No Answer

I was awake and lying on my bunk within the barracks. As I lay on my back, I draped one arm lazily over my face in an attempt to block out the ambient light of the vexatious street lamp outside. The standard issue curtains did little to stop its intrusive orange glimmer. I also had one foot securely planted to the floor, while the rest of me was sprawled atop of the paper-thin army issue mattress. Why? Well, the room was spinning with a merciless rotation, and the thick heat from the summer’s night air was not helping. I suppose I should elaborate – I was drunk. Very, very drunk. We all were…

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On a black August night, a slew of intoxicated soldiers were strewn from end to end in temporary living quarters. We were slated to stay there for a night or two. Earlier in the evening, the halls were flourishing with an eclectic mix of Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, and a very out of place, Back Street Boys. There was no one set D.J. of this hallway shindig, whomever had the loudest speakers seemed to dictate the choice of song. There was a seemingly endless array of alcoholic beverages to choose from. Beer, whiskey, something fruity, you name it, it was there somewhere. Each room brought about a new and unique partying experience. No matter which room you wandered into though, it was bound to be filled with a boisterous laughter and an unsanctioned cigarette being inhaled feverishly by the guy or girl sitting on a windowsill beside an open window, occasionally blowing smoke sideways from a crooked corner of their mouth, before chiming in with either the chorus of whatever song was currently playing, or beguiling a limited and fleetingly interested audience with what they thought to be life-wisdom. It was a party… at least, it appeared that way…

 

Within each of those rooms that I speak of, there were also stark reminders of what was to come the following day. Crisp, military green dress uniforms hung either in garment bags, or perfectly placed on a hanger attached to the shower rod within the bathroom. Although we hid behind a veil of jovial and somewhat juvenile, bordering on delinquent behavior, we all knew the reality of what tomorrow would bring. We had already been given an unforgettable reminder of what that was earlier in the day, long before the festivities had started. These “festivities” I speak of, were nothing more than a way to drown sadness and the somber ideations that accompanied it. We were drinking to forget. Some of us drank to obliteration. Other’s, like myself, consumed one too many until the world started spin. We drank with a purpose.

 

Earlier in the day, we had the lamentable but honorable task of retrieving one of our fallen brothers off of a plane that had just returned from Afghanistan. War had claimed his life, and all that was sent back to us and his home, was the remains of a hero, and the unmitigated reminders of what we as soldiers were facing over there. I tell you this now, there is nothing that I have faced or can fathom in this life that is more sobering than holding the cold steel of a flag-draped casket, knowing that one of your own is inside. It is ironic in that it is completely and undeniably sobering, and yet, it forces you to lust for anything but sobriety…

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After the party or, “party”, I was confronted with a spinning room and the ferocious battle to keep whatever I had eaten throughout the day, securely stowed away within my now churning stomach. A war in its own right, and one I was slowly losing. Eventually a heavy saliva introduced itself to my mouth and informed me that I had lost the battle, and that at any moment, I was going to be re-acquainted with my culinary choices of that day. I struggled, but succeeded to rise from the punishing gravity that held me to my bed, and arose to my feet. After a couple of failed attempts at forward momentum, I pushed ahead with one foot, and then the other. My heavily intoxicated gait was likely equal to that of walking within the halls of a rocking ship that was being punished by relentless stormy seas. After bouncing from wall to wall down the corridor, I found myself in the welcoming embrace of a brightly lit military bathroom. I saw the open stall almost calling for me, and as I continued to stumble, I made my way closer to the throne. I had no problem kneeling before this one, let me make that clear now! And kneel I did.

 

I crumpled to my knees inside the stall, and closed the door behind me. I then proceeded to violently but accurately vomit all of my bad decisions into the toilet. You know when you’re drunk, but the sober you start’s talking to you in your head and says well, guess you won’t be doing that again eh big guy!? Yeah, well, that was happening at the same time as my pizza, nachos, nine beers, three shots, and one old fashioned came hurling forth in a hasty retreat from my stomach. When all was said and done, I leaned against the cold metal walls of the stall, allowing for its comforting chill to permeate my clammy skin. With failed coordination, I reached for some tissue paper to clean my evidence away from my chin. I think if I could have had a third person view of myself in that moment, I likely resembled that of a baby reaching out for a mobile hanging above them. Although, a lot less appealing I think.

 

As I waited for my stomach to give me the ‘ALL CLEAR!’ and return to bed, I heard the shuffling but panicked steps of someone else having just entered the bathroom. They barreled towards another opened stall with a cacophony that mimicked what I had just done moments ago. I remember smiling to myself for a moment because I knew exactly who it was. When you live so close to someone for as long as soldiers do, and in the type of living conditions soldiers do, you get to know someone just by how they breathe. I was relieved in knowing I was not the only one fighting a losing battle with Jameson.

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I listened without really wanting to, as my squad-mate grunted and groaned his way through a series of agonizing wretches. When the battle seemed to have quieted, I slurred a genuine “you ok, bud?”, an answer was returned in the form of a chuckle and what I presumed to be a thumb’s up that I could not see through the three or four metal stall walls that separated us, but I knew he was fine. A fine as any of us could be, anyway.

 

After a few moments spent in heavy breathing, and from those few stalls down, my brother spoke a simple phrase aloud that I think truthfully, chilled me into sobriety. The words he said were “Sucks, ya know? It just… sucks…”. He was right, it did suck, and he was not referring to the level of inebriation that we stricken with. He was talking about something much more meaningful than that… he was referring to the fact that in a few short hours and over the next several days from that moment we were having in the bathroom, we were going to have to once again, clasp our hands around the cold steel of an enclosed metal box, and carry the remains of a fallen comrade from hearse, to plane, from plane to hearse, and from hearse, to grave. That volley of thoughts is about as sobering as it gets…

 

It’s funny, the silence we shared in-between when he stated the obvious, through to when I was able to leave the bathroom, I think is when we ‘said’ the most to one another. That silence spoke volumes. To this day, I think it is one of the more meaningful conversations that I have ever had…

 

When I was satisfied in knowing that the vomiting was over, I cracked a joke with my now sleeping squaddie, and returned to my room. I lay on my rack and attempted to get comfortable. A task not always easy when deep in thought and intoxication.

 

Beside me, my cell phone. I looked at it for a moment, and with an ephemeral child-like haste, I wanted to call my mom. I wanted to tell her what I was going to have to do in the coming days. I wanted to explain to her that after carrying a casket of a fallen brother earlier in the day, I had also spent six long hours in an aircraft hangar, learning how to remove, hold, and then fold, our nations flag, so that it could be given to a grieving family. She used to love the TV show “Tour of Duty”, and I recalled thinking back to an episode we had watched together, an episode that was reminiscent of the current situation that I was now in. I wanted to call her and cry while telling her how heavy and real this all was. How it was nothing like what we had seen on TV. I wanted to but, I couldn’t. She wasn’t speaking with me. A day or so prior, we had gotten into an argument, and I was informed as to how selfish I was, and that I could “bugger off!”. Calling mom wasn’t an option… I tried, no answer… Silence can be sobering too.

 

I started thinking about this incident in the recent days since having to call the police on my mother. The fall out of that, is that she is no longer speaking with me. She is angry with me once again. And now, at 06:36 in the morning, after a sleepless night plagued by nightmares, I would love nothing more than to speak to her. I am a grown man yes, but, still just a boy when it comes to thinking about mom. My mother’s silence is all too familiar. So is this memory.

 

Well that’s it for now, I’m done writing this post. I am going to have some juice, and try to find some sleep. Night everyone.

 

***Press play***

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