A dry wind is sweeping over the short grass of the plateau. What little that hasn't been chewed away by the passing sheep is swathed in thorns sharp and hard enough to penetrate the 2 millimeter thick leather of your issued boots. The movement of air generated by the midday heat lifts the muted sounds of copper bells hung from the necks of livestock, specifically sheep, down in the valley below. It stretches out in front of you like some scene from an epic, all jagged peaks distantly hacking at an impossibly blue sky. There are houses down there, made of adobe that anyone familiar with cities named Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Taos would know well, dotting the landscape in neat squared-off clusters.
There is a bright flash pain in your upper arm. Looking down, the yellow wasp digs for traction against your skin after depositing the barb.
Funny. You'd left your fire resistant shirt, in all of its Multicam pattern tactical glory, hanging on the rack in your room because it was hot today. Now you've been stung. Idiot.
This is Afghanistan. A war that you both know and do not know in equal measures. Those at home know it as the hulking elephant in the room that no one really wants to acknowledge because there are other things to worry about. Things like the job market, negative equity, cheating spouses, television schedules, day care price sheets. You don't know it because you don't see it from the perspective of people that are at home. This dichotomy between what you do and do not perceive troubles you to a great degree.
You are the wasp. You are not the wasp.
You have had your home threatened. You are four years old and staring at the passing clouds, swearing to your mother that you can see the Earth spinning, safer then than you will be for the rest of your life.
You used to feel bad about the kids down in the bazaar with little more than twice-recycled shoes three or four sizes too large.
Now you think it's hilarious when the truck gunner makes Wookie noises at them and they recoil in shock.
The night sky stretches out over the horizon with an amazing fidelity. Back on the base, you sit in your room and carefully inspect your bed for the potential of tiny green scorpions. Although not deadly, their sting feels somewhat like being hit with a baseball bat. Worth it to rest in discomfort encased in the issued sleeping bag than to be be jammed up by one of those things again. The brief staccato of automatic weapons fire makes it through the thick walls of the former Taliban jail in which you live. It's at least 300 meters away, something small. Maybe an AK. Probably not a PKM, or something heavy like that. Random people firing random bullets into the night. Wasps, their burrows threatened, stinging not the sheep who's hooves tore the soil apart but the next passing victim. The reaction hard-wired into the brain by warfare that has spanned more generations than four years of high school history could impart to the American soldier of above average intelligence and below poverty line upbringing. Hence the chosen avocation for so many.
Tomorrow will be the same. Drive out of the wire. Avoid having legs blown off by undetectable IED made from leftover Soviet plastic land mines. Go to sleep.
This future stretches smoothly into the infinite future like a sheet of perfect black glass. It merges with a seamless grey sky out on the distant horizon.
The day after will be the same. Drive out of the wire. Avoid being shot by RPG or PKM teams occupying the high ground above your route of travel. Go to sleep.
It will never end. They say you are going home but you won't. You died on the plane over here. This is purgatory.
The week after that will be the same. Drive out of the wire. Avoid mishandling TATP-based HME and becoming no more than trace energy. Go to sleep.
They tell you that there is a TGI Friday's in Kandahar. It serves food on plates and you order from a menu. People go there on dates. People laugh bitterly about this while you pick through the pile of bread for two pieces not featuring mold.
The month after that will also be the same. Wear shirt. Avoid being stung. Go to sleep.
Remember the smell of your wife's hair as you said goodbye, watch your hands shaking slightly, and then recall that they did this the day you watched someone die for the first time.
The future is infinite, unchanging, and featureless. Go to sleep.