It’s dark. There’s a constant drone sound, similar to being in a rock concert where the bassist hits a power-chord with a foot stuck on a distortion pedal. There is no solo or kick-ass riff, just noise rattling inside my Kevlar helmet.
It’s cold. My flak jacket traps heat but it doesn’t swaddle my anxiety. I’m strapped to the cargo troop seat, surrounded by duffle bags and the rest of my twelve member team. I need to piss. I ask the C-130 crew chief climbing over bodies and bags where the bathroom is but I can’t read lips under the green light of night-vision-goggles.
There are flashes. The anti-missile flares fire and I swear for a moment I’m watching fireworks at Sea World. The C-130 nosedives, in what’s often referred to as an assault landing, and breaks my reverie. I think of the life I left behind.
It’s dark again. I didn’t know it then but during my yearlong deployment to Iraq, I’d lose thirty pounds and equal amounts in faith and humanity. I won’t think about my children at all, it’s like in my mind they died. And yet they lived – from first to last days of school and all the holidays in between and a birthday filled with presents on an empty chair.
I’m awake. The sheets beneath me are damp from my sweat but I’m home. I get up and make my way towards my daughter’s room. They are sleeping and I am ashamed. I’m ashamed that it took a year in Iraq for me to appreciate the moments with them. I am guilty. I’m guilty because I survived while so many did not.
I promise. I promise to help my daughters with their homework, to bake cookies, to play video games, to laugh.
I make a promise to live.