It’s been over a decade and it seems like an eternity. I feel like a king who wishes to abdicate his throne, trying to gain something that is elusive. No matter how much time has passed, I still think of the war and it all comes rushing back like it’s happening in the now. I feel the tightness in my chest like a straight jacket cinching its grip down on my soul, squeezing me from the present back to the past. I smell the shit and burning trash, I feel the emotions but, worst of all I see the things I do not wish to see.
One memory leads to another and before I realize it I’m back in Iraq, the sun burning my face as I peer through my sunglasses; watching every person and every car for signs of danger, for a weapon, for that strange look that might signal an attack. My weapon is hot and heavy as it hides beneath my shirt in a leather holster, the faint smell of CLP mixing with my sweat. Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses blasts through the shitty speakers in the shitty Nissan pick-up truck as I drive through one of the shittiest places on earth…Mosul, Iraq.
Writing these stories has become a sort of pressure relief valve for me. They help erase the memories from the eternity of my mind and transfer them to the written word to be kept in perpetuity. The Scotch numbs the sharpness of the images to a hazy, fog-like picture; just clear enough to describe and put down in words. The music in the background reminds me of a simpler time and blunts the evil feelings that accompany the images: the feelings that are inexorably etched into my mind.
Sometimes I remember good stories but very rarely. I have to search for them, whereas the other stories rudely intrude on a sort of sadistic, predetermined schedule. I remember laughing often when I was in Iraq, but, I cannot remember a single reason why I laughed or would even need to laugh while in that wretched place. There was no reason to be happy, ever. Sometimes amusing things happened but, the bad things far outnumbered the good things and they have since spread like a virus in my mind, infecting me, making me who I am today. They taken over and have pushed out everything but brief clips of laughing with friends or still images that I somehow associate with good feelings when I was there. The happy images survive for a split second like the light from a distant star, only to implode and disappear into the blackness of my mind. Then the evil images come rushing in…
I remember the smell of the cool air in the early morning, the afternoon heat that looked like opaque waves of water rolling across the roads and fields; I remember the sound of mortars as they whistled in towards their unsuspecting victims and the screams of those victims as they bled to death. My memory of Iraq is life-like and so vivid that it causes a physical reaction in some cases, and in others the memories are banal and uneventful yet somehow manage to squeeze out and burst into reality. Little things like lying on an uncomfortable couch that felt like heaven, watching the Fashion Channel on satellite TV thinking of how clean and safe everything looked, and feeling the smoke enter my lungs from every drag of every cigarette as I inhaled my way closer to lung cancer.
I was born at the end of America’s last long war; maybe, I was destined to take part in its next. Maybe, my children would be drawn into a future war and be killed or injured like so many I knew. I would not be able to suffer such a fate so, I’ve decided never to allow that to happen, and never to have children.
(Featured Image Courtesy: NOOR)