And suddenly, my knee throbs with a deep, dull hurting and a few vertebrae feel as though they've been rotated 90 degrees.
It's been a cold winter already, but these ragged pains are not on account of weather. They're phantoms from times and places I thought I had long excommunicated from easy reach.
Word gets back to me through a friend that another friend I haven't heard from in a few months recently went out on a solitary hike to clear his mind after reading that US forces are finally leaving Afghanistan after 11 years.
He took a rucksack with him, with a canteen and an old surplus sleeping bag and a tarp, a change of clothes, and a couple MREs.
He also took a Ruger Alaskan in .454 Casull, a six shot, snub nosed revolver designed and proven to stop a charging grizzly bear in its tracks.
On the third morning of his outing, he woke up and called a friend while the water for his morning coffee was boiling. He told his friend where to find his will, what to do with his father's watch for whom there was no heir, and then he hung up and didn't answer any calls for the remainder of his morning.
After finishing his instant coffee, he put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He had served three tours in Afghanistan, the shortest of which was 13 months. He was stabbed, shot, blown up, and lit on fire in four separate incidents. He was fond of remarking that he didn't think he was being made to feel very welcome.
One winter, he spent almost half of his yearly salary, out of his own pocket, to order winter coats for every child in a village near our FOB. That following spring was the one where they lit him on fire, and two of the four attackers were from the same village.
The following summer, one eyebrow not yet grown back, he coordinated with churches and schools in his hometown to put together 500 backpacks full of school supplies for the kids he'd recently clothed, in hopes that the schoolhouse would stay not-blown-up long enough to have them attend.
This man whose heart was big enough to fit the children of the world inside had no children of his own. His difficulties in conceiving were due to scarring following his first tour of duty, the one where "they tried to blow my nuts off but only got some skin."
His wife left him in the middle of his third tour because he "ain't a real man, can't even knock up a willing woman!"
He gave everything he had to give for a cause he believed in. He poured his heartblood and sinew into saving children whose entire country had failed. And it still wasn't enough to break him when his country failed him, too, when they dragged their feet on his medical care, when they stonewalled him behind budget cuts, policy restrictions, and modifications.
It wasn't enough to watch his family crumble over the divorce. It wasn't enough to have his congregation turn their backs on him as a divorcer and a possible queer.
But it was enough when his life's work was reduced to nothing in a heartbeat and a penstroke, when years of wandering and foolish foreign policy were swept under the rug like a dog turd at a holiday party, our fearless leaders like sheepish hosts, our American public accommodating guests pretending they didn't see the maneuver and that they can't smell the smears of dogshit on shoe heels.
I'm not going to have any friends left at this rate.