A War on Drugs

Twelve feet tall, cloaked in black, with a giant black feathered span on its back, the angel held me over the ledge of a skyscraper and told me not to fear. I woke up and laid there for a moment wondering where I was until someone walked in. I couldn’t move. I looked down and her hands were between my legs. I couldn’t speak.

“Am I awake,” I thought. “If this is a dream, it’s going pretty well.”
“…Like a Band-Aid….” her voice was under water.
“O, Yeah! Baaaaaby,” I yelled, as the nurse pulled the catheter out.

I was definitely awake, though it felt more like Thorazine than pain. I thought about Iraq as I stumbled from the hospital bed, stepped down from the plane onto the tarmac. My feet dragged across the cold tiles toward the check out desk, all I could smell was diesel fuel and shit.

“Am I in Iraq? This isn’t a tent. If I were in Iraq this would be a tent.”

My wife was waiting at the front desk, looking down, shoulders low, holding what articles of my clothing hadn’t been kept as evidence. She hugged me, held me. My shoulder was wet and for that moment, I was not in Iraq.

“You’ll need to sign this” the nurse interrupted the moment.
“If this is about what I said to that other nurse I’m sorry. Did you hear that out here? I wasn’t trying to be rude.”
“Everyone on the floor heard it,” she handed me a pen. “Just sign it.”

As I signed I noticed horizontal lines of irritated skin across my wrists and lateral scratches up my forearms.
“No stitches. I guess that’s good.” I smiled. “What kind of drugs do they have me on?”

When I looked up I was on the road again. The evening sun was in my eyes so I couldn’t see the truck in front of me. Our security escort wasn’t doing there job because there were civilians all over the road.
“This is an odd convoy. What the hell am I doing in the Cavalier with my wife driving down highway 190.”
“They found you in a field near the college,” her voice was coming to me long distance from the United States. “It took five cops to...”
“Uh, oh,” I interrupted. “Am I in Iraq”
“No, your on your way home. Were you trying to kill yourself?”

I guess it felt like a homecoming. When I walked into the house there was a sense that I had been gone for along time, but the living room seemed unfamiliar, corners stretched out for miles and the furniture was mammoth.
“Am I home?”
A 2 foot tall squirrel scampered into the night from the patio in my peripheral as I stared into the corner of the room. When I laid on the couch proportion came back to me. It felt like home.

“So, Five cops, to do what?”
“To bring you in to the hospital. When you didn‘t come home or call I got worried so I called the jails and the hospitals and they said there was a John Doe that sounded like you and he was talking about angels and Iraq and he was gonna die if they couldn’t figure out what he was on ,” she took a breath. “They thought you were on PCP or something. They had to put those zippy things on you because you kept scratching your arms when they cuffed you.”
“How long was I in there?”
“Three days.”
“And how long have I been back?”
“We walked through the door not five minutes ago.”
“From Iraq?”
“Honey,” She was looked down. “You’ve been back for more than seven months.”
“Stop walking around so fast. Your making me dizzy.”

“Am I back?” I asked myself. “I didn’t try to kill myself. Did I? Should I go to rehab? NO, he’s still in Iraq and I can go back and get him.”
Where-ever I was, I was not home. Whoever I was, I wasn’t myself. This was the second time I found myself between Iraq and a hard place. I chose Iraq. I volunteered to go back instead of facing the shame of rehab, instead of facing my addiction. After all the things I had done I didn‘t develop a sense of shame until faced with the prospect of rehab. Maybe I just didn’t want to face the drugs.

Seven months I had been sober. Seven months earlier I had returned from Iraq and expected what chaplains call the “Homecoming, Honeymoon phase.” Instead I went through a hibernation phase. I slept for 3 months. There was no eating out, no shopping sprees, barbeques, vacation trips, parties and no shame. I didn’t even leave the house to get groceries.

“Its like living with a ghost,” she complained “You’re here but your not. I can’t even sleep when your in the bed. You kick and scream in your sleep.”

Neither of us ever raised our voices, we didn‘t fight. She complained. I made excuses. We both sulked. When the money that was supposed to be used on vacations and parties dried up I had to come out from under the covers and get a job. The national Guard is sort of like being a whore your only getting paid when your getting screwed. For a couple of months I bounced around from one shitty job to another getting fired or quitting on short notice. During this time I became acquainted with marijuana. It served the same purpose as the sleeping pills had in Iraq .Hold on, the sleeping pills, Iraq and a hard place the first time…

“Wake up.” a voice sounded off. “Grab your shit, time to go.”
“Uhggg, ummm, errummm,” I couldn’t speak.
“Grab. Your. Shit. Time to go.”

Something was happening. Aside from the sound of 200 hustling bustling bodies in my vicinity and the fact the plane was no longer moving, there was a broken record playing near the front of the plane. All I could smell was foot and ass.

“Am I awake,” I thought. “Where am I?”
“Grab your Shit.”

We had arrived somewhere but I couldn’t remember where we had been going. I tried in vain to open my eyes. A couple hundred milligrams of Diphenhydramine weighed down my eyelids and 18 hours worth of eye gunk glued them shut. And then, as if by the force of some asshole, I was lifted from my chair. My eyes shot open to the sight of the same sergeant who had told me that taking sleeping pills during the flight would make me feel refreshed when we got there. The plane was filled with the smell of foot and ass, very refreshing indeed.

“Grab your shit,” from the front of the plane again. “We’re leaving.”

I put my boots on my feet and made an attempt at tying all 4 at once before realizing that there should only have been two. I tucked in the laces and reached through the entrails of the plane, which was now a living, breathing thing, to pull my carry-on from the overhead compartment. Patted myself down.

“I’m forgetting something.”
The guts of the plane began to single file out onto the tarmac through a wound near the front.
“Fuck , what am I forgetting?”

Before I could figure it out what I had lost I found myself being pushed and pulled toward the hemorage and I stepped into the smell of shit and diesel. Immediately I longed for a foot and ass air-freshener. An hour long bus-ride and 4 hours of briefings later my eyelids still weighed about 50 milligrams more than the should have and I still hadn’t figured out what I had forgot on the plane. We weren’t halfway done with the briefings.

“Be sure to point the weapon into the clearing barrel for all steps,” said the solider on the big screen at the front of the tent. “Remove the magazine from the rifle. Place weapon on “safe”. Lock the bolt to the rear.”

“That’s funny. Wait , That’s not funny.”
“Visually inspect the chamber and remove any ammunition”
“Where is it?”

I couldn’t do anything past putting the weapon in a clearing barrel and remove the magazine without a bolt in my weapon so I stopped paying attention to the briefing and started looking around the tent for someone who might be sympathetic.
“Yeah these guys are all jerks, I’m screwed.”

From the moment I stepped off the plane I was wrong. I would spend the rest of the deployment dodging assholes and kissing ass because of that. It took them two weeks to machine a new bolt, but there was no statement of charges. The same asshole who had told me to dope up on sleeping pills was the sergeant who told me to take the bolt out and put it in my pocket. They blamed him but I blamed the pills. In my mind I swore I would never take sleeping pills again.

Despite being 18, getting married before I went to Iraq seemed to be the thing to do. I had been dating my wife for three years before I joined. I knew that I wanted to marry her eventually. I wanted her to get medical benefits and I wanted the extra BAH (basic allowance for housing) money, so it was as good a time as any. There was a guy in my unit who married a stripper that he met three days before we got on the plane. When he couldn’t get a hold of her, and his family back home couldn’t find his car, he punched the Sergeant Major.

I didn’t have a car for my wife to steal but that didn’t make me immune to issues on the home-front. A month into the deployment my wife found out she was pregnant, then tried to kill herself. By the time I found out about it two months later my dad had died and my mother had been admitted to the mental hospital. My family said that they were trying to protect me from the stress by not telling me about her suicide attempt. I think the fact that my whole family had kept it from me was more worrisome. I had to hear it from my mother while she was hospitalized.

“You’re a liar mom, your fucking crazy,” I hung up on her

Imagine how I felt when I found my crazy mother was the only one willing to tell the truth. The unit wouldn’t let me go back to assess the situation on the home front because I didn’t find out about it until after the fact. Everyone I tried to talk to just sort of told me to suck it up, everyone accept for myself.

“They’re conspiring. My family, the unit, the Red Cross.”
“No, that’s crazy. Why would those people single you out?”
“Not those people then, the world?”
“Yes. The world then. All of them, the whole lot.”

More often than not these conversations took place in the porta-jons, the only private place any soldier has in all of Iraq. While all the other Joes where taking spank mags to shitter to beat their meat, I was taking my alter ego to thwart the plans of would be conspirators. After a long argument with myself I always came to some sort of agreement. After my dad died I convinced myself that I had the power to will people to do my bidding. Getting people to fight was the easiest thing I could get people to do, the easiest way to assure myself that I had control over something. Every time I got into a fight the other person involved seemed to get in trouble instead of myself, which further concreted the belief that I had the power to will people.

I didn’t realize it but, my sanity was slipping. Somehow I managed to stay out of trouble until it was almost completely gone. It was hour thirty-six of some shitty convoy mission, a worthless hunk of metal sat on the back of my truck, on its way from some hole in the sand to another. My eyelids were sacks of potatoes, my head was a potato farm. I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel but the sorry excuse for a sergeant that was my assistant driver had bribed me with two cartons of HajI-smokes to keep at it. It didn’t matter that HajI-smokes were only $5 a carton or that they tasted like horse shit. The asshole wasn’t going to take the wheel whether I took the bribe or not. He hadn’t driven more than 5 miles during the months that we had been in country, at least this way I was getting something out of his lazy ass.
I saw the gates of the camp where we would be racking out. Up ahead the convoy had stopped again for some reason. It should have been a 4 hour drive, we should have been inside the wire hours before. We had spent half the day standing around on the side of the road waiting for EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) to clear the roads. The heat of the asphalt had melted half inch or so from the bottom of my boots. My soul had become weary from the mortar rounds the night before and waiting to get shot at all day. The sun had gone down, I was ready to do the same. I took my Kevlar helmet off to lighten the load.

“What are you doing,” sergeant asshole sounded off.
“Taking a break, The gate ‘s right there.”
“Put your k-pod back or I’m going to write you up when we get back. ”
“Give me a sec.” I replied, rubbing the back of my neck
“why me?,” I asked the roof of my truck, looking up, letting out a sigh
“If you don’t put it back on right now…,” his voice faded to the ringing in my head.

As I considered slapping that silly little, out of regulation mustache off his face, it hit me. A blast of sweat surrender, like the concussion of some distant explosion and a gentle breeze, all at the same time. This is the moment I stopped caring , I quit trying, I gave up control, I became an addict. If I could have slapped him upside the head I would have, but it would have been physically impossible to even touch the man from across the cluttered cab of the truck. I poured every ounce of whatever had kept me going into my Kevlar. It flew towards the windshield. When the helmet didn’t quite get through, I did my best to put my fist through the shattered safety glass, but I didn‘t have enough left. Infuriated at the unbreakable windshield…I blacked out…
According to reports while my mind got some much need rest and relaxation (R&R) the rest of my person pointed a weapon at that punk-ass sergeant and threatened to drive the truck into a ditch.

“Record of Proceedings under Article 15, UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice)”
Omissions italicized.


No comments yet, why not leave one of your own?

Leave a Comment or Share Your Story

Please Sign In. Only community members can comment.

SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.