A vet’s list of important deployment dates is more vivid to him or her than the nation’s official holidays. The day you fly, the day you return. The day something big happened, something usually not good. My own private memorial day, for instance, is coming up. See the posts The Worst Day By Far, Gun Run, and Still, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. The picture above begins to tell the story.
Every holiday deserves music, but for personal holidays the music is more introspective than patriotic. For my memorial day, the Avett Brothers serve nicely. The Avetts sing big heart-wrenching, self-lacerating songs full of guilt, sorrow, loss, regret, and shame. One of their albums is titled Emotionalism, and whoever named it wasn’t kidding. Thank God their songs are joys to sing along to, because the message is almost always heavy. A great example is “Go to Sleep”:
Lay back, lay back, go to sleep my man,
Wash the blood from your face and your hands,
Forgive yourself if you think you can,
Go to sleep, go to sleep my man.
Here’s a video of another good one, shot live (not by me) at a concert I attended last September. It’s a cover of a 1970s John Prine song called “Way Down” I’ve listened to since I was 15. But I didn’t know the Avetts knew it, and nearly fell over when they began playing it.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though, because I don’t reproach myself for things that happened in Afghanistan, far from it. In most ways I’m lucky to have served and and proud of what we accomplished. But what stings on the private holidays is a deeper, quickened sense that you’ve been singled out to learn the hard way an especially cruel life lesson or two that everyone else gets to consider more abstractly on the national holidays. The lessons, whatever they are, seem more irreversable and indisputable, and, worse, you feel like the fates thought you must have needed to learn them with particular intensity. Ouch. Seen this way, the lessons and whole deployment are punishments for character flaws and poor behavior.
But life does go on. The other day I opened a drawer to find my Afghanistan dog tags, which spurred me to inventory other personal possessions remaining from an exciting year. I still have the sunglasses, or “Eye pro”[tection], I wore. The same computer on which I watched DVDs and tapped out emails. The same camera. Not the same wristwatch, alas, but the Ipod Nano my Mom bought me on leave rocks on. The things I carried, so to speak, like the title of that great Tim O’Brien short story. Objects and a year mutually charged with memory and significance. “Boom down,” for those who’ve read O’Brien.
The end has no end, so they say, but it’s time to bring this blog to a close. I’ve used this space to offer the perspectives of a 50+ year old Infantry officer with a PhD in English who is sent, in Winston Churchill’s great phrase, not to the front, but to the front of the front, where he rolled out the gate almost every day to chase the Taliban. It’s felt almost like a duty to write–if not me, then who would describe such things from such a point-of-view? But 120-odd posts seem to constitute a reasonably substantial body of evidence for those interested, and I’ve got other writing projects in mind.
So, thanks for reading, just thanks. I’ve enjoyed crafting the posts and am as fond of most of them as a poet his poems and a singer his songs. The ones that have received the most hits, by far, are Red Beard, Pat Tillman, Fallen Soldier Photograph, Sleeping Soldier, US-ANA-PAKMIL, and Combat Snatch-and-Grab. I like them plenty, but the posts closest to my heart are the aforementioned Gun Run and Still, along with The KG, The BSO and RPG Boom-Boom. For me, they best get to the fear, violence, and mystery of the tour. I also like LACKA-LACKA-LACKA and 500 Mattresses, because they express as well as I can say it what it was like to partner with the Afghan National Army. Check them out, please, if you haven’t already.
Have a great summer everybody. I’ll be reading Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, so if you are, too, and want to talk about it, let me know. A review by Matt Gallagher is here.