Taji Nights

January 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm (Partly Truth and Partly Fiction)

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.

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A Solitary Peak (Part Three)

July 24, 2010 at 2:09 am (Question: Are you where you thought you would be in life?) (, , , , )

The sun wakes me up; with a grumpy, groggy groan, I push my arms free of the sleep that has locked them into place. The cap goes to the ground and I scratch my head with both hands until the dirt of the last day is free from the shaggy blonde. I place a canteen of water on the embers and wait for it to boil as I wash my face and hands. I put the flask away and make coffee in the canteen. I am aware of where I am at, as well as where I want to be in the next few hours. The summit is close, as I knew it was last night. I am still not sure why I just didn’t go to the top, but then again I am sure that something distracted me. My thoughts run through the marathon of what transpired inside my own head from the night before. No shit, a map helps, no shit, that compasses will point north (for the most part) and no shit, I will make the summit in less than a few hours.

Where I am at, and where I am going, or am I where it thought I would be, are interesting diversions from a few much more simpler questions. Namely, am I where I should be? The simple answer to that question is, yes, I am exactly where I should be. With ease and grace, I go thought the motions of being in the wood line, of living off of nothing. There is confidence in my movements, and where there is none, I will fake it until I have earned it. I have done the same for my occupation for the last decade that it is natural to act with confidence before it has been earned by time and trials.

Where else could I be, well I dream daily of all of the places I could be. This morning and the cup of coffee in my hand are no different; I have visions of the oceans, of cities, of a life with more stability. And these dreams and visions are nice, I have reason to believe the grass is greener on the other side. I have the same reasons to believe this that others use to attend mass. So I keep dreaming, and imaging all of the other things that I could want. Yet when I am in a stack and the door is in front of me, and it is my voice that I hear in the head set “Breach, Breach, Breach,” followed by the concussion of the flex charge, I know. When my Team Sergeant turns and looks in my eyes and gives me a thumbs up, I know. When I am covered in dirt and sweat, and I have dropped my kit and am sitting at a computer typing out the reports and my Junior Charlie brings me a beer, I know. I know that I am exactly where I should be at this moment and time.

Maybe when I was ten, or fifteen or a freshman in college I might have thought that I would be somewhere else, that I would be in a power suit and married. That with my family is where I would spend my thirtieth birthday. That maybe I would be mature enough to have forgiven those whom have trespassed against me. That I would be stable, that I could be looked upon as a model citizen of this nation, a rule follower that left his personal revolution behind in his mid twenties. That, however is just not where I am at, and I would not trade any of those things for the life that I have lived. Regrets are as hot and as painful as the burning coals that burnt my hand pulling boiling water from the flames.

I have regrets and I still have dreams, I have those that I wish would apologize to me, and those that I should forgive. Yet a quirky mix of stubbornness, laziness, and anger have kept me from these things. I know this much and about this much only, I have moved past the point of being able to lay out a plan, or create a map, I cannot change who I am now today. Those choices are gone. I cannot wake up tomorrow and say today I will be a fireman and a husband, or a banker and a father. I must live with the reality that I am soldier, that I am a rule breaker, that I have faults, and that I am alone for most of my time.

I know as well that each day is mine to make, and though I belong where I find myself, I have the ability to change directions, to make a new course, that I can slowly move towards new ends. Though, the very nature of the person that I am, the values that I hold dear, will bind me toward certain ends. That the obligations of my past must and will direct the course of my immediate future. The path is before me and the pines keep me on course, the water will quench my thirst, and my legs will push me up the hill. All of this is possible and is happening, though I am not physically trapped upon the trail, the trail is taking me where I am headed. The path has been chosen over the course of a thousand moments. And I am here and in the now as I place my hands on the rocks, pulling me up towards the pinnacle.

As I stand upon the top of the peak, I look around and smile. As I have said, the ocean would be nice, the money of being a banker would be comfortable, the companionship of a woman would be soothing, yet here I am, exhilarated and exhausted. I am where I thought I would be just a few short days ago when I decided to climb this mountain. The pressure and stress, the exertion that I have placed into any moment must be so much as to clear my head and allow me to live in the sublime seconds. I am where I belong; more importantly, I am where I have paid the price to be. I am who I am, not who I wished that I would be, nor who I dreamt I would become, I am more, I am real. As I sit down on the rocks and pull my water from my bag, I know that I have become something that I am proud of, that I am where I am proud to be. It is these moments that alleviate all of the anguish and pain of my failings, of being alone late at night, of not being who and what I thought, of all my faults, and for a brief moment that I will chase after to find again, I am at peace.

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A Solitary Peak (Part Two)

July 20, 2010 at 2:14 am (Question: Are you where you thought you would be in life?) (, , , )

The cool mountain air is refreshing, and the flask is bitter. The night time sky is an incredible maze of connected dots. I breathe deep the shallow air and bite down on the small opening of the flask. The fire burns low before me and i am reclined against my bag and a tree, a technique perfected in the army. I take the time to look around, to study where i am sitting and the land that i am currently surrounded by. I notice the pine trees, the large rock across from me, the roots reaching out of the dirt, and the sounds of the night, all surround me. I am taking stock of what i have, and where i am at. Shy of ten thousand feet, and miles away from the trail head, i am on a mountain in Colorado. As i close my eyes i know exactly where i am, it is easy with a compass, map and reference points. The peak to my west, the trail bends and the contour of the ridge line. These are the metrics used to find myself on a map, or the way to describe where i am at in a very basic physical sense.

Another pull of my flask and i am reminded that no matter how hard it was to determine where i thought i would be, it is even harder to describe where i am in life. I have no map, compass or a series of land marks to be able to accurately say where i am. The map of course that i am missing is the one that i so readily failed to draw in my youth. With no clear cut understanding of what success or failure is, with no clear goal such as the summit of the mountain, i not only find myself lost, but floating on the winds of irreverent wandering as well. As way leads on to way, and each choice will not come back i have continually been of the mindset to take the choice at hand, make the best decision possible and then push has hard as possible forward. Each of these choices sometimes seemed to be fresh mistakes but none the less, they have brought me to where i am today.

Another deep pull from the metal lip of the flask, this time the brown liquid burns all the way down. A harsh reminder of the truth and the nature of relativism. The stars dance around the shadows of the large pines and i for a moment do what comes naturally and i am lost in the vision of the ocean, screaming across waves with nothing but the pasty clouds of the milky way above me for direction. A noise in the woods brings me back to the fire and drink and my solitary adventure through my own life.

Physically i reside in a military town, in a townhome that is filled with the newest appliances. It is way too much room for just me. But the amenities and conformist nature of the two cars in my garage and the pictures on the wall, as well as the expensive furniture, all satisfy the background urge for stability. The toys fall into both categories of my conformist and non conformist contradictions, an old CJ7 and a thirty foot sail boat. My job again satisfies both aspects.  As a special forces officer, i have promotions and a career, yet the nature of the job is unconventional and random at almost all times. The Army as a whole is not for me, yet the money is just good enough that i am afraid to leave. Thou not enough for me not to think about it daily. I have an education and a couple of degrees, and enjoy expressing my academic capability at every turn.

Mentally, i reside in a world of contradictions, with a strong desire to set out on my own with nothing, to the more immediate pressing urge for relationships and companionship. I am constantly in a state of struggle trying to determine what i want from the day at hand. The psychologists will tell you that i test off the charts as an introvert, yet display strong signs of extroversion, meaning that i should wear a sign that would let people know when i want to be left alone and when i am ready for everyone. The proof i guess is that i am on a mountain by myself, and wishing that someone was sitting across from me. Well, another pull from a flask that is damn near empty.

Emotionally, i am more mature for my age than i will ever let on, and struggle each day to prove that i am less mature than i am. Though this rarely works in my favor. I have lived times that others already are saying were best forgotten. I have smelled the crisp burning of flesh and held the dying in my arms, i am constantly amazed that i can comely look around the extravagance of my humble life style and not lose focus. I am grounded and take a realistic approach to most obstacles. I am unhindered by emotions and morality in the accomplishment of my daily tasks at hand. And, yet, i leave so much up to chance knowing that my control is mostly my self-made illusion.

The night sky closing in around me, and i know i am tired, way too tired to still be awake. I look around again at the fire, trees, rocks, and sky. I slide a little farther back into my recliner, and pull the brim of my hat down over my eyes. Tonight i will sleep peacefully, i hope. Everything is packed and put away and the stars that were dancing around the trees slow down, and fall silent.

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A Solitary Peak (Part One)

July 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm (Question: Are you where you thought you would be in life?) (, , , )

The trail opens up before me, it had been tighter than expected for the last two miles and eight hundred feet in elevation. It opens up as the trees thin out; I am still below eleven thousand feet, though occasionally I can see the summit nearly five more miles away. I know that I will stop here, I am going to have to back track, the trail has lead me the wrong way. The ridgeline is headed south and the peak is still to my west. I know where I have gone wrong, yet at the same time, have I, the world I look at is as I want to be. The pines smell of the stickiness that are their needles and I breathe it in deeply. A long pull from my water, with the ever present urge to take a pull from the flask, I look at my compass and take stock of what is around me.

I was asked recently “am I where I thought I would be?” Clearly, the most immediate answer as I look along the ridgeline and then back over my shoulder to the summit is, no. No, I am not. Yet at the same time, I am on the mountain, I am moving with strength and ease. The strength of a body and mind prepared for hardships and duress that can be found at these elevations, and the ease of a man comfortable with his surroundings given that the knowledge to handle the problems come readily to him. So, I am exactly where I should be. Though, that is not the question at hand. To be able to answer this question I must first be able to come to grips with where I wanted to be. And for me that is a much harder statement than originally thought.

I have persistently daydreamed my days away. Never have I spent too much time in the here and now, the confines of the rings upon which I have entered have been the only places that have grounded me in the moment. Those rings have had boundaries, ropes, nightmares and even a desert. Within these confines, my adversary or task has taken all other options away from me, other than the here and now. The persistent dreams of the future have always clouded the reality of where I wanted to be. By this I mean, my dreams are without substance and push the limits of both time and space, they are the dreams of the young, of the romantic, of the renaissance. All of this to say  that I dreamt that I would be on a slightly less than luxury yacht, sixty feet, huge sails pulling at the wind, and a beautiful traveling companion. This future has no location when it comes to age or money, or how I got there. These dreams can be closely compared to those of slaying dragons, and I have taken down many.

I have wrapped these dreams, as I aged, with glories of the battlefield, of dreams of love and romance, of all the things that a young man should dream of. And yet I sit here and still fail to answer the question at hand. Where did I expect to be? Dreams are never where you expect to be but rather what you wish to be possible. Well I dreamed away my expectations and wondered with ambiguity through choices, pushed by peer pressure, social desires, and need to be something other than what I was at the time. The persistent fight against fear itself. Without specifics, I moved forward from one challenge to the other imagining that with each accomplishment I would be taken farther from the place at hand, that with each success would bring me to new destinations. I continued along this path as I pushed through middle school and then to high school where I dreamed of the ocean and found the army. The path took me to many places that I knew were not for me no matter what potential I showed. Art school and my Olympic prospects where not far enough away for me, and the boyhood fantasy of the glories of war triumphed.

By high school I was unable to fathom a reality that I would find, though the expectation was that I would be at a Military School and on my way to graduation. Though is that a real answer, how far forward must I look for this to be a fair representation of where I thought I would be. One month, a year, three years, I can say that I have ended up exactly where I thought I would be three years ago, and can say with some certainty that I have been correct as long as the picture was within three years. So where did I think I would be. The ephemeral answer would be, successful, married, and happy. Have I been these things, maybe, never, and sometimes would be the associated answers. My success is at the middle levels of the army, those that have worked for me will tell you that I have done well, and those I have worked for will tell you the same, yet the harsher crowd of my peers may not. This crowd of peers has continualy diminished as I have pushed past one test after another leaving me in one of the more elite captain positions in the army. Marriage has been allusive as possible as I find myself struggling to just be happy with the women that I have found. I have come close to this woman, and yet I chose to walk away. I allowed this memory of what I made into perfection to ruin any chance of a successful relationship in the towns where it was possible. Happiness, well, the roller coaster of the cosmic play has been comedic tragedy for me, and I have found humor and happiness in moments, the dull ache of un-fulfillment of the majority and the occasional brief moments of happiness so ephemeral that I have raced around the world looking for it again.

The suns glow has diminished has I finish pulling tight the lines of the poncho that I have strung up between two trees. I look back at the smoldering start of the fire and add some more wood. The flask sits alone before me. The mountain has been no different than my life, my thoughts centered around the summit and never the trail…

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An Arthur Sullivan Man

June 14, 2010 at 5:38 am (Question: What is the most important aspect of your job?) (, , , , , , )

Finally a question of some substance, however, one that will bring us all to the brink of either calling me a cheesy pathetic fool, or a romantic that has an overly developed sense of himself. Either way the intricacies of my job or profession will be brought to light. It was dark in the living room when my phone rang, it was dark outside as well. The movie on the television had barely captured my attention. Although not ready for the type of grilling I took on the phone, one particular question caught my attention, “what is the most important part of my job?” What an interesting way to phrase a general question about another’s occupation. I had expected, “what’s the most fascinating part of your job,” or even “why do you do what you do.” For both of those questions I have well rehearsed statements and stories, that would alleviate the others expectations, while keeping myself well within familiar grounds.

This question was different, without hesitation, I heard what I wanted to hear and started to answer a completely different question. I tried to tell her why I do what I do, what keeps me at my job, and not in the unemployment lines, or rather the freedom of release. That answer is simple and rehearsed… The people that I work with and the problem sets offered me, provide both the camaraderie as well as the necessary challenges to keep me. Both are true statements, but neither of them match what the question was asking. The most important aspect of my occupation, the one that resonates the most with me, is the aspect of responsibility. Not so much the duty, or the obligation to my country, for I have never been an Arthur Sullivan man. But, rather the sole responsibility for the welfare of others that have volunteered to throw their lives on the altar of our Imperial ambitions. It is the sons and daughters of the Untied States that I have been entrusted with through my commission. For those that have seen an officer stand and take his oath of office, you have seen what should be heralded as the most sacred and solemn pledge our nation has to offer.

It is this pledge and oath that truly separates us from mercenaries, (or contractors in today’s colloquial.) It is this oath that forces a young man to swear to another officer that he will do everything in his power to defend the constitution against all enemies. Though not stated in the actual oath, the men and women that are around you when you speak it, can hear the words that are not spoken. They hear, “From the last of my breath I will ensure that the mission is accomplished. That during this trial I am personally responsible for the well being and lives of the men under my command.” A young officer will hear these words, or a similar set, almost daily from the moment that he is commissioned to the moment that he takes command of his first platoon. There truly is no way to easily describe the pressure that he is under. These young man-boys are chastised for each mistake with the curse of, “what are you going to tell his parents?” It will be taken as far as watching young lieutenants write letters of condolences to fictitious soldiers that he has lost in training due to his errors. These letters are written, and are one of the hardest punishments you can imagine. Late at night in your hotel room, you sit there nursing a beer, knowing that the punishment is bull shit and that the letter isn’t real.  Yet, by the time you get to the second sentence you can start to feel the emotions rise. The anger at the ones forcing you to do this does not subside but rather changes and you choke back the rising tide of emotions. 

As for myself, this is the portion of my job that I take the most seriously. I would like to say that I have done everything I can to keep my subordinates out of harm’s way, that is just not the case. There were days that I was reckless, there were days that I volunteered us to do more and more dangerous acts. Yet, without hesitation, I would tell you that I did my best to prepare my team for these operations, and I took all precautions available after the acceptance of the mission. Having to write the second most difficult letters of my life, the first being the letter to my own parents, letters to the parents of my fallen. Of men that I was with when they died, when my choices pushed them forward into harm’s way. Where no amount of training could have protected them. My choices alone are judged and measured by the blood of not only our enemies but our friends, I have relived these choices a thousand times each night for years. This is the part that they don’t tell you on the recruiting posters, this is the part that they cannot train you for, nor prepare you for. It isn’t until you are sitting at a small, poorly lit desk, with your shaking hands on a key board, working on the opening of a letter that you never wanted to write.

In my previous posts on a much older blog site I wrote many times on the deaths of friends, small eulogies and tributes to images of men that will be forgotten with time. It is from these experiences that I tell you as a commissioned officer in the United States Army the most important and the only aspect that I treat with pure reverence, is that of the lives of my fellow soldiers on the battlefield. As a child in the eyes of those that I work with, as a man in the eyes of the world, I stood in front of a wooden stand with a rifle facing downward, behind a pair of boots. My eyes caught the reflection of the dog tags that hung from the pistol grip of an M4 carbine, and I know that though I was successful, for that moment I had failed. For that brief eternity my world narrowed to the name on the tag, I had failed. That the responsibility laid on me, no matter how unprepared or ill conditioned for the task was mine. For a man with no god, it is the one time I wished that I had a god. That I could wish for my friend something more that would make up for leaving his family and friends behind, that could make up for the suffering of his final moments.

A question was asked of me late at night on the phone by a woman that was testing my limits, trying to learn more about me, neither of us were prepared for the responses that would follow. The night was lost to my mind, as I let it race from one aspect to another of my job, before settling down upon the facts of what responsibility is. Of what having to grow up early means. It was in this moment, that I realized I had changed, that over the course of years, living times that others would say were best forgotten, I had aged. I have written that their memories will fade and that they will be forgotten, and yes it is true, and yes time will erase their names, but I will never forget. And the monument on the North corner of Fort Carson will forever carry their names and titles until the earth moves and I have gone to join them.

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Mental Reservations

March 28, 2010 at 12:21 am (Question: We live the lives we choose)

We live our lives within our own self-perceived expectations. As a child, we have to be constantly reminded that we can surpass our limits. We are told to study more, achieve more, we are even lied to, in order to help create a broader scope for our definition of our own capabilities. As athletes, we are hounded by coaches to move faster, hit harder, to be better than what we assume we can be. As if all around us are people trying to force you to push past expectations, to grow. As we enter adult hood hopefully we have successfully broken through our assumptions about our capabilities. That the latitude of our reach is wide enough that it does not hinder our goals and desires; that we may be successful. For the most part it usually is, and we all move forward towards goals that are within our grasp, with a healthy understanding of who and what we are. Those who have failed to expand their minds find themselves in crowded hotel conference rooms listing to speeches of how to be successful, how to be more like someone else, or ‘how to’ any numerous other self-achievable dreams locked behind the walls of our own creation.

The utter acceptance of these truths and facts about the power of the mind is demonstrated by those that should not need any reminders of this concept. Yet, Olympic athletes read mental preparation books, and receive classes and coaching on how to prepare the mind. CEO’s that are exceptional by all metrics will try to come up with seminars to force ‘out side the box’ type thinking. This is in direct understanding that our limits are clearly self-defined and that we must work hard each day to push past our perceived capabilities. The US Military holds the corner on the market of mental based limitations, their toughest schools are less about the tactics and skills and more about the ability to teach the soldier that they are capable of so much more than they ever would have believed. They push the body of the individual well past what we would assume to be the breaking point. In the end it is those that learn this lesson and take it to heart that graduate these courses and become the elite of the American Military.

So often are these truths manifested unevenly within some of the most capable and soon to be successful among us. That though their limits have been thoroughly tested and they have the confidence to stretch their horizons and grasp at stars, they have failed to link that the very nature of their confidence is as simple as belief. Though many never need this reminder but the truth of the matter is that the power of our mental projections is able to and will shape our daily lives. And, that each and everyone of us lives out these hidden insecurities and failures on our sleeves in the design of the life that we box ourselves into. A simple case in point is the stunningly attractive Foreign Service woman who on a whim could ace Law School, or MIT Engineering, she can move in circles around some of the more impressive crowds in DC, yet in consideration of her personal life, she feels as if she is the worlds greatest ‘friends-with-benefits.’ Why is this different, where is the disconnect. How is such confidence replaced by such a sense of being a victim. In one aspect of her life she is the one with an aura of power and righteousness; yet in the other (separated by a change of clothes and a hot shower) she is the victim. A series of, ‘I don’t knows,’ and ‘it never seems to work out,’ or ‘they have always only liked me for this, or that reason,’ is all we hear from them. Needless to say she is not alone, Kim, being a man of strikingly similar qualities, has found himself surrounded by mostly (not all) people that he would never be able to have a serious relationship with, and continually seeks out those who he could never love. Yet, from nine to five, men of quality and character hang on the words that he speaks, and he commands the respect of those that move mountains, he holds millions of dollars and the lives of Americas youth in his hands. How does this happen.

I look out upon the world as it moves silently by in thought. A meditation of paper and pen, interrupted by a phone call here and there. Discussing a set of personal issues with a woman moving to the American Consulate in Hong Kong, I told her that we each live out the lives that we choose to have. I even quoted Ayn Rand (her name alone on this blog will give me hundreds of hits) that we sleep with those who remind us of how we view ourselves, and fall in love with those that we view hold tight to our hopes and ideals of what we believe is perfection. Hopefully we spend our lives sleeping with only those we think we could love, though this is not the case. For those out there that the separation of the two are so great that it gives you pause to how you view yourself, well take it to heart. The cheaper that we hold our own worth the cheaper we are willing to sell our time or body.

Where is the disconnect, obviously our parents pushed us to get better grades, and our coaches pushed us to perform faster, but who among us have been told that we shouldn’t hang out with those kids, or we should pick better friends. Well most of us, probably have heard that, yet, for some reason in the pursuit of other goals we have forgotten those lessons or never learned that we are deserving of better friends, relationships, or just in general, lives. This brings us to the crowds of people packed into the same small hotel conference rooms or churches listening to the glimmer of what we deserve. This late in life pick-me-up to try and convince us that we deserve more, or better. As I told my friend on the phone, fuck that, you are deserving of what you allow. Choice is the key to this scenario, and it is what the priests and self help books tell you, choose to be different, be different, then you are different. Why should we live lives of quiet desperation, Throuea in his infinite wisdom told us what we are doing, then showed us what we should. He did this in the deliberate attempt to live life to the fullest, to take the time to change what he wanted and to grow in a way that he desired.

An additional reminder to how easy it is to affect the tenuous balance of our own psyche, another friend of mine changed how she described all of her tasks for the day to play/played whatever. So “I played house today… I played for ten hours at work today….” A simple statement was able to measurably change the perception of her actions that it was repeated by a myriad of friends around the country. Careful, this is the warning label, these changes in diction will not actually solve any problems nor change reality, though maybe, just a little, the perception. We hold so many mental reservations for change, mostly because change is where the pain is, it is where the loneliness sets in and the insecurities that we clutch to tightly must be put down just for a moment. On the other side is a whole new set of friends, a whole new outlook on life, a whole new whatever portion of you that you are trying rectify or straighten. Yet we choose to do what is slightly easier, slightly less painful, to date another girl that doesn’t have chance, to allow your relationships to be purely physical, or to never leave your home. Though this passage is in strict reference to those that are already successful in other areas, there are truths that can be held for everyone who reads this. I have spent numerous hours and megabits of storage on entries that describe a sense of confusion, of frustration, yet I knew the truth, it was buried in the pages and scripts, that the choice in the end was mine. That the happiness, the relationships, the successes are all a manifestation of me fighting against my own mental reservations to reach out and grasp a hold of what I want. Gandhi claimed that we should be the change that we wish to see in the world. He said this as an adaptation to lesson that he once shared with me, that we should live the lives that we want by acting out the change we wish to see.

I wake up in the morning and I will ask, as should you, what type of day will I create for myself.

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Indian Poker

February 25, 2010 at 6:24 am (Uncategorized)

I was seated at a table, small round, covered in the familiar green felt that I had come to dread. The room was in neutral colors, beige paint on textured walls. The room was rimed in the dark cherry oak that you would find in our grandfathers studies. The room reeked of cigars, its pungent left over smell and its slight discoloration of the ceiling would be nauseous if not edged by the glass of scotch in front of me, filling my nostrils and flooding my senses with something better. I glance around the room and recognize the leather chairs, reading tables and bar for what it is, a famed Republican hangout. A place of old men sipping bourbon and smoking illegal cigars, where decision are made and discussion take place that will move the country. A place of power; A place of control, a place where those who sat before me knew the rules, and would change them when they did not fit. I blink, the view blurs and as I bring it into focus I see the glass in front of me. It is half empty; a pessimistic truth that came from an optimistic beginning, the glass was full of Glenlivet. As my eyes focus I see the bottle on the other side of the green felt, a similar glass in front of him, slightly more full I should say. There is card stuck to the bottle, slightly eschew, it is a queen of spades. I am mesmerized by the card. Then I am aware that I too am holding a card to my forehead. I have no idea what it is, yet I will continue to bet. The bottle of scotch looks at me, taunting me. Yet I know it is a game, a card game, it has rules, and rules bring equality. As I look at my bet, I notice the small reflection in the glass in front of my opponent, it is hard to make out but it is the card on my forehead. As if it can read my mind the bottle laughs at me, he knows the rules, I do not.If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? If a game has rules to level the playing field, and one of the players does not know the rules, are there really any rules. It is clear that I have been out classed by this piece of glass across from me. The reflection becomes clearer and I see the four of hearts stuck high on my forehead. I laugh, a sad laugh, and reach for my glass and take a long pull. The bottle has done it again; it has beaten an opponent that doesn’t know the rules. The room around me blurs and fades into my neighborhood, into my dining room where I sit glass still in hand. The dining room blurs to a collage of my past and present. I see the bets that I have made ignorant of the rules; ignorant of the second and third order affects. I laugh again, slightly harder this time as I realize the truth. I have placed myself on the altar of self pity and I have drank deep from the wells of despair. The control I envisioned around me, and of me is gone. I have wished it to be with a passion that made it almost real, then the bottle looks across the table at me, waiting for me to ante up. Reality slides away, or is it the other way around and my world drifts into reality. I am the fiction writer constantly amazed that there are no dragons.I stand from the table and turn to walk away, knowing that it is impossible for me to let it go. Our illusions are everything, they are my everything. I look back, and feel the emotion rise up from somewhere deep, somewhere where childhood dreams still live, and I come crashing back to the table swinging my arm in a sweeping arch sending glass, cards and the bottle to the air. With defining shatter all smashes against the hard wood floors of the Capitol Hill lounge. I blink, and sit up. The room is dark and I am breathing way too hard. Ripping the covers off of me I swing my legs out of bed and take the three large steps to my bathroom sink and splash water on my face. It is but a dream, a reminder of the effort that I must put forth everyday to maintain control; to maintain my illusions of control. I breathe a little calmer; the cold water has felt good. I turn and head back to bed, fully aware now of where I am. I lie down and reach over to turn off the light, and that is when I see the empty glass looking at me.

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A Normal Holiday

February 13, 2010 at 5:04 am (Partly Truth and Partly Fiction) (, , , , )

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…

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Mud and Muck

February 7, 2010 at 5:37 am (Question: What do you care about?)

Tonight I will try and find a conclusion to the initial question posed to me over a skype phone call from thousands of miles away. What do I care for, which somehow translated into what do I value, or rather how much do I value? I believe that at some point I started thinking too hard about such a simple question. One that required almost no thought, but rather a gut response. Though my first answer or attempted answer is true and valid, I think that somehow I missed the mark. That in the absence of an available metric from which to measure my willingness to sacrifice, that I missed the most important part of the question. The intangible desire to ensure that they are ok, that the bonds that exist are not shattered. It is from this revelation that I will attempt to summarize an answer that I have found to be complex and intangible.

The simple fact is that every email, phone call, and personal interaction that I have had since this quest of the mind, has reminded me that the number of things that I care about are uncountable. Not to say that it would be any easier to describe for you the things that I do not care about, but rather that the world is too full of the little things, of family, of interesting things for us to go out and find, and most of all the connections that we make. So, for a moment let’s talk about connectivity. Connectivity, a term referred to in the highest levels of academia in relation to globalization, can also have such a personnel and pointed meaning as well. The barista at the nearest Green Bean, to the friend that you share all of your sins with, are all connections that you make, some with more value than others but none the less, they are there. Now the metrics come into play. And it is this failure to have any distinguishable markers is what makes my statements so difficult. I have no clue what I am capable of in defense of that or those that I care about, I have not had to truly push the limits of what I am willing to do. That being said, it is safe to say that given what I do for a living, woe be it to those that choose to take from me something that I value.

My friends, my comrades-in-life, my comrades-in-arms, my blood, all have intrinsic value to me that is undeniable, and yes I could spend pages describing to you the values that each represent that I desire and will pay for with my time and effort, but it is suffice to say that you too share similar people and friends. So, an answer that is going to hurt to write is that I care about humanity, or at least the portions of humanity that are connected to me. I value the conversations, the gentle touch, the friendly tease, and even the smart-ass response, and maybe the occasional punch, but only from those that I hold in some regards. This is where it gets tricky. I value humanity only in direct proportion that it has value to me. Yes, I can see your eyes rolling, as you pull up quotes of Ayn Rand, but there it is. I am not unconditional, nor am I selfless service. Though I am conditional and I will serve, I have value, enough value that those who know me, love me, or respect me will understand that they know, love, and respect me because of the values that I bring to the table. The barter mans trade on what I care for, should scare some of you, especially my do-gooder friends as I call them. Though, if they were to read this page I would remind them of the values that they display and hold that make me want to know, love, and respect them.

I can see now that I have gotten off topic. What do I care about? Well, I still am not sure, though recently I believe what I care about is changing. This past week an ex-girlfriend moved to Iraq. She is small and beautiful, with such a brilliant mind, and I found myself for the first time feeling protective of something that is not mine to be protective of. She is more than capable of getting by on her own, but that was not enough for me. I have a specialized skill set that is designed for Baghdad and she does not. Somehow, this was translated into giving her rules, advice, and objects that I think will better prepare her for this environment. Why would I do this, well for one, I care for her. For another, this caring manifested itself into a concern or worry that could be partially alleviated if I knew that she would respond to events in a certain way. Maybe this is the natural progression of things.

So, I guess, protective feelings, connectivity, the small things, all placed together could get me very quickly to world peace and ending poverty. Then as I finally approach this inevitable position of the modern intellectual elitist, I remember that I also feel that there are numerous people on this earth that should be the home for stray bullets. And I also know that the sins that I have committed will out way any single serving sentence of a do-gooder.

Tonight as it snows in DC it rains in Baghdad, as the streets close down and the city grinds to a halt in DC so to does it in Baghdad. The mud is thick and will stop you in your tracks as you muck your way to work. It was on a similar dreary night that I watched a young girl turn on her father. Her testimony was enough to have me and those that work with come and pick him up. He was an AQI Ameer and responsible for some of the more recent attacks in the city, responsible for the deaths of tens of innocent. In her anger she sentenced him to death, though I am sure this is not what she intended. I remember the night not so much for the man that we were detaining but rather for the difficulty in walking to and from anywhere in the mud that was created by the rains. Specifically the way he and his two sons were covered in the mud as we made our way to our trucks. Iraqi mud is different, it is thick, yet with the ability to splash and dry onto anything. As I walk back to my room this morning as the sun tries to break through the clouds that are still drizzling, I must watch my footing stepping up into my room, no different that climbing back into the truck.

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Our’s is Not to Reason Why

January 30, 2010 at 3:38 am (Partly Truth and Partly Fiction) (, , , )

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.

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