Thursday, September 28, 2006

Songs for Farewells

The moment is finally upon me. A day I never thought would come, and whose arrival I have dreaded for years. My feet are heavy, as is my spirit. I go to support my friends, and to grow in my own experiences, but the fear never truly goes away.

I console myself with reminders of my training, and with the distant promise of seeing my wife again. Still, the boots suddenly look heavier than I remembered. My nerves tremble at the prospect of donning them, for I know that when I do, they shall become the only footwear I know for a long time. For the time being, my identity, my true face--that of Milo Freeman--becomes hidden behind the mask of Army greys and combat gear.

I only hope that I recognize myself when I come out on the other side.

From the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Return Of The King:"

Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread.
Through shadow, to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade,
All shall fade.
All shall fade.

I hope to whatever gods are out there that the last line is wrong.

Songs for Farewells

The moment is finally upon me. A day I never thought would come, and whose arrival I have dreaded for years. My feet are heavy, as is my spirit. I go to support my friends, and to grow in my own experiences, but the fear never truly goes away.

I console myself with reminders of my training, and with the distant promise of seeing my wife again. Still, the boots suddenly look heavier than I remembered. My nerves tremble at the prospect of donning them, for I know that when I do, they shall become the only footwear I know for a long time. For the time being, my identity, my true face--that of Milo Freeman--becomes hidden behind the mask of Army greys and combat gear.

I only hope that I recognize myself when I come out on the other side.

From the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Return Of The King:"

Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread.
Through shadow, to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade,
All shall fade.
All shall fade.

I hope to whatever gods are out there that the last line is wrong.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Zero Hour

"Now, this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

--Winston Churchill

After two years in the Army, the time is finally upon me. I'm preparing to deploy to Iraq. I've known for over six months now, and I've been thinking about it every day. I've had to spend a lot of time taking stock of my life, evaluating my choices and examining my priorities. I've had to spend a lot of time evaluating my relationship with my wife, and preparing her for the hardships which lie ahead.

Are we strong enough to handle this? In my honest opinion: yes. Anne has been with me since long before I joined the military, and during that time her support has never flagged once. I am grateful to have had her by my side for this part of the journey, but as I've said before, some journeys must be made alone, and even now I wrestle with feelings of guilt over leaving her behind.

After a recent personnel shake-up, my squad has simultaneously lost a few members while doubling in size. There are a lot of new faces, and as of now, my crew looks like as follows. Names, of course, have been altered:

Staff Sgt. Moseley-- my section sergeant. Black man, mid-thirties. Sgt. Moseley is both a relaxed and savvy leader. He constantly motivates us to work harder, while treating us with a level of respect many of my soldiers are not accustomed to. Our lives are in his hands, and all things considered, I am fully confident in his leadership abilities. I'm lucky to have him as a mentor.

Sgt. Killeen-- our squad leader. Brought in to replace Sergeant Burroughs. My age, but a veteran of the last deployment. Seems to regard his position with mixed emotions. Sergeant Killeen can be tough, but he's certainly fair, and I expect that he will be a confident and capable leader.

Spc. Freeman--myself. I'm relatively inexperienced, but I do my best. With the recent demotion of one of our soldiers for striking an NCO, I have emerged as the ranking member of my crew. The pressure will be on me in this next year to step up and assume a leadership role. There are some who say I'm being groomed for a promotion to Sergeant within the next year or so. I sincerely hope that I am up to the challenge.

Spc. Miers--female type. Apparently a former NCO in the Air Force, she has returned to us after a long stint outside of the military. Her combat patch suggests she was deployed with this unit once before, but little else is known about her. It's difficult to judge her just yet, but the occasional spark of leadership sometimes makes itself known in her demeanor. My most immediate competitor for a spot in front of the promotion board.

Private First Class Brooks--formerly Specialist Brooks. Demoted for hitting a sergeant in Second Platoon one night several months ago. Currently slaving away his nights performing Extra Duty, but still a seasoned veteran of the last deployment, and a good soldier. I'll be counting on Brooks to help guide me in my growth as a soldier over the next year.

Pfc. Falls--also female type. Oldest member of the squad at 32, but a good soldier. She's not experienced yet, but I expect she'll pull her weight more than sufficiently. We will see.

Pfc. Stein--Kentucky boy. The youngest man in our squad. Quiet, shy, but a quick learner. He'll be fine.

Pvt. Jones--Detroit. Chubby kid. His street cred is proven by his upbringing, and he's an all-around nice guy. But his value as a new soldier is yet to be determined. He remains an unknown factor.

Pvt. Oswald--my best friend. Jokingly referred to as a "career private," Oz is nevertheless a combat vet himself, and has been a close friend of mine since I joined the unit. Currently languishing at the bottom of the food chain, I expect he'll regain rank quickly. His experience will prove invaluable to this squad. Oz and I are close, but if I get promoted to Sergeant before he leaves the Army, the dynamic of our friendship may change. Here's to hoping that doesn't happen.

All in all, I find myself in a pretty decent linup. If I had to pick a group of guys to deploy with, these soldiers would be it. My loyalty to them is unquestioned.

In other news, I finally got some tattoo work done this weekend. It's been something I've wanted to do for a while now, and I'm pleased with the choice. Inscribed now on my inner forearms, in black block type, are two words. On the left forearm, there is written the word "WISDOM." On the right: "COMPASSION." It's not a choice of design I expect many to understand, but for me the decision was sound. As I prepare to go downrange, to see and experience things beyond my understanding, I chose to have written upon my body the two goals of self-development most central to the practice of my Buddhist faith. I want to remember that the pursuit of those two ideals, and their cultivation within me, must at all times remain my central priority, regardless of whatever else happens to me during my time in the desert. I only hope I can remember why they're written there.

I've had a lot of time to order my thoughts and feeling during the last month I spent on leave. Some of the lingering doubts I held have been resolved. Some remain. And in the place of those that were soothed, still new anxieties have emerged.

Have I been a good husband? A good son? Will I be remembered as I would like, should something happen to me in the Sands? Will I return from the desert having lost my identity; my ideals? The truth is, I don't really know. But for now, I have made my peace with the future, and together with my friends I look forward to earning my pay as a soldier, and returning after the year as a group, our ranks undiminished. I am confident that, together, we will bring each other home, and when I return, I can look forward to the first shining face I see on-post being that of my wife.

Am I excited? Yes. Am I afraid? Of course. But I also know that I am ready. I expect this to be the start of a hiatus on this blog, and I don't know when or if I will post next. But rest assured, I will remain in touch, even if the entries become a bit sporadic. Meanwhile, those interested can browse through the archives, or email me at:

I go to an unknown fate now. What I may see is a mystery. But I expect to be the eyes on Iraq that so few in the American public get to have. If I can bring knowledge and experience out from this journey, thus enlightening a few others, then such an accomplishment would be more than enough for me. I pray that those reading this will keep in touch and support me in this endeavor. To those I say: Take care.

So ends The Calm.

So begins The Sand.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Final Walk

The leaves are turning north of the Mackinac Bridge. The winds off of Superior have become stiff and cold, and the air carries that harsh nip of fall. When I breathe in, I remember briefly old high-school crushes and nights ablaze with the staccato roar of the drumline. But in Port Austin, lower south, the trees are still green, and the air is still rich with the warm scents of pampas grass and water. The only clues of autumn's approach, occasionally, are a single crimson leaf on an otherwise verdant oak, or a sudden breeze a bit more cool than expected. But otherwise, of summer's end there is no sign.

After several weeks of hiking through the Keweenaw Peninsula, far to the north, my wife and I find ourselves back on my family's five-acre plot, a few miles from my childhood home. I've tried my best to spend my time well on leave, and thus far I am satisfied with my progress. I've wandered through tree-lined gorges and abandoned mines, hiked the low mountains that tower over Lake Superior, and even dropped in for a morning of meditation with the Buddhist monks in Marquette. I've laughed and shared memories with old friends over endless pints of English beer, and best of all, I've done it all in the constant company of my spouse. The past few weeks with Anne have been a joy. No relationship is ever perfect, but since I've come back on leave, I have found myself reminded again of just why my relationship with her is so worthwhile. All in all, these past few weeks have been great.

But of course, there are still old haunts that I have yet to revisit, and as even my wife understands, there are some journeys which simply must be made alone.

On my final day of leave, I take the rental car and drive the eight miles back into my hometown. I leave my windows open and crank the stereo, reveling in being able to blast my favorite rock station from back in high school. I park the Sebring in the parking lot behind the middle school gym, and step out into the afternoon sun. I adjust my sunglasses, and pause to tuck a cigarette behind my ear. It's after Labor Day, and the Thursday afternoon air is hot and still. I start off by taking a stroll downtown. All the shops I grew up with are still there, though a few have changed hands. Some have gotten new paint jobs, but all in all, it's still the same quiet harbor town I remember. That's what I love about this place. Without so much as a McDonald's or even a second stoplight, things here remain relatively constant. Time marches on, of course, but the things that give Port Austin its spirit remain untouched. Satisfied, I keep moving.

I wander down to the marina, and pause to admire the various late-season yachts docked in the harbor. Impressive things, and as always, nicely framed against the backdrop of the breakwall. As the sun shines down on the water, I close my eyes and take a breath. I relish the cleanness of the air; take in the keening of the gulls. Living in Germany, I haven't seen gulls in over a year, and after having grown up with them, though I'd come to see them as little more than airborne rats, I find that now I can actually appreciate the sounds they make. I spend a few minutes regarding them, wings of ivory flitting to and fro in the light of the sun. I briefly debate taking another stroll out onto the breakwall, but decide against it, knowing somehow that there are other places to see. Besides, I remind myself, the breakwall's really best at sunset. I keep walking.

I wander down an old residential street, past a bakery where my father used to buy custard donuts for us every Saturday. I pass more quaint shops, and a few houses belonging to elderly family friends. Most, I'm told, have moved away or died. As I venture west, the trees become taller, and the houses slightly more ornate, until finally, I find myself at one of my favorite childhood hangouts, a large public commons known as Gallup Park. Gallup straddles the tiny street on which I grew up, and on one end--the south--boasts an impressive tennis/basketball court, while at the base of the hill stretches a neat three-way diamond of softball fields. Across the street, the hill that is the park's dominant feature becomes more prominent, and is dotted erratically with towering red pines. A gazebo sits at the base, and it's atop this hill where are stored some of my fondest childhood memories. I used to joust here against my friends on our ten-speeds. In the winter, the many trees and stumps became both hazards and weapons for overeager sled racers. I remember spacing out for hours just laying on my back under the ample shade, napping until nearly dinnertime.

The afternoon sun spears through the boughs today as it used to over a decade ago, and when I close my eyes, it's easy to imagine that I'm thirteen years old again, small for my age with shaggy blond hair and glasses. For a second, I still live just down the street, and it's still just me and my mountain bike, staring out on that first monumental day of summer. From somewhere distant, I hear a lawnmower. The warm breeze picks up slightly, and with it comes the rustle of air blowing through the grass and pine. It occurs to me that such sounds have been been going on since before humans walked the earth, and will likely continue on long after we disappear. The Divine moves in those blades, a Universal Conductor of sorts. Its chlorophyll bows and strings render a symphony. Addressed to nobody in particular, a whisper escapes my lips.


I breath more deeply. I open my eyes, smiling, and move on.

I swing back into town up my old street. I grew up in an old two-story home in a wooded residential area of Port Austin. It stretches from just east of Lake Street and reaching north from Jefferson all the way to Spring Street and the waterfront. Much here, too, is the same, though sadly several years ago a wealthy couple from Detroit bought my childhood home and gutted it. It now is reborn as a tacky pseudo-colonial; the screened-in porch is long gone, and the exterior is now covered in a slate-gray vinyl siding. The entire second floor has been redone. I still wonder if my old bedroom remains.

When we first moved in, my mother freaked because the previous occupant of my room had seen fit to draw ornate graffito tags across the cerulean-blue walls. She, of course, thought that they were atrocious. I, being eight years old, disagreed. Between the colorful tags, the generous amount of space, and the maple boughs leaning outside my window, I felt as though I had been given a sort of funky treetop loft space. From the years of 8 to 19, that second-floor room was my sanctuary. I spent long summer afternoons there, laying over the foot of my bed, staring out the window as I listened to Sting and worked out ever more complicated form studies in my sketchbooks. I understand that things change, but all the same some part of my still rankles at the arrogance of the new proprietors. A voice whispers somewhere.

Bastards bulldozed my childhood.

I shrug. Forget them. The room may be gone. The memories remain. Nothing stays, and I can live with that. I keep walking.

Skipping over downtown, I walk by the old Port Austin Bank building, now a trendy restaurant where I spent my adolescence busing tables. My father still tends bar there to this day. It's a nice place, but I can't even look at the building anymore without remembering the smell of honey vinaigrette. I must have mixed a hundred ten-gallon buckets of the stuff during my employment there. Food's still good, though, and the staff all mostly remember me. Since joining the Army, I can't walk into the place without the owner--himself a Vietnam veteran--insisting he buy me a drink. Based on my most recent visit, the Chicken Wellington is still first-rate.

Beyond that, I hang a left on Railroad, past the old Community Playhouse where my mother sang in both Gypsy and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. All childish jokes about my mother aside, the place really is a nice thing to have in such a small town, and it was there that I first developed an appreciation for the arts. And best of all, after my dad left the Navy, our first home in Port Austin was located right across the street, just next door to the Post Office. Much nicer, and much in the same condition as always, this first home is a two-story house painted a cheerful yellow. It's here that I lived between the years of between 6 and 8. Though I do miss the place sometimes, it honestly doesn't hold the same significance as the one I lived in by the Protestant Church. It occurs to me now that between living next to a Post Office and a Christian house of worship, I've more or less grown up in the shadow of both Church and State. Walking right on Spring, up towards Bird Creek, I elect to leave the implications of that sudden irony for another time.

On the other side of town, the spire of St. Michael's Catholic Church dominates the sky, and in its shadow is located a quiet but well-maintained cemetery. I'm given to understand that my grandfather's headstone is located there. Cutting down the banks of Bird Creek, I ford the now-shallow riverbed, suddenly possessed of an intense need to pay it a visit; I'm not entirely sure why.

I didn't know my grandfather that well, though I spent a great deal of time with him as a boy. He wasn't a talkative sort, and he always had a fractious relationship with my mother. The only things I ever learned about him came from her. I suppose my grandfather was simply a private person, a trait I can certainly understand and respect. Still, I find myself drawn to the cemetery, seeking out something I can't really identify. It's a quick walk.

Before I know it, I'm standing in front of the church. One Saturday morning during my fifteenth summer, I spent several hours here talking about the nature of faith over Confession with the young and energetic local priest, Father Michael Bell. I had just fallen hard for a young woman named Teresa, and I went to him seeking a fresh start, suddenly looking at my world with new eyes. Though I later went on to abandon the Church, Father Mike's eloquence and insight helped shape my spirituality in profound ways.

Father Mike died several years ago in a car wreck, and when I had first received the news, I remember being genuinely heartbroken. I wander over to the cemetery as I reflect on this, and as I arrive I suddenly find myself saddened again. I remember that Father Mike was buried in Saginaw--no chance of visiting his grave. I look down at my feet and let out a sigh. I swallow. No matter. I pause at the gate, and then step resolutely onto the grounds.

As I wander between the rows, I think to myself how nice it could be to have my body interred here. I've never been much for the idea of embalming and burial--I'd prefer to be cremated--but still, the idea of having a headstone and maybe a portion of my ashes here is somehow appealing. I walk back and forth between the headstones, noting all the familiar family names--Strozeski, Andrewski, Goretski, Horetski, Antoszewski. There are a lot of "Skis" where I come from; make of that what one will. I find myself marveling at the number of old military vets buried here. The flags stand out among the graves like daisies, each noting a headstone bearing the name, rank, and service branch of the deceased. A hardy lot, too, these ones. Only two combat fatalities, and both dating back to World War One. I suppose I should find that reassuring.

I don't know exactly why, but as I find my own mortality very much staring me in the face, I feel as though perhaps the answers I seek lie in the company of the dead. I'm reminded of the story about a Buddhist abbot, once asked by a Westerner if his spiritual knowledge allowed him to communicate with the dead. "The dead," responded the monk, "are easy. My difficulties are with the living." After many years of thought, I think I've come to finally understand that statement. The dead, I find, speak with one voice, and that voice is the same as the one I hear whispering in the grass out at Gallup Park. More than anything here, I find peace--comfort even. I grow increasingly reflective as I walk from headstone to headstone, noting the names and dates.

Some, I observe, are the names of people I know. Many are not. Still others are for those who are yet living. All the same, I find myself shocked to see a few names I did not expect. Among them, Melissa Breuss, a girl a few years my senior whom I remember clearly from grade school. I give a start when I notice her name among all the others, and I walk up to it, stunned. The small grave marker provided her says she died in 2000.

Two thousand,
I ask myself. How did I miss that?

I'd have been home on summer break, just following my freshman year of college. There's no way I shouldn't have known. But then, perhaps I was simply too busy out partying to remember. I didn't much care for Missy Breuss in life, but now in death I wonder sadly about the circumstances which cut short her days. My generation in this town, I observe, has suffered a casualty.

It may yet suffer another
, comes the response.

I look up, biting my lip. The voice again. The morbidity of this thought pattern aside, I can't deny the truth it speaks. I sigh again. Death, I say to myself, is as universal as Suffering. It's a part of life. I can't predict it, I remind myself, and all I can do is hope for the best and pray that when the time comes, I can meet it as best as my own sense of honor sees fit. Nothing more, nothing less. Strangely, I'm both surprised and comforted by this answer. I also realize the answer is not my own. It's been over two hours I've spent in this cemetery, and now the day is growing late. I haven't succeeded in finding my grandfather, but whatever else I was looking for when I came here, I am now content that I have found it. I turn to leave.

Walking back into town, I pass the street leading down to the local public beach. I hang a right, wandering down the well-shaded residential lane, but when I come to the turn I need to make, I keep going. Bird Creek Park is nice, but there are better views, I tell myself; ones where I can be more assured of getting the privacy I need. In light of this decision, I continue following my current street until it curves into a subdivision of well-manicured waterfront cabins. I've always enjoyed this neighborhood, even in spite of the condos and the large, ugly mansion someone erected there several years ago.

After a few more minutes of walking, I come at last to my final destination: a narrow public easement nestled between two sets of retirement condominiums. Once little more than a drainage, the entire easement has since become overrun with lush cattail clusters, which stretch for a good number of yards into the bay. Lake Huron's water levels have lowered in recent years, and thus what were once barren stretches of exposed lakebed have become beautiful wetland jetties. This particular easement also lies at the most northeastern edge of the harbor, thus providing a unique view of Port Austin in the fading afternoon light.

Coming to the end of the drive, I hop up onto the steel abutment at the shore's edge. I walk out slowly, one foot over the other, like a gymnast. It's almost five in the afternoon, and the sun is perhaps two hours from setting. The daylight is fading from blue-white to a bleached-out golden haze, and as I look out over the water, I smile. I've dreamt of returning here, to my home, ever since we got our orders, all in hopes of seeing the sky just this way. There's much beauty to be felt in this world, but even to this day I think that there is no beauty in the world quite the same as this. Port Austin may be a speck of a small town; it can often be a very quiet, very lonely place. But for all its quirks, all its inconveniences, it's still very lovely. For what it's worth, I'm glad that I have been able to spend so much of my life here. Life goes on quietly on these shores, regardless of wherever else the long road takes me.

The wind is picking up again; a warm breeze coming from the southeast. Overhead, the gulls soar and call to each other, roosting along the shoreline in neat rows or skimming over the water in search of fish. The waves are coming in quietly, and as I look to the west Port Austin is sparkling in the harbor. A thousand sunlit gems dance across the emerald green of Lake Huron. I stand up a bit straighter. I don't know when, or even if, I'll be coming back. But for now, I'm at peace with myself.

This, I think. Right here. This is what I want to remember. Hang the rest.

Thirteen years old, twenty-three, or somewhere in between, for a second it all runs together. I stand for a moment as all potential selves simultaneously. I exist outside the field of Time, and on this fading afternoon I dwell, however briefly, in nirvana.

I am at rest.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sturgeon River Gorge

The slow grind
Of wood and stone and water,
Rendered in time-lapse,
Would create a roar
Whose vibrations, rumbling
In the patient medium
Of Time,
Would never touch my ears
But all the same
Would shake my bones
To dust.

I live and die in the spaces
Between these words; existing inside
An Utterance,
A Divine proclamation
That none will ever hear.
All the same, though, I know that
This Gorge
Is truly the mouth of the Gods,
And my gods,
How that mouth

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saying Nothing, Telling Much

I sit in a pole barn on my family's 5-acre property, a few miles west of Port Austin. The air is warm, but a stiff breeze is blowing, and the evening sun casts the fields of corn and sorghum in blazing orange light.

I'm surrounded by a family of cats. Recently taken in by my parents, I'm told that they have been wandering the family property for months. The eldest is the matriarch, Melinda, a gaunt but elegant white female. Her age is unknown, but though she's been living on her own in the wild for some time, her feral nature is clearly a product of conditioning. She is affectionate with humans when approached--indeed desperate for it--but her eyes display a certain coldness. They hint at a hardness of living that any northwoods working mother would understand.

The next is Melinda's adolescent son, another white cat I've come to call Dagger. I suspect that Dagger was born feral, because while he insists on trailing his mother at this advanced age, he is still clearly distrustful of humans. None of us have ever been able to approach him to within three meters. He accepts the food we give him, but like his mother Dagger still prefers to prey on the songbirds that frequent the feeding stations in our backyard. His name comes from the way that, even now in safety, he still insists on treading "blade out," constantly on the defensive. I don't think he'll ever be completely comfortable with human beings, even if he stays out the rest of his days here.

The rest are newer additions; a litter of four-week old kittens birthed by Melinda not long after her adoption by my parents. There were six originally, with one dying early of undisclosed causes. That leaves five remaining healthy: three white like their mother, plus one black tabby and one Russian Blue. They reside in a small hay-lined cage furnished by my mother, and here Melinda is able to keep her brood safe from prowling raccoons, as well as from the intrusions of another feral black tabby seen on our property. This last is suspected to be an older brother of Dagger, as the two have been seen interacting with some degree of familiarity. Only Melinda regards him as a threat.

The kittens are growing fast, only recently having gained full sight. No bigger than a human palm, they've lately been attempting to wander outside of their nest, though they never get more than a single human pace before hunkering down and mewling for their mother. Melinda's a good parent, though, and is quick to rush to her children's cries for comfort and nourishment. Honestly, with Melinda being as starved as she was when adopted, I'm amazed she's been able to nurse her kittens at all. That being said, however, I'm upbeat about the future of these kittens, and about Melinda's ability to earn her keep as a valuable slayer of local field pests. Even my mother's two horses have gotten used to Melinda's company, and allow her to wander in and out of their pasture enclosure with impunity.

The sky is growing darker, and the late summer breeze continues to howl outside of the pole barn. The metal creaks, and the wooden supports of the barn groan and shudder quietly. Dagger is hopping up and down the hay bales, while Melinda busies herself with nursing her litter. There was some squabbling among the kittens initially for position, but now they lay huddled together, quietly suckling away at their mothers' belly. Melinda looks up at me from roughly bathing her brood, and fixes me with a stare that, while weary, betrays a sense of relief and contentment. She knows that she is safe here, along with her brood, and as we exchange gazes she blinks once, slowly, before licking her chops and returning to the neverending task of cleaning her charges. Outside, the wind moans, and the Appaloosa, Tokahe, lets out an insistent whinny. No doubt she sees my mother, regarding her from the back patio window. I breathe deeply, and savor the smell of fresh grass and moist hay. I sit silent in the company of animals, and on a windy evening in late August, share with this lot a sense of silence and security greater than any I have long known.

There are no words, but the message between us is clear.

We are home now. We are safe.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Stranger In My Own Home.

I have been reliving my youth.

My childhood, my adolescence has surrounded me, drifting in on breezes that smell of wild lilac and cool water. Currently, I'm at the in-laws', up near Baraga. For the week before that, I was back home, with my family. It has been good to be back on the Great Lakes--I was tired of being landlocked. It's hard for me to explain to people who've never been here how the Lakes, as we call them, are not so much lakes as much as inland seas; a sheet of water stretching all the way to the horizon. Everywhere I go, the smell of the water reaches me, and the effect on my morale is readily apparent, even to myself.

Spent a good part of the last week "on walkabout," as my father calls it. Ran six miles back and forth over the concrete breakwall on in Port Austin Harbor. I shared a round of beers with my best friend since first grade, later the best man at my wedding. We talked about Army life, about politics, about his upcoming semester at college, and about what I can expect over the next year downrange. It was nice to see him again. As we parted ways, my friend took a moment to remind me of the deal we made after high school.

"Once a year," he called out, climbing into his truck. "This year's obligation is fulfilled. Next year it's on you." I laughed, waving him off.

"Once a year." I grinned. It's an obligation I look forward to upholding.

The rest of my time has been spent pretty much alone. The mornings here have been clear and cool, with some light rains as is typical of the storm season on the Huron shoreline. I visited the old quarry I used to hang out at growing up, and took trips out to see my old middle school. I dropped in on my old metal-god high school band teacher, already busy whipping this years' drumline into shape. I informed him that the current steward of my old bass drum needs to treat my instrument with more respect. Even now, the legend of that drum and my exploits with it are spoken of in whisper. It was good to see him again, but I admit, it was strange to the the faces--they're all so young. I transferred to that school in ninth grade, and but for my time there, I don't think there'd be anyone in the entire county who remembers me.

I grew up in a town of about 700 people. Of these, I knew perhaps half a dozen. I was always a solitary sort of person, and so I was always able to enjoy a certain measure of privacy. But that privacy comes at a price. Just the other day, I stepped into an old restaurant in my hometown, one I've patronized with my parents since I was a child. I recognized one of the waitresses, a few years younger than myself, but other than that, the sea of faces I saw over the noontime rush were largely alien. I, a proud soldier and accomplished native son, have returned to find that, while the place that I loved so much remains the same, there are none to see that I am here. To be certain, I look a little different from the Milo these people remember, with my Army muscles and severe military fade, but still, it bothers me on some level that I am as yet unable to identify.

I'll be in the desert in just over a month. There is a chance, however small, I may not return. I don't expect to be worshipped for having decided to joined the Army, but all the same, I'd like for someone to see that I did all right for myself. I want some part of me to remain here, in the memories of those who remained behind. And coming home, I fear now that such may not come to be. It makes me sad.

It's one thing to have nobody know that you're gone. It's quite another to have none remember you were there. I feel now as the native son that my hometown has forgotten.

I feel now as a stranger in my own home.