By Adam Ebert
The rifle in my hands fired. I felt sand in my face and a body fall at my feet. My ears stopped registering sound and my eyes gathered the information of pain, death, and failure.
He was right. I was wrong. Truly. The greatest downfall to the pride of a man. My dignity compromised, my word fallen flat. As I read the statement he had sent to my house, word by word my heart dropped to me. 27 years old and I thought my life, my opinions, my decisions were all ironclad. Now, the ground underneath my feet was unsteady and crumbling. As I lay in my bunk, scenarios of failure found hospice within the halls of my mind. Hope is rarely found in moments of true honesty of pride and dignity. My squadmates lay asleep in the bunks around, their minds presumably clean of conscience and worry. An early rise, 0400 hours, was creeping closer and closer to reality. Our five mile run in the morning would prove disaster on my body for the rest of the day. Not to mention seeing my platoon sergeant after a day like yesterday.
In our training exercise, I was appointed head of a squadron. It was simple in my eyes, yet proved otherwise. Live ammunition creates a situation of intense concentration. In what is supposed to be education of body and mind for battle situations, the worst-case scenario can often arise with one less-than-fully-baked decision. It was my duty as head of the group to make the accurate decisions in leading my men to a successful training exercise. I failed. I stood at the desk of my platoon sergeant, my posture flawless, my expressions displaying every lie I was sworn not to tell. A lie wouldn’t cost a court martial, nothing that serious. My sergeant would know immediately had I told a lie. His judgement was almost pre-emptive. He knew what happened, knew what decisions I made. His report of the incident was painfully honest.
I was demoted, discharged from my position. My squadmates said not a word, but immediately thought less of me. Shame would be worn with my usual arrangements of digital camo. When I returned to my quarters, the faces around me wore irony as a mask. In the company of men, some I knew well, some I didn’t care to know, my mind drifted to what they might think of my actions, my being discharged from my position. But I didn’t care. With my own strength and determination, I found it in myself to dispel any and all doubt that laid in my mind, placed there by the faces and thoughts of those around me. What did they care? What did they think? I gave it little thought as I moved to my foot locker and began to change into some civilian clothes. Our squadron had leave for the weekend and the bars in the local town were calling my name. A stiff drink and a dance with my first female in months promised respite from the shrugs and death stares of my quarters.
A scotch whiskey hits my lips with a smooth sting and the woman in front of me puts a fire in my chest that even the whiskey cannot create. The bar is huge, two stories, three dance floors, and one bathroom. Go figure. She says her name is Jenny with an “I.” Her hair is smooth light brown and her eyes are a piercing blue. I approached her with a limp in my leg, my body not compromising under the pressure of amorous fear. A smile, kind words, and honest chivalry can go a long way to a girl who’s constantly approached with propositions of a one night stand or other phrases that I, as a military man, find unfit to say to a lady. She laughed at my jokes and touched my shoulder in a way that reassured me of who I was.
I woke up in her bed the next morning with a small pounding in my head and a cold reminder in my spine that I should have returned to base last night. My feet found the cold ground in our quarters. It’s now empty. The boys are on their morning run. They will return drenched in sweat despite temperatures hovering around 20 degrees. After grabbing some gear and properly getting dressed for combat, I walk out on the training course. My lungs filled with cold air as my spine shivered not from the cold, but from the insecurity that filled my body to the brim.
But my boots were left atop my bed.
I walk barefoot, the training course my path.
The spaces in between my toes fill with sand and mud and grass.
My throat lets escape a deep yell.
I find myself, lost.
I lost myself, found.
In an open field.
Surrounded by the ghosts of no one.
Blanketed in melancholy.
Shrouded in a fire fight.