"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

25 February 2012

The End of Iraq

“What is to happen to women like me when this war ends...if it ever ends?”  Helen Zenna Smith, Stepdaughters of War

The End of Iraq.

The End of Iraq.  It began around Christmas, when the troops were redeploying home.  There were ceremonies, reflections from newsmen, and talks of a parade.  It is something I have resisted contemplating.  I have pushed the reflection away, first to enjoy the serenity of Christmas and then because it is an instinctive reaction to the ache the word brings forth.


Even if the war is officially over it will always be a part of me.  It grew up with me through my adolescence and early adulthood.  It has been my teacher, my tormentor, and my spirit guide.  

It has made me old.

In some ways, I know more of Iraq than I do parts of my own country.  I have never been there physically but part of me has been there since the beginning.  When I said yes to a commitment of my own we became intrinsically linked.  I know its geography by the names and stories scrawled on wrinkled, dusty paper.  

Its customs and its people crossed the distance in the form of smiling, cheeky interpreters more than willing to trade handmade gifts for more chocolate chip cookies.

I see two young faces frozen in a picture.  I wonder where these boys are now that we are gone.  I wonder if they are dead.  

When I see Iraq on the news or work up the nerve to watch a documentary, all of these suppressed feelings bubble up inside of me.  Things that I have pushed away for so long because they are overwhelming.  They always have been.  It is easier to ignore them.  To pretend they are not there.  I tried to bury them once in the sands of Santa Monica and let the Pacific carry them out to sea.

Iraq is a word that brings forth a flood of memories.  It is as intertwined in my experience of growing up as high school graduation and college cram sessions.

While other students partied I wrote letters, planned care packages, and raised money to send them.  I wondered who was doing what when and if the helo that just crashed held anyone I knew.  While my peers lived in the now, my head and my heart was in the sand.  

I sat in a campus computer lab opening emails floating in with pictures of strong young men posing with their weapons in desert camouflage uniforms while a small group of male Saudi exchange students eyed me with open suspicion.  I wondered if in a different life we might be holding weapons on each other.

Iraq is the reason I formed some of the closest friendships of my life.  It gave me a sense of purpose and a mission that I have not found duplicated in the rest of civilian life.  There are no words to explain the bonds created between those who dedicate themselves to caring for those who serve. There is no way to explain the friendship of those entrusted to your care. There is an intensity and immediacy to life.  Unless you have lived it for years on end there is no way to explain the joy it brings and the toll it takes emotionally and spiritually.  It is as George Oppen wrote, “I cannot even now/ Altogether disengage myself/ From those men.”

Iraq has brought me awkward recognition and praise.  But I do not feel worthy of praise.  I only tried to keep faith with those we as a nation sent to undertake the most unpleasant of tasks.  We sent them to fight.  We sent them to die.  If I did not pick up a gun, the least I can do is stand with them.   They want to tell me what I have done is special.  Older women who have not lived through war think it is somehow cute, maybe even romantic.  Perhaps a good way to meet a man.  They want to heap upon me recognition.  They want me to speak to their groups about what it is like and what it is that we do.  But they do not really want to know.  They do not know that when you open the door to War you get all of it.  You also stare into the Darkness.  They turn away when you tell them that with your cute logo comes, as Helen Zenna Smith writes in Stepdaughters of War, “a world of cold sick fear, a dirty world of darkness and despair...that you want to find somewhere where life is quiet and beautiful and lovely as it was before the world turned khaki and blood coloured.”  That is the dark secret, I suppose.  That sometimes I wish I did not expose myself to this world and could unlearn some of what I have learned. The proverbial “youth sacrificed to the alter of war.” It was so much more than baking cookies and sending boxes.

Iraq is haunted, hallowed ground.

It is static-filled phone conversations, missing legs, and crying boys and kills.  

Iraq is death. Grief. IEDs and flag draped caskets. Sweat soaked dreams and sobs in tiny bathroom stalls. Names.  So many names.

It is love, anger, all-consuming fear and all encompassing relief.  And it is tired, oh so very tired.  Emotions overflowing until they become flat and then numb.

Iraq matured me.  I grew up with the men and the women who fought it.

Iraq is carried within me like a tiny, jagged piece of glass buried deep inside, always trying to work its way out.

Iraq is too much to be summed up with a ceremony and a stamp that declares “Over.”  It will never be over.  I suppose there will be no closure. We will just try to move on.

Post Script:
I have taken on a new set of names now that is slowly starting to take shape into likes and dislikes, personalities, pictures, people.  With no personal connection left in the war that remains I felt like it was time.  And yet the cycle is beginning again.  Part of me is scared. I have seen too much not to be. I feel Iraq creeping up on me, tightening my throat, putting tiny tremors in my hands, and stealing my breath.  Part of me does not want to know these names.  I do not want them to become people that could be missed.  Opening myself up to them is a risk.  But it is one I must take because the deploying continues.  They are all not yet home.  That was the promise that we made.  “Until they all come home,”   insuring Afghanistan will live with me too, in a different way, with its own memories, good and bad.  I will carry them all in my heart. It begins again. It continues.

01 February 2012

He is a United States Marine
He will steal your last beer, but give you his last magazine of ammo. He will drop 6 F-bombs in one sentence, but write you the most endearing letters. He will be your worst enemy, and your best friend - often in the same day. He will borrow twenty dollars, and will repay you in alcohol. He has forgotten more names than you have ever known. … He has hurried more than you. He has waited more than… He can stand for hours, he can sit in a puddle of mud for hours on end and still crack a joke. He can sit in a small room, and stare out over a thousand yards. He will be friendly to every person he meets, but will have a plan to kill them if the need arises. He will smoke 3packs a day and run 3miles in 20 minutes. He can fall asleep in the middle of a construction zone, but is restless in his own bed. He will lace his shoes left over right, and will not tell you why. He will be the filthiest person you ever met, and the most handsome when he cleans up. His mind will swim with stories of adventure, but he will remain still. He is a rough man that watches over you while you sleep. He is a United States Marine.