CAMP HURRICANE POINT Ar Ramadi, Iraq (July 13, 2005) – a food service specialist with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, serves a Marine at the mess hall here during lunch.
There is one subject on all of American TV [and one movie: "Brothers", featuring Tobey Maguire as a Marine captain suffering from PTSD] that would make me break into tears; despite the time of day, the company I’m in or context. It’s “our boys in the military”, as they call them: American Men and women fighting and dying abroad in the service of their country.
My ex-husband Chris used to be a Marine shortly before I met him. So short, infact, his crewcut ["medium fade", I discovered it was called later] hasn’t grown back to normal the first time he came to visit me. He made a point of making his bed the minute he got up. Shaved clean every morning. And fold his clothes in tiny rolls, for space saving.
He took pride in the smallest job he can get. Sat outside for hours to hear the neighbourhood kids play and ate everything that was given him with wonderment. What he didn’t do was sleep much. He had a back-pain that he got from a basketball game in Camp Lejeune. He has fallen on his shoulder and broken a bone there, but it was located in a place where the touching of it may mess up his whole vertebrae. So the doctors told him they would have to either operate on him and risk paralyzing him for life. Or prescribe him pills to help him curb the pain.
When it came to sleeping, the pills didn’t help much. Two to three hours a night was the best he could get, if that. It wasn’t unusual for me to see his face brightened by the light from his computer screen when going to sleep, and find him glued to the same screen when I wake up in the morning. If he has fallen asleep on the couch sometime in the night, the TV would have to still be on; showing an early morning weight-loss commercial or jewelry collections from the home-shopping network.
I used to try giving him back massages, nag him to buy pillows that would put less stress on his shoulder, and wonder why he takes his sweet time about checking mail every evening. I never saw signs of depressions on him. He didn’t like talking about his past, true. But was always cheerful and willing to lend a hand. Easy to laugh. Hesitant to judge. Averse to confrontation. Everything, in short, that I wasn’t. Knowing what a tough life he had, I thought it took a super-human strength to accomplish what he did. And said as much. Here was a man who not only served in the military, in the business of stepping on explosions and dealing with flying limbs; but been discharged with Honor. Has then gone to school, working 3 jobs at times. Graduated in Computer Programming. Gotten himself a job as a Junior Programmer with a publishing house that was 4 blocks from where we lived. Within 2 years of moving back to America, he’s petitioned his wife successfully, then rented us a one bedroom apartment at the cushiest part of Escondido. We had breakfasts together on Sundays. And could afford to go to the movies once a week. His parents lived on a walking distance. He hang out with sister every once in a while. And his brother drove over from San Francisco every other month. I could understand his not being able to sleep for more than 2 hours in the 9 months he spend in Ethiopia; among people who didn’t speak his language and whose culture he didn’t understand. But what else can a man want?!
I learned the error of my assumption after discovering his marijuana stash one night while he was out “checking mail”. When I wept for like half an hour, saying that i wasn’t going to be married to a man who may not live long enough to have a future with me; he poured the whole thing in the toilet and called me over to see it go down the drain. Then he sat me down, held my hand and told me, with red hot tears burning his eyes, why he felt the need to hide his marijuana dependence to me. How it wasn’t the back pain keeping him up half the night. But what he saw back there! And the “nightmares”. And the “ghosts”. Nightmares, ghosts and stories he can’t bring himself to talk about.
I have tried to ask him once, ofcourse, the first time we met. I have said, with an embarrassing eagerness, “So you were in the military. Have you killed anybody?”. He was doing his British Sailor accent and making me cackle like a young chick. When I asked that question, his body become tense and I felt the air between us freeze. “I don’t wanna talk about it”, he said quietly. And we never really did.
His friends have, ofcouse, came up. Life in the barracks. Meal time at the mess halls [the military dining room]. Age and ethnic diversity. Once, when talking about 9/11, which was the reason why he enlisted the second time, he said how his older brother gave him a hug when coming to see him off and said, in a tearful voice, something like “thank you for defending our country”. I’ve never seen Chris look more grave or mature than I saw him then. “People”, he chuckled bitterly, “Have no fucking clue. They hear all this crap on TV and think…”.
He’s told me how most men and women in the military don’t feel like heroes. How their days are haunted by the life they have gotten themselves into and the things they have left back home. How harsh weather and living arrangements; stern military rules [a life of servitude - of saying "Yes Sir" and "No Sir" to superiors who only adress you using your rank], extreme punishments for doing something simple as over-sleeping and the barrack [social] life they are forced to be a part of, were the least of their problems.
When they aren’t being shot at, blown to pieces or walking among natives they are there to liberate who hate their very existence, they fret about their families back home. Even a hint of something going wrong in a beloved’s voice sends them into weeks of dark depression. School suddenly becomes this most important thing in their lives. They spend, every moment of their free time, talking about what they were gonne do when they git done: Go to school. Get a job. Marry their girlfriend. Go shooting hoops with their kid. Live in a place where all you hear is nature sounds and can eat off the fruit of the land.
He’s mentioned, mournfully, how ill-prepared most are for the life that awaited them there. How mistakes and regrets eat their sanities alive. How devastating betrayal is. And how unbearable life gets when they come home and realize the country they gave their lives [and sanity] for hasn’t got a place for them. Or worse, wants to brush them aside and forget about them. How he understands why most eventually end up where they do: the streets. Mental institutions. As latest victim of suicide on a coroner’s report sheet.
And so.. this Veterans day.. I’d like to support the American troops. I hope they bring their boys back home. Soon.
It must have been three weeks ago, I was walking by the seafood-isle at Safeway; which is a store I rarely go to, despite its situation across the street from my building. The creaking floor-boards, the unfriendly sales people and the fact that most of the customer were either Somalis or Ethiopians from my first visit of this store almost three years ago has left a bad taste in my mouth. In the process of passing by the said isle, smiling indulgently to the man behind the counter [the way I do with Child-reach and Plan International canvassers on 4th and Pike], who was asking how he can help me; I felt a sneering coming from the woman who was passing by. I am black, alright? I am pre-wired to sense sneers even where there are not. So I turned to look at her, expecting a white woman wearing a face that says black women’s rightful place is by the poultry isle or at MacDonald’s – pushing a baby in a stroller while laboring under the weight of one.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, upon finding a rather homely looking Hispanic woman. Not your average voodoo-doll sized Hispanic woman, mind you, but just as strange. Jet black hair. Faint mustache. And thick eyebrows that almost made a line, Count Olaf style. The type you won’t ask for directions because her response would be a dumb look and mute smiles.
The big question mark on my face must have made her pause. For she parked her cart next to me and started talking. I was about to wave her away, explaining how I don’t speak Spanish ["Sorry, Doña. Ich kann nicht sprechen sie Spanish"]; when I caught phrases I recognized ["you... doesn't look good honey.. come see me"]. She took a card out of her purse and handed to me. I took it, still straining to understand what she was saying. When I saw the word “Tarot” in boldface letter on the card, I needed no more explanation. “No thank you,” I said cheerfully, handed the card back and walked away.
I may have walked away. But haven’t gone far before I regretted not making sure what it was about my person that didn’t look good to her. For I am like Dean Keaton. I don’t believe in the devil but I’m scared of him. After all, I grew up in a protestant church. And the devil is pretty much the thermometer with which you measured your spirituality back there. Is your path beset on all sides ["by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men"]? Then, Praise the Lord!, your spiritual life is on the right track! If you, on the other hand, are too content, happy at having things going your way.. then you might wanna take a close look at your inward life and see where you went wrong. Comfort is a sign that you have either gotten too chummy with the Prince of Darkness, or your soul has been ensnared by the comforts of this world. For hasn’t the Lord said “as long as you are in this world, you shall have tribulations”?!. You’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Am I in this world?” Well, are ya, punk?
So I wondered by the break-fast isle. And I wondered by the check-out line. Then I wondered sitted by my bed, watching a movie while attacking a bag of pop-corn. Could she have seen something in my future, I wondered? In my body? In my surrounding? Do I have some hidden disease I need to have checked-out? Were I being stalked by some one or some thing? Am I gonne lose my job? When texting my worries to Troy, he comforted me by suggesting “Probably your finances; which she would cure by taking your money and telling you what you want to hear”. Babi’s Whatsapp response was “I didn’t take you for someone who believes in Voodoo”; resulting in the whole subject of God – and the post For Babi.
Alas.. how else can they explain the violent dreams I kept having every night ever since?
I don’t know if I have mentioned this about me and dreams. But I don’t dream! If I do, twice a year or so, it would either be my father/brother chasing me with a dagger; or some bizarre jumble a keen to an action movie; fast cars.. acrobats.. men I have no hope of landing.
These dreams, however, are clear as day. They speak of blood. And they speak of gore. They speak of desertion. Of betrayal. Of loss. They have snakes in them. They have ghosts in them. They have all kinds of assault weapons in them. They got rape scenes. Murder scenes. And everything hellish in between. Even when I’m not dreaming, I seem to wonder in my sleep why I am not sleeping so well nowadays; worrying about worrying, so to say, knowing sleep is only a veil I can lift at will to step back into my bedroom — unto my anxieties. So by the time I wake up, I feel like I’ve been “BiQil Mefcheting” throughout the night. I’m exhausted and out of sorts. A mute kicking and screaming, in the manner of Pinocchio refusing to take medicine, accompanies me throughout my preparation to go to work; through the bathing, and the doing of the hair and the making of breakfast. “Get up!”. “I don’t want to!”. “Take a shower!”. “But I don’t want to!”. “You gotta go to work!”. “Do I have to?!”. But more importantly, I worry about what the dreams meant. [If I should call home and get it out of Blen]. If I am ever gonne have the kind of sleep I used to have back when my inner-clock nudged me up after 8 hrs of sleep, on the dot. Should I start drinking myself to sleep? Should I ask for prescription pills? Is it going to age me horribly?
Or is this all part of my punishment for walking away? Is that what she wanted? Am I letting her win?
“You worry too much”, I am sure you’d groan, “Your sub-conscious, fertile ground as it has always been for fear and doubt, is playing tricks on you”. “It’s all the pressure of life in America. The purgatory feeling it gives you, the sensation of hanging in space. The reason why you can barely concentrate on chapters of books nowadays. Why your bones want to jump out of your skin every time they failed to answer when you call back home. Your deep-seated fear of having let your family/your country/that ideal – promising – young you down – by not going to school; or not working 16/hrs a day; or not marching out and setting yourself apart.”
But we can never know for sure now, can we?!
You know the temptations of a new relationship that seems to be going well. The private giggles. The dimpled smile at your image in the mirror. The need to stop the “aLafi aGdami” and talk about it. To say: 3 Like a grown-up among children is my beloved among all those I dated. I delight to sit on his couch, and his sense of humor is sweet to my ears. 4 Let him take me to all the places I never dreamt of, To honors I thought were reserved only for the prettiest let his hand over me be firm So i know the earth beneath me isn’t likely to shake [anytime soon]. 5 Strengthen me with patience, refresh me with understanding, for I am faint with cynicism from all the psychos i keep meeting. Etcetera.
But.. being a seasoned woman of the world, who has been through this before and end up wishing “minewu milasen beQoretewu”, you would keep your feelings to yourself; dodge the “L” word and refer to your beau as a “friend” when talking about who you went to watch “The World’s End” with, for example. Keeping your eyes eternally open, you watch and wait: to either be dumped or lied to. When he doesn’t seem to, or feels like the type who may not, you whisper his name among a chosen few. “Mechem..” you would begin, “wondochin mAmen kebad newu” then proceeding with the listing of his “beGo gonoch”; you finalize, with a heart-felt supplication to “Emebrhan”, that you think… you hope … this one is… maybe… a keeper.
Troy is the name of the man to whom my “song of songs” would be dedicated were I the type who goes about comparing a man’s eyes with those of doves, his lips to lilies and his legs to pillars of marble, “set upon sockets of fine gold”. He is a good man. (more…)
Once upon a time..
There was Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And 7th day. On that day… the King finished His work which He had made; and He rested. From His throne, He had a good view of the garden. In the garden were His two favorite handiwork: Man [whom He called "Adam"], and Steve [short for Stephanie] whom the King decided should be Adam’s mate; for they were both of age and it was a matter of time.
He wasn’t given to much talking, this King wasn’t. He was a man of few words. But if He was given to talking, He would have admitted [with a dead-on Australian accent] that He was rather proud of these two. He doubts even he, He would have added, [for - not being the sort for the need to throw his weight about - it wouldn't have occurred to him to capitalize "h"] could top this one! And so.. He leaned back, watching them with fondest eyes. Not like a stalker though, rather like a proud mother. A mother who is both excited and fascinated by her new baby; as if she couldn’t believe THAT bundle of joy and that source of mystery came out her. He was so cozy He would have fallen asleep, if it weren’t for an angel nudging Him. “What ho”, He thought, when He saw Stephanie creeping around as if she was about to do something she didn’t want to be seen doing.
“The snake!”, the servant closest to Him has groaned, and that was all the information the King needed.
He watched her, fascinated, almost daring her to do what He knew she shouldn’t dare do. Take the apple, give it a rub, and sink her teeth into it. But, to His surprise, she did. She didn’t spit it out either. She took a couple more bites and went looking for Adam to “share the good news”. And Adam.. Oh Adam.. Adam went for it.
He wasn’t surprised. But He was disappointed; not so much at the disobedience but rather at the betrayal! The fact that she [and then he] would credit the words of another over His, their ever-loving; ever well-meaning Master-designer.
“Well.. well”, the King thought, with not a little disappointment. “So that’s how it is, is it? They want to take the apple and eat it too, then? Take their ‘destiny’ into their own hands? They want to discover new things.. search for wisdoms.. and make decisions, regardless of what I have to say about it. Instead of heeding to my advice, they want to see if the fire really burneth, do they?!. Well then..” He said resignedly, “Let it be.”
A servant was dispatched to take care of it, at which interval the King sat discontentedly on His throne, deep in thought. He decided just driving Adam and Steve out of the garden wasn’t enough. He doesn’t want to appear soft, no man in His position does; but He was hurt. His pride was hurt. And in His agony, He murmured “And when they spread out their hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from them; and their children’s children. Yes, even though they multiply prayers, as they themselves multiply, I will not listen. For they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them, I shall no longer be their King; but a witness to their inequities, a judge!”
Now here is something you don’t wanna do when you are an all mighty King. You don’t want to make rush decisions you won’t allow yourself to go back on. You don’t want to make those decisions in the hearing of servants, scribes and what not. And, more importantly, you don’t want to go to bed angry. The King has done all that that First Sunday. And with a righteous-reputation to protect .. well.. He was kind of stuck now, wasn’t He?!
That doesn’t mean He regrets His decision. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, He will tell you that. And Adam and Steve, and their children’s children, have not shown themselves capable of an obedience not brought about by the fear of the rod. Alas.. He has gotta admit.. He misses them. Rather.. the memory of them.. the way they were – He and them both – before the fall. Their complete dependence on Him. The bright innocence with which they discovered all the beauty He surrounded them with. The fact that they knew He was always there when they need Him. Their loss wasn’t His gain. Plus.. it can get pretty lonely up here.