Friday, July 04, 2008

"Call It."

It's cool today in Hanau, Germany. Partly cloudy, with a stiff breeze from the west.

Pioneer Kaserne is nearly empty. The Hanau Community is in the final stages of base closure, and with all but an MP detachment remaining in the area, the Kaserne, maybe the size of my hometown, is strangely empty. I don't even have a unit anymore. They left for the states months ago. For a while, I was attached to the local JAG office, but now they're closed down too.

Having chosen not to re-enlist, I've been left here to finish out my time. I finaled out yesterday. Anne and I have moved out of our apartment, and now the building where we made our home for three years stands silent and empty. We were the last tenants in the building. A blue Ford Windstar sits abandoned in the parking lot, baby-windowshades still plastering the interior.

It's over. I'm on my way out. In a few days, I'll be back stateside, and a new phase of my life will begin. This moment, this place, is an ending. A chapter of my life is closing, and in the background, a chapter in my nation's history overseas is closing, too. Here in a sleepy mid-sized suburb of Frankfurt, an era is ending, and soon only the old vets and their German widows will be left to remember. There is relief for many in this, to include myself, but also a sadness.

I walked by my old apartment this afternoon. The pinwheels my wife stuck in the flowerbeds are still there, along with the old picnic table under the ornamental apple-tree. The feuerkorb still contains the charred remnants of peat logs we burned the other night, sharing a bottle of prosecco with our friends the DeSotos. In the branches of the young tree over the table, the mason jars my wife hung as lanterns. Late at night, their candles glowing, I used to sit at that table with Anne, talking over the crickets, and think of fireflies. She always knows how to insert those little touches, the small things that made a place feel more friendly, feel like home. So it was with this. Preparing to move our things to the hotel, I came out to the picnic table and found my wife there, trying not to cry. Seeing those homemade lanterns, the way they swing in the breeze, I finally understood her pain. I shook my head and allowed myself a sad smile, saying a silent goodbye.

It is a strange thing--the life I have lived for the last three years is ending. I am grateful, I am relieved. But I am sad, too. It occurs to me--soon I will no longer be called Soldier. There is a bittersweetness to this. On the one hand, it means I will have my freedom back; on the other, it means I will have given up my wings, the thing that made my countrymen admire me. I will be just a man again, and after three years plus one combat deployment, I know longer know just what sort of man I am. I have the clues, of course--I am a husband, a son, a writer. I am the voice of Alina. But beyond that, the rest is a mystery. I am excited to solve that mystery, but at the same time there is a mourning in me.

I will miss passing under the oak boughs in the early mornings, staring up into the green as I walk to PT.

It is ending now. I am coming back to myself, even now. I am older than I was when I started this journey, and I'm a different person as well. I'm no longer "just a kid;" no, for the first time in my life, I can look in the mirror and truly see a man. But what sort of man is that, I wonder? Who will I be, now that I no longer have the fences and protocols to contain me?

And how long will I have to fear their return?

I used to think that war was hard. It isn't, not in the sense I understand now. You do what you're told. Nor is being in the Army all that difficult. Show up every morning, in the right uniform. But I've heard the stories about soldiers who come back from Iraq and find themselves rootless; now, preparing to enter into a new life out West, I fear that the same fate may befall me. Adjusting back to life with my spouse was easy, but this, this new beginning... this will be hard.

One chapter ends. Another begins. Today, I'm the man with one foot out of the airplane. I'm the man with a grip on the ejection handle, counting to three. I'm the man who sees his cards, sizes up the other players, and then pushes all of his chips toward the center. This is it, I tell myself. No going back. It's time to see where you stand. What's it going to be?

I have to smile. It's a cool day in Hanau, Germany, and on Pioneer Kaserne the buildings all stand nearly empty. Beneath a blue sky spotted with clouds, the cottonwood boughs whisper softly with the breeze. Walking underneath the canopies of oak, I smile and allow myself to breathe in the shaded air, smell the unique green that is the Hessian Rhineland. When I open my eyes again, my mind is clear. I am sad, but I am also eager. I push my chips forward, and smile.

Call it.


Blogger Hayden said...

new beginnings, whether joyful or dreaded, always contain a shadowed apprehension where we recognize the unknown.

you are not admirable because of the uniform, and indeed I've never admired you BECAUSE of that: you are admirable because you have the rare gift of seeing and speaking Truth.

It is a heavy burden, it is so much easier to see what you're told to see without looking deeper. But it is exactly your mental fearlessness and ability to call it like it is that engenders my admiration for you.

As long as you choose to accept this calling - teller of truth - you will find that people both admirers and detractors. It's a difficult, tricky gift, and sorely needed in our world.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah baby! you call it! :)

2:14 PM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/07/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

4:41 PM  
Blogger tinalouise said...

I completely understand your words and the sensation you share so well about the ending of a part of life that can never occur in the same way again.

It is a surreal place, between this 'then' and that 'next' bit of a life - so hard to let go even though you know you can't hold on.

I get the strongest feeling from your words that you will land well on the other side of this - you are wise, you are learned and you took everything you could from the part of life you are now letting go of. It is done and it served a valuable purpose for your personal growth and awareness.

You go forward well equipped for the unknown 'next' that awaits tomorrow x

Tina Louise
Arms Against War

12:37 AM  
Blogger mamaworecombatboots said...

Best wishes and all success in your life as a civilian. For all its faults, as you go forward in life I think you will find you gained many valuable things from your time in the Army~not the least of which is the sure knowledge you have tested yourself against one of the toughest experiences life has to offer and overcome.

The desire to serve is noble even if the application of that service is sometimes gritty.

You are a world traveler and have seen sides of life that 90+% of Americans never even imagine. That will also serve you well. You are a talented man, I'm sure you have a great future ahead of you. (Though if you can learn to see the glass as half-full at least SOME of the time, life will be a lot less grim ;p ) Blessings to you and Anne.


6:48 PM  
Blogger deuddersun said...

It occurs to me--soon I will no longer be called Soldier.

Son, you will always be a Soldier. You swore an Oath that you can never retract: defend the Constitution of The United States of America, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Your tour has just begun. Your country still needs you, in fact, now more than ever. The comrades you left behind will always be with you. You will never walk alone. You have entered a Fraternity that will always support you, for you are now one of us.

Your transition back to the "world" will be easier for you if you remember what I have said, and know that there are others who have walked your walk. From the Revolution to the present, we are all your Brothers and Sisters. WE will be there for you and your Brothers and Sisters. We promise to do our best to ensure that you have a decent GI Bill, top-shelf healthcare and all the benefits you have earned. We will never falter in our quest to restore dignity to our military and our Nation. We will not let you down.

Please feel free to stop by any of our sites with any questions or comments you may have. Or if you just feel the need to talk to someone who knows.

Welcome home, Brother. And I call your all-in.


The American Patriot Institute

7:16 PM  
Blogger soul pumpkin said...

though you will no longer wear the current title "soldier", you will still retain what this one fellow countryman admires, your kind heart and artistic soul...

my blessings to you and Anne...
...welcome home...

3:07 AM  
Blogger tinwhistler said...

Thank you, Seth -- well said.
Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego

1:13 AM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

Yay for you! *mmmwah*

4:34 AM  
Blogger Terrible said...

This is OT but it's been 23 years since I was in Hanau. Is there still a bar/pizza place called Olivers across the street for the Francois Kaserne entrance?

I just found your blog today and wished I'd come across it much sooner. Looks very good with a lot of great insightful posts.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

It's been 36 years since I left Francois Kaserne. I can still feel Hanau in my bones, taste Binding beer and smell pizza coming from the place across the street. I Maybe that happens to all soldiers who have spent a part of their youth in a far away place.

5:31 AM  

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