Boots

The Innevitable Missteps of Insomnia

It's all there, still.  It sits inside me, coiled up like a snake.  It blends in, forgotten, camouflaged so I forget it's there; I forget until the wrong thought brings me too close.  Then I can hear it, rattling its tail.  Warning me to turn back to more mundane thoughts.  I never do though.  Maybe that's why I've done so much better than most.  I keep going, I replay the moments, one after another, in order.  I try to remember every sensation, every sight and sound and smell.  Sometimes I picture it from the eyes of one of the others, opening the wounds in a brand new way as I try to step into their own unique suffering.

I follow it through every time and every time it sinks its teeth into me, filling me with its darkness.  Sometimes it's a sadness, welling up as if those tears I choked back so long ago had fallen inside of me and never stopped.  Other times it's a rage, sudden and powerful; at myself for perceived, irrational failings, at Robert for never wearing his god-damned chin strap, at the army for discharging me; I want to break something, something beautiful, something functional, something to make people fear what might be inside me.  It circulates within me, filling me with longing and regret and ridiculous thoughts of somehow returning to the military to get back there and complete some unfinished task I can't quite remember.

It consumes me until the most curious thing happens: my mind wanders on to something else.  Between violent images and heroic re-imaginings I remember that I'm out of milk.  I stress slightly over my lack of work hours and wonder if my leftovers are still good.  I try to hang on to the darkness but it dissipates.  The color returns to the world and I'm myself again.

It's all there, still.  It sits inside me and waits guarding that dark corner of my heart; but it can't hurt me, and as long as I'm not afraid to keep walking when I hear that rattle, it can never control me.
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    tired tired
Boots

Eternal youth for the price of a mortar round

Today, as I sat in my little office, searching the internet instead of doing my work, I decided to Google Robert's name. This is something I do on a fairly regular basis when I'm bored. This time I clicked on the first link, his page on arlingtonnationalcemetery.net. The site had been updated quite a bit since I'd last checked it. I scrolled down to see how long it had gotten and then I went back to the top and started to read. I only got two sentences in before I was stopped cold by four words "Wise, 21, of Tallahassee."

21...Collapse )
  • Current Music
    Barenaked Ladies- If I had $1,000,000 (Live in Chicago)
Boots

Finally

CS/SB 122 - Tuition Waivers/Purple Heart

GENERAL BILL by Education Appropriations and Fasano (CO-SPONSORS) Lynn; Atwater
Tuition Waivers/Purple Heart: requires state universities & community colleges to waive tuition for recipient of Purple Heart or other combat decoration superior in precedence who fulfills specified criteria; provides percentage cap on number of required credit hours for which tuition waiver may be received. Amends 1009.26.
Effective Date: 07/01/2006

Last Event: 03/23/06 S CS passed; YEAS 38 NAYS 0 on Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:36 AM

Ever since returning home following my discharge, the hardest part about returning to civilian life has been getting back into school. Last march, as I was attempting to re-enroll, I found out that since I was no longer a member of the Florida National Guard (due to my injuries received in combat,) I was no longer eligible for the state tuition waiver. I Immedieately wrote every legislator who's district I fell in to. All my federal congressmen told me that it was, unfortunately, a state issue but they'd be glad to help me in any way they could which was pretty much a "tough luck kid." My State reps were eager to help but the 2005 session was just ending. So, I waited. I made damn sure there was going to be a bill to fix this damn loophole and for the next year I worked and struggled to pay my own tuition. Now, at last, by a unanimous vote, the Florida senate passed the bill into law. Florida residents who earn a purple heart are entitled to an in-state tuition waiver. Now I just need to wait for Fall of 2007 when the bill takes a effect.
  • Current Music
    The White Stripes- The Denial Twist
Boots

My Goodbye

After Robert died they held a solemn memorial service for him at the compound. They erected the standard remembrance consisting of a rifle with fixed bayonet planted muzzle down in the ground, a kevlar helmet resting atop the butt-stock, a pair of dog-tags hanging from the pistol grip and a pair of boots sitting in front. The flags of Florida and the US sat still and motionless in the background as the chaplain said his words. A couple of his closest friends got up to eulogize their buddy, Then, one by one the soldiers of A-co filed by to pay their respects. It was tough for everyone and a few guys gave in to their grief, allowing tears to run down their dust-covered cheeks.

They said their goodbyes, wiped away the tears and returned to duty. After that, there could be no more grieving. When you live in a combat zone, if your mind isn’t there on that street then the next upturned rifle might be your own. In war, to dwell on the dead is to endanger the living. Still, they’d had their chance to grieve and for most that was enough to carry them through the deployment.

***
In Tallahassee, a crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered in the main hall of the National Guard armory. The symbolic rifle, kevlar, boots and dog tags sat at the front of a dozen rows of folding chairs. A large photo of Robert sat on a stand by a podium and a projector flashed images from Robert’s life on the wall. One after another, people stepped up to the podium to speak, a chaplain, a general, a sergeant major, a congresswoman. They gave speeches that would have made Robert scoff. Then his parents; his father’s emotional speech drew tears and applause from the crowd. When his mother spoke, however, standing before the crowd full of soldier's family members, she told them, in an unwavering voice, that it was okay to be relieved it wasn’t their son. She spoke of the bond she and her son shared and Robert’s commitment to his duty. Through her words she absolved scores of wives and mothers of their guilt. She held firm that night, a beacon of strength for a shaken homefront.

***
A few days later, on a chill winter afternoon, a much smaller crowd gathered at Arlington cemetery. Robert’s mother wore a very different face as six men in crisp blue uniforms carried her sons casket to it's final resting place. With sharp, measured precision, they folded the flag that had accompanied him back from Iraq. Then, as a lone bugler played his haunting melody, seven soldiers raised and fired their rifles. One… Two… Three shots each. Each blast shattering the calm of the somber field, a stark contrast to the gentle mourning call of the bugle. Finally with a shell from each volley tucked into it’s folds, the casket flag was presented to Tammy. Now, so far from the crowd who needed her strength, she cried, sobbing with the tears that only a grieving mother can know.

***
During each of these memorials, I was in a hospital bed. I lay wrapped in my sterile sheets with my foot encased in plaster and gauze as a parade of doctors, chaplains, officers and counselors asked me if I’d had a chance to speak with anyone. As I lay there however, trying to make sense of the events through a haze of morphine and torridol, all I really wanted was a sign that he was really gone and maybe, a chance to say goodbye.

For two years, this haunted me. In my mind, I’d left Robert there in Baghdad that day. It was the only place I’d ever really known him. Removed from the context of our friendship, I was never confronted with his absence. Although I wasn’t in denial, acceptance was far from closure. Finally, this past November, on the two-year anniversary of his death, I made my way to Arlington. There, on a perfect Saturday afternoon, I sat by his simple white headstone. I didn’t cry; the pastoral beauty of Arlington was infinitely removed from the world of Robert’s death. Still as I sat on his grave and stared into the cloudless sky I felt like he was there with me. When I left Arlington that day, for the first time in two years, I knew where Robert was and I could finally say goodbye.
Boots

(no subject)

While I was in the spanish lab today I noticed that the guy in front of me was wearing a silver bracelet like the one I wear for Wise. I couldn't quite make out the words on it but I could tell it wasn't one of the Wise bracelets and I think I saw the word Nasiriah. Odds are he was a vet like me who'd lost a buddy. I kind of wanted to say something to him, just ask him if he was a vet. The language lab isn't really a place to chat though and I wasn't about to ask him to step outside to chat.

It was just kind of weird to realize this guy was a vet. He looked about my age and didn't have that look that guys who are actually in the military or the guard do. Plus it's not the kind of place where you expect to meet a veteran. I guess that's what it must be like for everyone else when they find out that I'm a vet.

I suppose that although everyone is aware that there is a war going on and that that that war is fought by an army which is composed primarily of young men, it's so far removed from the context of our daily lives that it's strange to meet someone who was actually a part of it.
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    Kanye West-Gold digger
Boots

Right On Man

Yesterday I backed into a parking space in front of a couple of surveyors doing whatever it is they do with that little telescope thing and as I was getting out one of them said "hey are you the purple heart?"

I told him I was and he said "right on... at least I guess it's right on."

I laughed and said that yes, it is right on.
  • Current Mood
    decent
Boots

This week on This American Life

I finally got word that my piece is going to be broadcast this weekend. The show will be on at different times depending on location but it'll be sometime time between friday and sunday and it'll be available on real audio at their website thisamericanlife.com. I don't know how long it'll be but they had me read a few different entries and they said it turned out well.
  • Current Mood
    optimistic optimistic
Boots

(no subject)

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.
  • Current Music
    Kenny Chesney- Who You'd be Today
Boots

This story isn't over after all.

When I stopped writing in this journal, I figured that this part of my story was over. I knew that there would be new trials to face as I waited for my discharge and an epic journey through the bowels of the veterans administration as I sought my disability claim; still, I figured Baghdad was behind me and so I moved on to my mundane journal. Despite my best efforts, however, the experiences of that day two years ago are still a driving force in my day to day life.

Since I was discharged from the army last November, I've gone through a difficult cycle of emotions. At times, when I'm the busiest or the distractions of life and relationships take center stage, my time in Baghdad and Robert's death are just significant events in my past. There are times, though, where it becomes more than that. Sometimes the stream of thoughts and questions become so constant that they almost hijack my senses.

Now as I'm coming up on two years since my injury and one year since my discharge, the feelings are surfacing once again. It started with a renewed pattern of thought. Thinking about school, thinking about the army, thinking about Robert. I booked plane tickets for November for my first trip to see his grave at Arlington. Gradually, the thoughts begin to intrude more and more; not just thoughts about the army and Robert but questions about what I did, what I should have done and of course, the deadly and unforgiving what if's. For the most part I retain my rationality. I know the sensible point of view and try to explain it to my self. I tell the thoughts that they're wasting they're time cause there's no reason I would take them seriously. Still, gradually they get me.

I don't know what it is at first. I'm not getting enough sleep but it's only cause I'm not going to bed when I should. It's okay though, I'll make it up tomorrow, or this weekend. I don't though. I'm staying up when there's no reason to or when I do go to bed, I can't fall asleep right away. Most of the time I'm not even thinking of anything significant. I get tired and irritable, some times I'm so tired that I'm sure I'll be in bed at 8:00; at 10:00 I don't feel so tired.

It comes and goes. It takes a few weeks to get bad. Eventually as the fatigue worsens, the feelings get more intense. Perhaps emboldened by my weakened mental state, the feelings start harassing me more frequently till they become my default line of thinking.

I don't know, as I type this it's sounding, in some ways, worse than it really is. Still it's a significant issue. I've been seeing a vet counselor on and off for a while now and I'll be starting to go to a group meeting soon. It's just something that I'll have to accept as a very real and significant part of my life. As such, I'm going to start writing in Rebelcoyote again. Not often but whenever I feel like this side of my life needs an outlet. I've had a few experiences that I feel like I should write about. I know that this is a problem that people have dealt with for a long time and now, a whole new generation of people are dealing with it. Who knows, maybe this will help some of them as well.
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Boots

(no subject)

Last Night I had a dream. I made a wish that things had been different, that Robert and I had never Switched places that morning. As I wished this, a deep bellowing caw cut through the air and A crow flew down from the dusk sky to light on my arm.Read more...Collapse )
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    good good