Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reflections On Paradise Lost

He said he read my writing so I’ll write another. My wife and I were driving our wedding gift car from the gulf coast of Mississippi, northwest on a heading for our home in Portland, Oregon when we stopped in South Dakota to visit Deadwood on our pseudo-honeymoon in October of 2012. I still owe her a real one. We stayed in the “Ma Barker Suite” at “Cadillac Jack’s Casino” hoping that we would have another $500.00 night like we did in East St. Louis. We had visited Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial which my grandparents had recommended earlier during a buffet dinner in Kentucky. My friend Paul Erfman contacted me on social media and let me know he was in the area. We set up a meeting in the Casino and had a chance to catch up for the first time since I had left Hawaii after my last duty as a military policeman in 2007.

I had been an infantryman for almost three years when I was sent to the military police to wait out the remainder of my four year contract on base instead of deploying once more to Iraq with my unit. These fifty grunts/infantrymen had all deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Gunnery Sergeant who read our names off of the list during morning formation on the deep green grass with that Hawaiian ocean sky and that perfect weather sarcastically offered us the chance to stay with our unit and deploy again . I had seen the TV show "COPS" a million times and I knew that I would never again have this opportunity to live a life long dream so I courageously raised my hand and fucked off another deployment to grow a mustache and buy a pair of ridiculously over-sized aviator sunglasses, there would be rules to enforce and I would remain on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for the next nine months.

Those months remain some of my favorite on the planet even though they were veiled with the early signs of disease that came with my war. After a three week course on how to write tickets and put on handcuffs, and after the final exam where we were pepper sprayed, the infantrymen of First Battalion Third Marines had been officially recognized as Marine Corps Base Hawaii military police officers and we received our gun and badge. We were like TEMPS in a factory, this was not our primary occupation and we were not expected to do much more than man the front and back gate of the base to free up the contracted military police who had actually trained for the job and would patrol the base in police cars.
The grunts had been there a few weeks when the military police received a dump of fresh new Marines straight out of military police school. Looking at this scientifically it is my hypothesis that it may not have been the best idea to mix a group of seasoned hard core combat veterans with the new military police fresh faced Marines that were sent under the care of the grunts to learn their job on the gate. The reason for this is because the infantrymen, though very young, were hard to life and insane may be a harsh word but violence was accepted and so was hard drinking, we were the age of frat boys but many of us had killed people and lost many friends to war. This was not a shared experience with the new military police Marines who were sent to the gate with us and many were still teenagers.

One of these new Marines became my co-pilot, I would stand the front gate with Rodney Wheeler and at first I would make him work the whole shift, seven hours with bathroom breaks, because I had been to combat I felt it fair that the boot stood the watch while I read my books and listened to my “Coast to Coast” on the night shift.
When we were off shift I would drink an ocean and one morning early into Rodney’s career I woke him up at sunrise after drinking all night and informed him that we were going out. He had purchased a Cadillac which was a contradiction to his stature of five-foot-eight but seemed to fit with his southern twang and would have been much more effective with bull horns on the hood. He beamed and agreed to go on an adventure so we were off to live one of my daydreams, first we would visit the North Shore of Oahu. The warm water of November was welcoming but the waves crashed down with a thunder and the local girls were laughing at the white boys trying to make it past the surf. After we were ordered out of the water by a concerned lifeguard Wheeler drove us to Waikiki where we ate eighty dollar steak.

Back on the front gate I would become bored and Wheeler would watch me draft civilians that made a wrong turn onto our base. Our base was at the end of a freeway and especially during the weekend, inevitably some father would have the kids in the back of the rental and would be frantically explaining to me that he was trying to reach Waikiki but must have made a wrong turn. At some point I started retorting to this man and his clones that due to the new statue of the patriot act, thirty-eight-tac-bravo it was my duty to intern anybody attempting to trespass on our base for up to two weeks to pick up trash. I would further elaborate that they were not heading to Iraq or Afghanistan but because we were shorthanded on Marine Corps Base Hawaii due to ongoing combat operations, they would fulfill their new obligation of collecting the trash for two weeks and then could do their u-turn. I would then order them to pull over to the side of the road so that a recruiter could size and fit them for their uniforms. I would watch the color drain out of the father’s face and then I would tell him that I was kidding and proceed to give him the wrong directions to wherever he was heading.

I still don’t know why I found satisfaction in this act but it made sense at the time. If Wheeler was on patrol in the car I would stand the post with Vasquez another new join and these new Marines would stand their seven hour post waving the base traffic passed the gate while I babbled on about my deployment to Fallujah, I was stuck on repeat like a computer glitch and I could not stop talking about it, when I was drunk, when I was hungover, when I was hungover. If I ever heard the new joins complain about anything I would glare at them and bark, “You think that’s bad, let me tell you a little story called the battle of Fallujah!” I had once pictured myself as an old man and came up with that line as I imagined a future me geriatric and interacting with grandchildren.

After our first adventure Wheeler would beat on my door early in the mornings that we were off of work and drag me out of the hangover cave that I preferred and he would say, “Hey Andy, we're going on an adventure!” Off we would go throughout the island in the oversized cadillac with my throbbing head in my hands talking about Fallujah. It was on the last adventure as my contract ran out that we went for one final joy ride to the North Shore for a day of swimming in the ocean and an eighty dollar steak or seafood dinner. Those adventures were the best days of my life after enduring some terrible trauma. The young military policemen welcomed me into their lives and I was able to see how unaffected youth dealt with reality and it gave me hope for my future to be in their present. On that last day we were taking pictures on a jetty when my aviator sunglasses I had bought specifically for my duty in the military police fell into the water between some rocks. Our section sergeant would complain that he knew aviator sunglasses and trimmed mustaches were in Marine Corps regulation but when the whole company dawns these two items it becomes a bit ridiculous, however the sergeant had a sense of humor so for a few months some caricature of a policeman from the seventies would be waving the confused people through the gate.

After I heard that sound of a marble dropped into water I said to hell with the glasses it was meant to be that they vanish on this last day. But Vasquez and Efman would not let them go, they fought dark water and between rocks, I felt funny for standing there but I was positive they were gone, I just wanted to go eat. Somehow Vasquez found the glasses and handed them back to me. The young Marines did not give up so easily and I wore those sunglasses until they finally broke in the Summer of 2011. That night we ate a deliciously overpriced dinner and enjoyed being together and ridiculous. Some of those new Marine military fresh faced policemen would later deploy to Afghanistan, and that made me sad because I was always happy for them to be just the way they were. Wheeler stayed in the states and is as chipper as ever.

Last October Paul Erfman found me in the South Dakota Casino and my new wife and I joined him for a smoke and a little catching up. He seemed grown and he was talking in loop about his deployment and my deployment and then he looked at me and said, “Say it Andy.” My wife was confused and I looked at Erfman and said, “Let me tell you a little story called the battle of Fallujah!” He laughed and so did I, Paul said he was going to tell our mutual friend Carver that he got me to say it. There was something different in him and looking back at it I guess he might have reminded me of myself in those hangover Hawaiian mornings, I now see that we were all drinking so much because many of us were emotionally disturbed by our combat experience and had not been taught or properly encouraged to deal with that load in a more healthy manner than pausing the drinking only to puke and make room for more drinking.

Paul Efman had grown up since the last time I had seen him, he was a combat veteran which can peel the joke out of life until it is not funny anymore. We wished each other well and I will never see him again on this terrestrial plane. Carver wrote me to ask if I had heard about Paul yesterday and then I did and as I absorbed this information I found myself drifting back to that last adventure, jumping off of rocks and swimming in the warm ocean, everyone laughing and happy. Paul always looked happy.

Life can be captured in the regular things, I went back through my messages to see our last correspondence and it was as I will remember Paul Erfman who became one of the twenty two veterans who commit suicide a day and I hate it, as cliche as I can be I would love to sit down again with Paul and babble about the war, and about getting help. I wish I had the chance to talk more about how good life can be and to not let the life triggers suck you down too fast and too quick. “Let me tell you a little story about the battle of Fallujah,” supposes that someone who has been to the battle of Fallujah has endured the most pain any human being can endure and it is not true. I would daydream about what I would do when I got home and when those puzzle pieces were not fitting together as I had hoped it became devastating. The memory of pain is hidden in normalcy that looks like our final  correspondence;  

Hey I see ya gonna be in the hills tonight
October 12, 2012 6:31 pm

Hey dude what's up
hey actually honeymoonin  in Deadwood

I seen that.... I'm literally like 13 miles from ya in spearfish
cool man, I think we are going to hit the slots in an hour and a half, Im staying at cadillac Jacks
feel free to stop by for a beer

Right on well would ya like to grab a beer while ya in the area?
ya but we are drinking and Im staying static Ill be in the casino at 9 and we could catch up if you can make it

What's static? Lol oh I can make it I'm sure

Id Text ya when I got there but don't have ya number so I'll just look for ya I suppose
661 400 ****
sounds good see you then


If you are a veteran in crisis call 1-800-273-8255. There is help out there for you for real.

1 comment:

  1. Lost a dear friend. He came to work at a tempory job and I was his foreman. He was a bright light and a great worker. When the job ended I asked some of the best employees to transfer to the next location in Boulder, Colorado. After that job ended our group stayed in touch. He had such a bright future. The call came and knocked the wind out of me. He had stacked his uncashed paychecks on top of his dresser at his parents home. It seemed like he had planned this for some time. I felt the what if's, what if I had seen the signs? Then the feelings drifted from guilt to sadness. A sadness into a memory that has lingered on and off for over 30 years. A memory that still stirs my soul to try and be a help. Bruce in Nebraska