We're out. We left the Gulf some time ago, instructed not to write or
tell anyone about the margin of safety we now breathe easier with. Another
time spent flirting with destruction gone and someone else's bill to pay
now. Strange air around the ship with being wound up for so long and then
told that we could relax just enough to crack the valves and blow the dust
out. That is we could if we did not know that they have turned ships around
farther gone than we are right now to send them back for another turn at
bat. That is if we did not know some of us would return, if the cycle would
remain unbroken. It never is finished; we always go back for more. Strange
thing about being an enlisted person, you take a huge amount of crap from
people only to turn right back around and then smile and ask sir for more.
Beyond all of that we are treated to slipping transmissions from a
satellite bringing us news and word of a shift in presidents.
tenuous link fades in and out between reception and the blank nightmare of
not knowing anything at all. This includes our e-mail, the vaguely
malfunctioning telephone and the televisions flickering in darkened spaces
almost twenty-four hours a day. With bated breath and pent up angst we
watch carefully for signs that the port calls outside the threatened world
will be cancelled, thus denying the parolees a holiday. 'When I'm doing
in blank' is a popular tangent of conversation as the crew spins the details
of release from the confines of the steel ship. Small knots of disquiet
still circulate every now and again when ears or eyes pick up new concerns
over the attack on the Cole. Already we see it being downplayed by the
media into a disaster, the talking heads unwilling to call a
premeditated murder the senseless slaughter it was in reality. In a
year the event will have faded completely from the collective consciousness,
their names forgotten by all but the family and the dead themselves.
Whispering on the winds they will cry out for a justice that will never be
rendered outside for everyone to see. Funny, that after awhile they could
show you the sun shining out of John Travolta's ass and you would react with
such numbness. We know, the satellites watch, the networks listen and we
still do nothing. "With the lights out, it's less dangerous." Kurt
Cobain may very well have been onto something there.
Dealing with all of what is happening at home requires a well-timed and
carefully calibrated attitude of apathy toward anything anyone ever tells
you. If done right you can forget about home and then turn right around and
forget about the last six months when you walk back up the front walk.
Bright sun shining on your back, warm summer air drifting in even breezes
with the scent of innocence lost drifting out of your clothes. The knob
turning easily, no more war, no more death, catharsis with the last of the
potential threats pointed for no reason other than politic. Mother in an
apron baking cookies in the kitchen, Father in the den reading the paper
with his pipe and Kid Brother running down the stairs with a toy
"Tell me all about it big brother. How many did you kill this time, how
many did you shoot down, how many won't come home because your knife found
"There weren't any, we're not at war."
"Oh come on Hero, who did you slaughter for democracy this time?" Coyly
flirting, the night hiding in his eyes.
"I don't understand."
"But you're the monster in the closet, you're the most hated man on the
planet. Everyone curses at you for even existing, even the ones you
Now the problem is not the conflict outside the ship, just the one
roiling around in my head. I have orders now, sending me out of the
Pacific fleet and to another coast entirely for something rather different
from working on the billion-dollar blender, as we not so affectionately
refer to the bird. This is what I wanted to do, the end of the process.
Now I just don't know if it was such a good idea.
"I won't love anyone but you."
"Go with me then."
"I can't. Not that far away from my family."
That is the point. That she won't go with me when I move. That
much is clear. That sucks. That I cannot change. It was hard enough just
to ask if she would be willing, knowing the eventual answer would be that I
could choose a career in something that no one ever talks about or I could
choose a stable life. What happens if I get out? I spend four or five
years in school, graduate, and then spend the remainder of my life
maintaining servers in some corporate dungeon someplace. If I stay in
then for the first time in eight years I am going to be doing something that
I want to be doing. Something that actually matters. It has come that far.
They know what I am; they know which carrot to dangle. Faithfully, I will
lurch forward under a desert sun and patiently follow the promise of
Agonizing over this decision has occupied a good portion of my time for
the last two days, two more and I will have to produce a satisfactory
answer. I will leave a good portion of my soul behind when I leave her. I
am unsure why it is that life has to be quite so difficult or why the
resolution of the game has to run down to this conclusion. If I leave then
I will wonder what would have happened had I stayed in the game just a
little longer. If I go I am never threatened again, I will not have to
worry about judgment for sins I may or may not have committed. If I decide
to stay then I will fall down a rabbit hole of my own creation and walk away
from the single most beautiful thing that I have ever held. I suppose I
ought to be grateful that I have four days.
It should not have to be like this at all, no one should ever have to
decide between who lives and who dies, who stays and who goes. In the end
we have to face the facts that we all volunteered to put ourselves here,
every single one of us made enemies out of ourselves. The resolution of the
disparity between what I am able to talk about publicly and what I
actually know is a difficult thing. I am aware of why we were there and I
can tell very few of those around me why. My silence self-maintained to
preserve the secrets haunting half understood dreams floating out of the
bowels of subconscious. Blood red lights at night to paint the faces of
those not guilty the same as those beyond redemption. At night I fear the
clawing hands at the back of my neck, coming to claim penance for wrongs I
did not commit. Torn between the knowledge that I cannot do anything else
and the loathing arising from doing the job, one last life hangs in these
scarred hands. Either I force the question and tell her that if she loves
me for who I am she will go, or I let her slip back under the waves again
with everything else I have left behind. Cursory blinking on a laptop
reveals no other answer than I do not know what to say next.
Sorry maybe? Sorry that the music is so far away and fading fast. Sorry
that I can't make you love me for all of my flaws. In the end I will take
the orders and walk out of your life because I cannot face the world without
the pain and passion of working in this field. The distance and bitter cold
provide a fair ratio of balance to a chaotic life spent trying to save
lives. I used to wonder what the use would be of making everything better
if my own life wasn't worth the effort. There was an officer I worked for
once who called it professionalism on an early summer evening some time
before I even began the journey that brought me the trail tread lightly at
present. I asked him how he dealt with watching all of it happen and never
questioning the fact that the next SAM over the skies of North Vietnam
would be the one that claimed his life. It was a stupid question asked by a
boy afraid of the larger world he was stepping into without due regard for
cost. I apologized for asking such a blunt question at the time. Wrap the
emptiness in uniform creases, shoe polish and component replacement. You
can forget the fact that there is even a life to go home to if you work at
it hard enough.
I am not sure which is worse, fighting and possibly dying in a war that does
exist or trying to justify one that does not. No one shot at us, no one
pointed a weapon at me, nothing happened that could even be construed as a
conflict so why is it that I feel as though I have lost? Why is it that I
have the right to complain in endless rhetorical arguments about something
that no one else is even openly discussing? Is this the Armistice Day for
people like me where we just unload the fear of being finally told that they
are shooting now? The final seconds winding down with the CIWS roaring
through the hull in a last ditch effort to keep the missiles at bay. We
talk in little circles about whether or not anyone on the det would even
survive the impact from a Silkworm. Bracing, teeth clenched against the
impossibility that someone would actually fire off a salvo and start the end
of the sanity keeping us in check. The silence of the guns as the last of
the 3000 20mm depleted uranium rounds reaches the firing circuit, fuses
and flies down the barrel in a dance of physics over chemistry. There is
not a whole lot of hope for anyone in the hanger, one of the most thinly
skinned parts of the ship it is also the largest uninterrupted flat surface.
They turn the back end toward the missile so it won't hit anything
important. Shockwave or blast that would be the end killer, would the
sheer force of the warhead detonating or the fire that would follow soon
after get us? Grinding silence slamming down over everything, the ship's
engines screaming in the background in a last ditch effort to open the gap
enough that the little winged killer will run out of gas in the last seconds
of flight. My best friend Guy was saved by such a tactic when the Iraqi's
didn't have enough gas to fuel their missiles past the halfway mark. Bet
you never heard about that one on the seven o' clock news. The last calm
moment, time enough for one last goodbye. Sorry sounds hollow against the
winds of a southern Australia storm knowing that the old commander was
It's going to be an empty homecoming this time, not that there was ever
anything to come home from. Odd that things work out this way, that we run
with the guns loaded for so long and then just put them down for lack of
anything better to do. It is a strange feeling to know that you don't have
to do that anymore, that it isn't necessary to warily eye every fishing
trawler within a mile of the boat. They keep telling us we can relax just
enough now; somehow I cannot find the time or the space to do as much.
After this I will probably be back out with another detachment training the
man that will replace me before I transfer in the fall. One last dance, one
last game faked for those who care off of the coast of southern California
and I can take a breath again. That is until the next squadron asks for a
hand in the air, for someone to go. Graceful bow of the head and I will
rise to stand at attention and grit my teeth against another winter wind.
Next command is sea duty again, wouldn't have it any other way. Just watch
the hands move around long enough and anything can be wired together,
repaired, replaced or tweaked. Just too damn bad I can't do her heart
in the same way.
"Come brother, tell me about the knife again."
"I don't think I know that one."
"Pity. You will soon enough."
"Fuck you, kid."