The Warless Soldier

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be a soldier, to be a veteran. Many people jump to thinking that you are a war-torn person immediately after hearing that you have served within the army. Upon learning that that may not be the case, you seemingly lose veteran status somehow. Now, of course this is not always the case, but it does happen.

I loved the army. Everything about it, even the parts that I hated… But there comes a time in every soldier’s career where he or she must hang up the rank and fall out of file. For me, it happened after only six-years. In that fugacious time, I learned a lot of things. I learned what it was like to hold the remains of dead friends. I learned of the pride and swell that can come from standing for something greater than self. I was trained on how to fold a flag properly, so that it may be handed to a grieving mother and bereft family. I implemented that lesson more than once…

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I bring a lot of regret with me from my time in service. I regret not being there when Starker was killed. I had abandoned my unit, or so it feels. I hate knowing that one of the best men I have ever known is dead and gone, yet I remain.

Something dawned on me the other day; something profound and painful. In my life, I have seen a lot of death. So much so, that I cannot tell you with accuracy the number of dead bodies that my hands and eyes have touched. I have stood in bathrooms, hallways, living rooms and dining rooms, bedrooms and alleyways, all while overlooking the recently departed. I have seen the death of the young and the last breaths of the old. And yet here I am, alive and well. Why though? Why do the wretched survive and the good leave? I can say that because not only do I see myself as lacking, but those I wished to have saved never seemed to make it, and those of arguably less merit and well-guided character always did.

If you ever want to know what it’s like to hate the world, chew on that distortion for a while…

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You may have an impulsion to say that I am not wretched, I assure you that I am. I have been with women that are not mine. I have paid for love at an hourly rate. I have drunk myself stupid and then driven my vehicle home. Not once, not twice, not even just three-times… so many times that the accuracy of that number lies with the dead. Holding hands with that intangible quantum. I have stood in rooms laughing while there remain corpses still warm to the touch. I have yelled at those that did not warrant it. I have walked away from those in need when I should have stayed. I have provoked fights merely in hopes that someone would punch me in the face.

Now, while it may be true that I have stepped away from doing a lot of those things since putting the bottle down, it doesn’t change the fact that they were my actions.

And so, I ask why? Why is it that good men like Colin, Greg, Michael and Andrew are not here while I am? I guess that’s impossible to answer…

I didn’t know it then, but each call that I went to involving the deceased would usually result in a subconscious pondering of that perplexing inquiry. This question became especially powerful when my relationship crumbled beneath the rubble of infidelity. I mean, I am or was just a miserable drunk, single and alone. Failing to control the marionette of skeletons from dancing within my closet of wounded thoughts and yet for some unknown ethereal reason, I remain.

Thoughts and beliefs such as the ones aforementioned are not as pervasive during my everyday now, but they do still simmer from time to time. It’s tough to find introspective worth when everyone around you seemingly dies or goes away. My chosen profession was one that demanded that I swim within a sea of the dead. Never did I expect to get wet from within my own family—my mother’s suicide crippled me, and reignited those queries.

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Sometimes I get angry that I am alive. Wondering what for? Others find worth in me, and that’s beautiful. I am humbled and grateful. Though I feel disingenuous should I accept their beliefs as truths. From as far back as childhood, should I dare gift a statement of praise to myself, such as saying I’m a decent cartoonist for coming in first place within the Fall Fair, my mother would quickly and decisively strike me down with the weighted utterances of “Well, someone’s getting a big head, aren’t they…?” Compliments and confidence thus feel like bravado—and I do not wish to be a man of ego.

I can tell you that in this life, I have tried my best. Although, at times, my best has been admittedly misguided.

I will always be sorrowful for Colin’s death. For not deploying with him and the rest of my team. For instead choosing to leave the army in hopes of making those around me happy. Ironically, no one was happy, especially my mother. She yelled at me actually. Funny, a mother lamenting at her son for leaving the military during wartime… not a typical scenario, I suspect.

Leaving the army didn’t make my relationship any better either. In fact, the cheating started shortly thereafter. But choosing to walk away felt like self-assurance, self-care and confidence; and as I’ve said, confidence feels akin to ego—so instead, I chose to stay with a woman who loved to hate me.

And now, here I sit, typing this—a wounded veteran having never been shot, blown up or beaten by the enemy—how the hell does that happen?

The term veteran does not come from war, it comes from service and experience. I have served with an equal number of soldiers who have deployed as well as those whom have not. And trust me when I tell you, their service is no less valuable. And many, like myself, still wear the chains of memory from that service.

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For all intents and purposes, I am a warless soldier, fighting a battle from within. The enemy’s ammunition is guilt, and believe me when I tell you, I have been shot many times over by their rounds…

I woke up hearing gunshots this morning. I knew almost immediately that they were not real, merely echoes of the past. Upon sitting up in my bed, a luxuriant kaleidoscope of the dead twisted and contorted from behind my tired eyes. This is how I normally wake…

There are many misconceptions about mental health. Many people jump to thinking that you are weak or imbalanced. Now, this is not always the case, of course. But it does happen. When in reality maybe all you are is just a warless soldier, waking up to start a new day…

I try to be a good man. I feel I owe it to those no longer here.

I don’t know why I’m alive, why I lived and they didn’t. But I know that I am alive, and for that reason alone, I choose to live.

I am however no longer warless—I choose to fight the distortion that bleeds from within. Hell, maybe one day you’ll read a post where I say something good about myself…? What a thing that would be…

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Warless or warring, I am alive!

 

 

 

 

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