"Hey! What's up, Stop-Loss?"
"Hey man, I thought you were getting out? Did you get stop-lossed?"
Sometimes I manage to stop and make eye contact. "How the fuck should I know?!"
Right now, I don't want to see any of these faces. The uniforms. The carbon copy buildings. My head turns into concrete and cracks. You couldn't chisel the scowl off of my face with a jackhammer.
I wait to find out if my situation is enough to warrant letting me go. Hinging on the college acceptance letter, sometimes even fooling myself into thinking that it'll work. I move from group of guys to the next every five minutes. The army talk gets to be too much and I have to find something else, anything. That doesn't work so well when it's everywhere around you.
"I thought you were getting out...?"
Just keep walking.
God I hope so.
For some reason, I guess I really believed that after I put in four years, that would be it. I'd be able to pick up where I left off, and move on. Start a new chapter and all that flowery poetic shit. It seemed so plausible. 2009? Shit, shouldn't be much going on by then, right? No?
"Hey man, you signed a contract, you knew what you were getting yourself into."
That is where I disagree. If we actually understood what we were volunteering for, we would have had second thoughts.
You volunteer to be shot in the head. Blown up. Drowned in the Tigris. Burned alive. Lose eyesight, a limb, an important function, or everything. If none of this happens, excellent! It's the dark ugly truth that sits in the back and stares at everyone else in the room, but somehow no one really notices it. You didn't even realize it, but you volunteered for it. You invited it into your life. You volunteered to learn more about death and loss than you ever wanted to know in a thousand lifetimes. You volunteered to have hope snatched out of your hands and blinders ripped off of your eyes.
I avoid the new guys, plenty of the old guys too. Someone from the University I got accepted to calls me to see if I have any questions. That's about when I swallow hard, pull the knife out of my ribs, and croak a response. Keep the conversation short, give your thanks, hang up, and roll over again. Sure would be nice to have the day off, go somewhere and chill, away from Fort Lewis. Away from combat patches and CIBs and desert boots. Try to blend into the crowd, fake it as long as I can.
I was almost there. That close. Now? Now I'm not so sure. So thanks, Iraq. Thanks, Afghanistan. Thanks, Stop-Loss. Thanks to the able bodied and capable would-be soldiers, college drop-outs, pot head burnouts, dead-end minimum wage peons. Thanks, me. Well played.
Ever have a REALLY good dream, and your alarm wakes you up halfway through it? You shut your alarm off and wish that you could go back to that, but you can't. That's what this is like, to put it lightly. It's a wake-up call. One MotherFucker of a cup of coffee. Extra Strength. Guaranteed to burst your bubble or your money back.
So here's what happens:
A) An update with some great news is posted
B) We'll see you in Part Four.