There is a noise that clamors within the mind of a troubled man. For me, that noise is memory. The recall of the sick, dying and dead. Remembering all those I once served alongside, and those who died doing what they love. Flags and caskets are now forever linked by a sullen kinship when looked upon through my eyes. It would be easy to wish for different outcome. Tempting even. But here me now—I would change none of it! Not a fucking thing. Because to do so would be selfish. And selfish is something that I do not ever wish to be in this life.
Tonight, I am conflicted. I sit before you, a man riddled in thought. Heavy is the crown of introspection. Heavier is the bond of brotherhood.
In the waning hours of daylight, I received a phone call from a desperate soul. A man whom I shall not name out of respect of who he is to me—a brother. A warrior and a healer. Our bond was forged in the fires of life and death. We have both stood on the line and locked eyes with the Reaper on more than one occasion. There were nights where we sat on the outskirts of a round table and drank the numbing ale in absolute silence with one another. Drinking the problems of the world away. Alone. Together.
The voice on the other end of the line sounded nothing like the man I once stood beside. The voice that invaded its way through the plastic of our phones was of a despondent man. A man torn and mortally wounded. To the naked eye there are no wounds to see. But through the eyes of my ears, I could see that he was bleeding. I asked him what was going on. I asked for details and offered my assistance without thinking twice. I sat back and listened as his story fell apart word after word as it spilled from his mouth. It soon became evident, my friend, my wounded brother was still drunk.
He was drunk and in a foreign land. He explained that he had been removed from his flight (due to no fault of his, of course). He then went on to request for unknown sums of money. His voice was shaking and empty of sincerity. He was sincere in that he wanted money, but he was dishonest with himself and subsequently those around him as to the reasons why.
My friend has been bitten by the snake of fables. He see’s the liquid as respite, just as I once did. He is unaware that it is venom he consumes. And each time he does, he steps closer to those we once lost.
Instinctively I assured him that I would look into getting him some cash. I knew he was in a bad way and money was not the answer, but you have to understand; I would fucking die for this man. Now, I don’t mean to say that out of cliché of shared uniform, I’m serious—I would lay my life down so that he may draw one more breath.
There is a closeness formed by those who navigate adversity and horror together. Genetics and last names mean nothing when speaking of this bond. We have held the hands of the dying. We have watched human bodies burn. Stabbing victims, car crash survivors and amputees, have all fallen through our fingertips. We understand each other on a very primal level.
I knew almost immediately that I should not send him money. I had done so in the past and felt an instant regret upon realizing that I was not helping, but enabling. As such, I closed my banking app and refused to press ‘send’.
I would reach out to his girlfriend, someone I do not know, and I would explain this somber colloquial exchange. She was all too familiar with my version of events. She explained what had happened, the missing parts from my brother’s story. It was worse than I had envisioned. My friend, my brother, was not inching closer to those dead and gone—he has been running towards them!
He has been hospitalized for his dependence of the lying liquid. He has urinated himself in public, been arrested and fought against the police. He has been beaten, tossed from venues and now, stranded himself in a country not his own. Ask me if I feel selfish for not helping a man I would die for…
The proper authorities have been made aware of this troubling situation about our rusting hero. I’d like to think he’ll be taken care of. But he has in the past told me of his wishes to end everything. And tonight, over the phone he spoke through defeated oration “I can’t… I can’t Matt…”
And the worst part is, neither can I… but we’re saying two very different things…
I was once good at helping people. My hands held a skill beyond that of the ordinary. My mind has outwitted the Reaper in more than one contest. I have restarted the human heart. Now, now I barely feed myself…
I feel as though I am letting my brother down. Parts of me feel as though I am failing him. But there is also a more reasonable side of me that understands that there is not much I can do to fix someone who chooses to remain broken. I do not judge him. Christ, I was him… still am, in many ways…
I do feel for him. My heart beats with a bruise on this night. Both of our uniforms hang in the shadows of a dusty closet. They have seen many of the same things. We now feel a lot of the same burdens. Back then, we knew what to do—we saved people. We lifted those who could not stand. We carried those whom could not walk. And we leaned on one another when the storms rolled in. Now, miles apart, I see my friend, my brother, my partner—cemented by pain. Neither my hands or mind can help him. And my money damn sure can’t.
Sometimes, it feels as though we never really beat the Reaper. He simply retreated tactfully so as to deliver lethal blows whilst hidden within the chasms of our mind’s years later. Revenge for removing his grip on those he wished to take once upon a time. At the time, it felt like a fairy tale. Now, now it’s a fucking tragedy. I have lost many friends in the line of duty. And many in the suicide that hunts for us afterwards.
I fear for my brother. I don’t wish to have been able to do anything differently, but I do wish that I could take his pain away. There’s no amount of money that can do that.
Brother, I love you. We’ve done some good things, you and I. Saved those that were beyond saving. Comforted those who were beyond comforting. Eased the suffering of those afflicted.
Brother, right now, you are suffering. And that’s okay. It’s alright to not be okay. Just come home, brother. Come back to us. Come home… I got your six.