Cold and rain and wind. A man walking in that. Walking without a coat or a hat. Walking to feel it. To atone for something by submitting himself to it. Fifty-mile-an-hour wind and driving rain. Its cold, but he doesnt feel it. Hes soaked to the bone, but walks steadily into the gale. He needs to get out of the house. Something has just happened. Hes lost his job, maybe. Drank too much the night before and said hateful things. Something. Something. What? Why is this man walking into the teeth of the storm? Just because. No reason, really. Hes always wanted to walk in a storm, and this one seems as good as any. No. There must be more to it than that. Love is involved, somewhere. Wife, girlfriend, kids, mother, father, grandparents, aunts, and uncles? What has driven him out into the gale? Into the tale? Its all too much, whatever it is. Hes at wits end about something.
He walks and the storm grows stronger. He has to lean into it and fight to make progress. The trees are beginning to creak and crack. The power lines are whipping back and forth and its only a matter of time before they start to come down. No birds in that sky. No cars on the road, so he walks down the centerline. Head up, letting the rain sting his eyes. Soaked clothes skin-tight. Is he laughing? Singing? Hes not drunk, but he might appear that way to others. Yes. Hes stone sober and walking down the middle of the street in a howling blow. Hes alive, but he almost died. Recently. Twice.
Hes just back from Iraq. He survived two ambushes. RPGs. Improvised explosive devices. AK-47s and mortars and grenades. He crawled out of two blown-to-shit Humvees in as many days. He returned fire and counted the bodies afterward. He lost his buddy, Pete Jacobsen, and two new kids who were always grab-assing around and reminding him of his younger brothers.
The medics patched up the shrapnel holes in his arms and legs. They stopped the bleeding, but it didnt stop the mission. Hes home now, but it hasnt sunk in. Hes still on patrol. Hes walking into a storm, looking for signs of danger. Bad people are everywhere, he knows. Hes walking down the road and doing his job. Keeping the peace. He has a cell phone and a nine millimeter Baretta pistol. The trees start to come apart in the blow. Limbs tear and fall. Power lines let go and arc blue fire, but he doesnt stop. He walks his post from flank to flank and doesnt take shit from any rank.
His wife goes out after him in their minivan. She has no babysitter, so she packs the kids into the car and drives slowly in the flooding streets. The four-year-old is frightened, wants to go back, but the two-year-old is laughing like a monkey, as if all the world is bouncing around for her amusement. Laughing and crying. Driving around the fallen oak limbs. Driving her mad. Stupid, shes thinking. Stupid man and stupid her for taking the kids out in this.
She finds him, finally. He marched five miles, but then he sat down to rest. Hes sitting with his back to a palm tree. His pistol is at the ready. He has a good field of fire to cover the road. Hes sitting and crying and laughing, just like the rest of them. The enemy is nowhere in sight. Another patrol comes to relieve him, and he gets into the van and goes home to get some hot chow. The company commander is a woman, and she tells him that he did a good job. She says that he kept the world safe for another day, but now its time to take cover and let this storm blow over. Its the worst sand storm hes ever experienced. The sand is in his eyes and ears and mouth. He shivers in the heat of the desert and thanks God that hes still alive. He puts his arm around the company commander, and she turns into his wife, and he hears the kids laughing and crying in the back seat, and he cant wait to get the fuck out of Iraq.
I’ve been thinking about the transition our people are forced to make when they return from war— the dislocation of leaving comrades and coming home to wash the dishes and take out the trash in neighborhoods where people are enthralled by celebrity criminal trials. Most of our vets seem to adapt well, without calling attention to the enormous life change. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, extreme distrust of the local population is second nature.
I hope that our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines are given whatever it takes to rejoin us.
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