Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Night Before the Battle

I was tapping at the plastic keys of a guitar video game controller to “The Beatles” earlier tonight. I had a flashback and my hair stood on end but I kept pressing the keys in a zombie trance. The music was from another generation and I was nineteen and stretched out on an olive drab cot with my hands behind my head while I listened to a Beatles anthology. My rifle was loaded and propped on the cot near my head. My body armor with its hand grenades was draped over my helmet next to the rifle. The battle was less than twenty four hours away and I could feel a churning in my stomach and I understood that things were about to change, that my life would be different in twenty four hours. The volume was set at maximum, my only escape from the moment.
I escaped to a place that was my own; I ran through my mind at full speed and knew that the place I traveled to was different than where the other Marines lying on cots were going. The C.D. player had been a gift from my mother when I was in high school. I used to have to take the public bus home after school, but sometimes I would spend my bus money on french fries and walk the two miles back to my house. The C.D. player would sing my soundtrack and I would look at the orange groves and the light the sun was casting, silhouetting their perfect columns and files and I would inhale the southern California sea air. I knew I was young and was excited about growing up. My backpack was always weighed down with the books I never read and a folder with assignments I never completed. On the face of the C.D. player I had ripped up and rearranged a sticker that once read “Skate Street” and had changed it to “Eat Trees”.
The artillery pieces were positioned a few hundred feet from where I rested. They cracked off all night, killing people miles away, the room would shake and there was not enough volume in the world to drown out that racket. I listened to my Beatles C.D. and I could hear something that spoke to the core of my soul. It would be impossible to explain the feeling unless you have ever taken L.S.D. I could hear every note and the gravity of these notes would move me, and when I heard the lyrics I understood that what the Beatles had captured was youth, and my heart broke into a million pieces and would come back together and I wondered what was waiting on the other end of the barbed wire? The artillery pumped rounds into the city, killing people from miles away and I listened to the Beatles. That was the last night that every member of my platoon slept in the same area alive. I hoped to the music that we would be spared, that I would be spared.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Veterans

The raindrops bounce off of the bill of my hat and the slight breeze brings with it a slight chill. The clock has been punched, the ticket writing machine retired and there will be a dog to walk at home. The city of Portland Oregon is made up of old brick buildings from the Victorian era, mixed in between the climbing skyscrapers of various corporate eras. A gargoyle watches me cross the street and there is some sort of victory in my step. I read a letter from a Texas prisoner I served with in the Marine Corps, he had handwritten that he was where he belonged. I thought about his intensity in combat, he was just a little more violent than the rest of us and sometimes we all need a break. I remembered the smashing china and its startling crash on the concrete floor of some foreigner’s home.
The city was on fire, smoke signals rose from the burning tires set ablaze on a rooftop. I received a message from our old point man and noticed that he was cradling a new child on the profile picture of a social networking website. He wrote that he knew I saw the world in a different way. He lives in Mexico now and I remember what he had taught me about fighting and heart. After he was shot I picked his helmet up and found a card with a Spanish styled illustration of the Virgin Mary. I was an atheist, there was a full moon and I read the prayer on the back of the card in the moonlight and put the card inside my helmet for good luck. I read a message on a social networking site I frequent, it was from a friend. He wrote that he picks up cans during the day to pay for his drinking at night. I knew him in boot camp and he would call my father on Christmas to wish us well.
The raindrops cease when I unlock the community door to the apartment. There is a happy and anxious border collie, or springer spaniel terrier mix depending on who you ask, waiting for me. Tail wagging and clumsy tongue waiting to lick the hand that pets her. We will go for a walk, and I will return home to drink a beer and listen to the symphonic classical station on the internet.