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.
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.