Saturday, October 29, 2005

Today I return.

I return to the Suck, my home. I was born into it. I cannot escape it.
And when I die, I will be born again, to once again live within the Suck. It's all I have. I owe my life to it. And every day I look at the eagle and anchor and I hate it more and more, I hate everything it stands for and everyone who has ever had to salute it, the Seaman Smoke-a-lots and the Chief Schmuckatellis who just love every fucking minute of it. I owe it my gratitude, as well. I owe myself to the Suck.

This is the Suck. I am it and it is me. There is no escaping.

The world has the face of a wolf. It's eyes are very dark and search. And as I run these streets, slower than I admit myself to be, sick with whiskey, lungs seared by abuse, it follows, above me, loping, somewhere above the streetlights, gentle. And far above that, in the sky, clinging to the fur of this great wolf's neck, are friends who have passed, at the hands of the enemy, or at their own clutching fingers, friends I have loved and hated and feel with my guts and my heart.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I am home.

I flew in Tuesday night. I had spent four days weeping and drinking on the base. At night my girl held me as I cursed and wept into sleep. I buttoned myself into my charlies on Tuesday morning, arriving at the airport far too early. I drank my coffee, and tried to smoke, and everythign was hollow. I slept as the plane wheeled through thick cloud, taking it's sweet time, pissing me off more and more as the minutes faded. I had a stopover in Vegas. My sister called me, we talked about some details, she told me to take care. I didn't want to.

A soldier approached me as I stood in the smoke pit, trying not to conversate with the civilians. We talked about our jobs. I had recently returned from the war, he would be entering it soon. It felt good to talk to him-something has brought us together. We share a war, a terrible fiery thing that has seared our collective flesh together, our bloods pulsing and joining in the new veins. This war has made us who we are. It will make our children and our wives, and they will be beautiful, fearsome things that we will fight to love and keep.

We said goodbye to Chris. The family had a private viewing on Wednesday, and I was allowed to spend a moment with him. I felt like a kid again, watching him in his coffin. I felt like I was just 15, and we were gonna go to a show tonight. Nothing about it fit. They let him go in his Norma Jean shirt and his old Dickies jacket. His brother Marc had put Chris's drumsticks and sunglasses in the coffin. He had put my copy of Call fo the Wild in there, too,and I gave Chris the letter I wrote the day he died. I felt so angry and so frustrated. I pressed my hand against his and he didn't wake up, and I talked to him, but he didn't talk to me. I cried, and his mom held me, and his dad too, and I felt so cheated. I felt like a kid, for a tiny singing moment. And then I stepped out side and I was no longer a kid, I had traded my childhood for the Suck. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

He was supposed to get better, and I was supposed to get out the Suck, and we'd hang out, like nothing had happened, and we could just walk the streets again, talking about the things we liked to talk about. We would eat dinner at my place, and we'd scam the liquor store, and Tara would come over, and Holly too, and we'd play black cat. Kyle would swing by, maybe bring Phil or Romano with him. Ben would be there, and Ian and Brian, Heather would be okay and Kedzie would somehow glide in, unnoticed. Marc and Sara would be there, everyone would be there. And it would be okay. That's how it was supposed to happen. But it didn't happen like that.

We said goodbye Thursday night, all of us. His teachers showed up, all of his family that could fly out, all the kids I knew and a shit ton I didn't. His doctors were there. I tried to speak, but I fucked it up.

I remember the very end of the vigil. Marc had a CD of Chris's, one that he had recorded himself. He played a song off it for us. I was sitting to the side of the room, next to Debi and Carlos and Brendan. It was such a beautiful song, just Chris and his guitar. I wanted to tell him how good I thought it was. But I couldn't. I felt tears forming, first a little, then in numbers. I bit my hand and held them in. I looked at Carlos, and the same tears were running down his face. Debi held him. Brendan looked so alone, so hollow. We all felt so helpless. Crying, frustrated, growing up too fucking fast.

I wanted my friend back. I want to fix the break in my heart.

We put him in the ground today. Everyone he ever meant anything to came to say goodbye. I was a pallbearer. The pastor spoke, and someone played some music, and there were prayers. But it was all the same. Every word was code for goodbye. I helped bear him to the hearse.

We put our flowers on the casket as he lay in the hearse, the coffin cracked open. We could see him, his aviators, like he was sleeping between classes. We closed the hearse and his dad placed his hand on the window as it began to slowly roll out of the parking lot. Chris's mom started to clap, and then we were all clapping, loud, beating our palms into sound, clapping agains the tears, and it felt right.

Chris's last show was good. He was fucking awesome. And if I'm good, we'll play again.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

I enlisted just under two years ago. Right after I joined my third command, I found out Chris was sick. Not just two weeks no school sick, he was sick real bad. I remember when I found out.
I had been in Bremerton for just a week, still checking in with the ship. I liked to go to Seattle in the evenings-it was just after Halloween, and it was bitch cold. I had left the base when my dad called me on my phone-it was bad news, and I should know, and could I call the family? Chris had leukemia. I didn't call the family. I was too mad and too scared and too sad. I walked.

I would go up Capitol and then walk down the hills to the Space Needle, then head back towards the docks, through Belltown, then left and along the water until I reached the ferry station. Bremerton was beautiful. The towns were decrepit, like brooding, damaged mothers, staring blankly in to the fog. The streets were caught up in meth and drowning in stale beer, but it was alright. Everything was tired, and the lakes and harbor were clean, like brittle razors that had been put up in polish rags. There was nothing to do but walk until the pavement turned to duff and the houses and trailers grew into trees, walking with you, whispering until you came to the shore, to watch the lights across the bay, the ferries lumbering across the the ink. I liked it. It made my heart feel better about everything.

I didn't call the family until we had begun our deployment. I was back in San Diego, on liberty, pitifully drunk and sitting on the wall of an apartment complex on North Island, peeling the label off of my bottle and staring across the water once again, watching the lights of downtown and the big, proud, green "41" of the USS Midway. I called them-it was true. My friend was being tested and injected and sampled and transfused and stuck and stitched and taped. He was sick. I tried not to think about it. My ship left America. I kept everything deep inside, hiding it form myself. I focused on the sand that blew across the Persian Gulf, cutting my face, staining the bulkheads. I lied to myself. "He'll get better. It's only fair."

I pushed it further and further from my mind. I focused only on the job. I volunteered, like an idiot, for all the most dangerous assignments, signing up for everything that came along. I came away covered in scars and ashamed. I ignored my friend. I didn't want to think about it.

I came back from the war more silent, nervous. I was alright, but changed. I can still feel the war echo through me, and I will feel it for the rest of my life.

I came home, and everything was okay. Chris was getting better-it was a false diagnosis. He would only need maintenance medicine-he wasn't really sick. I was happy, happier than I ever think I had been. We rode around in his car like nothing had ever happened. We had dinner at my place the night before I left for Norfolk, to rejoin my ship. We had fun. Everything was fine. Everything was alright.

It's October 23d. Chris died the morning of October 21st, in the predawn hours. As I was waking up, buffing my boots and putting on my uniform, he was suffocating. As I smoked, watching the sun rise over Desert Cove, my best friend died, paralyzed, sedated, lungs invaded by thick, foul bacteria. I wouldn't find out until the afternoon. We had knocked off early. I sat in my barracks, still in uniform, halfway drunk.I walked out of the barracks and staggered down the path to the Navy Exchange, alone. My girlfriend was on duty-she had the midwatch. I stood in front of the Exchange, watching the young men and women come and go. They had nothing to care about, no one to worry for.

My phone rang. I answered it.

I tried not to cry.

I miss you so much, Chris.