Dollar fifty hightowers of Rainier flow down my throat. An eighties bar? What the fuck am I doing here? This is kid’s shit. Across the room I see the exit, red light ablaze. To my right the emergency door. Ten steps and im out of here. Aaron says “You need a drink, you need to get laid.”
The fluorescent lights paint the pussy green. The goddamn bass player is pounding a hole in my brain. I recount the people. Fifty six, okay, okay. What’s with my eye, its twitching. My stomach grinds cement…And the blond femme with the big tits, what’s her name? Oh yeah, Jill. That would set me straight. One fucking week out of the sand box and I have a boner alert. No beer in a year, and the whole goddamn ocean can’t fill me. Fifty four, fifty five, fifty…Fuck! Fifty five! No. Fifty six, assholes, where’s the missing asshole. Now my brain speaks, it tongue-lashes me, pay attention fool…Find the missing fuck. He had a gun didn’t he. Yes! A gun. Boom, boom, boom pounds the drum, and I am gone. Flashing and bass impact like artillery on my soul. I regretted my decision. Clearly out of my element. My eyes flicked between both exits as I recounted all fifty six people inside the club.
Aaron invited me. I needed a break. “Let’s go out, it’ll be really fun, we’ll see people you haven’t seen in a long time and maybe you can finally get laid”. That hadn’t happened since the last break I had with my wife. Well, ex-wife now. Evidently guys who have a full-time job at a publishing firm are more attractive and reliable than someone who can’t sleep without a gun under their pillow. I reluctantly agreed, adding “What’s the worst that could happen?”
A slow wave of anger moved its way up from my stomach to encompass my arms and legs, finally reaching the brain. Every horrible song from the eighties didn’t help. What the fuck are these people so happy about? I used to like this world, Aaron and I came here many times when we were back in college. He was a friend I could talk with about the worst things. Through ups and downs, even telling me his wish to join the military with me, which was all talk. As he ground his body into some random girl, to a song he didn’t even like I wondered if he had ever known me. My hands gripped the table and my body was pushing itself as far into the corner as possible. I tried to follow Tyler Dyrden’s lead and go to my cave. Problem was my cave was in Afghanistan.
Pitch Black shattered by a flare. Two hundred yards above, manufactured sun made me bury my head further into the sand. Left foot on fire from my tightly tied laces. Too late for that now. Yelling behind me. The pounding of feet kept my head down. We had been on the Pakistani border for what seemed like years. Real calendar said a week. Command felt it necessary to have us sitting here waiting for some arab bomb-maker that didn’t exist. My brain briefly questioned the irony of us being immigration guards. With more guns than the Mexican border. About an hour earlier we got word from a predator drone that 10 men were crossing the border on foot and it was our job to intercept them. Rules of engagement for our unit were pretty simple. If they were crossing the border and they weren’t Afghan they were bad guys. If they had a gun they were bad guys. If they moved at night they were bad guys. If they were on foot they were bad guys. If they were guys, they were bad guys. So it wasn’t very difficult to deduce that these people were bad guys. Most missions, there’s no time to think. That’s why we train so much. So we don’t think. We just react. Not on this mission. This mission all of us were thinking. A mission bears resemblance to deer hunting as you visualize that big buck crossing over the hill and you, the skilled hunter, raise your rifle and put a single round through its heart. Countless times I imagined bin Laden himself materializing before me as I flipped my selector switch off safe and united 300 million Americans in a singular act. A few minute details, not being in pakistan for one, disallowed me from doing this. I gripped my rifle and forced myself back to the here and now.
Intel said the border-crossers were three hundred yards in front of us holed up in a makeshift trench. My role? Provide cover fire for the initial assault. Once our men were in place I was to move into the right side of the trench and clear it. The flare was flickering now, Seconds away my men would move. I tasted the sweaty tension on my lips. The slow whine of a predator drone above us could be heard but not seen. Worst case scenario, my death would be on videotape. I flipped down my Nods. A green translucent view took over the eerie dark. I checked my rifle and grenades one final time. Mouth dry and heart beating I felt like I’d popped ecstasy. Tracers on my left. Get up. I burst out of my hole like a whale berthing for air. Running. Sprinting forward into the darkness. Tripping over an unseen rock I managed to keep my balance. The air was soaked with sand and I inhaled humidity. The trench materialized in front of me. I raised my rifle as a flash threw me sideways.
My right side is sticky. My head is pounding and gravel rips my face. Flashing light from all directions. My body curls into a protective ball. I reach for my rifle and cut my hand on a jagged beer can. Looking around, no one even noticed. I fucking hate hair bands! As I stumble to my feet I can feel the contents of my stomach working its way back up. I scramble to the back door. Stumbling outside I make it a step before my fish tacos become dinner for the rats. As if waking from a dream in which im falling, grateful to be alive but scared as fuck. Several dry heave’s later I realize there is a figure standing behind me. It’s Aaron. I’m immediately embarrassed. “Are you okay man”? says the dude who only hours before asked me how many guys I killed. I mumble something unintelligible and try to wave him off. “Has it really been that long since you had a beer?”
I slowly nod my head as I spit out chunks of tortilla. “Do you want to go somewhere else?” I tell him to give me a minute. How could he ever understand? His view of war is the video games he plays and the 10 minutes of war footage he watched back in 2003 when Iraq was cool. I want to scream at him and claw his eyes out. Grab him by the throat and ask him how the fuck he can enjoy a night like this when people are dying. Instead I grab his hand and let him pull me to my feet. I know I shouldn’t expect him to know what I’m going through but what the fuck does he think? I went on a fucking vacation to Maui? How is this generation so detached from the real world? I spit one final chunk of bile out of my mouth and push open the back door to the club.
I remember watching my first cartoon as a young child, it was a Road Runner episode. Cartoon? Maybe, but I was seeing stars for the first time. I could taste iron in my mouth and didn’t know where my left leg was. Rolling onto my stomach I tried to collect myself. Where was I? What happened? Where was my rifle? The constant whine in my ears as if I was underwater told me I had lost my hearing. My night vision goggles were no longer on my head and my only thought was how much trouble I was in for losing them. My mind a computer, I started to reboot. I tested my legs and worked my way up my body until I was able to stand. The earth felt like a trampoline. Unstable. Equipment behind me I reached for my rifle. Still good. Dark smoke from the fire began to permeate my lungs. I coughed blood into my nomex glove. “I should’ve joined the Air Force” I thought for the thousandth time.
The battle was over and I could see other soldiers moving amongst the dead checking for signs of life and important intelligence. I stumbled into the trench and came upon a 16-year-old missing his entire right arm. Cracker boxes of dried meat lay strewn all over the ground. I looked into his lifeless eyes.and thought about the idiot who said “there are no atheists in fox holes “and punch him in the face. Anyone who believes in God in this shit-hole is seriously delusional. Before I left for Afghanistan, people would ask me why I wanted to be in the Army, why would I want to be in the most dangerous position? Why not join the Air Force or the Navy or try to get into the Coast Guard? I would ignorantly tell them that if I had to take someone’s life I wanted to have to look into their eyes. Now with my eyes transfixed on this young man whose life I would never know I could see the fallacy in all my prior thoughts. How was I going to explain what I had seen?
Did you kill anyone? How was it over there? Was it hot? Are you fucking kidding me? I get more diverse questions when I take an American history class than when I came back from war. At first I thought I could explain it, thought that I could bridge the gap between those who’ve served and those who hadn’t. But after about three sentences I began to notice that people lose interest. At that point I don’t even want to talk anymore; if they can’t pay attention to my answer for a minute after they ask the question then I’m not interested in talking. I never told Aaron what happened that night at the bar. I felt like it would be too much of a burden for him if I could ever find a way to truly explain it. Most Americans just want to stay detached, to keep the deployed world separate from the home world. There is a general lack of sympathy for people who voluntarily chose to go to war. The theory goes; why should we feel sorry for people who put themselves in that position, we didn’t force them, they chose on their own. This feeling is felt by those in the military as they generally keep their experiences to themselves feeling guilty for what they’ve seen and more for what they have done. Iraq has lost its novelty; it is no longer a really fun video game war to watch at night time. Afghanistan cant even be located on a map. Now it’s just an annoying burden that keeps people from watching their favorite reality show. When I was coming close to leaving the war all I could think about was drinking an ice cold beer and never taking orders from anyone again. Now that I had what I wanted I realized I had nothing in common with these people. Aaron hadn’t noticed it yet but I was not the same person I was before I left. I couldn’t live around people who walked on eggshells around me and I resolved as he dropped me off that night, that I would never speak of what I had seen to anyone ever again.