I am alone in my room- a storage container turned into a habitat- with a binder on a table in front of me. I’m suppose to be studying for my promotion. Everyone else in the platoon won’t be here until tomorrow. The only other person around is down a few rooms from mine, studying as well.
“The M4 is a 5.56 mm, magazine fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, semiautomatic or three-round burst, hand-held, shoulder-fired weapon.”It’s max range is 3,600 meters while its max effective range for apointtarget is a mere 500. At its max of 3,600 the bullet drops. That range is inconsequential. You’re not going to hit a thing at that range, and even if you do, you won’t leave much of a mark. The point range is what really matters. That’s where you’ll feel it if it hits you.
The M4fires seven types of ammunition, with ball rounds being the most commonly seen in combat, tipped with a dab of green paint for identification. They call it a tumbler round. A 5.56 tends to go in and rattle up your insides instead of exiting. It stays inside the body. I saw its handy work years before, on an Iraqi man in Mosul. Round went in through the side of the head and “tumbled” around his skull before ricocheting down, tearing up his airway enough that the medic had to give him a tracheotomy, slicing his throat between fits of regurgitating brain matter, so he could breathe.
Of all the M4s issued to me, I love David most. I namedhim David after the hawk in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger.In it, Roland Deschain cleverly uses a hawk to defeat his tutor in one-on-one combat to earn his place as a gunslinger- a sort of knight in King’s magnum opus. There’s a line in the book that reads, “the hawk is God’s gunslinger.” It seems a fitting name and he somewhat resembles a hawk with his taloned bipod attached to the barrel’s picatinny rail. A good weapon needs a good name. David is my constant companion, a truly peculiar friend. He’s there when I sleep and when I wake. He’s there when I shower, naked as the day I was born. He’s there when I eatand shit. There was hardly a moment the two of us were separated. David was a part of me, a limb with a specific purpose.
“The M4 is a 5.56 mm, magazine fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, semiautomatic or three-round burst, hand-held, shoulder-fired weapon.”
I think of the Iraqi man that hot summer years before, the blood on the sand and grass, the sound of his retching. He died five hours later at the hospital. He’s all I can think of as I wrap my lips around the barrel of my M4. It feels intimate, like I’m kissing David’s lips. His kiss is fatal if I touch him right. Isn’t that what I want? My thumb answers for me, flipping to fireon the selector switch. It’s small click a resounding echo.
Across from me, seated on an old weathered olive footlocker, is my laptop. There are now around thirty posts on my wife’s page, from me, pleading. Begging. Don’t leave me. I can do better. I’ll go to therapy.I’ll do better. Just don’t leave. All of it punctuated by melancholy lyrics and lines of poetry. Anything to win her back. All I have are words with an ocean dividing us, but they fall on deaf ears. Those on Facebook- friends, family, and coworkers- watch the desperate descent into madness unfold but never once step in. The one message I get is from an acquaintance. She sends pictures of my wife with other men. Partying. Kissing. Drunk. In each she’s smiling as if to mock me, and part of me thinks she did this on purpose. She wants me to see, to know that our relationship is really over.I thank the acquaintance for being honest and that’s the end of it. My gratitude is hollow. Who could be thankful for news like this?
I take my mouth off the gun. The taste of tears and metal linger in my mouth. My chest heaves as I rock back and forth, a child again searching desperately to find something to bring me back to a time before this. Over and over I take out the magazine, stare at the green tips of the ball rounds inside, pop it back in, charge the handle feeding a round into the chamber, and switch the selector to fire. All that stands between peace of mind, respite from the indescribable agony, is David’s kiss. But if death doesn’t come fast enough, what then? Will I spend my final moments retching my brains on the scuffed linoleum floor of my room, with Family Guy playing on the television in the background? Is that how my story ends? A boy from some backwater town in Texas, dead, another suicide.
I’ll be a brief mention in the news. Everyone in the troop will have to take a class on suicide prevention. Some might mourn. Mostly my mom. Maybe my grandmother, though I can’t say for sure. My kids, they won’t notice. They’re too young and already I’ve spent little time with them between work and deployments. Their memory of me will be an afterthought, a sliver of foggy moments they’ll scarcely recall. I’ll be lucky if their mom even brings up my name or keeps a photo of me to pass on to them. She’ll find them a new father. It seems she’s started that mission and already has some candidates.
Ten thousand thoughts storm through my body. I vomit into a trash bin. No brain matter, not yet. I wait, hoping beyond hope that she’ll come to her senses and say she’s had a change of heart, that ten years is too much to throw away. That we should tough things out for the kids. Set an example. There’s only silence. David is my sole comfort, my ever faithful companion. If I’m to leave the world, I’m glad it’ll be David to carry out the deed.
“The M4 is a 5.56 mm, magazine fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, semiautomatic or three-round burst, hand-held, shoulder-fired weapon.” I read that line in the Army manual (FM 3-22.9) like a mantra, over and over to still everything inside me. David is so much more than my weapon. He’s a part of me. He’s my death.
“The M4 is a 5.56 mm, magazine fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, semiautomatic or three-round burst, hand-held, shoulder-fired weapon.” I repeat it until my heart becomes resolute. It’s time. What else is there to do? I am in Taji, Iraq, worlds away from home, alone and powerless. I am done with life, with all its cold hateful people, the laughter and the mocking from those I trust and hold dear. They can all have each other to share their ugliness. I click the selector from fire to burst. Three bullets. Appropriate and effective. For the first time in hours, I feel a glint of happiness, faint but resolute. My hands aren’t shaking. I’m scared but relieved. It’s as if I’ve spent a life carrying an anvil on my shoulders and here I am, at the end, ready to shrug it off and finally rest. The sensation resonates so strongly within I can’t remember my children’s faces. And I don’t care.
I cry, profusely, but I’m okay as I set the barrel in my mouth one last time. My teeth rake against its steel while my right index finger rests on the crescent of the trigger. All that stand between me and peace is a bit of pressure. I know David well. I know how far I have to press for the snap. I take short shaking gasps for air then close my eyes. Time stops. There’s only my resolve and darkness.From the darkness avoice inside cries out alone.
It’s not fair.
It’s a simple thought, ineloquent but profound. In the quiet of my resolve it’s deafening and I can’t ignore it.For a fraction of a moment thinner than hair, that one defiant cry gives me pause.
Had I been so dreadful a person to deserve this fate? Why me? Why amI being forced to quit the game early when so many others went on without a care in the world? Why should they go on? I have so much left to do, to achieve and experience. Who getsto decide my worth? God? I don’t believe in God. It isn’t his finger on the trigger. No one is forcing me to do this. This is my choice to make. My wife is punishing me for my failures by choosing to leave, but her choice isn’t killing me. I’m choosing to kill myself. This isn’t about the life I feel owed. Fair? No it’s not fair, but the real injustice is selling myself short and relinquishing the one thing I have left. I have power, the most important kind, power over my life. While my life may not hold much value to her or anyone else watching me crash and burn, it means everything to me. Where I want to take it and what I want out of it. I know I don’t want this. I don’t want this.
I say it aloud, "I don't want this." Not yet. Not here, like this.
I move the selector to safe. I set David down, talons out; close the laptop; turn away from that choice, and read on, opting to study for my promotion rather than commit suicide. It’s all I have. It’s not much, but it’s something. The pain isn’t gone. The edge is still in sight and the storm is still raging but I know it won’t last forever. In another time, in another when, this is where I died, mere inches away. I discard the thought. It didn't happen. I didn't do it. Not yet, not today, but I have no promises for tomorrow.
I skip the sentence I’ve been reading over and over, my mind set on what lies ahead.
“The muzzle velocity of the M4 Rifle is 2,970feet per second. The basic load of ammunition for the M4 is 210 rounds total...
...you’re going to make it. You have to.”