Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
I close my eyes and try and remember the day I committed suicide. What was once fresh and easily distinguishable has blurred to another random sentence in the book that is my life. How can one person be both the victim and victimizer? How tight are the bonds that hold humanity together? For my simple act made me the aggressor towards others who deemed my life forfeit for their own comfort.
Though there are as my types and reasons for suicide as there are the multitudes on the earth. This but the silent majority, the ones that shock us when their story ends in ash, have a narrative that is as tragic in its ending as it is in its typicality.
Many years ago, before consciousness, something must have happened, something must have been done, or said. Maybe it was you, maybe your parents, or maybe even the world. But with such lessons, at such age, there is no recovery. Failed lessons become reinforced; and way leads onto way. Without realization you are forever marked. You are so young when you realize that something is wrong; that something is not functioning right within your body. You move forward unable to share this feeling with others because you can barely describe it yourself. By the time you are able to recognize that the buzzing noise that relentlessly drowns out every other feeling is pain, pain that threatens to drown you, it is too late. You immediately look up and out to all of those who pass by daily. For so long you just assumed it was natural, that it was normal to feel this way. Its when you choose to look for it in others that you become scared. All of the other children look back absent of the pain you wish you could share; and you just can’t understand why they do not feel the way you do. Their happiness seems to span the constant tic-tic-tic of the clock, and yours is only for the moment, lost as soon as it is found. How is this possible, what could possibly be wrong with you.
Deep unsettling despair descends upon you, and now instead of being suffocated you are drowning. Looking around you see no one else struggling and you go out of your way to hide it. And every night you pray to your gods and family that it will end tomorrow, that tomorrow will be the day that you wake up and your body works correctly; to be like everyone else. It is these early years that you dream of being normal, that you dream of being like those who seem to have it so easy. This is before the scarring, this is while you are still teaching yourself how to be strong in the face of all that is clearly wrong. Each night you convince yourself that it will be better. You can only lie to yourself for so long and then it changes, you convince yourself each night that you are strong enough to endure. Yes, right here is where the world fails to take notice. It is this moment, this change, that the outside worlds of influence, leadership, love and concern cease to be the defining factors in you life. Self motivation prevails, and with this self induced strength comes a pride. Though the pain only deepens, and the waters pull you under with more strength, you now accept it as a part of who you are, for as much as you want it to be different you demand the pain as a part of your very identity.
Somewhere in this struggle you will attempt to match the outside world with the one on the inside. Most will hurt themselves in a futile attempt to make what is felt rational. If I am hurt, then I should feel pain; but, the pain will stay and the hurt will go away. This mantra will be repeated again and again with similar ends. They will cut at themselves for the momentary relief, and the scars left will only serve to remind them of how much it still hurts. Others will commit to their most base objectives in an effort to relieve this pain even for a moment. Sexually, artistically, athletically, all will find something that will take the pain away for just a breath, and they will fight harder and harder to have it taken away time and time again. This internal motivation allows them to achieve so much, yet they can enjoy almost none of it. They are lost among the success and failures with no concept of how to determine right from wrong as their souls feel only torment. Every night, going to bed, fighting against the urge to make the pain go away. For now they know that it will never leave them. If they are lucky, the pain is shed, gone, like a frustrating cold that just up and disappears one day. But, for the rest, it never leaves. They deaden themselves towards the rest of the world and step boldly forward, knowing only defeat in the arms of victories.
These mortals are little swayed by encouragement or retort at this point in their lives. They have survived so much more than any of us could imagine, and are not afraid to balance that against your tiny words, your lifeless hugs. Neither then should you make the mistake as to believe that you can encourage them to this end. No amount of conversation, or lack thereof, will push or pull these individuals to their desired ends. You can only at this point set the stage for the final execution of a lifelong dream. These men and women who have done great things end up leaving this earth in a heart shattering event that leaves them condemned by their religions, stripped of their accomplishments by their peers, and a forever sense of shamed by their own blood. In what world do you think you have the ability to change what they know to be true when they decide that they have had enough. In what world do you think your condemnation, or threats of striping away their institutional awards, will change their choice that night as they sit alone.
At what point does their suffering outweigh our perceived obligations that they owe to the living? A selfish act you call it, I ask you why? Is it in consideration for others? What amount of pain must I endure before I can let loose those bonds of humanity. Why must they owe us such?
Know that not all men are created equally, nor are all daemons faced the same. The stories of childhood were never written to let us know that dragons lived, but rather to give us the hope that we can slay these beasts of our minds. As we award medals to those whom have served faithfully, and then demand their return when they take their life, are we not the damned. I ask no man to live his life for the sake of mine, I will not live my life for the sake of another; and therefore will not condemn a man that knows his own damnation. He wears those scars openly for us to bear witness to and leaves a shattering quake behind him as he lays open a truth that we are still afraid of what we do not understand. I do not condone the choice of suicide, but I will stand tall and honor the man that lived his life to the end of his choosing.
Rest in peace; Captain Fallensbee and all those like him who have met his fate. To name a few others that were living success for us while paying a price we could not understand and they could not bear; Ludwig Bolzmann, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, CSM Lewis, Sam Gillespie, Ernest Hemingway, Megan Meier, Sylvia Plath, Roy Raymond, Hunter S.Thompson… and the untold masses that have impacted our lives at the sake of their own.
A chance coincidence, a delayed flight, a brief encounter…
I was sitting in a small cantina across from Gate A23 in a random Airport, in a random City, as I crossed the country one more time. I sat at a table of four, not paying attention to my boss and his staff while they discussed the mundane and over appreciated. My mind had wondered to the musings of the world and the delay in the flight. As my gaze lowered from the ceiling my eyes passed over a woman, slightly leaning against the wall, looking up at the same board that I had been. Calm and powerful, a greek statue or a Jacques-luis David –perfect and ephemeral beauty– with eyes that displayed little emotion; yet, the statuesque pose was enough to trap my fascination.
Ironic that she is a quarter mexican as I sat in a faux mexican restaurant. Ironic that she was alone and I was pretending to be alone. I wanted to know more, I had to see her, I had to have her in a way that comes and goes so fast across the mind of those that are romantics. I left to walk it off, to move on, to find my fascinations elsewhere. When I returned, she was still there, oblivious to me, or so it would seem. The flights were delayed again, and then canceled, and as if by divine appreciation for my needs she lined up behind my party of four for the airline help desk. As all adolescents do, I acted out until she noticed. Working hard for her to smile, to shed her indifference. Slowly but surely my antics were noticed and she smiled, oh if that had only been enough. If nothing more had happened, I would have been secure in the small victory of bringing warmth and a smile to a beautiful, fascinating, stranger. We left for the baggage claim, knowing that it was over, without regrets, without remorse, I could smile.
She stood there, as if she was waiting for me, at the baggage claim. I couldn’t resist, I had to say hi, I had to know if she was staying at the same hotel as us. The words came out so quick, I volunteered our ride to wait for her and her bags. My mind was racing, I was trying to be ‘cool,’ to be calm, to be in control. The ten minutes in the van, the awkward looks at the check-in counter and the twenty minutes in my room should have put things back into perspective. When I walked past her to dinner, she turned and looked at me from the hotel bar. So we talked, we worked around some assurance policy that we would be able to meet up. I could see it in her eyes, only then as I wrote down my number, the whole night played out before me as we looked at each other. I knew that she would wait for me in the hotel bar. I suffered through a working dinner, waiting for the text ensuring me that she was till there. Leaving behind my responsibilities and any sense of accountability I said good night to my coworkers and went to her. She had been patient, nursing a drink, waiting for me, texting me.
I sat next to you, and steadied my hand that wanted to reach out and touch you. We forced ourselves to settle into the rights and passage of the conventional. A protocol of small talk and drinks when we both knew that we were passing time. Waiting for it to be more appropriate than what it was, or what it would ever be. We fended off would be interlopers, I would wait them out. Or at least in one case, piss them off so much that they would leave. I wanted you to need me, so I talked. We worked slowly through the night, forcing ourselves not to make it obvious, to be social with everyone while all I wanted was you. As the hours went by I could see you looking up at me, ever so slightly changing the dynamic, your face marked with hints of desire. And it was then that I watched the vultures of our minds circle, because without you, right then, the world would have lost meaning. In efforts to hide our true intent we walked, room to room, from singular moments to singular moments of passion; desperately trying to ignore their addition. Finally we stopped moving. We stopped thinking, we stopped being individuals, we were young again, insecure, curious, clumsy, and entwined.
The hours would pass and the sun would be working its way to the horizon when we parted company, one final embrace one final look. The world was different somehow, not dramatically so, only slightly, in only a way that this woman and I would know. With uncertainty we looked at each other from across the room in the same airport from the day before. Casual glances, afraid that any interaction would give it all away, that the whole world that we damned would know. Fear, fear of a future that we would deny, knowing that the seed could not grow, yet somehow, I have found myself writing these words. Smiling, content, happy with the night; a night I would do again, I would work for and hold in appreciation of the subtleties of a romantic tryst found on a cold desert night.
I have no doubt at all the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my ‘literary’ sins –
The other kind don’t matter.
I watched in pure enjoyment as my thumbnail slid behind her jaw bone. My wrist pushed up against her chin and I could see the confused look on her face as her knees dug deeper into the black bench. Her eyes on me, if she was trying to decide how much she enjoyed my hand around her throat. The confused look turned to joy as I my heart rate rose and my breathing shallowed. It was noticeable over the music in the room, with its heavy beats that were drowning out everything else. Her naked hips moved with the sounds and her chest heaved up and down in front of my face. We were surround by others, other who were enjoying the sight of this woman straddling me, pushing with all of her might to satisfy her hidden desire and my not so hidden intent. Others, in this crowed room of naked bodies and desperate men, did not find this to be as enjoyable, and quicker than my inebriated mind could grasp I was lifted up, I think on my own, though it could have been with the help of the suited six foot, fourteen shaved headed bouncer.
“We do not put our hands on the girl!” with such authority, and clarity, I had no choice but to respond with “yes sir.” The girl grabbed his arm with both of hers begging for leniency and gentleness, I am sure with the expectation that my pocket book would extend past closing at this high-end strip club in Denver. “I want my lawyer” came from somewhere inside of me, and like magic he was there. “Pierre, whats happening?” “Kim, they want me to leave…. Cant touch the girls… Why do I have a french name… Hand around her throat…. He touched me…” Kim threw his five foot six frame between us and said we would leave on our own volition. And we were out in the fresh air, breathing deep the cool Colorado breeze. We made it a block before he started laughing, and another before I stopped talking about seeing the girl in an hour.
It was a week later over a couple of beers that I was educated in the differences between choking and strangling. I am surprised to this day how much worse it sounds to say “I was strangling a girl,” rather than “I was choking a stripper.” Semantics, but more than potato or tomato, there is a visceral abhorrence to the idea of strangling; where as we are all more comfortable with the sexual connotations that exist with the word choke. I now spend time going word to word that we use interchangeably looking for another such dichotomy. In reality, it was not the pronunciational difference such as the tomato or potato comment but rather an inherent misunderstanding of the definition. If words are to have meanings, and de facto making them important, it is just as important that we know what those meanings are. To write the way our for fathers would have wanted us, or even to meet the standards of Christopher Hitchens would require a significant better understanding of our own vernacular.
During our small chances of lucid conversation between the laughter, we were able to piece together a night where this story is but just one small part of the amazement that the team from the small corporation Captains, Inc. – a fake company we created, to hide our jobs and to completely separate the night from our daily reality– were able to walk away.
Twelve hours prior to me being forcibly removed –sorry, I left on my own according to Kim– from the night club; we were laughing at my luck with women. Something that clearly would not change with the night. This was followed by the creation of a small consulting firm designed to help with movie productions, specifically that weekend in Denver. A chance to possess a persona in which we could slough off accountability and obligations. I found that my french name came from the restaurant that we dinned in. Here we only spoke french, well in reality only one of us spoke french, the rest would make nasally guttural sounds. “Ughh ugh,” and “Pierre, Jean, and Francis” were shouted back and forth in toasts to our good luck. The wait staff was disappointed in our lack of french skills as Francis ordered for us and apologized for us, flirted for us, and eventually helped us leave before we caused more harm than good. Then it was my turn. We moved to a night club in Larimer Square and were escorted to a table where bottles of vodka stood waiting.
Our rock star status was solidified as the women begged to spend time with the jacket laden crew and their free flowing booze. Dancing was followed by dancing, which can only lead to making out. Making out can only lead to making out inappropriately. Our venture at this club was coming to an end as the manager was chastising our server for her friendliness and the other tables were inviting us back to their condo for after hours. Lights came on, bets were lost and won, booze was imbibed and given away and we were happy when we were walked down stairs to the waiting limo.
Walking backwards, I passed through the black curtain that separated a small room from the hallway and was unceremoniously pushed down into a chair. The chair was more of short bench spanning from black wall to black wall. The girl that was doing the pushing was also doing the smiling. A sly grin, not hiding the suggestions that it held as I braced myself with both hands on the bench. The conversation was short, and witty, though the banter was quickly lost as my eyes, hypnotized by her movements, focused on the girl in front of me. Like an indian snake charmer I was sat immobile and mesmerized. Slowly, as I began to relax, I smiled. Another song is played, and the act begins again. There was something in my relaxation, something in my look, that infuriated her, she recognized my esoteric disappointment. She couldn’t take being pushed to the back of my mind, she need it to be about her, about the money I was giving her. She was tired of being just another girl, tired of it being just another guy with more cash than they should be allowed to walk around with. With a rising sense of desperation, her sharp nails dug deeper in to my shoulders and her mouth pushed against my face. My response was fast and immediate when she sunk her teeth into my neck. With my hands around her, I grabbed her, pushed her, tried to bend her into me. Her breathing was loud and rhythmic, the music was louder and two more songs went by. We found each other smiling, not in love, or of joy but rather the smile that comes after exhaling deep, the release of all excess and indelicate emotions – of satisfaction. I found my hand around her neck, and her hand on my wrist, her body on top of mine, moving ever so…
Given our proclivity for women, booze, and inappropriateness we managed to find our way to the late night strip club. There is a story of a camel who carried straw, and it would seem that one strand of straw broke his back. As you can see the wheels were coming of this train and the wreck was going to spread from the front steps of a strip club’s back door to the hotels fifth floor. We were seven deep, five originals (with french names) and two additional women when we struggled to convince the man at the back door of the club to let us in. With missing IDs and credit cards we still managed to get us into this sprawling palace of erotic fun. I can not speak for my friends at this point, in fact as the story goes some immediately turned around to leave, only to be left wondering floor to floor in the hotel threatening the lives of all residents who tried to get in their way.
Lights, women, cages, music, and the allure of private rooms had Kim going back to the ATM machine with a frequency that could ruin your credit and mine. I myself was immediately infatuated with this innocent looking girl who grabbed my by the hand. “Can I dance with you?” My defenses were still strong, and I passed at the opportunity. Checking on Kim and the others I made my rounds. Convincing friends not to use the ATM machine, not to get separated, not to lose their room keys. It was not to much longer that I had given up on trying to put the wheels back on the train, or taking straw off the camel and I jumped head first into the river, placed my debit card into the machine, and was carried down stream by a vigorous dark haired figure, until I too ran ashore.
Happy 30th Birthday to friends of whom I am not worthy, whose time is too valuable for the likes of me and my antics. To them I offer this epic night, where this is just one of many stories that would have you crying, and the teller blushing.
I am alone, with my thoughts, with myself, with all that separates me from everyone else. Do you want my thoughts, would you like to hear my voice that screams out in my mind. Because I do not, I wish for silence, for peace, for the waiting arms of someone that can bridge the gaps in my existence. The noise is too much as I wonder around my room, the buildings and the camps. I drink not to dull the pain of the body but rather to temper the noise of the soul. My mind is folded and tucked under the warmth of a blanket provided by the scotch in the steel camp mug. What is the difference you ask? Well the folding chair at the end of the flight line sits in sand. The moon, crescent shaped, spreads is orange glow across the dusty night sky. Again, I find myself drifting to a future that cannot exist, or rather that I have not found a way to make possible. The ideas come so fast, the thoughts almost drowning my reality until the helicopters come and drown out my own mind. Twin engines push hard against this Thanksgiving night’s sky, with a thump-thump-thump the bird descends with a slight reflection from the neon lights of the pad. The chair is comfortable, the night is cool, and the world is as it should be, or rather how I have made it; through my choices. Though I am the farthest one could be from the coast of the outer banks, on a boat, with my feet propped up and book in hand, it is how I feel at this exact moment. The view is different but for that slight moment, that glimpse of a euphoric high is mine. And as quick as a breath, it is gone. The roar of the engines brings me back to the reality of the northern belt of Baghdad. The sand that has drifted up and over me is enough for me to stand. To grab the camp mug and to turn my back to everything and every thought, I turn my back to my own existence for the long walk home for the night. It is only when I turn around that I am lost, it is only as I fold up my chair and deny myself the pleasantries of belonging to one or the other that hurts. The first step is slow and painful. The next is strong and sure, I am back and am returning to what I know. To a team that I live with, to an army that I am a part of, to humanity from which I was raised, I walk. The walk will cleanse these thoughts, the scotch will bring a smile to my face, and the bed will give me rest until tomorrow. A day without significance, without reminders, without un-kept promises.
The world swings awkwardly on its hinges, almost as if you could hear the creaking in the plaster of the night sky. I have felt every move, no different than that of a small boat at sea. Your stomach lifts with each swing and your heart freezes as the old adage of equal and opposite reactions crashes into your soul. So bereft of any emotional ties to another holiday, I am in my room contemplating a religious festival that is cheerfully being celebrated outside my door by the American Special Forces soldiers that have somehow managed to produce bottles of Johnny and Jack. The small fire is a little larger this evening, as is the volume of the conversations. These men have seen things that others would best forget, they have been places that god does not walk, and yet almost all of them to a man believe. They believe deeper than I care to admit to. They believe, yet they also hate. They dislike the people that they are forced to live and work with. To see their efforts diminished and disappear every time they return. Forced to start over, forced to deal with the same problems and norms that set the Iraqi man from us. They are ignorant of Islam and despise its perceived tenets. Though in good fashion and discipline they are professional enough not to allow these opinions to affect their work, as we operate side by side and through the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade.
They are tired and discouraged, they have been taken to the mat by time and wear, yet they are not defeated. You cannot defeat men such as these. They will never lose; it is not an option that they are willing to even consider. So they continue on, venting to the youngest of the officers in their midst. They vent in the form of cynicism and snide remarks meant to hurt those around them that are not strong enough to take it. They push back against the orders that are passed down to them by those that forget to think before they hit send on the email. The war is over, and their blood as not been for the glories and success that they had hoped for. So, they forget the past, and ignore the future as they toast each other in the form of stories. Crazy stories that would scare the shit out of you, but only make them laugh, though their laughter is hedged with melancholy and sadness. Tones that only those looking for them will hear, as I do from the steps to my room.
Normalcy; in the past ten or so years I believe that I have lost the definition of the word. I have not lived a normal life. I have chosen to live what I hope one day I will perceive as exceptional, though today as I sit here and write this, I do not believe it is so. I am the most passive man that I know. Yet, there is no task that I have shied away from; there is no enemy that I have not pursued. There is no ring that I have not climbed into. And yes my stories have been told in a tall fashion, they are mostly truth. At 29 I am tired, so very tired. Tired of dealing with the expectation of exceptionalism, tired of others not meeting my reality, tired of my reality being just outside of my grasp. This exhaustion drives me to dream of the ocean. To drift into the darkest corners of my mind and set sail on some adventure that is the wind and sun. The dreams are grander than the reality. I am strong enough to admit that, I am strong enough to know that I will never meet my own expectations.
After some time, I will do as all others and I drift towards the fire. Drink in hand and a stoic face that will light up in smile when I am recognized and greeted. When I shake the hands of those that have gone to hell with me, when I grasp the men that hold my life in their hands, then I too will tell the lies that are my reality. The sunrises above the waning fire and begins is slow crossing of the sky and the men trickle away to their rooms. Today will be no different from the last or the next and the possibilities of what it will bring and what we will endure are endless. I to return to my room just as the morning call to prayer is sounded. On the inside, I smile as I recognize the irony of the music of the minarets. I shut the door and lay there awake…
I sit at a small desk, trapped between the cheep sprigs of a bed, and the fridge that is clearly marked ‘do not remove’ as if I would just up and heft the damn thing and walk away. I am hunched over and listing to Bob Schneider as I bang away on the lap top that is square center on the desk, the top of the screen barely touching the small hutch that is weighed down with books, papers, and the gloc. My elbows are on the table and my arms are wrapped around the cut-off plastic bottle that is being used as a rock glass for the Jack Daniels that sits just below my nose. In an attempt to saver every bit of the joy of drink I have placed it in a spot that allows me to breath in every wafer of sweetness. Yes, it is addicting, the smell, the taste, the feel of comfort that comes from some state side habit. I cant help but singing along with the song that is playing. The world can go away and hide behind the sunrise that is occurring outside my blacked out room. The poor souls that need my attention and decisions can wait; I am tired. In fact, the world can wait until I am ready for it again. Tonight was no different than the possibility of any other night. There is no difference in my world between possibility and reality, they are treated the same, with the same level of detachment. I want my humanity back; I want to feel again, so I bury my head into the electronic page that sits in front of me. Oh how I wish I was not good at my job.
The streets of Baghdad are not quiet tonight, nor will they be all day. As I do finally sleep, I have left the small portion of the city called Yusafiah in turmoil. I have separated families, changed the social makeup and forced more children to grow up way to soon. I have ruined the lives of a dozen men tonight, and those whose price I exacted was the least, are those that will be buried in the next two days. Such a world I live in. There are thousands of men and women who claim to do my job, yet in truth it is such a small number of us that are forced to exact violence upon others, forced to do the unthinkable. The night was quiet when I went to this town, even the dogs had decided not to make such a fuss, though that should have clued me in to how the night would turn out, and In all honesty, it did. There was no trap, no ambush, just a group of men that thought they were wrong done by and decided that they would not give up their homes, would not let intruders into their house. It is unfortunate because they were men with families, they told us that we could not come in, that they were protected by the law. Well tonight, my companions were the law and they thought otherwise, these were men that were wanted, with warrants, for acts of indiscriminate war, acts of barbarism. Before I had a chance to intervene, the night became bright under the explosion of artillery pieces precisely laid along the road.
The fireworks were incredible, the lights, and sounds were enough to amaze you. The fighter jet that came in next had me standing with my mouth open staring into the contrails of smoke and stars as he made an entire building buckle and fall. The night did fall quiet again, silence, the eerie silence that is unnatural, I have tasted it before, I have heard it before. The night would be quiet for another hour while we left, and then the streets will fill up as they are now; now as I sit and remind myself. Tonight I will sleep like a baby under the heavy eye lids of scotch carefully poured into a makeshift plastic cup. It is this cup that I find refuge, that I find comfort in. I look into the bottom of the clear plastic and ask what was the price that I paid. I have measured and weighed the price that others have paid tonight, but what in the end was the cost for me. Well I assure you it was not as much as the men of Yusafiah, though still heavy. Achmed, Mahmood, Ali, Mohammad, Yasid, and Saad will all go to the promised land and take with them the trophies of shrapnel to show Allah, they will stand tall at Mohammad’s side (blessings be upon him) they will see the glories that are for those that do good in the name of protecting those that cannot protect themselves. They died trying to prevent another tragedy, another senseless death. It is easy to see how some men can be confused into thinking that all deaths are senseless, yet I cannot see this logic. I have been trained and educated to understand the Kings Gambit in chess. To learn the sacrifice necessary for victory, the definition of the victory will tell us who is fit for the hereafter filled with the glories of your deity. In the end I hope to find my departed state without any of the accoutrements of the religions that I have seen on this planet because I will not answer for the acts that I have done. That is right, I will not commit to remorse, nor will I accept accolades, what I have done without humanity I should receive its rewards without it as well. Give me nothing but room to walk my way and alone, and do not for the love of your life, or those that you have heard about tonight, nock on my door for the next seven hours.