We Lost

April 11, 2011

A year fighting over this stupid little scrap of land. Smoked and joked and worked to the bone and alone and miserable and tired and afraid and in pain. Shot at, blown up, narrowly avoiding death and killing. The love of my life leaving me, my best friend dying, lying in the freezing cold and rain pouring through the roof, my laptop broken and my books burned, six weeks pulling guard with a broken hand in a cast, time spent filthy and time spent stumbling through the darkness by night vision and time spent sitting on rocks halfway up the mountains, and time spent looking through binoculars and thermals in search of them, pages and pages of diaries and stories and love and heartbreak and thousands of miles between me and someone that could understand me, in the most pointless dead poor and miserable valley in the world. And for what?

Nothing. We gave it to them.



Brief Forays into Light

April 8, 2011

From The Electrifying Conclusion, 8 April 2011, 1521 hrs

“It is now past a month that we have been sequestered in Jalalabad. After my cast was removed, Madley and I took to playing Foosball at the Green Beans cafe before starting work. Now there is no work, only waiting for interminably delayed flights to Bagram to get us home.

“And now half the platoon has joined Madley and I in playing Foosball for much of the time. Reading PDFs on my computer, aimless internet surfing in the MWR. Found a little shaded spot behind the tent with a crude table and car seats propped up on rocks, to smoke and think alone, or, as now, to write. Rabren is the only other to come here. Before we met up with him and the rest of the platoon, I told Bennet that I do not like Rabren very much, but I didn’t know why. I think I like him a bit more now. He is very serious and introverted, but not so unintelligent.

“The sun is so bright here, that even sunglasses can’t keep it from hurting in the middle of the day, and I can only stand it for a few minutes. Very different from our COP in the cold, dark valley.”

War Wounds

April 2, 2011

From The Electrifying Conclusion, 31 March, 2035 hrs

‘When did you start smoking, Frenchie?’

I want to say that it was after Tabada died. They kept offering me cigarettes, then. ‘End of February.’

‘That’s understanding.’

“Did he know what I meant to say? Sgt Hullet and I were smoking in the dark, under the concrete bunker, out of the rain. The rain that I had prayed for, even though it delayed my friend Bennet’s flight. How selfish of me, I wanted to hear it, see and feel it, smell it on the concrete. Bennet needs to go home. His wife is asking for a divorce, she took all the money he made on this deployment, and he reenlisted for Germany, where he cannot see his kids for 3 years, and he is addicted to pain killers for his back pain, the back that wretched from carrying a machine gun and hundreds of rounds of ammo.

“But his wife, he loved her and he is such a nice guy. He was so happy to have her, thought himself so lucky. That is what breaks my heart, a deeper sympathy than I am familiar. Michelle was worried because she’d seen so many relationships fail. So many tragedies on all of us, wounds of war.

“After nearly a month, I have been reunited with my platoon, moved into their tent with them. I am happy to see Barrientos again, with the rest I am getting along. They will drive our trucks to Shinwar for the next unit, and on the 5th, we are flying to Bagram Air Field.”


March 27, 2011

Sitting on a concrete block on the side of the road, head thankfully buried in a book  that I borrowed from Mische. The sun beats on my neck with my head bent forward, so I pick up to seek some shade. I see MacFarlane sitting against a Hesco barrier; he must have come in on the bird last night. It’s the twenty-seventh, I haven’t seen him for a month. Not Since Tabada died.

I sit down next to him, and the conversation is at first unsteady and halting. He’s brought the guitar. He says that Tabada probably played it more than he did anyway. At first it was a question of selling it or burning it, to get rid of those memories. But he says he’s going to mail it back home, get one of Tabada’s drawings etched on the back. I like that idea more.

An ant crawls on me, carrying something. I pick it up to drop it on the ground, but it sticks to my hand. I shake it off, but it drops what it was carrying on my leg, and I look closer. Curled up, it is the dead body of another ant.

I tell MacFarlane about learning Japanese, and he tells me that he wanted to go ahead with the Japan trip to honor Tabada, but he just didn’t want to go alone. It was the same with me, even though I’m still preparing to go to Japan, I can’t stand the idea of going alone. Tabada was our mutual friend, we were both close to him but not quite close to each other. I want to ask, but not now. We can go, together. I suppose he at least needs to know that it’s an option.


March 27, 2011

Enjoying a cigarette and an Americano at a table outside Green Beans Coffee, JAF’s coffee shop. It’s past nine o’clock and no sign of the guys from my platoon on the detail. I figured I’d meet them here at our usual spot instead of going to breakfast with them this morning. So as I wait, someone I barely know takes a seat next to me. His name is Frank.

He asks some questions about mutual acquaintances, and we start talking. One of those divulgent people, ready to go on about their life story, and I learn a lot about him quickly. I like people like that. It makes me feel like my father.

I walk over to the other side of the coffee shop to chat with Basset, who is seated with BCG. While we’ve been here at JAF, we’ve taken to giving a lot of the women around here nicknames in three-letter acronyms, always ending in G. She’s Big Clock Girl, because, for some reason, she carries a large wall clock with her everywhere she goes. She has it now, resting her drink on it. I meant to ask, but it slipped my mind.

Mische comes by, an FO from Charlie company like me, who got exiled here  long time ago by our boss. He knows BCG, and her friend joins her too. I ask Mische about his wife, and we talk about books, and I almost slap my forehead- this is the guy that borrowed Purgatorio from me! I haven’t been able to find a good book to read, but I’m sure he has something worth reading. So he takes me back to his room to grab something.

My guys don’t come, and I end up on a different detail with the ones that are here, like Basset, who is a pretty good guy. I’m glad I met him. Made a slightly different choice in the morning, and ended up with a fresh change from the routine.

Pathway of Memory

March 20, 2011

From The Electrifying Conclusion, 19 March, 2328 hrs, Jalalabad Air Field, Afghanistan.

Step outside for a cigarette. The wind that brings clouds and takes them. Smoke standing on the back steps. High full moon through the loft dust. On the towers and the buildings a light a bit yellow, from the moon shiroi, and flashing green to pass. Lights in darkness. The Chinook that first borne me away from here. Seat by the gunner, wind strong like now that beats the tent alive, like wings struggling to fly, and as we flew, looking down at the base at night, the cluster of lights in darkness.

The ships at sea, just clusters of light in darkness. To vault over the gunwale, lose myself in that great expanse. The separateness of them, of the little things that live and grow in the desert that she loves. Close my eyes, and the nicotine makes me feel cold, water in the sea cold, the wind rocks me in waves.

The Limbo You’ve Always Wanted

March 20, 2011

From The Electrifying Conclusion, 18 March 1104 hrs

Jalalabad Air Field, Afghanistan. Have been here 14 days. They removed my cast on the ninth. Said nothing of breaking my hand to my parents. Called them last night, Mom said I should keep a journal. Malibu Rum. Spend a lot of time on Japanese. My only active endeavor. Everyone that comes here temporarily on their way home, that is in our Battalion, we all stay in a large tent right next to the runway. It is very often very loud, as now.

Very bright and warm here, having trouble thinking straight. Indecisive. Hard enough the future, but even just what to do right now. I get very sad to see that Michelle can be so happy without me. I guess that’s selfish. hate loud noises and engines. Worried about Japan. What will I do. Will I be disappointed. Feels good to have my hand back.

I still have to fight this feeling of meaninglessness. I cannot compete against 7 Billion multiplied by the ages of man. Nothing that any of us does really matters. Lost in the crowd. No one wants to listen to stories. It’s hard to keep a whole life to yourself. What is there for us, then? We are free in the anonymity of history. God, it feels good to write with a pen again.

Cigarettes don’t last long enough. But they give me a dizzy feeling. Took 2 Flexoral and 2 Benadryl last night to no effect. Stayed up till 0100 reading about the history of Kanji. Can I even make my own life into what I want it to be? While we are here, I am not often alone. I have people to eat with. To chat with, but no one to talk to. I am afraid of going back. I do not want to be alone. I don’t want to eat alone.

Watashi wa kekkon tomodachi ga irimasu.

The Victim Mentality

March 11, 2011

After sitting on the hospital bed for a while, the confused private finally gets the idea. A cast must come off at some point, and this is that point. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “cut,” because he digs around for a pair of trauma shears, and starts near the thumb. “Seriously?” I say. “You don’t have a cast saw?”

He asks an E-6 nearby who gets one for him. He’s unsure about using it, very slow and safe. “I have to be careful not to cut you.”

“It’s a cast saw.” I say. “The blade oscillates instead of turning. It will only cut something rigid. Seriously, you could hold it to my skin and it wouldn’t cut me.” But he continues along as if it were a delicate surgery. Halfway through, I get frustrated, and rip apart the rest of the cast and pull it off. My hand is free. I can barely move the fingers. I pull hard and make a fist.

He disappears returning the saw and I wash my hand in the sink for a long time. In the Army, you lose that “victim mentality.”

Peace Forever

March 8, 2011

Also, Mario finishing a level.

Throwing in the Towel

March 7, 2011

“Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?”

T.S. Eliot

I keep digging at myself, trying to get a reaction. Sitting on the bench seat of a Chinook helicopter, pack in hand, leaving COP Michigan forever. But there’s no reaction. The woman you loved left you for another man. Your best friend is dead. Your hand is broken and in a cast. You’re leaving your home of a year never to return. But there’s nothing, no catharsis, only a disaffected awareness of the situation.

The war ended for me when he died. They took me off guard, and with a broken hand I couldn’t go on mission either, so I just sat around. I didn’t even know what to do with my time, it felt weird to spend it watching TV or playing video games. I kept learning Japanese. Still unsure if I’m going to go without him, but, as T.H. White says, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.” But I wasn’t that sad, just confused. I couldn’t think about the future, couldn’t make up my mind about anything.

Though I started smoking, I didn’t have my own cigarettes. There was no place to buy them, but after that people offered them to me all the time. I was sitting outside smoking while some of the other soldiers were talking about the protests in nearby Nangalam. They couldn’t understand why the people would protest the shutting down of a military base.

Without thinking, I said, “They want us in this valley because we bring aid. They fight us in order to keep us here.” They all looked at me. It’s all a scam, and we’re the ones getting scammed. All their impotent attack strategies make sense now. They only wanted to keep us around, keep us fighting them, so that we help out the villages, and create jobs for them on our bases. They knew that if they only stopped fighting, we’d leave.

One of them looked heartbroken. Another, a dissenter, said that he’d told everyone how smart I am. I told them, “I’ve been keeping that to myself because it’s a bit demoralizing. But….I guess it doesn’t matter anymore”

I went back on the guard schedule shortly before I left. They had to send me on a detail to FOB Fenty/Jalalabad Air Field to manage the outgoing equipment. It was their only chance to send me somewhere I could get x-rays after getting the cast taken off. But it meant missing Tabada’s memorial service.

Never seeing his face makes it feel like he’s not really dead. It’s easier that way.