November 29, 2003
I’m driving back to Fort Drum right now in a rental car with Willy and Kyle, another team leader from his platoon. We had a few days off for Thanksgiving that I spent in the city and in New Paltz. Trying to decide how to spend this time off can be a very difficult decision. Your friends and family are eager to see you in situations like this and determining who you want to spend it with can be hard. I have family in Westhampton Beach, but I opted to skip the family thing for Thanksgiving and just visited my sister and a few friends simply so I could have most the time to myself. I did the turkey dinner thing with Ian and Theresa in New Paltz. Having friends that are incredible chefs is right up there with having mechanic, doctor and lawyer friends. Ian and T, I can never thank you enough. As selfish as it might sound to forgo seeing loved ones, I really wanted to use this time to unwind a little and not spend all of it riding trains and buses and sleeping in guest beds which, frankly, can make taking time off more stressful than whatever it is you’re supposedly taking time off from. Mom, you’ll probably not want to read this next part. Skip to the next paragraph. To be perfectly honest, I truly needed a large block of time where I could masturbate freely. When you’re a single guy, autoeroticism is an enormous and regimented part of your life. Living in a tiny room with three other dudes can really put a kink in your self-love life. And God bless free internet porn. Add a broadband internet connection and you have a true Information Age malady: attention deficit disorder porn addiction.
Even though I’ve only been gone for about two months, it still felt kind of strange to go back to New Paltz and see that life goes on whether I’m there are not. Walking from the bus station, I saw a large crowd of students milling around outside a bar and I couldn’t help but indulge in a degree of self-pity thinking that right now they have no idea that a few days ago I was freezing my ass off riding shotgun in a Humvee gunship going through ambush drills. My leadership issues have absolutely no impact on them, they couldn’t care less if I’m not getting the respect I need from my team or that I have moments of self-doubt about imminently seeing combat. I thought about the other guys that go home to their wives and girlfriends and how unlike them I’m part of this demographic of soldiers that seem to be permanant bachelors. Dwelling on thoughts like this can cause one to easily slip into an introspective coma of sorts. Then the questions kick in. Why am I in the Army? Why am I in the infantry? Why am I alone? What’s the meaning of it all, blah blah blah. I always tell people that if there is only one thing that they remember about me, remember this phrase: Only slaves are happy. My tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Wood, told me this, paraphrasing Tolstoy or Doestoevesky, I forget which. I know that this is an obviously cynical and depressing thing to tell people, but it’s an idea that I think I’ve pondered more than just about anything else in my life. This corporeal dispensation we call mortality is all about choice, about volition. This is how we define freedom, the ability to have choice. But oddly, choice is what causes us so much pain. How often have you heard someone say, “I had no choice?” expressing an apparent release from accountability? Only once circumstance dictates how we must choose, do we seem to be happy. We seem to spend so much time passively making decisions, usually just wandering down the path of least resistance, until we no longer have any meaningful choice other than survival. I’ve literally gotten to the point where I have had no food before I’ve put my mind to earning money. Who hasn’t “chosen” to waste time with friends rather than work on a term paper until there’s one day left and you have eighteen pages to write. Ask any student, it’s amazing what can be done with a deadline, five hours till sunrise and No-Doze. When it gets to this point, you do what you have to because you have no choice, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Granted there are people that may “choose” to blow the paper off altogether, fail the class, get kicked out of school and then ultimately find that they have “chosen” to spend all the money they earn working at the local diner on beer and weed.
I’m no better than anyone else. I chose to enlist. I chose to re-enlist. Hell, I volunteered to go to Iraq. Why would I do such a thing? I have a few answers of varying honesty. Mostly I want to expand my human experience and this is an easy way to experience some of the most extreme limits of mortality. I want to contribute to something bigger and more meaningful than myself. I want to give back to my country. I want to physically contribute something positive to solving a problem rather than acting like I can solve all the world’s problems from my couch. I love the guys I work with and I love the comraderie. I want money for school. I want to kill someone just so people will shut up and stop asking me if I have. Regardless of the reasons, I’m here and overall I have been very happy with the time that I’ve served. I’m to the point now that I can’t imagine my life without being a soldier. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the military in general, it’s completely counter to my personality. I don’t know a damned thing about military history, I don’t own any military regalia aside from a book bag with Airborne wings embroidered on it, I have zero military t-shirts. I’d be lying if I said that the Army isn’t a big part of who I am, but I’d like to think that it’s really not. It’s not who I am, it’s not truly a part of my identity, it’s just something I do. Then this begs the question of “who am I”, or what really is the basis of identity? Like anyone, I guess I’m just trying to find myself.
See what I mean? Give an infantryman too much time off and he starts to ask, “What am I doing here?” and then he posts poorly thought out quasi-philosophical blog entries. I was much more content freezing my balls off riding in that Humvee, a happy slave.