Hello Ground!

I am seven years old and my eyes have glazed over in quiet contemplation as I kick my legs back and forth on my swing.  I loved swinging, or jumping on the trampoline or juggling for hours and hours on end as I thought about things.  Usually I think about important things, like how I would rule the city I lived in if some post-apocalyptic type event took place, how I would be a kick-ass starship commander, or how I was going to be a world class mountain climber when I grew up.  However, today I am thinking about something else.  My dirt covered fingers grip the blue plastic covering the chains as I slowly rock back and forth in my seat like a small child.  Today I have discovered something about myself.  Until today I had always assumed I was just a good liar;  I had been able to successfully lie to everyone I knew about anything, it was almost pathological.   But today I realized it wasn’t lying I was good at, I was good at manipulation.  I could manipulate people really well.  My parents think I’m so cute, I tell them that I am good at this and they smile at me and then give each other silent giggles.  I know exactly what they are thinking even if they think I don’t.  They are thinking about how they know when I am lying, how they know how my simple kid antics work.  I keep my mouth shut.  I don’t tell them that I purposefully lie about simple things in front of them, with all of the indicators they expect to give them a false baseline of how I act.  I am the shit! I practice saying that word in my room, my parents wouldn’t believe that even if I told them, cause I’m a badass, I’m the shit.  I have created two personas, the one I show my parents and the one that I actually am.  I had been doing this subconsciously until today.  Today I read a Calvin and Hobbs comic about Calvin cleaning his room and it got me thinking.  Bill Watterson really gets me.  I’ll find out years later that I have a somewhat rare personality type that allows me to mimic people almost instantly. Not their voice, but their mannerisms, habits, patterns and other “fingerprint” personality traits.  No one ever sees it coming because no one is ever looking for it.

I don’t know who I am.
I don’t know what I believe.

I am seventeen years old and I have just told my parents that I’m signing up for the Army, well, the Army Reserves.  I don’t tell them that I have already signed all the paperwork and just need their signatures.  I don’t tell them that I made the decision out of nowhere while walking through the local mall where an Army recruiter was handing out key chains.  I don’t tell them that as I held that key chain I felt this incredible draw towards what the Army could offer, towards the adventure and stories that my grandfather had told me when I was a child, curled up in my bed.  I convinced them to sign, then I gave them the paperwork and I happily wandered my ass down to the enlistment station. I felt I was ready, I was pretty self-reliant and in really good shape.  I considered myself a Christian, not because that was what my parents wanted, but because I felt I honestly believed it.  I knew God, I was covered in the event I died a glorious death for Sparta, er America.  I was good.

I don’t know who I am.
I think I know what I believe.

I’m a few days away from my twenty-first birthday.  I’m am in the middle of my first year+ long tour in Iraq.  I’m on a small little FOB, walking towards the chow tent when I hear mortars, they are hitting the ground in front of me, walking towards me.   A nearby Warrant Officer and I do a super-awesome hero dive over some road barriers that are protecting a large green generator and the world goes silent as a mortar goes off on the other side of the barriers.  We lie still for a few seconds, until the thumping stops, then dust ourselves off, stick our fingers in our ears trying hear again and give each other a high-five, big smiles on our faces.  As our hearing returns we start to hear lots of people shouting.  Our smiles disappear and we jump back over the barriers, running towards the commotion.  A few minutes later I sit down on the ground and lean against a concrete wall.  I have blood all over me, there is a grown man sitting next to me, crying his eyes out, barely able to breath because half of the body of his best friend is lying ten feet away.  I didn’t realize it yet because of the adrenaline but I had torn and damaged all of the tendons and connections in both of my arms as twenty of us had tried with all of our might to save him while he screamed in pain.  I didn’t tell anyone about what happened in my unit as I had been doing things recently that I should not have been doing and I felt it wasn’t my place to say anything.  I took Excedrin like candy for the next few months and kept going with my life.  This wasn’t the first time during this deployment I had been faced with things like this.  My first week here I was involved in a “hilarious” little scuffle and I had been forced to decide what it was I truly believed.  What it was I believed about God, life, the universe; everything.  However, for some reason, as I sat there next to that crying warrior I faced another interesting juncture, I needed to decide who I was.  As I had gotten older I had become better at manipulation; I had over ten different personas that I would slip in and out of and I was getting really good and turning into whoever I met almost instantly.  I needed to choose who I was.  I decided to plant my identity in being a soldier.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I really enjoyed the Army, I’m also not ashamed to say that yes, I hoped to clash with the bad guys, to blow their heads off and scream in glory as I bathed in the blood of a crazy Tarantino movie.

I know who I am.
I know what I believe.

Three years later I am going back to Iraq again.  In the last few years I had gotten married, and dedicated my whole life to the Army, joining a small group of dedicated, hard people that I will always feel pride to have been a part of.  However, I feel lost.  I am trying to walk a line, the line between family and Army; I have been failing.  I have been failing because you can’t walk that line;  just like liz Lemon, I could not have everything.  I had found the bounds of my personality, I could be anyone at any time, I could manipulate like a freaking Jedi but I could not dedicate to “BEING” two of them at the same time.  I had found in myself a driving force I did not know I had but I could not control it.  The first few years of my marriage I had found confusing.  Not because my wife and I had issues.  My wife is awesome!! I was confused because I had issues.  I was confused by sex more than I thought I would be; I had desires I did not understand.  I was having trouble dealing with civilians and I couldn’t understand that either.  I found that I was having trouble with adrenaline; certain subjects, thoughts and situations would make me shake uncontrollably.  Right before I went back to Iraq I finally accepted it as a version of PTSD and that helped, but only so much.  I don’t say that for people to feel sorry for me as I don’t, I’m the master of my own fucking thoughts. I have my own opinion on PTSD and how overplayed it can be, but that is for another post.  Going back to Iraq I felt a sense of clarity, I could choose one line and walk it but I knew that at the end of it I would be right back where I started.  I had a crisis of sorts.  Not of faith, but some of the things that I had been thinking about, such as consequence and compassion were called into question.  Thoughts about black and white and whether their was a gray or not were circling my head.

I don’t know what I believe.
I don’t know who I am.

I’m back in Iraq, a few months too go and I have made up my mind that I will not be re-enlisting; nine years was enough for me, for a while anyway.  I felt lighter then I had for the past few years as I sat down to eat my MRE with the two guys on my team.  We were talking and joking and then one of the few females on the tiny PB we were on walked by.  One of them made a crude joke and I fucking lost it.  These poor guys were tired (I had been driving them really hard) and they were horny (we had been their a long time) and they had been surrounded by the evil side of humanity for a long time.  I should not have burst out the way that I did, they did not deserve it.  but, in that bright shining moment of assholery my thoughts cemented and my mind and heart finally decided on what I thought about quite a bit of life.  I expressed it extremely poorly but I finally felt at peace with myself again.  Maybe it was because I was letting go of the hard line the Army forced or that I felt the Army forced, but I was finally able to add some components to myself that I was needing.  Mainly compassion.  I had always had compassion before of course, but the evil in the world had forced me to redefine what I felt it meant.  I had decided that it meant more to me than most other things and I decided to spend more time thinking about how to incorporate it into my daily life and thoughts.   When the deployment was over and I was back with my wife I felt more comfortable then I ever had in my marriage.  It helped immensely that my wife and I started exploring sex much more in depth when I got back because sex is awesome.  She was so open and wonderful and I am extremely grateful to her for it.  We had a kid and I felt even stronger in my beliefs and who I was.  The old version of me that dealt with the world through lines and extreme moral stances was gone, the version of me that wanted to live without judgment was here.  I’m not saying I don’t still want to fight the bad guys, I’m just saying that I won’t hold it against them.

I know who I am.
I know what I believe.

A few years later I was driving home from a wedding with my family and I received a call about one of my former teammates.  He had killed himself.  The unit I had been a part of was a small one.  The alcohol abuse was to the point of being a serious problem and was over 75% (most of the unit was sent to mandatory rehab), the divorce rate was over 80% and the suicide rate was at 5%.  I had been really hard on this guy during the deployment, he could be a real jackass sometimes and he had gotten me in so much trouble it had driven me insane.  The fact that he had died didn’t change that.

There is a lot in this world that is not fair.  I have a beautiful wife, I have beautiful kids.  I love them all with all my heart.  While I was tucking my four year daughter into bed tonight she decided she was a doctor and that my ankle was injured; then proceeded to treat my knee.  She put a Band-Aid on me, hugged me and told me she loved me.  My five-year old son gave me attitude today when I told him that he could not have whatever he wanted, whenever he wants it.  He is so adorable I can barely stand it.  My wife pushes herself against me when she kisses me.  It had been a long day so after the kids went down we cuddled on the couch and watched a TV show we like.  She leaned back against some pillows and I laid down, my head relaxed against her breasts.  We have very busy lives, with lots of stress.  We are a family that loves each other.  I live in a state that I love and I have enough extended family surrounding me to invade a small country.  We are all very close, it is super annoying.

My teammate did not have these things to the extent that I did.  He was not a coward, no one in my unit who killed themselves was. I don’t believe that stupid idea that people who kill themselves are cowards.  It is always interesting how people who have peace come up with derogatory ways to vilify the people who don’t and take actions they don’t understand.  Even so, my teammate had more than most and he understood that.  He lived in a nice place and had a business.  He had been in the same places I had been and seen the people who live in the mud huts, the kids who pick through the trash hoping to find some food.  He knew about all the girls and women who were being raped because the cultural beliefs of the places we were in allowed for the idea that men were greater than women.  Still, he decides to kill himself.  I don’t know why he decided to do it.  I don’t know what was in his heart or his thoughts at the time; I hope that at the end he was just hoping to free his soul.  I hope they all were.

I don’t fear this result for myself.  So what is the difference between me and him? here at the current terminus of my life so far I am not a better person than him, nor am I worth more than he is.  I won’t claim I worked harder or wanted a better life more than he did, because more often then not working hard does not end in success, that is basic statistics.  I must also conclude that the fact that I am surrounded by love does not make the difference either.  The distance in possession and amount of love in my life between me and him is smaller then the difference between him and a 12 year old Islamic jihadist who was forced to join an army after watching his parents be cannibalized.  Does that seem extreme…. in our world it isn’t, this world isn’t fair.

So, what is it then.

I know who I am.
I know what I believe.

Thank God!

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5 comments

  1. This was wonderful. I’m really glad that you were able to come out on a different side of this than most of your teammates and with such an empathetic attitude towards their suffering. You’re an amazing human being!

    • Thanks, I am pretty awesome :). My life has been filled with undeserved mercy and grace, and I have been blessed. Sometimes what we need is right there, it can just take a while to see it. It took twenty five years to get that basic concept through my thick skull, thank God for time.

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