20131006

Matrimony

I've known Josh (Joshua) for over decade now. I've known Lani (Kilani) for almost a decade.

It was funny to me. . . all the things that were right about it. To start, both of them have names that no one actually uses. Joshua is Josh. Kilani is Lani.

Josh's family is pure New York. The accent, the swagger, the directness. Lani's family is from Every Where Else. She lived in so many states, so her father told me. Both families were gregarious. Over joyed. Suddenly good at dancing. They all had accents from everywhere, but after years living in Baltimore, the bride and groom had mostly lost theirs. Their accent was between them. That secret language of people in love. You know it when you see it.

It was like meeting the bride and groom for the first time, when their families were there.

Now I understood.

Family is the DVD commentary on the movie of your life.

In roughly an hour, I suddenly understood these two people better than I ever did. Initially, I was pleased in abstract "Happy for you," kind of way. Weddings are good. They make people happy. Therefore, I should be happy about this thing. Then? After all the new information, it became this giddy elation. It was like seeing the end of war, it was like the discovery of new star. What was arcane ritual on paper became joyous celebration. What was something that felt like mere social obligation became necessary as breath.

It was a beautiful ceremony. Probably because before it, there were so many things in the way.

Before we went to dance hall that used to be a church, in the hotel room, Josh said that after the all the obstacles of bureaucracy and craziness in the District of Columbia where he lives, nothing else could really stand in their way.

And then there we all were. All the fears and anxieties of the day to day faded away, like mist in sunlight. Death and Taxes seemed finite. Then we had just the facts. The earth revolves around the sun. The moon revolves around the earth. And Josh and Lani love each other.

20130801

After Action

There's a moment we rarely get to see in entertainment, specifically in action movies.

There a moment after a extended period of high intensity activity. This is not a gym high or an endorphin rush, though that does happen.

This is the moment after all that, when the knots in your back and pelvis loosen. When muscles go from ice to vapor and your head wobbles off your neck like a tether ball. It feels like falling.

That's something you don't see in action movies very much, and sometimes I think we should.




20130708

Against Suicide

It is important to understand depression. Both the temporary depression that results from common life events, and the clinical depression or Major Depression Disorder as it is now called.

It is important to understand that within the gauzy haze of MDD, suicidal thoughts become a kind of white noise. It becomes the birds chirping and the car horns honking of the mind.

It is brutal. It's as though suicide wakes up with you in the morning and stares you down over your breakfast. It sits next to you on the bus. It gets in the passenger seat of your car. It haunts you. Taunts you. Trips you.

These feelings of worthlessness dig deep into your chest, piercing your lungs and stealing the breath you would need to ask for help. For comfort.

Depression leaves you wondering why. Why are you even alive? Beyond the existential "What is my purpose?" it tells you "it would be better if you weren't here." It convinces you that every party is more fun without you. Every day would be brighter without you. Without you.

Imagine the meanest kid you ever knew, hounding you because you were you. Because you are weird. Because you are black. Because you are gay. Because there is something about you that is bad. That hateful, cruel voice, through some awful miracle of brain chemistry has followed you from the school yard and knows everything. Every mistake. Every failure. It will never let anything go.

"Remember when you stole money from your grandmother's purse when you were eight? You piece of shit. Remember when you made your mother cry? You worthless, selfish, piece of garbage? You remember when you failed that exam? Why are you even going to school? You'll never graduate. No one will ever care what you think anyway. You can read all the books you want. You'll still be stupid. Worthless. Waste. Of Air. Why do you even eat food? Food is for people who can actually accomplish something."

That. All day. Everyday. Invading your dreams to yell at you for things you thought you had been forgiven for, or at least things you had hoped were forgotten. Grinding you down. Drooling acidic hate in your ears and making you wish you were dead.

This is the fight of your life. Everyday against a version of yourself that hates you because it knows everything.

And that's what you do. You fight. What choice do you have? You have things to do. More books to read. More TV to watch. Movies to see. Beaches to visit. Cities to see. Statues, parks, flowers and trees.

This is what you have to do. You have to make a list. You have list all the things you would have to say goodbye to, permanently. When you can write them down anymore, because you can't see through the tears, write some more. Write it all down. You can't let go. And that's good. That's what you fight for.

Sunlight. Snowdays. Racquet ball. Ice Cream. Driving a convertible. Solving a math problem. Those times when you tell a really funny joke your friend can't breath, they're laughing so hard. A baby getting a hearing aid and hearing their mother's voice for the first time. Firefighters. Kids struggling to learn, to grow, to get out, to live life. Kids doing what you did. What you do.

Everyday.

Fight. Remember.

Write it down.

20130702

All These Worries

I've been staying in a military barracks since early January.

Everyone there, including me, is an activated reservist. We are all far away from one life and getting into the swing of another.

Lives are funny. You can't just leave. People are on their cell phones into the night, in the cold, checking up on their old lives.

Sincere worry breathing moisture into the air: "When does he start chemo?"

Half joking concern: "If my son has no manners when I get back, you are out of my house."

Resignation: "Just sell my car, you keep yours. We'll deal with the rest when I get back."

And I have no real worries like that.

I think my once concern is becoming a friendly ghost. The internet lets you "stay in touch." You can like things, you can respond to posts. You can write on walls. But you are not there.

It's a funny thing.


An Unfinished Life

I drove out to the county to the house where all my nightmares take place, under gray skies.

It's been like that five days a week. Great grey sheets covering everything like the furniture in a dead man's house.

My sister called me Wednesday before the day I drove to a dead man's house and she was angry. She was angry because I was not coming to the house that she lives and making things happen. Like cleaning, like fixing things. Doing all the things that I do in my own apartment. Doing all things I mostly hadn't been able to do this past semester. But I had to drop everything and do for her what she should be doing for herself.

She had got a new roommate and they had been cleaning. Like you're supposed to do. The house was ashambles. As though it weren't depressing enough that both our parents died there, it was filthy. Grime on everything. All the random things my father refused to throw away, piled high in the garage.

Books that never got read. Broken things that never got fixed. Cinder blocks that never got used to lay a foundation. Jerry rigged everything. Four chainsaws, three of them broken. Axe handles held together with duct tape. Extension chords that had been chopped to pieces after being run over by a lawn mower, rebuilt with solder and more duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape. Everything used. Everything old.

Everything in that house is broken. I cannot go there without memories haunting me like song lyrics. Without wondering what could have been.

That's it. And that's all. An unfinished life. Like mine. And yet I live. And I have so much work to do.

Miles to go.

Before I sleep.

I try to be happy. I try to think about the future.

Sometimes, it's difficult. For a long time, I've only been sure of death. Not of success. Not of a better tomorrow. Just death. Living in that house taught me entropy. Everything wears away. Breaks. Dies.

That's all I've ever been sure of.

When my father died, the question I got the most was why I was so calm. For the most part very few people saw me respond with anything other than calm acceptance. Dad gave up on life a long time ago. I didn't. I haven't. But it's difficult. I'm not suicidal, but there has been a near constant sadness that weighs in on everything. It's been a constant companion and I'm starting to notice that I'm finding happiness to be unnatural.

20130516

5 Ways A Deployment Inadvertently Turns You Into An Asshole

5. Looking down on people who use two-ply toilet paper

Any toilet paper that isn't that single ply, not perforated stuff that comes in white box with black Arial fonting seems completely decadent to you. All the other hardships you have experienced in the military you'll just accept and drive on, but GOD FORBID someone you respect use the toilet paper from the commercial with the adorable animated bears.

They could have really bad hemorrhoids or something, but you don't care because you had to eat shit sandwiches daily in a desert country filled with people who either want to kill you are are completely terrified of you. Meanwhile, everyone else had air conditioning, fast internet with porn and steak houses that will actually serve a steak at a temperature other than well done shoe leather. The only way to deal with this, is a kind of minimizing, which can quickly get out of control. . .


Seriously, this bear to you becomes like Marilyn Manson was to Tipper Gore in the 90's

4. Everything is "Just. . ." or "Only. . . "

This is a common military way to deal with stress. It doesn't matter what it is, we explain it to ourselves as something that's not a big deal up to and including death.

"Hey, the worst that could happen is we could die, so let's not do that, at least." I'll actually said that on a chopper when we were caught off guard by sandstorm that we had to ground for.

This is not to say we don't care about things. We totally do. But mind over matter. We have prepared our own minds to conquer, or control, or complete things that would be completely insurmountable to most people. When we bring this habit home, it looks we don't take anything seriously. The irony is we'll only say "It's only this. . ." about things that we take very, very seriously so they don't stress us out. And we start to avoid things that stress us out as well until we come a new point...


So what? The air's gonna be a little thicker? Big Deal. I smoke Marlboro Reds! - PFC Joey Bag-o-donuts


3. You can't deal with First World Problems

Often, the amount of combat exposure a service member has directly lowers their tolerance for First World Problems. When you've seen a corpses' face half eaten off by stray cats, suddenly, some sixteen-year-old not getting the color iphone they want and freaking out isn't just annoying, it feels like an affront to everything you believe in.

Chances are you were barely allowed to complain about actually dangerous things most of the time, so hearing people complain about things that are not in any way dangerous as though they were the end of the world probably just makes your ears bleed.

After deploying to Holyshititsan and nearly dying an average of once every 72 hours (average because there will be weeks where nothing happens, and then there would be days where Death is just kinda hangin' out, talking shit to you and your buddies from the back of the Humvee and messing with the radio, the fuck that he is. . .), seeing anyone live life with anything less than the most clear and direct of purpose will drive you insane.

It's not all about death, though: you also can't stand lines because you waited in so many lines in the military that the last thing you want to do when you're just out in the world is wait in another goddamned line.
FUCK YOU APPLE! THE WAR WAS FOR NOTHING! - SFC Joe Smuckatelly (Image courtesy of  Ars Technica)


But there's an adjustment period. You get used to it. You start accepting first world problems as the problems you want to have. You actually should become happy that the worst thing you had to worry about was the local Starbucks being too crowded. Hell, yeah! And then you start to annoy people because you've gone from someone who couldn't handle anything to someone that appears to one those annoyingly happy and motivated people. The first reason for this is you have probably done one of two things: adjusted your attitude OR you've started having a plan for everything. . .


4. Overplanning/OverPreparing

Any service member who watches the news more than 10 minutes a day (two thumbs, this guy) is probably a nervous wreck (also, this guy). Grade school shootings, high school shootings, college shootings and pressure cooker bombings abound everyday. I'm sure this makes the civilian population antsy, but a lot of the time, the military teaches us to assuage fear and anxiety by training for it and being prepared for it. This was best said by a Drill Sergeant I once had "The rest of the world might be chaos, but that's no reason not to make your bed in the morning."

After The 2013 Boston Marathon I started having nightmares about being the middle of a terrorist attack. My initial idea was to purchase a full STOMP kit and just haul 8.5kg (18 lbs) around with me where ever I went. I settled on one an a half personal med kits.
Don't Leave Home Without It
And then I marked off every places I can buy tampons in Google maps, because in a really bad shooting incident, tampons can be the difference between wounded and dead. A large box of those things could keep a lot of people alive while the real medical personnel are en route. I'm still a little uncomfortable not having any chest sealers on me at all times and maybe a pair of the crooked scissors that everyone wanted the medics to get for them, but I deal with it.

There's no real problem with this except that I carry around an extra 5-10 pounds of medical supplies with me, and feel completely naked without it and get VERY grouchy when I don't have my kit. If you're anything like me, God forbid someone tell you to cheer up when you don't have an Israeli bandage on you, because. .

1. Now you hate being told what to do by someone that doesn't specifically outrank you. 

The military does two things: attract type A personalities and turn people into Type A personalities. If you don't get on band wagon real fast, it's going to hard career for you.

When you get done with all that business, you practically have oppositional defiance disorder or some shit. Everything everyone tells you had better have some hard facts and reasons behind it, otherwise they're just trying to exert power over you that they just don't have in your eyes. It's as though everything everyone says is converted into the bleating of lambs by some wizard's curse.

Everyone knows the rules for the military are "different" and at least once in your life, you're going to have a civilian accuse you of having "no code" because your moral compass doesn't exactly align with theirs. This is REALLY going to piss you off, because you actually do have a value system, and it mostly involves taking care of people who actually would take a bullet for you, not some douche-craft-carrier who appears to take everything he knows about being a man from Barney on How I Met Your Mother.

This? Better than a fake book written by a not real person.