I saw him again last night. Held him in my hands. It all came in like a rolling thunder. First, from afar. But soon, it was all that surrounded me. Pervading every aspect of my existence. My ears became punished by the crescendo of wailing jet turbines. I could feel my body cement itself into a rigidity of preparedness. I knew what was soon to follow, not because I was aware that this was a dream, but because I was standing at the ready—just as I had on that day all those years ago…
A small voice broke in against the awful scream of twisting engines, it tried to compete for dominance. Tried and failed. But we began moving anyway. We knew what the commands were, even if we couldn’t hear them. My left foot moved first, followed by my right. One stride after the other, we eight moved as one. The closer we got, the quieter the world became. Eventually, even the angry turbines disappeared. Make no mistake though, this was not because of a reticent wave of calm nor peace, the outside world had merely been silenced by our hearts and their merciless thumps from within. What we were about to do was something truly extraordinary. Extraordinary in the worst possible way.
It is an event that has lived within my veins for more than ten-years. Every finite detail of that day has been sketched with permanence to my soul. It often plays out from behind closed eyes for me now. Last night, it did just that. Last night, from beneath the veil of a dew-kissed night’s air, I hoisted, held and carried a man to his grave. From behind closed eyes and with unwitting mind, I carried Boomer…
I relived each and every passing second of that day and those that followed. From the moment my eyes captured the sight of our sad flag draped atop of a casket, to the moment it was folded and handed to a bereft mother and father. Soon, a mother’s cries and whimpers soared to the deafening heights of lamenting turbines. Louder and louder they grew. Until a brief respite, a momentary pause in the auditory torture. A new, faster moving crescendo emerged from within the chasms of ethereal remembrance. A rattle. The rattle. The remains of what lay inside the casket of our fallen. Panic now set in. I wanted to run. I wanted to flee and I wanted to be rid of this horrible moment, but I could not move. The mother’s wails returned. They too felt haunting and inexorable. The cries elevated to near cacophonous levels. This caused a sudden thrust upwards, so violent that I was forced into wakefulness. Incredulously, the whimpers and cries remained. They followed me. But did they? No. It was I who was crying. I was the deafening noise. Alone I sat, the seven other men who had been with me on that day faded from view and returned to their rightful place in the past.
I used a hand to brush at my shoulder in hopes that I could remove the spectral dust of a dead man’s coffin. The weight of a casket still lingered along the meat of my arm. I withdrew myself from bed and stood barefoot on the floor, feeling the cool hardwood press up against the soles of my feet. I wiggled my toes to ensure that what I was feeling was real. You see, when coming back from nightmares such as these, it is often hard to reacclimate to the reality of the present. My dreams do not feel like dreams. They are more akin to a prison sentence; the cruel warden of an injured mind demands penance in the form of restlessness and relived staccato.
I was shirtless; my skin sticky and hot. My breathing was still wild and untamed. If you’ve ever heard a stampede of horses racing along the prairies, you’ll have some idea of what my heart was doing within my chest. The only difference is—roving horses are beautiful.
I know you have read much about my troubled sleeps and futile slumbers, I am sorry, I do not mean to bore you. But if I am being truly honest in this moment, this is not written for you. This is a selfish piece of prose that is crafted in such a way that it allows for me to bleed the poison from my thoughts. To rid myself of the tremendous ache that plagues my body today. I am not just sore in mind, but body, too. I must have been sleeping at the position of attention. My muscles are on fire. When washing my face in the bathroom, I looked upon my hands to see engraved markings of crescent shaped burrows into my skin—the lipstick stains of clenched fists…
I watched the sun rise this morning. I saw the birth of a new day through tired eyes. Rays from our sun slinked in through the slits of my blinds. They embraced my exposed skin with a heft of warmth. I fought against every instinct to become angry. I wanted rain. I wanted to be given the chance to walk out into the world and not have to hide my true face, the face of absolute sadness and sorrow. The tears of the sky hide mine. The sun refuses me this chance. Instead, I am left to confront the day, donned in a mask of normative features. No one can see the pain I am in. I am afraid to tell them. I am petrified to say aloud that I am a grown man crying because of ghosts that live under the bed.
I walked by a bar. From inside the window, I could see the gleam of a watchful sun kiss the brass of the beer tap. For a split second I heard a crooning fable whisper. I could drink myself numb. If I can’t will the demons away, I can at least drown them. You don’t comprehend the buoyance of demons until you wake up one morning, hungover and broke, realizing that years have passed you by. You roll over, and there is still a wide-eyed demon staring back at you from the other side of the bed. I walked away from the bar…
I hate it. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! My mind bleeds, and even with the skill of a medic’s mind, I do not possess the ability to stem the tide. My military career is one that is hallmarked by death and funerals, all while never having fired a round.
Thirteen. Unlucky thirteen. In thirteen-days it will be another anniversary of another fallen brother. Try as I might, thoughts of these men and their absences crawl with insidious pace through the halls of my ailing mind. That fucking rattle has followed me all god damned day! When sitting down to read (try, anyway), my cheeks felt the satin cloth of our flag stain itself along my skin. I brushed and I brushed and it refused removal. And in its obdurate stagnation, the weight of the casket returned to my shoulder.
I slammed the book closed, ordered a coffee to go, paid ten-dollars and refused change because I simply had to go. I steamed out the doors and into the streets, baking beneath the casting sun. I have been inside ever since, pacing and writing. Writing this, the prose of today.
The same tired eyes that watched the sun rise this morning, are now watching as it fades from view. Night is about to return, and I am fucking terrified.
What does the medic’s mind have in store tonight? Miss. Scarlett Johansson, I sure do hope it’s you. Though I think likely not.
Good night, everyone.
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