“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?”
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.