All Clear

It’s gone

gone

gone

forgotten

still there and still totally forgotten

someone wrote an article an opinion

“I expect that future historians will look back on it as one of the darker non-war years in the country’s history — a year when the president lied constantly, America’s global influence suffered and Congress used its mighty powers to enrich the rich.”

a non-war year while we have been at war since 2001 with no end in sight

I thought I’d forgotten it. I’ve stopped writing it. Stopped thinking about it. Started watching war movies again. It’s fine. I can watch a war movie. I wasn’t in combat. I didn’t carry a gun.

Maybe my PTSD diagnosis was correct. That’s what I thought when I started heaving sobbing and my heart pounded and my palms went clammy as I watched an almost good Tina Fey movie and heard the gunshots go off as they chugged down a rugged road and saw her scramble to get out of the uparmored vehicle in order to get a video of the firefight.

I never did that. I dove for the floor of my hooch and ran to the bunkers and stayed in bed and crawled under my desk and put my hands over my neck when the rocket alarms sounded.

That sound on loop

those tones aren’t gone

 

 

Missing

“You told me you were coming from work, so I decided not to wear my Michigan tshirt.,” he said as he smoothed his hand down the front on his pale blue polo shirt, “I wanted to kind of match your level of niceness.”

I usually wear jeans to work. Since we were meeting, I wore my dress that feels like a giant t-shirt but still somehow manages to look cool and breezy. That whole, I didn’t try hard but I just always look casually with it. I didn’t know him well enough at that point to wear my jeans and the sweatshirt that I hadn’t washed in about six months. I’d gotten the sweatshirt at a local boutique. Theoretically, some of the profits went to Planned Parenthood, though who knows? He hadn’t seen that sweatshirt yet, my testing sweatshirt. My overtly feminist sweatshirt that made older Portland men stop me on the street to raise their fists into the air above their heads and say, “Hell, yeah!” I didn’t believe their gestures. Too much, I’m such a feminist, about them.

He made sure I had the first bite of our shared dishes. A younger child same as me, he was careful to equally distribute the food. The things that I preferred, he magically didn’t like so well. What I didn’t like, he liked quite a bit. Neither of us were satisfied with the meal, but were both satisfied with each other. We left the charming restaurant with the mediocre food to find him a dessert. Halfway to a pie shop I knew about, on the corner waiting to cross the quiet street, I asked, “Do you want to see a cat video?”

“Always. Of course. Show me the cat video.”

We stood on the dark corner, maneuvering together as we tried to avoid the twos and threes hustling to make their reservations, our eyes trained on the small screen of my phone. My two cats were fighting.

“Turn up the sound, please.”

It startled me, his casual politeness. Please and thank you, careful portioning without seeming to, dressing to how he thought I would. It didn’t feel like anything other than kindness. Thoughtfulness without a goal. Just because being thoughtful is what you do. I had forgotten people could be thoughtful without an aim.

We continued down the road after my male cat trounced my female cat. I pointed out different art galleries and coffee shops. It was one of those nights when the galleries are open and cheese is sweating in tiny chunks on a white tray as teeth get purpled on cheap wine in plastic cups. His thoughtfulness was too much for me, so I dragged us into a showing neither of us cared about. I wanted to wander with purpose, and take the attention off of ourselves. The tiny gallery was packed, and I wound us to the back room and to the front room again. Sucking in our guts as we murmured, “Excuse me” and tried not to elbow jab glasses onto the textile art on the walls and pedestals.

After fifteen minutes my head was clear and he was checking his phone. We left and about a block away found the pie shop. He ordered while I went to the ladies’. I didn’t want anything to eat. I came out to find him at a little table, waving me over. His pie was untouched in front of him. As I sat, he picked up his fork and sliced through the point of the pie, making sure there was cream and crust and banana all on the fork.

“Here, try a bite.” He held the fork out to me, and I opened my mouth to accept it.

War Movies

Only men go to war. Usually white men, but sometimes black men. They are all in shape and like to take off their shirts when they work out. They lift weights then go smoke cigarettes. The men don’t sweat. Even in the desert, the heat lasering off the hairs on the backs of their necks, they don’t sweat.

All the men who go to war head into combat. They head off in khaki-colored humvees or lavs. They all shoot guns at nameless faceless insurgents. It is usually unclear what the mission is except for routing insurgents. Patrolling. The goal of all of this is uncertain even in the movies.

There was a TV show about Role 3, the hospital at Kandahar Air Field. It was in the earlier days, when dusty green tarps made up Role 3. It didn’t have the sterile walls that I knew when I was there. I imagine the smell of the Role 3 in the TV show to be of dust and blood and heat. My Role 3 smelled like cleaning solution.

I want to see my war to know it happened. My war made up of drafting powerpoints and badgering military colleagues about where to open schools and to not go into those schools. My war where women were there, too, both civilian and military. I’d like to see a realistic portrayal of what we did, but there’s little glory in that. Days of clicking and clacking on keyboards, signing in and out of computers, walking in and out of meetings, yawning during interminable powerpoint presentations, and longing for a night without a rocket attack so I could get some damn sleep.

I want to see the women with their hair pulled into tight buns, see the plastic baskets lining the benches in the bathroom as everyone is claiming their slots for the showers. They were probably neatly lined up purple pink blue red white that night the rocket hit two yards from our hooch, crashing through the water main and shrapnel slicing through the metal skin of the shower stalls and bathrooms. My roommate woke to the boom and heard the screams chasing each other down the hall. Then the sounds of water rushing. She was alone in the room that night. Probably the only night she had to herself in months.

I want to see someone getting blown on their ass by the wind generated by the helicopter blades because they are new to country and didn’t take the knee fast enough when the helo started landing. I want to see someone struggling to get into that helo because their vest is clunking into their knees as they scramble up. I want to see the dust and sweat and exhaustion just during the normal day, not after hours of hard battle.

But only men go to war. And then they only go to be in battle, not to plan it, not to arrange the logistics or serve the food or stand in line to buy fake jewelry for the girlfriend back home who is already fucking another guy. When they have the opportunity, they are fucking other people, too, those men. The ones who are the only ones who go to war.

No need to say anything

“I had a great time. Looking forward to the next time we hang out.”

I’m not sure what the signal is for when this actually means something, but I have come to learn that when someone says this, it isn’t the truth.

Maybe it is the truth. You might find out in a few days or in a week. You may receive text messages that continue the facade. Plans for what you will do. Then one day the texts stop. Either before or after the time tentatively set or actually set for meeting up. You cease to exist. You just didn’t know it.

The first time it happens, then the whatever number time it happens, it stings and you think of all the things that might be wrong with you. Because of course it is you. Of course you are somehow terrible or godawful or fat or ugly or you said the wrong thing at the wrong time and just poofed away all the interest he had in you. And if only you had done the right thing, said the right thing, looked the right way, he wouldn’t have done that.

And that’s the lie we tell ourselves. Because if it is our fault, then we can fix it, we can fix them.

When it happens over and over, maybe it is the culture around dating and the culture around people that is terrible, not us in the individual sense. Our capacity for kindness seems to have shrunk. Folded into itself. We won’t waste words on others because we figure they will figure it out. Then we don’t have to deal with the momentary (and just momentary for the most part) unpleasantness of watching someone be disappointed because our expectations did not match their own. We don’t want to hurt people, we don’t want to have to think of them after the moment that we have decided that they are not for us whether that be friendship or employment or romance. We are so divorced from the idea of feelings, we try so hard to be modern and not care until we are invested.

We have become afraid of the idea of attachment, even if only for a fleeting moment. Attachments and emotions have the weight of responsibility and we so often feel like we can’t be responsible for anything else. But maybe if we opened ourselves up to the idea of attachments, gave ourselves permission to feel emotions deeply and allow all components of that, we would feel somehow relieved.

Or we can continue to pretend to ourselves that there is no need to say anything. That because we don’t mention it, the hurt isn’t there. It didn’t happen. Because we didn’t see it.

 

kooks

One of my favorite books when I was a dreamy eyed pre-teen was a slim book of short stories on the theme of love. It explored all different types of romantic love. My favorite line in the book was in a story where a grandfather was musing on love at his granddaughter’s wedding. He had lived long enough to know that love is precious and to be celebrated, regardless of how long it lasts. We tend to only value love that is present over time. Those loves that last 25, 50 years. The grandfather says that all love is beautiful, even that which is fleeting. He likens it to a rainbow.

I have tried to keep this in mind, failing miserably when it comes to judging my own relationships. Does love have to be permanent to be real, to be beautiful? I would like to say no, but turning against that cultural conditioning is hard. I do say no. I say no in my head. And then recall a friend who is marrying someone that he knew for less than a month and think, that will never last. And then think back to that book and remind myself, what is lasting? Is it length that makes something real and beautiful? Or is it just the existence of it itself? Why do we have a need to judge certain relationships as real or true? Can’t they all be real? For however long they are?

The other story I remember is the story of the woman who was older. She had been married to a man for a long time. Her hair was kept short and styled during her marriage. When he died, she let her hair grow long and eventually started taking classes. One of the classes was on poetry. The instructor was younger than her, and made her blush with the passion with which he read poems to the class. The last night, he asked her for coffee. Then he went to her house and stayed the night. In the morning, she noticed that the clematis that had not bloomed for years bloomed that night. She asked him to stay.

A year later, he died in his sleep in their bed. She cut down the clematis the morning of his funeral, not wanting to know if it could bloom again.

She mourned that year-long relationship deeper than her decades-long marriage. The relationship with the younger man who was so inappropriate for her. How long does love have to last to be real? Which one was real? The marriage or the live-in? Can they both be real, but vastly different? I would say so. We want to say what marriage should look like, what love should look like, but really we cannot. Not everyone is destined to/wants to marry their best friend. (I don’t believe in destiny anyway.) A companionate marriage is just as real and just as loving as a passionate marriage. A relationship of a weekend is just as real, for that time, as a relationship of a decade. Different, undeniably so, but no less real. As long as the hearts involved believe it to be so, believe in the actual humanity of each other. If you don’t see the other person as an actual human person, then the relationship isn’t real even if it lasts thirty years. That’s the difference, to me. Not the length of time, but the intention and the respect within.

What was it like?

What was it like?

The eternal question….

Were you scared?

Always the follow-up…

What was it like?

Tones careful, measured, curious. Trying not to be too curious.

It was like…

the sun hot on my neck, feeling like it would burn into my spine

the sun leaching the color out of my hair, drying the ends, cracking my lips, freckling my skin

the dust filling my nose my ears my mouth my belly button

the sounds of the sirens                                                                                                                           and waiting for the sounds of sirens

the fraternal twin sounds of fighter jets taking off in discordant pairs                                     first one pauses your conversation                                                                                                          hold your breath waiting for the second one

It was like….

lying comfortable in bed when the sirens wake you up                                                                 and you’ve been in country long enough to debate if your life is worth the discomfort of getting up, shoving your feet into your boots, and throwing on a sweatshirt that hides the loose sway of your breasts under your night shirt as you run for the bunker

It was like….

logging off your computer and locking your tiny office door as you head to the bunker       alarms aren’t only at night

huddling with your coworkers within a concrete shelter                                                              cursing yet again that the bottom edges slope and there is nowhere to sit while you wait for the all clear

It was like….

your fingers laced together in order to cushion your neck from steel and cement blows  flesh and bone covering flesh and bone

It was like….

watching the longest powerpoint in the world. 100 slides. 3 times in a row. Eager beavers reading every. single. word. on. every. single. slide.

It was like….

typing two documents. a million documents. Some of which other people actually read.

It was like…

watching a whole country go by through the windows of the car. Your eager nose pressed against the glass, trying to get closer.

It was like….

sitting on the carpeted stairs watching a village meeting and being conscious that there are only 2 women there, and you’re one. A blonde soldier with a painfully tight bun is the other.

And you’re the money.

It was like…

trying to figure out how to keep a veil in place on your head, when it just wanted to slide off and puddle around your shoulders, exposing you.

It was like…

eating “stir fry” from the Asian DFAC. Eating orange slices and hashbrowns from the American DFAC. Stealing clif bars from the north DFAC. Filling your cargo pant pockets with crystal light to make the plastic water palatable after it had baked in the sun. Hoping you’d be invited to another camp for Taco Tuesdays. Real sour cream on those nights.

It was like…

your first week or so, talking to a guy who had been there for years and asking, “How long will you stay?” “I’m staying til we win.” He isn’t there anymore. We haven’t won.

It is like coming home…

and trying to explain why you don’t react how people thought you should. Why you weren’t scared every day (or didn’t realize you were. some fears are too deep to be acknowledged. too ever present to be felt). You didn’t know you were afraid til you left and felt the adrenaline of 365 days leave your body a moment at a time.

 

 

 

What is the sound of your rage?

We were asked this last night. In a crowded hall, we were told to stand. Requested, really. But you weren’t going to say no. After we stood, giggling and uncertain as to what was coming next, she asked us this. “What is the sound of your rage? I want to hear it.”

Since the election, the calls for understanding and love and forgiveness and coming together have flooded the pages and feeds and everything. Love in adversity! Complaining is bad! We must stand as one nation!

What is the sound of your rage?

My rage was tears on my cheeks and a fluttering heart. I was afraid if I made a sound, it would go from shriek to sob and continue in a low moan through the remainder of the podcast. The rest of the night. Probably until the protest. Possibly after that. A low keening wail. I’ve thought of cutting of my hair to show my anguish. Considered getting a tattoo. Something. A physical sign that JESUS CHRIST THIS IS…

life altering.

I stood next to a blonde woman as she bellowed her rage. I heard the high pitched screams and low yells of anger that felt somehow put upon echo through the hall. We had all been angry and sad and tired for months. We were being worn down. Some of us had already decided to put our heads down and wait out these four years. These eight years. This new reality of America. Others had decided to fight, but only if it didn’t inconvenience their lives. We have retirement to save for after all.

I thought about the decisions I was in process of avoiding, that I had been turning and churning in my weary apathetic activist brain for weeks. I thought about the Ted talk a friend had sent to me that was to help me make a difficult choice. Ultimately, the Ted talker said, it comes down to who do you want to be?

Who do I want to be?

I cried in that hall as the rage and anger whirled around me because I knew that who I wanted to be was clear. And oh my god, it is hard. There seems to be a clear fork in the road. You can go back to being who you were, in a time where who you were cannot really exist as you were. Or you can pile branches in front of that path, pile them high and thick because you aren’t going back that way anymore. That safety net is gone. That other path, that path leading to who you want to be… it isn’t well lit. It is unknown. There’s a lot of feeling the way forward. It may cross crevasses. It may just go through grassy fields. But the fear of it is, it is unknown.

The fear of the other path is, well, it is unknown yet so very familiar.

I want it to be easy. I want it to be safe. I want to be able to parachute out of my current existence if necessary. I want I want I want. I want democracy to be easy. I want to be comfortable. I am uncomfortable with my discomfort that I might be inconvenienced.

What does your rage sound like?

It sounds like the shattering of my ideals of myself.

It sounds like waking up and walking on.

Pie

She only made pie when she was upset. Creating something as delicate as crust kept her meditative about her problems. Crust can’t be over handled, can’t be worked over, won’t spring back from mistreatment. It retracts from abuse, becomes tough and browbeaten. Crust misused gets its revenge later.

The fillings didn’t matter. Fillings depended on the season more than the upset. Fillings didn’t require meditation, or a reminder to treat oneself gently in order to avoid being bruised and tough and inedible. She would make me pick piles of berries for freezing in summer. We would lay them out on a sheet pan to freeze first, so that they would stay perfect and whole the entire winter until they were mixed with sugar and baked in between flaky crusts.

She never made pumpkin pies because the end result never really warranted the effort that went into it. Winter was for bringing out the berries to remind us of sunshine that had drifted away behind the clouds and refused to come out from under the darkness for more than a few hours a day. In deepest winter, when we sought the comfort of the couch and the cats as they burrowed under the blankets to sleep curled up under our knees, we ate the heavy pies–peanut butter and chocolate, pecan, vanilla custard.

Looking back, I realize we ate pie pretty much every week typically, and sometimes every day. Not just sweet pies, savory as well. Once she discovered meat pies went beyond chicken pot pie, there were months where everything we ate came in a flaky crust. I’d watch her hands grate frozen butter into a mound of flour, adding in a bit of water, gently form and pat and tell her it was time to go see someone. She would gently smile and sprinkle more flour on the dough before she would bring out the rolling pin I bought to replace the one that broke against the door. Never answered me, never acknowledged that maybe this version of therapy wasn’t working anymore. That was the season we found out about her father. A year later, I went with her to clean out his apartment. It was shocking to see how many pies she had fit into his tiny freezer. He didn’t have a stove in his place because they all got their meals in the cafeteria. They would sit at tables, much like we did in junior high. And, proving no one ever really ages beyond 13, they would squabble about boyfriends and girlfriends and who got a bigger piece of cake. He didn’t squabble, I would guess. He’d lost interest in food months before.

I came home one day and the house smelled different. The scent of baking flour and butter was missing. The air was colder somehow, even though it was one of those summery spring days when you think that finally the rains have stopped and the blue skies will hover for a good six weeks before the rains start again. The kitchen was still, and the rolling pin was missing from its perch on the counter. I checked the freezer, and there were ten half pies there, neatly divided and thickly wrapped in plastic wrap. Small post its were taped to the top of each one, with baking instructions. Hard to bake half a pie. The filling spills out and it gets everywhere. The upper crust doesn’t stay lifted. A half a pie is a sad pie.

 

Evan

He was tall and slender, even his nose. I think he had one outfit for winter and one for summer. In winter he would wear a black button down shirt, dark jeans, dark shoes. In summer, a tshirt, dark jeans, and dark shoes. When we went to an overnight conference, he could fit all of his clothes into a small bag, no bigger than what he carried when he went to work with his lunch. I soon realized this was a better way to travel, and took to paring down the clothes I would bring. Even now, I pack lighter than almost everyone else I know. Still not as light as Evan, though.

He moved to UB toward the beginning of our service. I saw him walking down the street one day when I was in the car with my boss and another guy who worked in my office. They were taking me back to work after lunch or something else I can’t remember. I saw Evan strolling down the street and told them to pull over, that I saw a colleague I had to talk to. They pulled over by the president’s palace and I ran up to Evan, “What are you doing here???”

If he hadn’t moved to UB, we wouldn’t have become friends. During our training, he had been stationed in another town, and during the trip to Mongolia, he had already become acquainted with other people, as had I. There were 6 of us in UB, I think. Maybe 5?  Definitely 5. Plus the guys in the town so close I have forgotten its name, but it seemed like Chris was always there. Chris bounced between staying at my apartment and at Evan’s, that first year.

Evan was bored at his job. We were all kinda bored in UB. We bounced around, going to the weird sad amusement park that had rides that OSHA deemed laughable, went to the video store with private rooms and watched Japanese movies that I tried to translate, drank endless Borgeo, played scrabble with made up words, and he tried to teach me chess. Evan would gently mock my fitness levels. We went ice skating on a rink that was a flooded field. He may have actually appreciated my finesse on that.

I had a crush on him for a while, and so rationally became angry at him for having a girlfriend. He pointed out my hostility and it ended. We were okay. The lot of us went to the North Korean restaurant to eat delicious food and read up on the latest propaganda. We adopted brother and sister cats. His was named “Cat”.

Evan and I lost touch about five years ago. He emailed an address I didn’t use anymore, I was slow to respond. We just became facebook friends again, but neither of us sent a message.

Evan died yesterday morning. I haven’t been able to stop crying for a man that I haven’t known for five years, but know should still be here. Evan being here was a comfort. A good man, how rare is that? A good man, forgiving and funny and dry.  He should still be here. I keep thinking that there has to be a way to take it back. To reverse what happened yesterday morning. I’m sure his wife and kids want that. I’m sure everyone does.

Death is not inclined to give a shit about the desires of those left.

When I saw the post about it on FaceBook (life is on FB now), I immediately remembered the night Evan and I were drinking in the lobby of the hotel for the conference. He was teaching me chess and had gone away for a minute. Someone came to talk to me, and I can’t remember what about. I just remember trying to maintain and seeing Evan out of the corner of my eye, overcome with a fit of giggles. He clapped his hand over his mouth and whirled away. I choked down my laughter until the other person left. We collapsed in laughter on the couch, a small pile of puppies. Evan was in his black winter outfit. That’s what I think of when I think of Evan.

 

 

texture

I could tell when she had showered

by the texture of her hair.

If she had showered in the morning, her hair would dry into the kind of waves you get at the beach. Ropy, wavy, straight in parts. Falling over her shoulders and swaying against the tops of her breasts. Golden brown when I was feeling generous, mousy when I was not.

I knew when she showered at night, her hair would be straight.

I knew that from the times I had watched her from my spot on the bed.

Watched her while I pretended to watch Netflix on my laptop.

Bent over, her fingers pulling her waves straight as she aimed the hot air of the blower on them. Didn’t want to cause a wet spot on the bed from her thick hair. Over and over for 30 minutes or more, raking her fingers through, pulling, coaxing her hair straight and dry. No wet spot. There hadn’t been a wet spot in months.

She would read as she hung her head upside down. Smoothing out the waves as she read the words of other men and fell in love. Again and again. Cheeks flushed and eyes dreamy when she righted herself.

There were weeks of that, weeks of straight, dry hair at night before I let myself know. It wasn’t just the authors anymore.