Last night, as I dried off in front of the bathroom mirror, and the towel covered my chest, I stopped for a moment. I wondered if the tattoo that bears Robert's name was still there. I imagined that if I were to move the towel, then that image of the upturned rifle and ownerless helmet would be gone. Maybe I would be that carefree, bare chested 19 year old that I remember. Maybe it would have all been a dream.
This is, of course, a silly line of thinking and no good could come of it. The towel moved, the tattoo was still there. So I finished drying off, rubbing the tattoo until it was bright pink and warm and stinging. I climbed into bed and as I lay there I thought about that day. I hadn't given it a good ammount of thought in a while so I figured I should, if I don't do it often enough details start to get foggy.
As I lay there, I let the memories come back, bright and vivid. It had been awhile since I'd really relived it so I decided to analyze it, like a game. I tried to remember it in as much detail as I could, not just the things that come up when I think about it in passing or when I tell the story one more time. I tried to remember exactly what that first blast had felt like. What had my mouth tasted like as it filled with dust and blood? Exactly how far away was the next vehicle and how long did it take me to crawl out of that gun turret onto the hood of the Humvee?
My heart beat fast as I tried to remember what Robert's unconcious face looked like. What did I say when I saw he wasn't moving? I said something; I might have said "oh shit," or "oh no, Robert!" but I never called him Robert, that couldn't have been it.
Then I felt that same sick shame when I remembered Matt asking me to help him move Robert. "I can't," I told him, "I think my foot's broken." And I hopped off leaving the skinny filipino medic to move Robert's fat ass by himself. It wasn't broken of course, that was when I noticed the hole in my boot and the blood coming out in a small, steady stream. I remeber taking my boot off, and the smell of my own burning flesh; I almost cried when they served me chicken on the flight to germany, it smelled like my foot. The shrapnel was still in there. I didn't take my white cotton sock off cause it was fused to the piece of shrapnel and the burn surrounding it. We weren't supposed to wear white socks but, honestly, who'd ever know? Of course, the front half of the sock was red where the blood had pooled in the toe of my boot.
I thought about how horrible I must have looked as I sat there on the ground. Half my face was soaked in blood so no one could tell by looking at me whether it was even still there. For the first time, I considered how the commander must have felt when he arrived on the scene and I shouted "Hey sir, I got a purple heart!" The uncomfortable look on his face was priceless as he walked by and muttered something encouraging. He probably couldn't even tell who I was.
I went through it all in varying degrees of detail, right up to the point when the morphine kicked in, in the blackhawk, somewhere over the city, when it all becomes a bit hazy.
Of course, once the game was over, it wasn't easy to fall asleep. I laid there for a while, staring up at the ceiling fan, remebering that scene from that movie where the guy stares at his fan and remembers the helicopters. Eventually I drifted off, but as often happens when I think this way, it was a haunted sleep. I don't actually remember any of the nightmares, I never do, but some one sleeping in the next room told me they heard me shouting. I feel like I was up all night.