Friday, April 27, 2007

Doubt

The time between mortar attacks used to be measured in days, even weeks. Now it's measured in hours.

The days have been hot, and long. I've worked 12 to 14 hours a day, at least, for several weeks now. Only recently have I begun to enjoy some downtime, and had time to think about anything but cleaning my weapon or calling my wife.

I'm sitting on my bed the other night, in my T-shirt and underwear, inspecting my blistered feet. The boot socks they sell at the PX are terrible for moisture, and so since the start of my deployment I've suffered from a mild but tenacious case of athlete's foot. I've just gotten back from the phone bank, and am slowly beginning the process of preparing for bed. Brooks is on his bed a few feet away, playing Yu-Gi-Oh on his Gameboy. Oz is laying down at the far end of the room, absorbed in my bootleg copy of Heroes.

I'm depressed. I've been suffering from a deep malaise lately, related chiefly to my separation from Anne and my growing disgust with this war. We've been talking about re-enlisting, and to be honest I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole thing. I'm chewing on a few nagging thoughts, left over from my last conversation with my spouse, when I look up from my daily ministrations.

"Hey Brooks," I say. A pause.

Brooks' game music continues bleeping away. "Yeah." He pipes up in a rumbling drawl from the other side of my wall locker.

"Anyone ever tell you 'thanks for your sacrifice?'"

Another pause. "Sure. Why?"

"I dunno." I go back to peeling dead skin from my blisters. "What do you make of that? Does it actually do something for you? Or is it just more empty words?"

"Sometimes," says Brooks.

"What, the first part or the second?"

"The second."

"Gotcha." It's my turn to pause now. Brooks continues. The music stops abruptly.

"I dunno. I mean, it's nice and all, but it doesn't really change the situation."

"Yeah."

"Makes 'em feel better, I guess."

I roll my eyes. "Like the yellow car magnets."

"Exactly." I hear Brooks sit up. A brief silence ensues. After a moment I speak up again.

"Wife and I are talking about our plans."

"Whaddaya mean?"

I shrug. "You know. Do I re-enlist? Do I get out? We've been arguing back and forth about it for a few weeks now, ever since I got back from leave. I'm still kind of on the fence about it. I don't really know what I want yet."

"Need to reclass."

I snort. "For real. I'm getting kind of fed up with all the bullshit, you know? Especially with all this talk of being extended."

"So get out."

I shake my head. "Not that simple, though. We're kinda talkin' about tryin' for a kid. Wife thinks it'd be better for us financially to have the kid in the Army, ya know?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe not raise, but for the actual birth, shit--"

"Yeah, it makes sense."

"--And if I get out, that kinda throws a wrench into the kids thing."

"So don't have kids yet."

"Yeah, but she really wants kids, ya know? And honestly, so do I."

"How old's your wife, man?"

"Twenty-three. Couple months younger than me."

"Makes sense. That's about the age they start thinkin' that way."

"They? Dude, c'mon. You know Anne. She's not like that."

"They're all like that. It's not a bad thing, man, I'm just sayin'."

"I guess."

I trail off. I let both my feet rest on the floor. Brooks' game starts up again. I slip in one of my earbuds and put on some Terminal. I'm still not satisfied.

"I dunno, man" I say, speaking over my music. I turn down the volume a bit. "I'm just starting to feel like I can be a husband, or a soldier, but not both. At the same time, neither of us have our degrees yet, and it's like 'What is there for us on the outside,' ya know? Not like I can get the degree I want out here."

"Yeah."

"I'm just tired of wearing the mask. I'm fuckin' tired of putting other people's agendas before my own. It's what got me thinking about that 'thank you for your sacrifice' bullshit. Who's gonna tell me when I've sacrificed enough?"

"Hey, you signed up for it."

"Yeah, I know, I know. But did I sign up for 15 months away? Mandatory? Did you? Shit."

"Fuck no."

"I rest my case."

"See," says Brooks finally. "I don't really care though. That's three extra grand a month in my pocket. Fuck, I mean it sucks for the married guys, but me, I say keep me down here as long as you want. Your money, ya know?"

"Yeah, but I am married, and anyway, you really think you're gonna notice three fuckin' grand at this point? Shit, if they're cutting away our benefits and our time at home, but the enlistment bonuses are fuckin' twenty grand like Oz's, what's that tell you?"

"Tells me we're fucked."

"Exactly." I shake my head. "Not exactly how I envisioned military spending. Plus, man, you know me. I've never been totally on line with this shit. And man, since I've been here?" I sigh.

"I dunno. I'm getting so tired of this shit. I'm tired of of this fucking war. I'm tired of not seeing my wife. I'm tired of fuckin' watchin' people starve and beg us for food from outside that fence"--here I point sharply toward the far wall of the trailer--"while in here I see KBR's logo plastered over ever dumpster and shitter. Civilian motherfuckers rollin' around up in this bitch makin' 90 grand a year."

"They're not starving, dude."

"And how do you figure? You looked out that fence lately?"

"They're not fuckin' starvin, man, I'm telling ya. They're just like the TCN's here, man--comin' in here, playin' the pity card, preying on guys like you to scam what they want. It's just how it is."

"I don't believe that, dude. Not all of them."

"Enough of 'em." Brooks sits up again. "Don't get me wrong, dude, I'm not tryin' to harp on ya. Havin' a compassionate heart is not a weakness. I'm just sayin' people--and especially these people--are always gonna try to use that against you. Ya know?"

"I suppose." I think back to my exchange with Haider, and wonder how much of that was colored by my own eagerness to do Good. I don't really know what to say at first, and at times like this I find myself missing my wife more than ever. She would no doubt provide the sort of eloquent insight that I seem to have difficulty extracting from my more taciturn peers. I go back to picking at my feet.

"I wish I could believe you, man." I look up. Brooks just shrugs. I hear Oz pipe up from the far side of the room.

"I dunno, man," he says in his lazy West-Coast slur. "I think you're just dwelling on shit again. You always get like this. It's like you're never happy unless you're fuckin' miserable."

"I suppose." I put on dry socks and reach for my smokes. Oz almost never speaks up in the evenings--he's usually sucked into some black-market DVD made by the locals--and so I take his sudden input as a broad hint that Brooks and I need to shut the fuck up. I grab my weapon. Lately, I'm beginning to think that these guys are right. I do get too worked up about things. But it's part of my nature--isn't it? Aren't I supposed to care? Haven't I always prized passion as a virtue. Is it possible that I let my feelings--as capricious and volatile as they are--cloud my views?

I shrug. I stick a smoke between my lips and make for the door. I pass by Oz's bed, and I slap at his boot as I pass. He glances up briefly.

On the way out I say, "Maybe you're right."

13 Comments:

Blogger Chris Rich said...

Good to know you're okay. Hey I saw a bit of biz news in Yahoo about the viability of small used book stores as a niche play. They are actually a fairly healthy biz model cause you can also be an amazon and al lubris affiliate and sell used books online.

Have some wifi action some cozy comfort food/beverage option near some regional campus, maybe with Saturday night acoustic music shows and you will probably do as well as you want while also chasing fellowships for lit and poetry and a few book deals you easily deserve and can get.

Questions, as always, welcome.

9:11 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

I think your peers, while taciturn, do have some good observations. You're an idealist, and you're passionate. That is good, because it's too easy to fall into self-interest and laziness and cynicism and stop giving a shit. But I'm not gonna tell you 'hold onto that idealism, don't let this shit get you down' blahblah. That's Hallmark crap, you know? I wonder instead...why do we think idealism is good? What is passion so good? We make up this myth of purity--of intention, of emotion--as if reason is some dirty thing that corrupts us. It's a Romantic ideal, and it's as pernicious as your athlete's foot...our culture lacks the dry socks of reason...oh fuck it. Drop that metaphor. But still.

I distrust feelings as a prime motivator for human action. When we're passionate about something, it's very easy to see things that reinforce what we believe to be true already. When we're passionate about an ideal--we don't want to see something that contradicts or challenges that. And then we're pissed off all the time because the world is a dirty grey messy place and we can't fix shit no matter how pure our ideals.

I spent a lot of my early twenties angry and miserable and indignant.

I love Camus. You know this. And I admire his idealism. But I could not be a Camus--not because I lack conviction or passion, but because I'm too damned practical. Living life requires compromises that idealism doesn't allow for (without making the idealist really unhappy). And really...I don't have the energy to be angry all the time. It's exhausting, and it's damaging (to me, to my surroundings both living and otherwise), and I sure as hell can't do any good (or see any good, for that matter) in the world if I'm miserable.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Pookie Sixx said...

I don't know about your hometown, but there are some good programs out there to help vets get an education and get jobs. It's not something they tell you about while you are active and unfortunately, you have to kinda dig for them yourself. The medical thing is a really good lure for people wanting to have children while active. For me, I didn't want to raise my children with me either being gone or under the threat of being gone. Or worse, not coming home. It's a very tough position that you are in and I can only tell you this:

If you do 10, do 10 more. But it's up to you.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo, glad to see an entry. Very good read. FYI, I'm currently in Mississippi doing more political work. Neat stuff. Great company, a lot better then the GCI BS...Seriously...

The TB

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

"I think you're just dwelling on shit again. You always get like this. It's like you're never happy unless you're fuckin' miserable."

When Oz is right...

I love you baby, and I love your passion, but passion must be tempered with reason. Otherwise, you are no different from my grandmother.

I know it's hard being where you are and doing what you do, but you have a tendancy to dwell on things sometimes. Swear to God, I'm going to tattoo "Existential funk" on your forehead. I'm not saying stop caring, it's just...

Moderation, Milo. All things in moderation. *kisses*

9:13 AM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

Anne's right, Milo (glad you're back, btw), everything in moderation. You're lucky to have buds there to remind you when you're depressing the hell out of yourself too much!

But I also understand how hard it is to not think for a person who's always thinking (and dwelling on shit) all the time. It's not like a lightswitch you can flip (if only), and lots of times it's a curse, especially when the thoughts come in the middle of the night and you can't let go.

But you know what? You're working out all of the questions and feelings and conflicts in real time, which is why I think you'll probably be in a better state of mind when you come home than the others who bottle it all up or throw away all feeling whatsoever to survive their tours. Eventually, they'll have to deal with the conflicts, because they never really go away, and it'll be harder for them because the context of that trauma is no longer there and the damage deeply buried. I guess it's a matter of finding the balance between being yourself and dwelling on things, and knowing when to let a friend slap you upside the head with a "Snap out of it!"

OT - Seven of Six finally had his knee surgery and got thru just fine.

7:28 PM  
Blogger fjb said...

Here comes another one!

Dwelling on things to the point that they become all-consuming isn't good for a person at the best of times. In the situation you're in, it could potentially prove disastrous. Now isn't the time to be distracted, young man. No one's telling you not care and not to have passion (or compassion, for that matter), but you're a soldier in a war zone. Listen to your buddies, there's time to think about the other things later.

I admire you for thinking ahead at your age as many don't, but for now, concentrate on the task at hand.

That's enough for the lecture, and I'm sorry if I came off as rather abrupt, but like iamcoyote, I consider myself a realist, and I'm concerned that you could drive yourself to distraction.

Take care,

Fiona

8:05 PM  
Anonymous delia443 said...

My opinion is different. Have babies, but wait til you get out and can come back to the states. Or stay in Germany and become dual citizens. They have a pretty good social welfare system.

I'm not apologizing for my opinion, but for me, I wouldn't have my babies anywhere near that organization. The benefits may be good, but they'll always be trying to lure you away with higher bonuses and more difficult assignments away from home. The benefits for mothers who are in school are pretty good here, even married ones. For god's sake though, don't come back to Michigan. There's nothing here and it's fast becoming a wasteland of empty GM plants. You could work while she goes to school and then switch. By then, the babies will be old enough to go to daycare a few hours a day while you go to school and she works.

It's not an easy existence, but it's not a military one either.

But then again, I'm a rose-colored glasses idealist too...

-Melissa

4:36 PM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/30/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

4:33 PM  
Blogger MichaelBains said...

As usual, I could say lots here. I'll just say I like the way that Brooks guy thinks. Facts just are; regardless of what we do with 'em.

More importantly, you've got mad skillz with the writing. Keep it up and that's a Career you're gonna enjoy for your whole life, however long you decide to stay military.

Take care, Milo.

L8

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To want and have children, one must be unselfish, very unselfish!Geez, I hope you are not basing your decision to have children on if you can afford to pay the doctor or not. The doctor is the cheapest expense you will incur in having a family!

8:25 PM  
Anonymous WitchWay11 said...

glad you're back...

i have no good advice. i can only say i'm an overthinker too.

i like delila443's suggestion of staying in Germany and making good use of their social welfare system. The US welfare state is pretty much dead last among all Western industrialized nations, by the way.

anyway, yeah, i'm glad you're back. hang in there.

"it will all find it's way...it's way...in time"

Witch

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's right. You have always felt you would be letting down the world if you weren't always worrying about something. Knowing you as long as I have, my honest opinion is this- GET OUT. You and Anne are intelligent, motivated individuals who always find a way to make things work out. Don't let the army put blisters on your soul.
Markle

3:27 AM  

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