up. Beat him.”
Shifted to being home from deployment. I stop by work. The insides of the building are all different. All the employees are different.
I am selling an old red convertible which I have never seen before but really like.
I can’t remember what my house looks like, I drive around and find what I think is my house but turns out not to be, because it is dilapidated.
House knows he is good looking; I hadn’t noticed it all the way before, then I noticed how he assumes his good looks, expects them to work for him when dealing with others.
House tells me how he wishes he could gain weight. I notice how little he is. I know I’m meaty and that my abdominals were too well-known for awhile, but I might trade both to have his face.
House explains himself by describing the Punk and Skins scene, by having me listen to music by Star F_cking Hipsters and the Pixies. I’m wary of labels like Punk and Skin.
“It’s that baby face,” House says, yet again being allowed more than what was easily believed. “You see how I just got away with that?”
“It takes about a year,” House says. “To find out my girlfriends are crazy.”
I’ve never known anyone from that much abuse who’s still functional. Maybe when he gets his vehicle, everything will change. It’s his first real vehicle, so even he doesn’t know how it will be.
Over a period of days House describes his family setup, he describes his close friends, the structure of his civilian life. Finally he says he doesn’t want to go back to his old scene: a bunch of junkies.
House is too good looking for his own good. That’s why he can’t grow up. He doesn’t know how to fight on his own. I can’t imagine having been liked.
I’ve gotten used to his face. I see him and don’t immediately think: good looking. Now I just think: House.
I tell him the story but stop at nineteen years of age. I tell him I can’t remember much before age twelve, but by the evidence, I know what must’ve happened. He nicknames me “Dex,” for Dexter.
“You’re like a forty year old in a twenty five year old’s body,” he says, reiterating his need to stay with me when we get home.
House tells me his abuse story. He tells me his sexual history. None of his girlfriends were normal, but for one, and she cheated on him. He always cheated on his girlfriends.
“People don’t like to admit how young they were when they first hit sexuality,” he says as we sit inside a mortar barrier smoking. “Like an early puberty. Then they put stock in their high school years. It was an influx of hormones – that's all. Then, the ones not-sexualized early are arrogant about it. They're like – get over it -- they don't get that when you were sexualized your adult emotions began.”
“Actually, in four days,” he says. “I’ll be twenty three.” As he speaks I pray he’ll say the words twenty-four. I turned twenty-seven not long ago.
He says he feels incredibly behind. He considers me accomplished.
He talks a lot to everyone, sometimes supplementing our conversations later with a conversation with someone else. I wonder about it, how much he talks, how impressionable he is.
Boyd__, as I entered our new tent: “Nu uh, you were gone all day yesterday and all night!” With the deployment nearing its end, the soldiers left here have consolidated tents. I’m now staying with first platoon, a platoon I used to take care of at the beginning of the deployment. They invite me to chow regularly. Between Willahford and House, I haven’t been around much, so I play off their complaints and agree to play dominoes.
“I’ll have to pass you off as my little brother,” I say to House, as we sit in the chow hall for lunch. I think of Thacker and how much it would take to make any sort of change in his world.
House grins to me. I think I see him try to reign the grin in, like it was too pure for his taste. I wasn’t sure.
I explain to House the dreams, how strong they are, what they’re like for me, how I shift into them so that they‘re as real and present as the wake world.
He asks me to go with him to Virginia, when he visits his family.
He tells me about the heroin addictions he’s had in the past.
“I’ve told you stuff I’ve never even mentioned to them,” he says, referring to his friends and family.
He yawns when I lean back and think I might be getting sleepy. He looks at his watch just at the moment that I wonder to myself what time it is.
“Maybe we’re long lost brothers,” House says me.
For such a popular, confident guy, House doesn’t like it when we get separated. He is concerned that we might end up on different chalks for the first movement home.
House uses words like Dank. Like that’s so Dank, or that food was so Dank.
On the last day, I burn the last of the S4 documents. Delta Company’s final investigations are a part of the last stack. According to the draft memos, Supply Sergeant Thomps, Andrew's replacement, was found liable and charged nine thousand dollars, 1SG Trenchton was found liable and charged fifteen-thousand dollars. CPT Kenley was found liable for nothing. Neither Mace nor I are mentioned in any investigations.
I have no one to tell the good news to. For most of the deployment most in Delta would not sit near me in the chow hall, but for Moser, Royal, and Mace. House and I sit in the second to last group. The final group has collected not far away. We all wait in the dark for the birds.
“I know things you don‘t know. Bigger things,” thinks the Westerner.
“I know, that you know,” says the Easterner, lyrically. “What you do is wrong … leaving the common man behind as if you're running from him. I Know, as if my own voice, were the word of God … My God is stronger than you … and yours. “
Education is celebration, that’s how it stays in the wild. Everyone remembers the wonderful day when something new was discovered, figured out. The fluttering of wings, the rustlings of growth, as the music of history spreads.
War is peace cause that’s the way: There must be more than one way, even if the principle has to be fought for. So it will be, by God’s Will, and all that certainty.
You can’t murder Cain. No you can’t murder Cain. You can only follow him. Farther into the abyss, Able tries again, Coming closer and closer, the best of the best, not realizing. The spirit of a priest, the form of a warrior, brothers deciding which uniform is which, Sergeants resurrecting memory, as the dead rise, Officers taking charge of young, fresh, armies. Able lets Cain murder him. Because he believes in God. He has no idea Cain exists.
#370280 - 09/16/11 03:22 PM
Re: E) Tour (2008-2010)