feelings that stay with you…

natchez trace parkway bridge 2

It was the end of February, almost two years ago. Zach was in Afghanistan. I had been having a lot of problems with my cell phone service. Because of the nature and location of this particular deployment, Zach and I weren’t able to talk with the regularity of the past. We had a brief conversation, brief because of my frustration over the poor connection. The next day Zach called in the very early morning, I think it was still dark outside. He called to say he wasn’t going to be able to call for a while. I knew what he meant. I was half asleep and crank, I’m not a morning person.

I was in school so my days were busy but the nights were always long. It was nearing midnight and I was getting ready for bed. I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my hair and just had a feeling. This feeling was compounded by how short I was during my last phone call with Zach. I regretted it. I tried calling him, maybe a dozen times. His phone was off. There was a Pashtun recording on the other end I could never understand. I’m sure it was something along the lines of “This subscriber is unavailable…” I went to sleep. The next morning came and I still hasn’t heard anything from Zach, not even an email. I tried calling him again but there was still no answer. I tried keeping busy but after lunch I called again, and again, no answer.

A little after 3 o’clock that afternoon the company commander emailed the family members to the company to inform us that one of Zach’s soldiers had been shot several times and had to be medevaced (airlifted) to Bagram. I knew it must have been very bad. But what she had failed to mention was whether or not the rest of the people on the team were alright, if Zach was okay. My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario. I knew that if Zach was dead the commander wouldn’t be allowed to say anything until they Army made an in person notification. I imagined that because the injured soldier fell directly under Zach’s supervision so they must have been in close proximity to each other. I thought they were going to knock on my door. At the time I lived in a gated complex and wondered how they would get in.

I tried calling Zach again, but still there was no answer. Every car door slamming shut in the parking lot was piercing. I sat on the couch, looking out the window, waiting, but then it got dark and I couldn’t see anything anymore. Ten hours after I received that email from the commander I got an email from Zach. He was okay. After his soldier had been injured they had to continue on with their mission. By the time they were done he was too tired to do anything but sleep, understandably.

A little over a week ago I was working at my computer with the local news on in the background. The anchor said an unidentified soldier on post was killed that morning at one of the ranges. I immediately realized I hadn’t heard from Zach all day, my stomach dropped, again. I texted him but this time he texted back right away. He was fine.


dark sunset on the cumberland

As The Sparrow

To give life you must take life,
and as our grief falls flat and hollow
upon the billion-blooded sea
I pass upon serious inward-breaking shoals rimmed
with white-legged, white-bellied rotting creatures
lengthily dead and rioting against surrounding scenes.
Dear child, I only did to you what the sparrow
did to you; I am old when it is fashionable to be
young; I cry when it is fashionable to laugh.
I hated you when it would have taken less courage
to love.

Charles Bukowski


wally with brothers

Today is my dad’s birthday, he would have been 67. In five days it will be two years since he died. I hoped that after two years of reflection I would have gained some perspective, but that hasn’t been the case.

Usually, the least important parts of a person’s life are the beginning and the end; it’s the middle, how they lived that truly counts. But when I think of my dad it’s hard not to think of the suffering he endured at the end of his life. He waited 8 months for chemo and he died 8 months after that. One of the last thing he said to me was that he wanted someone to shoot him in the head so the nightmare he was living would end. It’s something that crosses my mind daily and at the same I hear the House of Representatives have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act again. I remember when Mitt Romney was campaigning a few years ago he said “people don’t die in their apartments because they couldn’t get healthcare.” It makes me angry that people believe that because that is exactly what happened to my dad.

I cringe when even after 13 years of war, people are still war hungry. All of these people fail to realize that 40 years after the Vietnam War has ended veterans and their families are still paying for it. And the wars of my generation will be no different. Forty years from now there will be ripple effects from the wars on terror that we won’t see coming. What price are you willing to pay?

I’m disappointed that we think throwing football games in honor of service members and veterans does anything to actually help them. I’m disappointed that people think watching a movie like American Sniper actually helps veterans. If all of the news about the failed state of the VA didn’t raise awareness a movie or football game won’t either. If all of the people that went to the game or saw the movie took an extra 5 to 10 minutes to reach out to their legislators to tell them to fix the VA maybe 22 veterans wouldn’t commit suicide every day and maybe veterans wouldn’t die waiting for healthcare, either.

I don’t like living in a place where it’s so easy to cast aside people that don’t meet our expectations, whether they are veterans or not. It isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s our problem. I hope that someday instead of remembering my dad’s agony I will only see his cheshire cat like grin and his love for life.