Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Soldier Thing

I had another dream last night.

I dreamt that I was in my late thirties, still married to Anne, with a mortgage and a young daughter. We were living in Charlevoix, the quiet, pretty harbor town where Anne and I were married. We had gone into business for ourselves, and when we weren't attending Rowan's school functions, we were spending our time managing a small used bookstore/cafe on Charlevoix's main drag.

It was a lot of work, but the place was our to mold as we pleased, and between our combined efforts, we managed to turn the place into a quiet, homey storefront that drew respectable business. It allowed me to take charge of my own career, and more importantly, to nurture in myself the kind of person I'd always wanted to be. It wasn't much, but it was a nice dream to have, and in that dream I found myself approaching middle age and happy.

I've been turning over the issue of my career a lot in my head lately, and I have to admit: as more time goes by, the less certain I am about my future. I'm finding myself saddled with a few misgivings about my current line of work, but given the many choices available to me, I find that the easy ones--or even the socially-sanctioned "right" ones--still come up lacking in terms of where I want to be in 10 years.

This fact was driven home to me most recently with the return of my platoon from a 2-month mission halfway across the country. I was sidelined in November by a shoulder injury, so since then I have been stuck on-post as part of our Rear Detachment. I've since recovered in full, but as my squad returns and we go back to the usual workcycle of the combat environment, I find myself, more and more, turning over a disturbing piece of information about myself.

I'm not a soldier.

This information only recently came to my attention, but looking at how I interact with my squadmates, I have to wonder just how obvious it's been. Sure, I carry a weapon, and sure I wear an American flag patch on my shoulder, but as far as that whole "Warrior Ethos" thing is concerned, I look within myself and I don't really know if I see all that.

I'll be honest: at heart, I'm something of a hippie, and though I hate to admit it, very much the romantic. I love my books and my writing; I miss my long walks along the Huron shoreline. I miss talking politics with my wife over cups of strong coffee at our old bagel shop in Marquette. I miss wandering with her through strange residential neighborhoods and admiring quaint, historic architecture. I miss my old brand of cigarette, washed down with a dark beer to the tune of a little Miles Davis or Norah Jones. As time goes on, I find myself missing a lot of things, and the sad fact is, the more time goes on, the more I realize that the Army, no matter how good the pay might be, will never let me fully enjoy those. It will never let me go to sleep with the knowledge that, when I wake, I can expect the other side of the bed to still be warm with my sleeping wife's body heat.

Back in the rear, once the uniform came off, I could just disappear into a crowd and never be noticed. I speak German with a fair level of proficiency, and unlike a lot of soldiers, my manner suggests neither the ramrod bearing nor half-witted bravado that identifies most servicemen in public. People in Germany tend to assume I'm English, or otherwise that I'm simply a clean-cut American student living abroad. This may sound strange to some people, but as proud as I am of my service, I'm more proud of the fact that, once I lose the boots and beret, I'm able to just Drop The Damned Soldier Thing. The person that wears these boots is not the same as the person who steps out of them.

In my room, next to my bed, I have a collection of photos formed into a collage on one wall. The photos were shot over the course of several years; from the beginning of my relationship with Anne to the last few weeks before I shipped out for Iraq. For the most part, I think they're all good shots. Most of the photos are of scenery--sunrises over Lake Superior; the tree-lined street in Port Austin where I grew up, a scene of Lake Huron whipped by gray skies and rain. In the center, however, are the few shots of people that I find really mean the most to me.

Three of them are shots of myself and Anne: at 20, lying on our backs on the commons lawn of Marquette Park on Mackinac; one of me kissing Anne's cheek, rail-thin and pale from the hardscrabble days of my post-collegiate poverty. In the center, we're shown sitting in a dive bar in Bad Axe, Michigan, sharing beers with my childhood friend Ackerman and his fiancee. In this last shot, I'm slouched back in my seat, grinning sly and throwing The Horns with one fist. A Turkish Silver dangles from my lip. My wife sits pressed against me, fingering the curves of her Smirnoff bottle and giving the camera a coy smirk. Ackerman and his girl look amused but out of place, though all the same we make a cute foursome; straight-laced bemusement contrasting with erudite bravado. It's like Penn Gillette sharing a beer with Tyler Durden. It reminds me of happier times.

The most unusual picture, however, lies below the shots of me and Anne--for what would I be without her love and friendship? It's a picture of myself, taken perhaps three weeks before I deployed, standing self-assuredly astride a boulder above the Sturgeon River Falls. I look to be in my prime; young, confident, unshaven. It's the kind of photo I'd want my grandkids to see when remembering me. It might be a little vain to have a photo of yourself, but the thing is, that photo reminds me of a part of myself that the Army can never take away. I look at that photo to remember that there is a world beyond this micromanaged, artificial life that is the military.

I look at that photo, and for a second I can remember something beyond the 0630 wake-up for PT; remember a world where there's more to life that your last test-fire score, or how clean your rifle looks. I look at that one shot, and I remember a world that exists beyond this miserable shithole; beyond the lies and high-powered egos that put us here. I remember myself, and as I consider the possibility of reenlistment with the Army, I have to remember for a moment, that there are just some things that the Army will never be able to give me.

And one of those things is me.

Big things are coming down the line. I have to disappear for a couple of days.

Friday, January 26, 2007


"And you, who were already conquered in your victories, what you will you be in the approaching defeat?"
Albert Camus, "Letters to a German Friend," July 1943

A friend sent me a copy of "Resistance, Rebellion, and Death," by Albert Camus. It arrived today. She'd been threatening to do so for a while, but nevertheless I was shocked when the package actually came in the mail. I was quick to tear it from the envelope, though sadly, I threw away the envelope before I could get to the return address. I really should write her a letter of thanks. I'm so terrible with those.

I was eager to start reading. I haven't read Camus since college--I never actually finished "The Stranger"--so after my evening brief from Sgt. Killeen, I decided to simply take the book with me to the chow hall. I fixed myself a roast-beef sandwich while I was there, and after finding a fairly quiet table, I sat down and opened to the first page. Before long, I felt for a moment as though I was back at my old cafe in Germany, sitting down on a summer afternoon with a good book and a tall glass of iced tea.

By the first 20 pages, I was convinced that this collection of essays would be my Bible. The first section is comprised of a series of letters between Camus--then a writer of underground literature for the French Resistance--and a former friend in Germany, after a five-year falling-out. Camus castigates his friend for his arrogance and ignorance, and regales him of the horrors which German soldiers have visited upon French civilians.

In their last conversation, Camus turns his own friend's words against him. In response to Camus' reticence to embrace Aryan Nationalism, "you retorted: well, you don't love your country." To which Camus, five years on, counters:

"If at times we seemed to prefer justice to our country, this is because we simply wanted to love our country in justice, as we wanted to love her in truth and in hope."

I read on, absorbed. I consume a chocolate milk and a slice of pecan pie, without once ever seeing the fork, the straw, or even the pie itself. I am held rapt. I am reminded of a book I read before deploying--"Tales of the Master Race," by Marcie Hershman. Set in the quiet German town of Kreiswald, not far from Dachau, that story was a collection of vignettes told by local Germans as they attempted to live out life beneath the growing shadow of the Holocaust--indeed, at times in willful ignorance of it. The haunting messages of that book come back to me now. I find the seats at my table filling up, so as I suck down the last of my chocolate milk, I collect my things and get up to leave. Slinging my rifle over my back, I walk past a big-screen television, past a blaring headline on MSNBC:


Exiting the main dining room, I have to do a double-take at the screen. Even as I continue walking, I have to stare, transfixed by shock. Is this even real? I ask myself. Can this man be so insane as to try to lead us into another unprovoked war? I have to wonder what kind of sick world I'm living in, where the most fellow countrymen can offer to such saber-rattling is a halfhearted groan, before changing the channel to catch American Idol. I notice a seated lieutenant staring at me--is my disgust that obvious? I recover my composure and move on.

Stepping out the door, I have a seat on a picnic table and light up a cigarette. I'd like to enjoy a smoke as I polish off the last few pages of "The Second Letter," and indulging in one, I think, will allow me just enough time to finish the other.

The revelations continue. I have not been so moved by a book in a long while. I could kiss my friend for sending this to me. In Camus' indignation, I find solace for my own feelings of disdain regarding this war. In his impassioned tirades, I find righteousness in my own feelings of alienation from my bigoted fellows. The only thing I do not find is a sense of kinship, in the certainty that Camus felt in fighting for his cause. I do not possess such certainty, but nor then do I identify with the recipient of the letter, blinded as he is by devotion to country in lieu of other more stirring passions. I think back to the Fourth of July parades I saw as a child; seeing the gap-toothed faces painted in the colors of the flag; the military dropouts clad in NASCAR T-shirts. Later in life, during junior-high Social Studies, I would try to reconcile these images with the stunning eloquence and inspired leadership of Jefferson, or Roosevelt II, and find that I could not. It always seemed to me that patriotism, without ideals, is a foolish thing upon which to pride oneself.

But then, as I come to the end of the segment, I am confronted by a sobering thought: What does that say of my own decision to fight? My wife and I have spoken lately of going Officer; have spoken of re-enlistment and the career opportunities it could offer me. I will admit, at my age the financial rewards are appealing.

But can financial security buy a place atop the Moral High Ground?

I pause, finishing my cigarette. I don't know how to answer that question. All the same, I fear that the answer is readily apparent to me. I stand up, closing my book, and turn to walk off into the night. Glancing at my shadow upon the T-barriers, I can see that my steps are long; my pace is hurried, though I don't know why. I tighten my grip on the book, and quicken my pace. I am shaken.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Anne (Hit The Atmosphere)

There are times when I feel like I don't have a friend in the world.

We've waited so long

Every day the same mindless procession. Every day the same people, every day waking up expecting to feel her next to me, only to find an empty bed and the cruel tones of the alarm clock. I never know when another mission is going to come down the line; never sure how much time I'm going to get to talk to her, or even when or if I'm ever going to talk to her again. Every day is just another parade of the same bullshit, over and over and over. And with that comes the knowledge that, if I stay in the Army, I can count on a dozen more deployments just like this one.

For someone to take us back home

Every time a mission comes down, my heart breaks. Loving Anne made me want more; made the only thing I really wanted to be the chance to devote myself to building a quiet, simple life with her. I want to have someone other than her to be able to talk to. I want to know that just one other person in the world gives a shit about me. But I dont have that, and I know I can never expect any better. A hundred other people are missing their wives just like me. I'm just the only one who can't handle it.

It just takes so long

I'm barely a third of the way into my deployment, and I'm looking at the choice of either: A) deploy again when this unit gets stop-lossed; B) Deploy with another unit when I reclass, or C) spend the next 20 years as an officer. Isn't there a D? Isn't there something that lets me put her first? Times like this, I feel like I've made a mistake I can't undo. And it's just so hard to wake up every day with that feeling. I feel so alone.

Meanwhile the days
Go drifting away
And some of us just sink like a stone

I just want to curl up her in arms and cry. I can't handle this. I can't wait another month.

Waiting for mothers to come.

And in the words of Adam Duritz, that's all that really matters to me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Tall Grass

On the lonely nights, the dead wait
In the Tall Grass, painted faces
Shining in the pale light
Of the Coahuila moon.

They stand, line by line,
Singing their quiet song,
Singing, until even the coyotes
Tuck tail and cower in silence.

The world moves on
Without them,
But it will return one day.
It always returns.

And so on lonely nights,
In the Tall Grass,
The dead hide, and sing, and wait.
The dead wait endlessly.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


The last few nights have been long. I've been up until at least one in the morning, without fail, and every day I've woken up for PT feeling starved for sleep. I've felt exhausted by lunchtime, and ultimately I have only myself to blame. I've been exploring career options over the past week, as I mentioned before, and I have a lot on my plate.

As I've expressed in the past, I don't really like my current job. I find the work to be dull and backbreaking, and I find the people in my line of work to be, honestly, a little immature and ignorant. I can say with conviction that the skill set my current line of work provides would prove almost useless to me in my life after the Army, and the long-term benefits of actually staying with this MOS are virtually nil. My aptitude scores exceed those of my compatriots by at least thirty points, and when I tell people that I have a GT score of 128, the typical response is to ask me why the hell I'm even in this career field. Officers in my unit routinely come to me with questions on history, literature, and proper English usage. Needless to say, I've pretty much figured out, perhaps far later than my colleagues, that I am both ill-suited for and wasted upon this MOS.

Which brings me to my current dilemma. I've been meeting with my battalion Career Counselor recently, and have been courted with an array of options for re-enlistment so broad as to be disorienting. After spending so much time being treated like another "dumbass grunt," to look at my quals and find I have so many promising options available comes as quite the shock. As I mentioned before, I've been encouraged strongly to consider a career as a commissioned officer, which for many reasons carries strong appeal. On the other hand, I've also been looking at a host of potential jobs at the enlisted level which also hold some deeper interest for me. While on paper, the decision would appear to be an academic one, I find I am having difficulty making the choice between the opportunities available to me.

First, there's The Officer Thing. Right now, I have a chance to explore either applying for Officer Candidate School, or (more promisingly) being removed from my current unit to attend college full time, as an ROTC cadet through a program known as Green to Gold. I'll admit, I'm intrigued by this possibility. Even as a soldier in Basic training, I used to look at the officers I saw, with their stylized bars and oak leaves, and wonder what it would be like to inhabit their rarified sphere. Hearing that I might have a shot at a command position fills me with a sense of ambition and promise that I can't say I've ever really felt.

On paper, Officer sounds great. I've seen what the officers in my unit do, and though the work looks to be highly demanding and stressful, I fully believe the responsibility to be within my intellectual capacity. I also have to admit that there's a certain ring to the phrases "Lieutenant Freeman" or "Captain Freeman." The potential boost to my civilian resume, as well as the obvious pay increase and improvement in living quarters, would also be a boon, as my wife and I have recently begun to discuss trying for a baby. Make no mistake, being an officer sounds like a pretty sweet deal. That being said, there are disadvantages.

Becoming an officer would likely obligate me to far more time in the Army than I had previously been willing to consider. By the time I finished my intitial obligation, I will probably have exceeded my ten-year mark, at which point I'd effectively become "locked in" until the minimum retiring point of 20 years in service. I'm really not sure that I'm a "lifer" in this career, no matter how good the pay. Truth is, I'm something of a hippie at heart. In addition, choosing to pursue this path would require devoting more time to my studies than I ever did as a civilian college student. I was never the most dedicated of students; managing to pull a 2.66 GPA out of a university career where I attended perhaps 1/3rd of my classes. Granted, at 23 I have a lot more focus and drive than I did as a shiftless 19-yea-old sophomore, but still. Making matters worse, to go Green to Gold I have to enter into school during a fall semester. Since I won't even redeploy til this coming September, that means I'd have to spend another miserable year in this MOS, trying my damnedest to make Sergeant and boost my performance scores to maximize the chances of my officer packet getting picked up.

There are other options as well. If I choose to reclass and stay enlisted, my test scores make me eligible for virtually any MOS for which there is an opening. Currently, I'm looking at either Paralegal, Public Affairs (Journalism), or Intelligence, where I'm told there is a sore need for analysts and Human Intelligence collectors. Any one of these could intrigue me, and each would offer me an opportunity to escape the confining, anti-intellectual environment in which I currently find myself. I have no desire to make a career of Engineering, and if given the choice between that and getting out, I'd sooner simply not renew my contract. Still, while simply reclassing has the advantages of getting me into a new line of work sooner, fact is, it's harder to get promoted in the more advanced jobs, and the pay is still never going to be as good as I would get being an officer. On top of that, staying enlisted would still mean I have to put off finishing my degree, and after seeing my friends now entering into Graduate programs, I'm too tired of not having that stupid piece of paper.

Basically, I'm torn between two futures. One involves me a chance to finish my Army career honorably, and still get out to embrace my dreams while I'm still young. The other will require more time, as well as force me to accept a lot of compromises that I wouldn't have been willing to consider previously. That being said, nothing worth attaining has never been easy, as they say, and the potential payoffs for simply sucking it up until I can put in an Officer packet are enormous. The only question now becomes what I'm willing to do to secure my future. It should be a simple question, but am I willing to put up with this unit's bullshit long enough to put in a packet?

There, my friends, is the rub.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Thread

When I faced a choice with the last woman I loved--the possible versus the simple--it showed itself.

When I faced not having a home; not having a place to go or a meal to eat, it showed itself.

When I stood face-to-face with a drill sergeant convinced I was guilty of serious wrongs, in spite of my innocence, it showed itself.

When I was told the road to bring my wife to Germany was too steep, too rocky, it showed itself.

For all of my failings; for all of my instabilities and fears and insecurities, in the clinch, there rests in me the tiniest thread of steel; a metallic vine which, when disturbed, will slice or shred or crush whatever it wraps itself around. For all of my other weaknesses, if my desire, my need, my conviction is strong enough, there can be no wall high enough to block me. I've been feeling adrift in a lack of purpose lately, but after a long session with my career counselor this afternoon, I have become aware of options available to me that I did not know existed. I have a chance to become an officer. I have a chance to finish my degree. I have a chance to make a life for my wife and I, for our child yet to be conceived. I, after months of dejection and self-doubt, have a chance to change my life. The Thread has stirred, the Thread has awakened.

And I feel it show itself, now.

Sgt. Killeen once said to me, during a moment of personal crisis, that I was "stronger, more valuable" than I knew. I can finally say that I understand. The picture is clear, and I see now that I have a long, hard road ahead of me. That road will take me through more of the job that I hate, it may force me to accept additional risks. It may force me to put my career, my marriage, and even my life on the line.

But the rewards should I succeed? Those would be worth any struggle.

I'm tuning in to the future. The band is strong, the message is clear. In the words of Peter Gabriel:

Turn up the Signal.

Wipe out the Noise.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Our Lady Of The Reef

There are times when I would give
Almost anything
To be eighteen again, and
Stand barefoot on the
Sands of the Port Austin shore
As aquamarine
Broke and glittered beneath the
Late afternoon sun.

To feel the late July breeze
Kiss my neck and leave
The scent of sand and lilac;
Feel the lips of God
Poised mere inches from my own--
That, and that alone,
Could flood my empty basins,
Could quench these dry reeds.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Surge?


President Bush, I am told, has announced a "surge" of American troops deploying into Iraq. Ostensibly, the idea is to flood the streets of Baghdad with enough security forces to overwhelm those who would attempt to undermine progress in Iraq. Democrats are tiptoeing around the subject, pandering opportunists like McCain and Malkin are celebrating, and most of the soldiers I know are, well, furious.

All I keep seeing is this catchword in the media. Surge. Surge. Surge. There's something vaguely homoerotic about it. It suggests a dramatic flow of resources into an area, while at the same time hinting at a sort of "last gasp" from an already crumbling military-industrial complex.

And crumbling it is.

What people don't get about this so-called "surge" is the actual execution of said maneuver. Send in 20,000 more troops, says President Bush. Sounds like a big number, and it's sure to get the war cheerleaders stateside hopping with excitment, right? But there are a couple of problems here: the soldiers being called up to fill the requirements for such a surge are either A) currently committed in-theater, or B) already en route to said theater. An actual mobilization of troops takes months to execute, between planning, shipping of equipment and actual deployment, so the great lie at work here is that the forces being committed to the theater weren't already going to be committed there anyway. The only thing being done right now is to extend a few units (to include members of a Minnesota guard element I know) while deploying a few others sooner. On top of this, even with a troop increase of 20,000, the number of boots on the ground in Iraq is still lower than it was even last December, during the most recent election. Bear in mind, General Shinseki, our former Chief of Staff, wanted 300,000 soldiers for an occupation, and he was ousted for his unwillingness to sell the lie. For all this talk of "surge" and "getting the job done right," the whole thing is just a gigantic fucking sham. It's window dressing. It's intended to keep a war-weary but docile American populace pacified enough to allow the money train to roll just a little longer for the men in power. It's a stall tactic so that our leader won't have to admit to outright failure for as long as he remains in office.

What the bloodless, soulless hawks don't want anyone to know is this: even if we wanted to pull more troops together right now, we couldn't. Retention rates at present (especially in my MOS) are dismal, with multiple deployments less than a year apart for the past four years and continuing into the foreseeable future. Instead of stop-loss orders being put into effect from 90 days before a deployment, those stop-loss plans are occurring up to 180 days before said movements. Six months after the last tour, soldiers I know were already locked in, unable to avoid the current rotation. Divorce rates are well above 50 percent in some specialties, and the post-deployment turnover levels in my line of work were over 75 percent from the last cycle. Our equipment is breaking down. In many cases, we no longer even ship our gear out of theater; we just sign it over to our replacement unit. The vehicle I was assigned back in Germany is in fact superior to what I've been dealt here in Iraq. We don't even have parts enough to replace or repair the equipment that DOES break down. We drive vehicles with damaged ballistic windows, because we can't get them repaired. THIS is why our military relies so much on contracted labor. This is why Ugandan security contractors--mercenaries--guard our posts and key facilities, rather than American soldiers. We barely have the funding for anything else.

No sane, rational mind can look at what is going on here, and believe honestly that a temporary boost of 20,000 soldiers is going to fix the mess that we've created. I'm lucky enough, not being infantry (thank my wife), that I actually spend more time inside the wire than out. That being said, I do go out, and I do see our handiwork, and I do see what goes on just over the fence.

And nothing I see here can be solved by what Bush--who won't even listen to his own generals--has planned.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Rain

It's January in central Iraq, and the rainy season is upon us.

The downpour has been cold and hard; coming down in bulbous, icy droplets. The wind has varied on occasion, but never in the past two days has the sky grown lighter; not once has the sun or a hint of blue shown itself. Our motor pool is flooded. Up the road from our trailers, the camo nets hanging from the guard towers blow and shake violently.

Our motor pool is right under a major traffic lane for the local airfield, and so this morning, I was able to watch an Air Force C-5 come in for landing. The C-5 Galaxy is a cargo jet longer than a football field, but even as impressive as such a sight can normally be, I had to take special pause this time, as I watched the slate-gray giant shake and yaw in the wind. I could almost see the pilots wrestling the old beast to maintain control. The rain poured over the massive wings in mighty sheets, steaming off as it hit the backwash from the engines. My ears rang as the plane passed overhead on its approach, and as the noise died away I shivered inside my camouflage parka. I willed myself to ignore the cold penetrating my extremities. My gloves and boots were soaked.

Around 1315 this afternoon, a tower near our company area erupted in gunshots. A firefight was breaking out, and the noise continued, mingled with heavy machine-gun fire, for some 15 minutes. Outside the wire, we heard explosions, and before we knew it the Alert Red sirens were wailing. My squadmates and I at the smoke shack ran for the bunkers, and about ten minutes later a voice blared out over the loudspeakers that we were at U3--mandatory wear of body armor. We stayed there, even going back to the motor pool, for about the next half-an-hour, until a call came down from Ops, giving us the all-clear to downgrade. Just as well. With full ammunition load and armor plating inserts, my IBA weighs close to 60 pounds--just under half of my normal weight of 145. There's a certain comfort in the the heft of body armor, but it goes both ways. Pulling a 23-hour workday in the stuff while on mission can be a truly miserable experience.

It's the second Monday in January. It's nighttime now, and when I go out to smoke I find that the rain has lulled for the moment. The only sound is the ever-present roar of the generators. In the distance, the smell of the burn pits, normally rank and metallic, makes me think for a moment of sweet woodsmoke. It evokes long snowy evenings spent at the home of our old family friends, the Kelleys. Taking a draw from my pipe, I think of winter nights transformed into black daylight by so many stars, but when I look skyward I see only the faint haze of cloud cover. The rains will be back, and they will not depart for some time.

I got my date today for R&R leave. Two months.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

If I Had My Way...

We'd be back at Third Street Bagel, on a Sunday morning in January just like this, with Counting Crows on the stereo. We'd have our window seats, staring out at downtown Marquette through frost-laced windows, and we'd be sipping at strong coffee while we talked and laughed. You'd be making fun of me for how much cream-cheese I ask for on my bagel, and I'd be blowing you off, relishing the feel of my arteries clogging with every bite.

If I had my way, you'd be wearing your snuggly-shirt, and I'd lose myself in rubbing a free hand up and down your back. You'd steal a kiss or two from me, and I'd let you. When the conversation eventually petered out, we'd simply content ourselves to pore over copies of The New Yorker together in silence. We'd read interesting bits aloud to each other, and trade when we were done.

If I had my way, we'd be gazing and smiling at the hippie kids that came in; the odd preppy couple that wandered in; the professor with a laptop and an armload of research documents. We'd be debating which sounded better--a journey out to Sugarloaf or an afternoon spent under blankets, watching movies and making love. We'd never arrive at a concensus, so we'd do both. We'd end up at the library later, curled up in our armchairs in front of the fireplace, and in the evening we'd call up Mexican and Sean, tell them to meet us at the Landmark.

If I had my way, sometimes I think we'd have never left the shores of Superior. Even on block leave, I've never felt as alive as I did being back in the city that brought us together. I miss Marquette, and I miss you. I miss the company of our friends, and I miss the endless thrum of life that flows throughout a college town. I miss seeing the sun rise over the Big Lake; the way it throws the Pictured Rocks into faintest relief on the horizon. I miss our weird little bookstore, and I miss nights spent shouting to be heard over shitty bands at the Upfront.

If I had my way, we'd be home. You'd never have to worry about my safety again, and I'd never have to question the virtue of my line of work. Sure, life might be a bit harder, but we'd have each other, and I might be closer to finishing my Bachelor's. Hell, by now you'd probably be done with your clinicals, and you'd be that much closer to your RN. If I had my way, I'd be a better husband, and a better friend; not dragging you over hell's half-acre just so I could satisfy some bullshit need to prove myself. We might be pregnant by now, and we'd be arguing over what to name it if it was a boy. I'd know better than to challenge Rowan for a girl.

If I had my way, I'd change a lot of things. I'd have put you first more; I'd have put my own values before a steady line of work. I'd have done a lot of things differently. But I'd never dream of changing anything with you.

And that's when I realize that all of this has been necessary.

God, I miss you.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bigot, Continued

There are times, in this line of work, when I feel a bit like Prince Mishkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

Sitting in the back of the five-ton this afternoon, a debate is raging on the way to work. It starts over a copy of Stars and Stripes, and the recommendation of a former Chief of Staff that gays and lesbians be allowed to serve in the Armed Forces openly. Voices are shouting to be heard over the wind and rumbling diesel engine.

It starts off between West, her boyfriend Hetfield, and Croft initially, but the shouts and boisterous laughter quickly creep in and drown out my MP3 player. I put a pause on my Deftones and pull one of my earbuds out, cocking my head to hear the discussion. Croft, the youngest soldier here, is busy holding forth:

"...soon as he started hangin' around with those faggots, they fuckin' turned him gay, I'm tellin' ya. What was his name again? Fuckin' Larry, Laurie--"

"Laramie," says Hetfield.

"Laramie, that's it! Fuckin' a, dude, that kid was a faggot if I ever saw one. Fuck, man, I was glad that kid got kicked out. I'd'a kicked his ass."

"We all woulda." This from West, a black female specialist and the last person in our platoon to be talking discrimination.

"For what," I ask. Laramie was a soldier in our company, removed from the service for possessing gay pornography. I didn't know Laramie. West and Hetfield both look at me like I'm crazy.

"He was a fuckin' fag," exclaims Hetfield. "He shouldn't be here!"

"And why not?" I lean forward on the bench, regarding him skeptically.

"Why you think," says Croft. "We don't need that shit out on a mission! Some faggot walkin' around grabbin' errbody's ass!"

"You act like that doesn't happen every day here anyway." I cock an eyebrow. Mild laughter ensues.

"You know what I mean."

"No, I don't, sorry." I shake my head. I fix Croft with an even stare. 'Someone tell me how a person's sexuality diminishes their ability to fight?" Croft says nothing. He makes as if to retort, then looks at his feet awkwardly. He pauses.

"I just can't stand to have no faggots around me. Can't fuckin' stand it."

I snort. "Why? Afraid one might think you're pretty?"

"Hell yeah I am!" The soldiers around us laugh.

"Whatever." I smirk. "You're just afraid you might like it."

"Hey fuck you, man!"

"You ain't got weak sales resistance, do ya Croft?"

"Man, fuck that."

"Apparently so. Anyway, so what the fuck would you do if a gay guy actually hit on you, huh? What... a simple 'no, thank you,' not good enough?"

West cuts in. "Yeah, but that don't always mean they stop."

I turn my fire on her. "Bullshit it doesn't! I have never known a gay guy to persist where his advances weren't wanted. Christ, this is the Army, not prison!"

"What about that guy in Texas," she asks. "He was all on the run an' shit, and what was we doin'? RAPIN' MEN!" She puffs up a bit, as though this trumps my arguments. Cheers and shouts of assent come from the male soldiers around her.

"Yeah, West. Rapist, key word there. Gay does not mean rapist. Think about what you just said." Christ. I can feel myself growing palpably more irritable by the moment.

West switches tactics. "Doesn't matter. It's a sin, anyway. God says it's a sin."

"Religion says it's a sin. Religion. God only says it's wrong because WE think it's wrong."

"Uh uh! It don't work like that, man!"

"Prove it. For all the talk I hear of 'Ohh, I'm a Christian,' I sure don't see a lot of supposedly Christian values up in this bitch. I don't give a fuck if it IS a sin, it's not your fuckin' place to judge a person for that shit."

"We ain't gotta judge 'em," says Hetfield, "but iss still a sin. They still gotta count for that shit on the Day, yo."

"See?" I shoot back. "That's a judgement in and of itself! Christ never once said shit about anybody's sins. He ate with prostitutes and tax collector, man! Lepers and cheating wives, and you know what? He never judged. Not fuckin' once. And you know why? Because he was all about Compassion, some shit y'all motherfuckers here obviously wouldn't know a damn thing about!"

I stop talking, to realize the truck has fallen silent. Everyone is staring. I snort, and shake my head. Croft is staring at me, dumbfounded, trying to fight a laugh. I turn back on him.

"Don't use that kind of language around me again, all right? You're talking about my friends, my fuckin' family here, and I don't wanna hear it." I wait a second for his response. Croft says nothing.

I shake my head again, then reinsert my earbud. I go back to my Deftones, livid.

Prince Mishkin, I think to myself. Swear to God.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Said the Paper To the Pen

My pale and yellowed parchment
Your ink has stained with elegance
In words indelible.

--M.D.F., July 2005

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


In the soft oblivion of sleep,
I pulled back the layers today
And found us dancing
Back in Marquette,
In our old living room, with
The lights turned off
And Annie Lennox playing.
Don't let it bring you down, she said,
And as I smelled your hair,
And your perfume on my skin
I resolved that I could never,
For there was no need to.
The snowstorms roared outside
And you were warm.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tragic Casualties of the New Year

It's just after eight a.m. here, which means that midnight just hit across the East Coast. As is to be expected, the projection TVs in the chow hall are blasting news coverage of the Times Square celebration.

Waiting in line for my omelete, I turn to stare blankly at the screens. It's Fox News--typical--and between the split-screen images of Manhattan revelry are interspersed the usual cookie-cutter pair of blond, suntanned news anchors, male and female. The camera cuts to the image of the descending ball, burning in the night sky like a rogue moon burning up as it draws close to incinerate our planet. I stare at all this impassively. None of this is unusual.

What IS unusual, however, is the bling-adorned individual I see laughing it up on the screen immediately following. The camera cuts back to the anchors, so I have to stop as I walk out with my to-go plate. However, after taking a closer look, the garishly-dressed man appears yet again; orange oversized sweater, Dr. Seuss hat, and shades contrasting against chocolate skin and gold fillings. It's Flava Flav, I realize, from Public Enemy. Public Enemy, the original antiestablishment political rap supergroup. Flava Flav is busying chuckling and aping it up for the amusement of a couple of WASPy Fox News anchors, who of course are about as antiestablishment as a dry martini and a couple of Prozac. I shake my head and resume walking out of the chow hall, styrofoam box in hand. This is how I ring in my New Year.

It's official: Grab a bodybag and a sponge, and notify the next of kin. Rap music is dead.