The Tired Old Veteran…new writing…unedited…

It was there again this morning, my aged reflection, new lines, and wrinkles staring back at me from the glass. My mind goes back to that one day in Iraq. I stood in front of another mirror. Hot tears burned down my cheeks, rage choked off my words as I scrubbed the silver cross in my hand.

Blood and meat fell into the sink, and all I could think was, “It could’ve been me. He took my spot in the convoy, all because we hadn’t left Fallujah.” That knowledge didn’t help me then, nor does it now. I’m older, but none the wiser.

It’s another day here in North Mississippi. Another chance to live or to go through the motions of having a life. With the cost of living going up every single day, I better get to living before I can’t afford to. I think of my friends that never returned home from the war, of those who struggle daily to live with what we did in the name of a cause, and I wonder if they’re okay.

Are they like me? Lost in the confusion of what amounted to hell on earth. Do they regret serving? I do. It’s unhealthy to stay in this frame of mind, but it’s the only place I can make sense of the world.
Because try as I might, I can’t understand the world I’m living in now. I can hear my shrink in the dark corners of my mind, ‘It’s not all bad, Larry. There’s still plenty of good in the world.’

Is there? Then, why is the news nothing more than shocking news 24/7? Why don’t we highlight human kindness instead of mass shootings? If the world has good in it, why are we bombarded with the negative nonstop? You can’t even get on a ‘social media’ site and ‘be social’ without dealing with people who refuse to follow the rules of ‘polite society’ because of the anonymity provided them. The weak see it as an opportunity to act tough, because they know if they faced the person they insulted in real life, there’d be a whole other set of consequences. Their ‘bravery’ would shrivel within their cowardly guts.

Yet, another reason this ‘enlightened society’ keeps me angry. When I look back at my time at war, I wonder if I comprehended the amount of therapy, it would take for me to morph back into a ‘functioning’ human being? Who am I kidding? I’ve not ‘functioned’ in so long, I’ve forgotten how.

How many people sleep with a sidearm under their pillow, rifles next to the bed, shotguns in the corners, and spend an ungodly amount of time worried they will need to fight another war soon? I don’t do it, but my friend Charlie does it.

“It’s coming,” he says, every time we meet for lunch. He taps his phone screen and says, “Look, brother. Our next fight is on the way.” Charlie lost himself in the throes of war, the weight of killing did him in. He returned home, like I did, and he can’t function without the sound of incoming, or the wail of alarms going off in the middle of the night. He yearns for the fight, any fight, and here in America we don’t have anyone to fight with.

So, Charlie drinks and smokes marijuana. He’s looking for something to replace the high we got from combat. Nothing comes close to replacing it. “I’ve got to stay stoned, brother. It’s the only thing that silences the demons.” Except it didn’t. Charlie gets out of jail tomorrow, nine months after nearly beating a man to the point of death, all while screaming, “Thank you! I’ve been looking for an idiot like you since I came home from Iraq!”

I’ll go pick him up. It’s the least I can do, but I won’t enable him. For the day, or for an hour knowing Charlie, it’ll just be us two tired veterans sitting on my porch watching the hawk hunt rats in my grown over field. A hunter seeking prey; two former hunters praying they won’t have to wear the war they escaped.

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