Based on a True Story
Warning: Loud Language
This is what I wanted to tell them.
They had us in line with our sleeves rolled up to get punched one by one, by one shot after another down a hallway of shots: vaccinations they told us. I think some of them were tests, like the PB’s, given us as a “preventive measure.” Sure didn’t sound like a vaccine to me? But it was the mission, and we were off to a far-away land on the other side of the world. Kuwait to be exact.
I was a naïve 27-year-old with a dream to excel in photography. I was much older than most of my fellow soldiers, who I’d beat in challenge after ever-fucking challenge, but on the night of February 27, 1991, my entire identity was wiped off the face of Earth. My soul. My life. What started in daylight ended in a fog of my existence.
I was riding in a one-person, closed compartment in the back of a massive convoy. I was in the communications vehicle in an area known as the “RATT rig,” basically a metal box stuffed with communications equipment. I was inside there, alone in the middle of the desert, heading to Iraq.
I was quietly working with the radio, listening to Led Zeppelin and incoming communications, when the vehicle jolted and I was thrown from my seat, violently hitting my head on the ceiling, walls, and floor of the rig. I wasn’t visibly bleeding but I felt fucked up. As I desperately righted myself, I fled the rig and immediately assisted in up-righting generators that were positioned behind me.
Apparently, a trailer behind me, with two backup generators, fell on its side, possibly from a land mine. But never mind that. I was ordered that the mission must go on. Against all common sense, against my my most internal instincts, I re-entered that RATT rig because it was my duty and expected of this piece of property.
Within about ten minutes after the convoy started again, it stopped. Then one of those generators exploded. I was once again thrown about the rig and suffered with my head bouncing off walls, hitting the ceiling, and rapping hard against the equipment. I remember trying to hold myself steady but my head kept getting loose from the sorry grip I had.
I opened the rig door to a wall of flames as horrifying a meeting the face of Satan in the fire before me. I stepped on the rig tailgate. Then, a second explosion occurred. I was thrown, this time, several feet from the vehicle, landing on my right shoulder, my head bobbing as I tried for seconds in vain to stand up, my comrades holding me back from the annihilation that was before us.
The first thing I did was look at my hands for what seemed like minutes. Then, I looked up. The vehicle was totally destroyed. I felt lucky it wasn’t me but it was.
After the explosions, we traveled a few more miles and camped within sight of burning oil fields. I could hear the chemical alarms sounding, warning of the extreme toxicity that surrounded those fields. I could see puffs of smoke in the distance, chronic, poisonous fumes of deep black smoke. What I could not see was the foul skin disorder I developed after the war. They are open wounds, as was my mind, remembering the dystopia that was my experience.
That night, I was placed on watch but suicide wasn’t all I was thinking of. I was the only one of my convoy who suffered. I lost my whole life in that RATT rig. My head hurt with anguish. All my prized photographs. Gone. My clothes. Gone. Mementos. Gone. Memories of my parents, my childhood, and my siblings flashing through what was left of my mind. Gone, but at the time I didn’t know it.
The next day, my captain placed me on the first flight back to the US. I was scurried through lines, like the long vaccination line I endured before I left. I was given new boots and was told to walk in a parade, as though I would survive the pomp and grandeur of such an event. I was devastated by the apathy of those telling me to parade. I took the boots but left the facility. No parade for me; angst kept me from that.
I went to Fort Detrick, Maryland, where the attention paid to my health issues from the Army and from the Veteran’s Administration was inadequate at best. Head trauma and psychological issues were simply not discussed, unless one was aiming for a court martial. I didn’t aim at all.
I just wanted to be left alone; to figure out on my own: what do I do now?
I went to my parents’ house for a few months until I could no longer take their insufferable, incessant fighting and yelling, arguing and pushing. Trauma after motherfucking trauma was getting to me. I found myself talking to my dad one night, as though he were my friend. Then, he said it was “all in your head” and I shot back, “Well, it’s not in my ass!”
I had had enough.
I made the decision to go homeless and find my help out on the streets of my hometown, Tampa. That’s where I spent the next three years, homeless, living in a storage shed, which was all I could afford to do. Apparently someone else had the same idea, a young buck, who I beat with a lead bar one day for repeatedly bothering me.
I had really had enough.
I went to jail but stayed away from the other inmates; spent most of my time in my cell. I wanted out, and I wasn’t talking about jail, but I wanted an out to something I couldn’t yet define.
When I was released, I was back on the street. No help from anyone. Repeatedly traumatized with no apparent sign that I could grab and just get myself out. I signed up at the local Good Samaritan, went to AA because it was expected, and straightened out my life, or so I thought.
I somehow ended up at my parents house again. I wasn’t anymore welcomed than I was before, but this time I saved my pennies, quarters, dimes, and anything short of stealing. I saved all of my artwork that I made in that storage-place shed in which I spent three years of my life and all of my meaningful personal possessions. Then, I did something that I hadn’t expected of myself: I left.
I left my parents’ house, then left Tampa. I left all of my friends behind and changed people, places, and things.
This is what I wanted to tell them.
Anguish was a daily thing. Angst was my protector.
I wanted to tell the government employees, the bureaucrats, that I wasn’t lying. All that that I explained to them actually happened, but I couldn’t. They wanted to hear about my suffering. They wanted me to prove it in fine detail. They wanted to know about the lesions on my skin (not to do something about it), my affair with alcohol, and the fact that I didn’t go to no fucking parade, or did I imagine that?
I couldn’t drive anymore. I couldn’t walk out my first door without a glimpse of a wall of flames periodically greeting me. I couldn’t go to a restaurant unless there was a seat against the wall; I dreaded not being able to see everybody in the room. I dread having to go anywhere. My IBS and puking every morning was traumatizing, and I periodically glimpsed images of toxic smoke stacks in the distance.
They wanted me to prove it.
I couldn’t do anything that a normal American would do. The war, the killing of other human beings, the trauma, the explosions: all left me broken.
I proved it alright. I found myself in an hour away from Tampa with a new VA administration close by, an excellent disabilities lawyer, and the most supportive friend one could find on this planet. This is what I wanted to tell them.
I got better in spite of them because the whole government process traumatized me almost as much as the event itself. They traumatized me mentally while my head ache from chronic hypervigilant fear.
I learned to cuss less, learned to enjoy my life more, and to live in the peace I have finally found for myself, but they’ll never know what really happened to me, to my head, to my life.
War is horrifying beyond recognition. You lose your soul in every kill.
I wanted to tell them that I was sorry I had enlisted. I saw the world and served my country well. I want to tell them that in the military there’re serious, if not deadly, consequences. I wanted to tell them much more than this, but I could not. Pieces of property have no conscience history and are, therefore, not permitted to talk.
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