I Swear I’ll Drive All Night

I’ve been thinking a lot about sad songs and how they are something that I’ve loved since I was a little kid. I loved hearing them. I loved people being real in front of a microphone, or piano, or guitar, or anything. I just loved that people could find such an amazing way of expressing their emotions, even if they are kind of embarrassing sometimes. Of course, most of these songs were not understood by the younger version of me. I didn’t know what heartbreak was in the context of a relationship. I experienced a lot of circumstances and emotions at a very young age and it kind of warped my understanding of how a child is supposed to behave and what things a kid should be interested in. I didn’t like the popular songs on the radio because they weren’t something I could relate to. I thought I had to relate to something to appreciate it, so I always gravitated to the sad songs because I was sad a lot of the time. Anyway, this song is something I’ve been listening to for the last few days and it captures too well how I’ve felt the last few weeks.

I also stumbled across this little quote while reading a book about the lasting impact of a famous rock star: “…being sad and listening to a song about sadness helps you feel better, not worse, and rock music doesn’t lead you to kill yourself.”

Here’s to feeling better!

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Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

Going through a breakup is something I’ve never been good at. There is so much confusion, second guessing, memories, regrets, wishes, hopes, dreams, and everything else that seem to just takeover everything all at once. I know when enough time passes, everything will be fine. But it just feels impossible. It’s a lot like running away from something for dear life. Every time you turn around, the Thought Monster is there just a few feet behind you.

You still love her, it says. Remember all those times she smiled at only you and you felt like you were the king of the world? Remember how she made you feel like Superman? Remember how she was always cold and wanted nothing more than to be close to you because she said you felt like a heater? Remember how there is nowhere for you to go in this town without being reminded of some magical time you spent together? Remember how many special moments happened that were only shared between the two of you? She’s sharing them now. She doesn’t think they were special. In fact, she hates you for them. She’s mad at those moments. She wishes they never happened.

And you keep running. And it feels good for a time, but then you look back again.

“Just one more time,” you say. “Just to see if it’s still there.”

And it is. It’s always there.

Call her, it says. She’ll say she loves you. You know she does. She just forgot.

And you keep running. You hate yourself for looking back. But you do every once in a while. And it’s always there.

She’s smiling at someone else now. She’s making someone else feel like Superman. She’s still cold but she has a new heater. She’s making new memories and sharing new moments. She’s taking him to all of your spots.

So you keep running. Before you know it, you can’t run anymore. You just want the Thought Monster to eat you. At least then you could stop running. And you slow down. It gets its dirty claws all over you.

You’ll never get over it, it says. And the worst part is that it’s your fault. She was perfect. You’d still be with her if you hadn’t fucked it all up. And you’ll do it all over again next time, if there is a next time. No one could love you. She’s the only one who could. And she’s gone.

You can’t take anymore. You rip the claws from your shoulders and start running again. You learn that the Thought Monster feeds on tears. So you stop crying, finally. You look back less. You run faster than you ever thought possible. You sometimes forget that it’s even there. You still look back sometimes. It doesn’t hurt as much. Just a little. Just enough to remind you that you were in love once. The kind of love no one can understand, and you know they aren’t supposed to.

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Set Out Running

This song has been playing tag with me for four years.

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Overwhelmed by Nothing and Everything

Sometimes I’ll say something, or a series of things, in front of a group of people (most of the time they are my family or friends), and immediately after I say that something (no matter what it was), I realize that I just said something terrible, or I at least think it must have been perceived as terrible. Or maybe they didn’t get some joke. Or maybe I didn’t actually say what I thought I said. Or maybe I didn’t say it how I meant to say it. Or maybe I didn’t say anything at all. I don’t know. These things happen all of the time and I don’t know why it bugs me so much. But I’ll go home after these things happen and I’ll dwell on them for the next week or so. And that’s not an exaggeration: I actually think about these things for weeks at a time. Not only do I think about these things for weeks at a time, but I’ll go out of my way to ensure that they don’t happen again. I’ll try to avoid the people I may or may not have embarrassed myself in front of. I’ll try to not have to be around them if I can help it. I’ll just plain act weirder than the initial misunderstanding that has me acting weird in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and insecurity. And they all just build and build and build on top of each other to the point that eventually I feel like there is a giant weight on my chest and everything feels overwhelming. I’ll look at the stack of papers that I have to go through to get some assignment finished; I’ll look at the mountain of laundry building up that I know I need to do or I will surely run out of clothes soon; I’ll look at the other 75% of the book I’m currently reading and feel like there is no way I will ever finish it. At the end of the day, I’ll basically have sat around doing nothing. I will waste my day sitting around thinking about all of the things I should be doing but can’t bring myself to do. I’ll waste my day worrying about potential things that I may or may not be missing out on. Either way, I end up wasting so much time thinking about how little time I have to get all of the things done that I need to do by this certain time. And all of these feelings tie back to my initial fear that I may or may not have come across in the way I wanted in front of a group of people. Everything feels overwhelming when you don’t know how you are perceived by others. I don’t even know if I perceive myself correctly anymore. I legitimately don’t know how to be a person sometimes.

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Signs of the Times

“You know something that I noticed the other day?” she asked.

“No,” I answered.

“I was at the grocery store, right? Just minding my own business when I see this girl who couldn’t have been more than about seventeen years old and probably six or seven months pregnant.”

“Shit,” I sighed. “That sucks. Always makes me feel weird.”

“I know, but that’s not even the worst part. I can sympathize with that, to an extent. But then I noticed something that I’ve never thought about before: she had a cellphone case. She had a cellphone case to protect her phone. Can you believe that?”

“Most people have cellphone cases. So yeah, of course I can believe it. Why is that shocking?”

“You really don’t get it?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“She was seventeen, knocked up, and she had a cellphone case. How do you not see why that is funny?”

“I really don’t get what you’re saying. Everyone has cellphone cases. It’s not a big deal.”

“She was more worried about protecting her cellphone screen than she was about protecting herself from a pregnancy! How do you not think that is funny?”

“Well,” I said. “Most people don’t get caught up in the moment with their cellphones, you know what I mean? Like, people sometimes don’t want to interrupt their passions or whatever by putting on a condom. Then accidents happen. I don’t see how that is funny though.”

“No,” she said. “There is something fundamentally wrong with that way of thinking. It’s a sign of the times, man. People are more concerned with protecting their belongings than they are of themselves. I just couldn’t believe it. Still can’t.”

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A Veteran on Veteran’s Day

Being that tomorrow is the Marine Corps Birthday and the day after is Veteran’s Day, it is safe to say that today/night may be the only brief lapse of time in the next forty-eight hours when I can mutter or even type what I will probably want to say but will likely be too caught up in the “festivities” to do so. This time of year is always bitter-sweet for me. One moment I will be happy to have served with all of my buddies and proud of the things we did and didn’t do over there. But the following moments (the ones that tend to come a few hours later when everyone has gone to sleep and I am staying up by myself and reflecting on the losses and changes in my own life) are different. The later parts of these days are spent asking hard questions. These are the questions with no real answers or purpose. They exist solely to poke and prod and annoy and keep the asker from sleeping: Why am I here and others are not? Why was I lucky? Why is so-and-so gone and not me? What would it be like if I had never got out? Where would I be if I stayed-in for another four years? What is everyone doing? How is so-and-so’s family doing without him? Was any of what we did worth the human lives that were sacrificed? These questions can keep any person up for hours. I think everyone who has ever lost someone to something that doesn’t seem to make sense has asked themselves these questions. Understand that the validity of these questions is not exclusive to veterans. But something happens on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day that forces everyone to, at the very least, acknowledge that there are people who ponder these questions on a daily basis. These days force some of us to remember moments and questions that we’ve either learned or wished to forget. That is not to say that we don’t need to reflect on these things from time to time. I’m just saying that for some people these things can hurt a lot to remember.

Each year, I’ll remember how lucky we were to find the things we found before they could be used: the countless weapon caches, half-finished VBIEDs, etc. I’ll remember how close we came to dying. I’ll remember that had we taken that one road, instead of the one we did take, we would be dead. I’ll remember how one Marine’s past experience in the same AO saved our lives on a daily basis. I’ll remember how scary certain patrols were. I’ll remember how fast my heart was beating when I was popped up and all but waiting for the vehicle to explode. I’ll remember the nights on watch. I’ll remember the countless cans of Copenhagen Long Cut and menthol cigarettes, as well as the damage we inflicted upon our bodies just to stay awake. I’ll remember staring at that picture of my dog for hours at a time, wondering, “Will he remember me when I come back? How white is his face now?” I’ll remember my platoon sergeant coming over periodically, especially during long missions, to ask each of us, “How are you doing?” I’ll remember the days where everyone received mail except for me. I’ll also remember what it felt like to receive mail while my friends sat there empty-handed. I’ll remember coming home and feeling so helpless that I just wished someone would throw me through a window. I’ll remember how fast things can change and how I used to be able to adapt to anything. I’ll remember to be thankful that I don’t have to adapt to those things anymore. But sometimes I’ll forget and adapt to them anyway in situations where there is no justification. I’ll remember how good I had it and how hard and bad and horrific others did and still do. I’ll be thankful but sad. The fact that there are others who didn’t get to process all of these feelings because they didn’t get to live long enough is enough to make me cry.

I’ll remember how all of these holidays feel like funerals, but, for some reason, everyone wants to thank you.

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Murph

Seven months into the deployment, Sergeant Apatheias killed a dog in front of me. We were laying down providing overwatch for the rest of the platoon as they approached some Iraqi houses we’d been watching for a few days.

I heard the round leave his rifle about a meter to my right. I looked over to see Sergeant smiling. I removed my glasses. He saw that I was looking at him and not the dog.

“We kill shit everyday, boot,” he said. “That’s what we do here. The fuck do I care about a dog?”

I sat in silence for a long time. I watched the dog dying in front of me, struggling to breathe and writhing in pain. I can’t remember the sound. I’ve never been happier to not remember. I thought about my dog at home and how much I loved him. I thought about how I would react if someone had killed my dog for no other reason than to watch it die. I wiped tears away from my eyes and watched as each tear was absorbed into my gloves.

“Don’t be such a fag about it,” he continued. “These fuckers don’t give a shit about that animal. You seen how they raise them? I have. They tie them to this wire and tie that to some post until the dog gets all territorial. They keep giving it a little more slack until the mutt is territorial about every grain of sand for the next five miles. They don’t give a shit if I kill them. Just you. Thompson kills a dog almost every day and you’ve never said shit.”

“I’ve never had to see it,” I said.

“Jesus Christ, you know, when I was here last time, we killed this dude in the middle of the fucking street. Well, we killed a lot of people.  Fucking people. Hajjis, but still a human, you know? Like, they’re all human beings on the surface. And this all happened in front of this one guy’s family. At least I think it was his family. They were pretty shook-up about it. Anyway, the hajji didn’t even get a shot off. We just snuffed him out and some tank ran him over. He turned into a speed bump, except we never slowed down. We ran over him for days. Funny as shit. Eventually he got so pressed into the concrete that he looked like somebody painted him on there. He looked like a gingerbread man made out of shit. We called him Pancake Man. And here you are. Crying about a fucking dog.”

Sergeant had this way of joking that was really just attacking everything about you. If someone’s wife left them during the deployment, he’d start singing “Another One Bites the Dust” and force them to dance. It didn’t matter if they were on suicide watch or not.

“I’m not crying,” I laughed, I still don’t know why. “It’s just…I have a dog at home, Sergeant. And I miss him. I dream about him. His face is turning white, you know.”

“Ha!” Sergeant laughed. “Ghostface Killah! That’s fucking sick, boot.”

My name wasn’t Boot. Marines who have been in for a while like to refer to junior Marines as Boots. I’ve heard that in the Army they call the junior enlisted Fuzzies. I don’t know. My dog’s name was Murph though.

“You gotta admit that’s funny, boot,” he returned his attention to his rifle. “I just smoked that dog out there and you tell me your dog’s on his way out. You can’t make shit like that up.”

He went on laughing.

“It’s not funny,” I said. I was serious.

“Oh, go fuck yourself, boot,” he said. He was also serious. “Get a sense of humor. That’s the only thing that makes the days go by around here. If you don’t laugh then these last few weeks are gonna feel like years.”

“You didn’t have to kill that dog,” I said. “I don’t know how else to say it: you’re fucked up, Sergeant. You need to talk to someone. I need to use your radio.”

“The fuck for?” he turned to look at me and stood up on one knee. “Who the fuck are you calling? You calling in arti? You calling for CAS? We’re danger close, you fucktard.”

“First you gave away our position by shooting that dog, now you’re sky lining yourself. I’m not getting killed over you being a fucking nutcase.”

Sergeant stood up and rushed over to me, grabbing me by the ankles. I can’t remember how far he dragged me. I stood up and saw him fumbling around with his collar.

“Take your rank off, Lance Corporal,” he said. “Pretend we’re back on the block. I’m just some guy and this whole place is just some bar. Try me.”

He took his helmet off next.

“I’m not going to tell you again, take your fucking rank off.”

He moved closer, rubbing his bare forehead against the fabric of my helmet. I could smell the Copenhagen on his breath as he began unsnapping my helmet.

“Ok,” I said. “Just back up a bit so I can lay my rifle down. You too.” I un-slinged my weapon and rested it on my helmet.

“Can I take my flak off?” I asked.

“Yeah, go ahead.”

I motioned toward the quick release on my flak jacket with my right hand while removing a flare with my left.

“You won’t,” he said confidently. “They’ll fry you, not me.”

“I don’t care. You’re fucked up. Someone can relieve me. You can file your side of the story and I’ll file mine. It’ll get straightened out.”

I sent the flare into the sky. I waited to hear Sergeant’s radio. It only took a few seconds.

Sergeant glared at me as he grabbed the receiver of his radio, “Send your traffic, over.”

“What was that?” someone on the radio yelled.

“That was Michaels,” he said. “Negligent discharge, disregard.”

“Negligent discharge on an illumination flare?” I heard another voice come over the radio.

There was silence.

“Red One Actual is enroute to your pos,” I heard another voice say.

Sergeant continued to glare at me, mumbling something before bending over to search the sandy ground for his rank.

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