Throwing in the Towel

“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.


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