Posts Tagged ‘war zone’

Heartbreak 01

August 9, 2010

March-April 2007

One of the nurses who took good care of me while I was laid out on the fifth floor for a month has recognized me. She sits down to share a smoke.

 I’m perched on a park bench on the quad in front of Walter Reed. I’m between my three appointments for the day, killing time. A tree shades me from the weak spring sun, which I would do something about but I’m still poling along on a cane. I’d like to stand in the sun, but my balance is poor and my wrist, shoulder and ankle are stiff. With only one working eye, I never feel as if I’m seeing all there is to see. I’m anxious moving about in the world, though no longer fearful. So here I sit, cautious in the shade on the bench nearest the door, tentatively enjoying the small speckles of sun passing through new leaves.

 “I’m having a bad week,” my nurse admits heavily when her cigarette is lit. “A lot of kids have come in. We’re full.”

 A lot of kids from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers. Wounded young men and women. I know what she’s talking about. The wounded are the only ones who “come in” to our world. I came in four months ago. I make a neutral sound, remember lying in my room studying the ceiling with one eye wondering if one eye was the shape of my world to come.

 “A boy came in yesterday,” the nurse tells me. She pauses for a puff off the cigarette, her other hand lying dead on her lap, looking abandoned and exhausted. “He’s blind. They didn’t tell him. They kept him drugged until he got here, so he didn’t know it.”

 I suck in my breath with fear. I hold it, paralyzed with horror. I want her to stop talking now. Now. I stare at air in front of my face, willing her to stop talking.

 “When he woke up in the ward and realized he was blind,” she tells me, ignoring my mental plea, “he went crazy. He was throwing everything he could get his hands on, beating on walls … “

Overwhelmed with the horror of the moment that boy discovered he was blind, I want to scream. On the bench in front of Walter Reed, I hold my breath. I can see the ward the boy is in, the shape of the room, the placement of bed, the color of the chair, the wood grain on the cupboards, the metal trays, the plastic bag drips, the colors and feel the shape of every detail of every loose object that boy can’t see and so is throwing around the room in his unfathomable fear.

I sit still as a stone to keep from disintegrating, while my mind screams, Don’t tell me this. Don’t! Don’t tell me this right now! Oh someone, help that boy!

 I want to disappear. If I could, I would die to avoid this boy’s fear. If I could, I would die right now in trade for this boy to have his sight back. 

I’m still raw. I’m still new at this, still avoiding thinking about the possibilities of somehow losing sight in my other eye. I’m still raw, still worrying about the driver of our truck, whom I haven’t seen since the air evac and don’t know … I don’t know if he’s alright. I’m still raw, still melting with sadness – what is the word strong enough for gut-dissolving grief and frustration? I’m still disintegrating with grief for the handsome, angry boy in a wheelchair in physical therapy, for the boy in the bed in the elevator whose jaw was missing. Now I’m disintegrating with grief for this boy who woke blind.

I’m still raw, pumped full of Percocet, emotions flowing like spring water, no wellhead, no catchment, no filter. Oh please, don’t tell me this right now, this strong boy who is blind and all his friends are in the desert and all he can stand to do is throw things around his room. I don’t know what to do with this terrible love and horror that I feel for this boy! Stop talking to me!

 I look up at the sky, out onto the quad that I can’t see at all for the tears standing in my one good eye, my one blessed eye, refusing to fall. “I can’t stand it …” I whisper, frightened to death for this boy, this poor boy, oh god … my body bends forward, hands holding my stomach. Sit up! I scream to myself. Don’t think! I sit up, try to breathe.

 The nurse puts her cigarette out and forces a smile for me. “I’m so glad to see you walking around, honey,” she says to me as she stands to leave. She pats my arm.

 All I can do is shake my head and whisper, “Thank you.”

 I mean, thank you for taking care of the boy. Please take care of that boy. Please. Please take care of that boy.

I don’t know how to help these people. I don’t know how to help, and it feels shameful and shoddy and mean.


Mad Moments – 06

February 13, 2010

Spring 2007 

Some US troops, apparently recently arrived incountry, opened fire on the Iraqi Army just outside the base perimeter this afternoon.

The Iraqi Army defends the outer perimeter of this base. In other words, yes – they’re our allies.

The US Army called the Australians for help in the middle of the firefight, but those Aussies are no fools. “Clean up your own mess,” they replied.

Eventually the Iraqi Army sent out troops to stop the Iraqi Army from continuing to shoot up the US troops.

 (This may not sound like a funny story from an outside perspective, but from incountry it’s choice fodder for some raucous laughs and a  couple days worth of decent jokes …)


Mad Moments 4: Friendly Fire

November 23, 2009

Autumn 2006

Traveling has taken on a novel and ironic new danger lately. The fresh battalion that recently rotated in-country is shooting at us on the road, apparently mistaking our white Land Cruisers for suspicious Iraqis.

Normally when we see military convoys, we slow to follow them, happy to let them clear the road, whether by engineering feats of detection or by hitting the IEDs themselves. “Hey,” our PSD men mutter with shrugs and evil grins, “better them than us, yeah?”

Well … yeah. Cheers, guys.

Now we see a convoy off in the distance and go through drastic gyrations of route in order to stay far, far away from them. “Silly buggers,” our PSD men mutter with a look of mild disgust. “Get with the program.”

Wouldn’t that be sick to get into a firefight with MNFI troops? If no one died it would be hilarious, but somehow death by friendly fire seems stupendously empty, does it not? It doesn’t just leave a hole; it’s like creating a vacuum.



The Pauses – 6

November 23, 2009

Tonight at dinner Jeff asked if I was in the Reserves. Tom almost spit his drink all over the table.  “What?” Jeff said with a bewildered look at Tom. “I think she’d do well in the military!” 

“If someone took her under their wing and beat the crap out of her a few times,” Tom said with a bit of venom.

I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to snark him back.

“She doesn’t get along well with the military,” someone else said.

I called Colonel Jeep “sir” twice in one conversation last week, and two people stared at me with their mouths hanging open. Most colleagues have only seen me around LTC Slasher, so I guess they’re not aware that I don’t have a problem with the military per se; I have a problem with stupidity giving orders (Slasher personified).

“I almost joined the Coast Guard out of college,” I admitted to Tom when I’d gotten my laughter under control. I timed my delivery to coincide with him taking a big drink of his milk. Oops!




The Pauses – 4

November 23, 2009

Out on the endlessly flat, tan, hot, sandy desert next to one of the many beat-to-shit, single lane, supposedly paved roads, a forward operating base (FOB) is being built. I’m going to guess that it’s for the Iraqi Army. They man a roadblock nearby.

We drive this route about once a week. The construction site looks like a strangely bulky, outsized child’s building block set scattered in one discrete plot of an endless sandbox.

Three weeks ago the blocks were suddenly organized: concrete t-walls stood in tight rows with a few random outliers looking like lonely megaliths; concrete cylinders rested side by side in rows on the sand, sorted by size; conical peaked roofs of concrete sat in a row, waiting to top off guard towers; rectangular buildings, each of their four walls holding empty air, stood in rows on one side of the site.

Over the past few weeks, cranes have lifted these items one at a time, swiveling slowly to swing them into specific placements. Two weeks ago the dozen little rectangular buildings were set into two tidy rows. Last week the tall t-walls were lined up around the perimeter of the buildings, and down two sides of the compound perimeter. Today the cylinders are being stacked into tall towers at the four corners of the compound. Conical concrete roofs lie on the ground beside each future tower, ready to be placed.

On the vast desert, a monumental landscape that encourages a contemplation of the puny and superficial efforts of the small animals called humans, the building blocks of this FOB look oddly significant, almost precociously intrusive, yet completely inadequate to the objective of security.

The building blocks of a static war… stock in concrete might be a solid investment.