Questions and a few thoughts about a balanced life…A Walk in Darkness…

Why are any of us here? Is it to just go through the motions, pretending that we are living? Are we to worry about every aspect of our life? If our life is for living, what consists of living? Is working all we are meant to do? To strive for the next step on the corporate ladder? Is happiness a new car every five years? Does it come from owning a big house? Will a family fill the void? Or is it deeper than all the materialistic possessions we accumulate though our lifetime?

My personal belief is that a combination of balance is required to achieve happiness. As an example, I like to purchase a new firearm every time the urge strikes me. Vehicles are another obsession of mine. One day, I will own a ‘74 Power Wagon with a 440. One day. However, possessions alone leaves the spiritual man empty. In the Army, I strove to achieve ‘The Total Soldier’ concept. The easiest way to explain it is this: I attempted to attain excellence in every aspect of soldiering. This included: physical fitness, marksmanship, driving, appearance, knowledge, and competence in my MOS tasking. Also included was every additional duty that I was assigned, on top of caring for 22 soldiers. 

This same concept applies to life. Excellence is difficult to achieve.

Spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being are important for a well-rounded life. If one part is out of alignment it throws the entire picture out of whack. Joy comes from achieving balance in all three realms.

All too often we focus on one part and all the other parts to collapse. It’s what led me down into the darkness. I didn’t want to deal with what collapsed, so I focused on my career.  My spiritual tank had run slam out of fuel, my mental well-being was ignored and in the end-it almost killed me. 

So, if I were to hand out a free piece of advice it would simply be this: Don’t ignore your spiritual and mental well-being. Instead, keeping a balance of all three will improve your health, and you will reap the benefits of a well-rounded life. 

I mean, who doesn’t want to be a successful individual in any realm? To achieve happiness, and be grounded, calm, and have peace is priceless. Sure, you will still have bad days, but they won’t destroy you. If they do, tomorrow is a brand new day to try again.

The beginning of A Walk in Darkness…A short story…

I have written many stories, all exaggerated, about my walk in darkness. Yet, for all my writing, I never have written of how it started. Cue my struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction. It is a simple thing to blame it on my addiction or my change at the hands of war fighting. There are multiple reasons that led to my darkness. My struggle with addiction are only symptoms of my disease.

Like many folks, my descent into darkness happened quickly. It started with me leaving Ft. Hood and moving to Germany. At Ft. Hood, Texas field exercises were about two weeks long. Home was 10-15 minutes away at any given time.

In Germany, field exercises were 90 days and took place in various parts of Europe. I spent more time in the field than I did with my family. More time with my soldiers than with my children. I gave my devotion to the Army and my career, instead of to the woman to whom I swore undying love and loyalty.

As I write these words tonight, my issue is made manifest to me. I had my priorities in the wrong order. My ex-wife once told me, “you’re a great provider but a horrible husband and father.” The more things fell apart, the more I focused on my career. Then, I deployed to Iraq for fifteen months. The stress of war, the stress of drowning in the abysmal failure of my marriage, it was too much to bear. To top it all of, I began to have migraine headaches.

When I returned home to Germany, things became even worse. Minor problems caused me to erupt. All too often, I lashed out at my family. They weren’t the problem, they were just available targets for my rage. 

Tonight, as I tear the scabs off my heart, I wonder what would have happened if I had sought help earlier. Nothing matters now, what is done is done. There is no life in the past. I know this, but still I need to purge this out of my system. The story of A Walk in Darkness, is my story to tell. It is the story of a man with messed up priorities, who loses his way. It’s not a special story, but it is mine. 

My time in Germany morphed me into a hardhearted, calloused, unemotional caricature of the man I once was. To protect myself, I shut down all avenues to my heart. My sole focus rested on the advancement of my career. Moving to Colorado was the final nail into the coffin of my marriage.

At the end of my career and retirement from the Army in Colorado, my last unit was squared away. It didn’t start out that way. At the beginning of my time in Colorado, it was a gigantic Charlie Foxtrot. The structure of the unit was in disarray. The leadership had long given up on righting the ship, and I was one of the only ones who gave a rip about being an example for the lower enlisted to emulate. Hundreds upon thousands of hours was given to the unit, and none was given to correcting the issues in my marriage.

From the first day at the unit until the last, stress was my constant companion. Instead of communicating, I shut down and drowned my problems in Irish whiskey. To alleviate the pain of my failures on all fronts, I popped pills. My self-medication combined with stress, along with numerous traumatic brain injuries (TBI) led me to having a seizure. Then, I had 90 more in seven months. My walk in darkness had already begun, it just became more apparent when I lost everything.

I have been writing this story for a long time. Now that the beginning is on paper, maybe the rest of the story will flow out of my heart and A Walk in Darkness will finally be able to be told.

The claymore of love…AWID…A short story…

All to often, love is like a claymore mine. You see the flash before you hear the sound. When things go south it crumbles quickly. Take my former marriage for an example. I married my ex-wife on 19 May 1999. Yeah, I got married the year before the prophesied end of the world, for more information see Y2K.

I was married for 12 years. When the marriage was good, it was really good; when it was bad, it was really bad. There was no middle ground. The whole illusion of love is that love is the only thing you need to have a successful marriage. Take it from someone who is divorced, it takes a lot more than love. 

Y’all remember the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Well, I beg to differ. Words are powerful. They hold the power to build up your partner or to tear down what you’ve built together. My marriage consisted mostly of the latter. I would never lay all the blame at my ex-wife’s feet. It occurred on both sides. To be fair, I am guilty of striking out verbally, and so did she.

In divorce, there is plenty of blame to go around. I fought, bit, clawed, and poisoned my marriage. Words were my weapon, and I wielded them mercilessly. I was no innocent victim. Trust me, I’m not proud of the damage I caused. 

Still, like a claymore mine, I saw the flash before the boom hit me. Of course, the shrapnel destroyed my marriage, and all I was left with are the remains of what used to be a good thing. Unfortunately, words are hard to forget. The pain caused by them all too often linger in the mind of the recipient. There is no salve to remove the stain of words said in anger. 

My ex has moved on to greener pastures, and I am happy for her. She deserves to be happy. If I could take back the words I uttered in anger, fear and all too often rage, I would but I can’t. The best I can do is grow from this past mistake and try to do better in the future.

Otherwise, my next attempt at love, if there is another attempt, will see me shredded by the claymore of love. 

Flying donkeys…A Walk in Darkness…A short story…

Torrential rain has poured 4-6” of rain on Mississippi in the last 24 hours. Thunder rumbles, lightning flashes, and sheets of rain crash to the earth. The screams of the dying drops of water explode open in silence. It reminds me of exploding donkeys in Iraq. Have you ever been nearly killed by a donkey?

Imagine….

You’re driving along in a convoy, when you spot a dead donkey lying on the side of the road. Everything appears to be normal, when you notice a wire running out of its rectum. Too late.

BOOM…

Dead donkey, shrapnel, and burnt flesh slam against the ballistic windshield. The most god-awful smell fills the cab of your vehicle. The smell makes you want to puke. Nausea floods your body but you must continue mission. You turn on your wipers, and blood smears the windshield. 

Okay, that is enough of putting y’all in my shoes. It’s a smelly job, but someone has to do it. Why am I writing about this? I guess the rain reminds me of flying donkeys. Still, it would have been embarrassing to die in this fashion.

“Hi. We’re sorry to inform you that Pvt. Jambalaya died today in combat action. He was killed via an explosion which sent a donkey’s hindquarter through the windshield.”

Yeah, bad news. Of course, I’ve heard of people dying from a stall wall falling on a guy while he was on the toilet. One of the funniest things I ever witnessed was a guy running to the port-a-john during a mortar attack. He didn’t die, but man, he smelt like he did.

Death strikes when we least expect it. I have always been told, “you never hear the bullet that kills you.” All too often, death comes as a surprise. Especially, in a combat zone. One moment you’re there, the next moment you’re not.

Yes, this may seem to be me making light of death, but it’s just my way of dealing with the pain of loss. Humor is the means with which I cover my tears. Life becomes an unbearable mess sometimes, but there is a silver lining if we look hard enough to find it.

Humor is often the silver lining. So, spend your time enjoying the small moments, because death may be right around the corner.

Be careful of the exploding donkeys though, but if you must clean it off your windshield, use a putty knife first to remove the burnt flesh, and then wash the windshield. 

Tallahala, turtles, and rock bottom…A Walk in Darkness…A short story.

Tallahala Creek is a sight to behold when it is above flood stage. Dark swirls and sinkholes are scattered, as the rocks form rapids down the river. Muddy water rushes by dragging trees down the river to some unknown destination. From the camp we have set up, you can hear the river pulsating with dark desire at night. 

I have many fond memories of this river. It was where I learned to swim, where my grandfather and dad took my brother and me fishing. We would sit on soapstone and bump bait to attract fish. My pawpaw called it ‘agitating’ the fish. Our seats were buckets, our feet dipped in the puddles that formed in the crags of the soapstone. At night, you had to battle mosquitoes and horseflies to get any kind of sleep. 

Tallahala was where I discovered turtles could grow to weigh hundreds of pounds. One hot, sticky day we ran trotlines and bank hooks. The river was way above flood stage and we paddled out to the first line. My dad grabbed hold of the line and we began to check hooks. In the middle of the river, we discovered we had a massive turtle. It weighed about 80 pounds. We checked the next line and had another turtle. Again, it was almost 100 pounds. On the last line, we had another turtle. In Mississippi we call them loggerheads. If I am not mistaken, the correct name for them is alligator snapper. Long story short, we went home with over 200 pound of turtle.

My family had no recipe for turtle, so we fried it up like chicken. It was the only time I have ever caught turtles that big. Tallahala fed my family for many years, and not just mine, but every poor family in the Morriston community fished Tallahala. 

When I deployed to the Middle East, I often thought of that river and the memories that we made there. In the middle of Iraq, being blown up and shot at, my mind was never far from home. The roar of the river would play through my mind, and no matter how bad my day, I felt closer to home. Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I would see my grandfather’s smile when my brother or I caught a fish. His glasses would fog up from the humidity, but I can still hear him laugh.

I am often asked what brought me home from Iraq. The easy answer is that the Lord had His hands upon me, and that He protected me. I like to think that the memories of home, of my grandfather, and my family played a role too. At the very bottom, also known as rock bottom, it was the memories of my childhood, the good and the bad, that kept me from committing suicide. Sometimes, when you have nothing left to lose, proving the naysayers wrong is enough to pull you through.

Even if, you are pulled through like a tree on the flooded waters of Tallahala.

A good truck…A Walk in Darkness…A short story…

If you were to look at my yard, you might think I am a connoisseur of vehicles. In my yard sits a 1989 Chrysler New Yorker, a 1984 Dodge Power Wagon, a 2000 Chevy 1500, and a 1999 Jeep Cherokee. 

Why so many vehicles?

I spent eight years in Colorado. Four of them, I spent in the Army. I drove a 2003 Dodge Ram then. Man, I loved that truck. It was a monster, it came with the 5.7 Hemi, leather interior with the Ram stitched into the seat backs, mega cab, it had it all. I got about 8 miles to the gallon. Still, I loved it.

My notes ran 197 bucks a month. It was my daily driver and I thought it was the one thing I was going to keep out of my divorce. Then one day out of the blue, I had a seizure behind the wheel. On base. I hit a F-250 head-on, bounced off it, hit a parked Nissan Altima, bounced off it, hit a building, bounced off it, and ran nose first off into the ditch. All, while I was asleep at the wheel. 

Then, I woke up in the hospital. My left hand still has the scar from the glass that cut into the flesh. The ribs on my right side was fractured. I came too restrained to the bed rails. Good times.

To make matters worse, the acting First Sergeant showed up and let me see the photos of my ruined truck. The entire front of my truck was mangled beyond recognition.

I was heartbroken. Over a truck. Pathetic.

After retiring, I had a van and a 1998 Mustang. I was blessed to have these vehicles, I drove them until my license expired. At my lowest point, my mother came and lived with me. The doctor called her said I needed help. Without a second thought, my mother helped me through the darkness.

When I moved home, the first thing I did was try to get my license back. After several bouts with the local DMV, I resorted to contacting the former governor of Mississippi. One email, and I had my license back.

Then, I saved up money to buy me a truck. I didn’t care what kind of truck, I just wanted something that ran. My dad found me a Chevy Cheyenne with a reasonable price tag. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. White with a gray fender on the left side, paint chips ripped off the bed, and the interior was horrible.

I was the happiest guy in the world. I had lost my license for four years. The truck came with a 350, five speed, and slowly I put money back into it. I bought a maroon seat for it, 400 dollars worth of tires, and I loved to drive it. On the dirt roads around here, that truck would scat. 

Maybe, I am a connoisseur of vehicles. 

In my opinion, nothing beats a long drive on a dark night, with the radio turned up. It is the simple things that make life worth living. Like a good truck and dirt roads. Now, I want to load up and floor the gas. 

Take care. 

Redemption…A look back at my walk in darkness…A short story.

Once more into the fray. Every great battle starts with crossing lines. I am tired, sick and more than a little agitated. However, I am thankful to be alive. 

 I gaze down the long, winding road that leads from my house. Dark clouds, heavy with rain, threaten to burst while I consider the battle for my sanity. It’s been a hard fight to keep from slipping into the darkness. Depression, anxiety, and at times, a complete lack of control has hindered my progression. “At least I am not what I used to be.”

“What I used to be….”

I was raised in church from the time I was a small boy. Every time the church doors were open, my family and I visited the house of God. I received the gift of the Holy Ghost at age 12. My teen years had the same hiccups every teenager faces. It took war to make me lose my faith. The horrors I witnessed and committed paved the way for my addiction to drugs and alcohol.

“You’re not what you used to be.”

I’ve always thought redemption was only for bad people. You know, rapists, murderers, pedophiles, etc. Never, did I think my life would take me to the lowest place I’ve ever been. Drugs didn’t lift me out of the mire, it dragged me deeper. Alcohol took the pain away and replaced it with a hangover. There was a void in my heart, and in my soul. I didn’t know how to fill it. I had turned my back on my faith and parts of my family. “I will do it on my own or die trying.”

I nearly died trying.

Still, I continued to try to carry the burden on my own. Until one day, I heard a snap. It shook me to my core. It wasn’t a bone, it was my mind. Everything sped up. I had a complete loss of focus. I would start speaking and then just fly into another conversation. It felt as if I was on the outside of my body, watching myself sporadically leap from topic to topic. People would stare at me. As if, I was some type of new lunatic which had just been discovered. 

My thoughts zipped through my mind, and like bumper cars, they often collided into each other. I remember going home to visit my parents, and the looks I received from my family. They had no idea how to help me, and I had no way to tell them.

Slowly, with time and therapy, I was able to begin the healing process. The process made me angry. Internal turmoil led to outward bursts of frustration, but eventually the pieces came together. 

In 2016, I moved home to Mississippi. I had been retired for 4 years, and living in Colorado had become increasingly difficult. Rent kept going up, the cost of living exceeded my money, and I was out of options. The bus ride home gave me plenty of time to consider what my ‘life’ would be like in Mississippi, and if I would ever find redemption.

“There is that ‘R’ word again. Am I worthy of redemption?” People told me throughout the years that God would forgive me for what occurred in Iraq. In my heart, I knew it was true. God is faithful to forgive us, but my problem didn’t lie with the Almighty God. My issue lay closer to home. I couldn’t forgive myself. 

Time passed, and I met wonderful people in the small town I moved to. To help fill the void in my heart, I had started college while in Colorado. Because of my intense hatred of all things mathematical, I postponed my math courses until last. I barely passed Algebra I. I was failing Algebra II. After ignoring the course (because that is what mature people do), I called the local college for a tutor.

With the help of my tutor, I passed Algebra II. She invited me to church. After saying no several times, I went. As I sat on the pew, I felt out of my element, but I also felt at home. I clapped my hands to the music, and I stood when the Scriptures were read. When the altar call was given, I went home. On the way home, I noticed the void in my heart seemed smaller.  

“Is this what I’ve been missing? A return to my roots?”

I went back. The more I went, the more complete I felt. At the bottom of the barrel, I found Jesus. As I developed my relationship with Him, I found something else. Redemption. Come to find out it’s not a matter of worth.

Thank God, I’m not what I used to be.

Lifeless, unwanted things…A short story…AWID

The sunlight glinting off of the mountain ranges radiates orange hues off the crags of the mountain’s rocky face. I stare at it for a few moments while I search for my composure. “Look at the slivers of the morning sun, it looks like God’s fingers are reaching out to me this morning.”

Behind me, I hear the cause of my morning headache shift his feet. I turn and glare at him. “Tell me Private Morrison, are you always a world-class scrub, or is today a special occasion?” Jonathon T. Morrison stands 6’3, is built like a Mack truck, his hair is cut into the common military high-and-tight. He shifts nervously while searching for an answer. “No, Sergeant. I am usually pretty squared away.”

I raise my eyebrows in disbelief. “This clown thinks he is squared away. Don’t lose your cool. Just breathe.” To my dismay, following my advice to breathe causes the rage in my heart to come out my mouth. “Are you kidding me, Private? You’re dumber than dirt. Who in their right mind would punch their wife?”

“It’s not my fault!” I look at this man who towers over my 5’7 frame. He is whimpering like a child. “What’s next, snot bubbles?” I stare at this whimpering mass of blubbering waste of God-given oxygen. “Jesus. Okay. I’ll play, Morrison. Whose fault is it, that you sucker punched your wife?”

“Sergeant, you don’t understand. I love her.” I shake my head in frustration. “I want to thrash this kid.”

“Let’s get something straight, idiot. You don’t assault the people you love.”

“Can you help me repair my relationship with my wife?”

“No. Jesus Christ has the power of resurrection, not Larry. There is no chance I can resurrect your relationship.” Morrison begins squalling again. “You don’t care about my relationship.”

“Nope, not in the least.” He sobs and pants, stomps and kicks. “I don’t know what else to do?” I try to put the lid down on my temper. Maybe if I can explain what this idiot’s malfunction is, he will get it.

“Your problem is that you don’t make an effort. If you cared one whit about your wife or relationship, you would sort your business out and fix it. Instead, you want to blame everyone and everything for your lack of initiative.”

Morrison wipes at his tears. “See, you don’t understand.” I shove him against the wall. “What? What don’t I understand, Private? You have personal relationships-you leave them to their own fate. You have a marriage- you make no effort. You have a career. You make all sorts of effort, but you’re too stupid to take advantage of your opportunities. You are a SCRUB. YOU MAKE NO EFFORT, AND YOU’RE LEFT WITH LIFELESS UNWANTED THINGS.”

He cries and reaches for me. I shove him into a chair. “Don’t touch me, Morrison. Your stupidity may be contagious.” Private Morrison continues to cry, and I feel the anger swell up within me again. Struggling with the desire to choke him, I finally sit down across from him. “Let me show you how a normal person would react in this situation, Morrison. If I decked my wife with a right hook, I wouldn’t be here squalling. I would be looking for a counselor, anything to help me get over this temper. Your wife isn’t going to want to hear you blab about loving her. She isn’t going to care about your hollow locution. She wants to see you make an effort. Otherwise, go on down to the courthouse and get your divorce papers. What are you doing? Crying, complaining and blaming anyone in earshot for your failures. Do us all a favor and shut up. Either get with the program or get lost.”

I stand to my feet and walk out of the room. As I walk across the parking lot to the barracks, my own relationship with my ex-wife clouds my mind. “I guess I am angry because it wasn’t too long ago, I also made no effort, just like Morrison. All I am left with is lifeless, unwanted things.”

A lack of intelligence…A Walk in Darkness…A short story…

Whew. That bright orange ball of fury is scorching my flesh. “Who decided to hold a squadron briefing at noon? Did they forget we are in the middle of a freaking desert?”

I sit in my vehicle and wait for the briefing. I’ve been in the Middle East for less than a week, and I find myself growing irritable. It’s hot, sandy, and I’ve had a rocket shot through my room. From all appearances, it’s going to be a long year. 

Supposedly, this is a vital briefing which will impact the entire unit. 

Yay.

People slowly make their way into the motorpool and we begin to form up into our respective platoons. Squad leaders start checking for their soldiers, and the stragglers rush up at the last moment.

The Sergeant Major stands to the right of the Squadron Commander and we are called to attention. 

“Men, you have been called here today to brief you on how our mission has changed. Initially, we were assigned to this base. However, given the current trouble in various parts of this wasteland, we are going to be stretched out. Your company commanders has the details.”

With a call to attention, we are handed back to our company commanders. Jerry Smith, our platoon C.O. appears to be nervous as he puts us at ease. 

“Alright guys. You’ve all heard how certain places have turned out to be trouble areas. We are the support element here, and we’ve been hit the hardest. When your name is called fall out to the rear of the platoon for your instructions.”

Please don’t call my name….please don’t call my name…”

“Freeman.” So much for missing the war.

“Roger, sir.”

I fall out of the platoon and walk back to the rear. I join the ranks of those who have been selected to be separated from our unit and assigned to other elements to fight the war on terror. I am guided to my place in squad one.

“Squad One, you will be heading to a small city filled with insurgents, your briefing will be at 1345. Squad Two, you are heading to the Red Zone. Your briefing will be at 1400. All briefings will be conducted at squadron headquarters, don’t be late.”

Welp, it doesn’t look like I will be bored. At 1330, a handful of us start out for the squadron.

“Freeman, where do you think we will be going?”

“I don’t know. It could be anywhere. “

“Come on, man. You’re a Corporal. Surely, you have some idea of where we will be going.”

“I have plenty of ideas, but none of them are certain. We will find out in a minute.”

The hot sun soaks us but finally we walk into the air-conditioned bliss of our headquarters. Our Squadron X.O. nods at us. He towers well over six feet, has a flawless smile, and skin that appears to have never had a blemish. 

“Y’all here for the 1345 briefing?”

“Roger sir,” we chime in a singular voice.

“Down the hall, second door on the right.”

We move down the hall and walk into the room. A few people arrived before us, and their fear is prevalent in their eyes. It’s no different from the fear shining in our own.

“We lucky few, eh.”

In unison we all nod our heads in agreement. The aluminum chairs are cool to the back as we sit at the table.

“Where do you guys think we’re going?”

I smile, the tension in the room is so thick I think I may suffocate from it.

“Home! I have a daughter I’ve never seen before.”

“Whatever, Freeman. Why aren’t you nervous?”

“Ah, it’s overrated-like breathing.”

A small man enters and dread silence falls over the room. I’ve never seen a more nondescript human being in my life. White shirt, tie, glasses, and black hair. “He looks like a Muppet.”

Good afternoon. This is your intelligence briefing. You will be going to an undisclosed location. Insurgents range from the mid-hundreds to a couple of thousand. Numbers are unknown and seem to fluctuate. From what we can tell they have small arms but could have heavy ordnance hidden away. Your odds of returning from this action is zero.”

He gathers the loose-leaf papers and walks out of the room. We all sit in stunned silence trying to make some sense of what we’ve heard. Finally, I stand to my feet. My buddy Jim looks at me, his eyes have water in them. 

“Say something funny, Freeman.”

“I would say this intelligence briefing is sorely lacking in intelligence.”

A couple of guffaws come from around the room, and then riotous laughter breaks out. We exit the room and make our way to the barracks. Our attempt to cover our fear with humor is only temporary but the brief levity is enough to clear our minds.

“Into the furnace we go, we lucky few.”  

Poisoned…AWID…a short story….

“What makes the green grass grow? Blood, blood, blood bright red blood drill sergeant!”

I bolted out of bed. A towel is draped over my chair, I grabbed it and wiped off my body. The mattress cover and sheet is soaked. I pulled them off the bed. I had only one mattress cover, so, I changed the sheets and threw the wet ones in the washing machine.

A cold shower did wonders for my tensed body. “I am really getting tired of sleeping on soaked sheets nightly. I need help to overcome these nightmares.”

The next morning, I called my therapist Joy, and we chatted about the nightmares. Joy gave me hope that these nightmares could be cured, but I held little anticipation it would ever disappear completely from my life.

“Why don’t you write down how you feel during these episodes,” Joy asked.

“Um, because I am usually in the process of having them?”

“You don’t have any recollection of the nightmares when you come out of it?’

I pushed my tongue against the roof of my mouth and became silent. The dreams are always the same, the dead folk that I have killed, and maimed, or seen killed or maimed show up nightly by my bed. Then there is this small boy, who was shot in the torso multiple times; he visits me in the dead of night. He is the only one who ever spoke to me. With his brains in his hands, he held them out to me and asked, “why?”

“Are you there, Freeman?”

“Yeah, I am here.”

“How often do you see these nightmares?”

“Every night, they are always the same.”

“Write it down, and when you feel your soul is cleansed, burn the books.”

“Okay. Thanks, Joy.”

I hung up the phone and sat in my blue recliner. My head has begun to hurt, my eyes are sore, and I am irritable due to a lack of sleep. Calling my bank, I checked the balance of the account. Satisfied, I had enough money to cover my writing supplies, I walked across the street to Family Dollar. The store is packed with customers, but I made my way to the back and picked up a notebook and a couple of ink pens. “This should be enough to get me started.”

After making my purchase, I walked back to my house. I climbed the three flights of stairs to my apartment and locked the door, then I closed the blinds and moved my recliner to the side in case a firefight should arise. The notebook and pens are pulled out of the bag, and I sat down to unburden my soul.

“How does one describe the carnage I witnessed every day for two years? The swollen dead littered the streets, their stomachs protruded with nauseous gases which were built up in the 130-degree days. Then some evil person would open them up and stuff their torsos full of explosives and leave them on the side of the road until our convoy came by.”

I stared at the empty page and tried to find the words to describe the insanity of a war we would never win, against an enemy we seldom saw, and the loss of life which was too high. My pen never moved, the words never discharged from my mind to the paper, but I could feel the scars being ripped open as I lost myself in the memories of yester-year.

“It was a hot….no, I hate those people for what they made me do…” My heart was so conflicted, I could not make a sentence. “Where do I begin?” Then amid my confused state, I heard the voice of an old drill sergeant.

“Sometimes, you must use backwards planning to achieve a complete picture. If you haven’t moved forward, start at the end. Take it one step at a time and work from the end to the beginning.”

My soul cleansing began with these words, “I’m lost.” As by magic, the pen began to move. Each word that discharged from my mind was a poisoned arrow in my heart. I began to sob as I snatched more and more arrows from my psyche. Little did I know, my trials and tribulations were only beginning.

I wrote all day, the poison dripped from my pen, but I felt lighter. After taking a shower, I changed into my sleep clothes. Barefooted, I walked into my kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee. I scrunched my feet on the carpet and took a seat next to my mother.

“What are you watching?”

“Criminal Minds.”

It was an episode where the team had found bundles of shoes at a pig farm, and I watched it until I heard the siren song of my medication calling to me. I hugged my mother and bid her a good night. Exhausted from unburdening my soul, I climbed into bed.

“Get out! Go, go, go, the building is on fire. Fire consumed everything, charred flesh, burnt children. Up and down the supply routes, fires raged.”

I bolted upright in the bed, gagging on the smell of charred flesh. Sweat dotted my forehead, my sheets were soaked once again. Slowly, I made my way to the shower and bathed to get rid of the imagined soot and smell of charred corpses off me.

To steady myself, I placed both hands on the wall and let the water run over me. “I’ve slept all I will sleep tonight.” My eyes are scorched from a lack of sleep. I peered into the mirror and noticed my eyes are bloodshot and vacant of hope.

My apartment was dark, and I could hear my mother tossing and turning in the living room. I tiptoed to my bedroom and opened the window to allow the cool air to circulate. I switched on my desk lamp, and I crawled into my bed after changing my sheets. The Dean Koontz novel, “Dark Rivers of the Heart” lied on my bed, so I cracked it open and began to read. To keep from falling asleep, I placed a pillow between my back and the wall and leaned back with the book.

Snow drifted past my windowsill and momentarily captivated my senses. Gradually, I turned my attention back to the book. I’ve read this book many times, but I’ve always enjoyed the character Spencer Grant. As I read, I felt my eyes get heavy and start to droop.

Rolling off the soft bed, I dropped to the floor and began knocking out pushups until I could do no more. Breathing heavily, I picked up the book and sat at my desk. The notebook caught my attention, and I shut the book and placed it to the side. I took a pen out of the drawer and opened the notebook. Words dropped out of my mind and onto the paper.

“The Middle East has to be my least favorite place to have lived. Snakes, camel spiders, scorpions and insurgents made my life unbearable. There are nice people there, same as there are here in the United States. However, the nice people are often subjected to the rule of tyrants. The innocents paid the ultimate price when it came to combat. Now, those who I’ve witnessed dying visit me in my dreams. I fear the judgement of a wrathful God, if I was to take my own life. Would my punishment be delved out by those who were harmed due to the reaction of those of us caught in crossfires, or ambushed with IEDs? I don’t know, and this lack of knowledge has frightened me into inaction. My choices lied somewhere between suicide and a miserable existence with no sign of change.”

Writing the poison out of my heart was cathartic, by the time I was finished, my wounds were ripped open and flowing freely. I considered that writing may exorcise the vileness, I’ve often felt when I was doped up or in a drunken stupor. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that writing is only one avenue I would use to purge the darkness in my heart, but it was not the long term answer I had been seeking.