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David's Kiss (COLFA Entry)

I am alone, sitting on the floorin my room- ashippingcontainer turned into a habitat- with a binder in front of me. I’m suppose to be studying for my promotion. Everyone else in the platoon won’t be here until tomorrow. They’re back at the JSS in Tarmiyah. It’s a small Iraqi town that strangely reminds me of my hometown back home. Pleasanton, Texas. The Army captured and refashioned an old gym to serve as a joint security station. The station has been our home for half of our deployment while this place, my quaint shipping container has sat unoccupied in my absence. Most of my things were covered in dust when I came back today. It smells like sand, but to be fair that’s the least offensive odor I’ve had to smell here. Better than charred human meat which smells like the worse sort of pork rind.

The only other person around is down a few rooms from mine, studying as well. Englebrect. Good guy. I like him. He’s studying for his E5 as well and I know he’ll pass. Englebrect is just one of those guys naturally outfitted to survive the Army’s ecosystem. He’ll stay in and retire. This promotion means something to him, but it means little to me. I don’t much like the Army. I don’t like being told what to do, which makes this career choice a strange one for me that I cannot, unfortunately, withdraw from. So have to dance when they tell me to dance. I have to play nice and pretend that inside I’m not on fire, raging against their orders. What do their orders mean to me now?

“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 M4 fires 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 named him 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 more specific purpose.

Yet, back home he is a toy, a controversial thing that spurs debates. The M4 is synonymous with the military like the cross is to Jesus, and it’s even stands in place of that cross at our funerals, joined with boots, dog tags, and a somber kevlar on top. They call this a battlefield cross, and I’ve seen too many in my short adulthood. I’ve stood there at attention, saluting, as they play taps. Will that be my end. Will they drape a flag over my casket and call me a hero? I doubt it. Not for this. If they call me a hero, they’ll know it’s a lie.

“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 fire on the selector switch. It’s small click a resounding echo that booms throughout the small room.

What would my mom say if she could see her baby boy now, gun in mouth? What would she think of the irony that the name of my destroyer came from my love of books? Did she picture this the day we took a ride to talk about my choice to join? What did she say? “You’ll never be the same.” A meteor of a statement, simple but catastrophic. True. But is this what she meant? Or did she mean something more benign? Or perhaps maybe something more violent? Did she think I’d become a strong man like my uncle who also served and to whom she looks up to, or a villain haunted by the horrors I’d have to witness? No, I think she believed I’d die in battle, shot by a gun that wasn’t my own. That’s what she told me. “It’s always the funny ones that die in the movies. The sweet one you wanted to see make it home. That’s you.”

But that’s the movies. There’s an arc, a purpose. The funny soldier that meets his sad demise to comment on the futility of war and how it ruins the best and brightest of us. People like the big comments, the big picture. It’s easier to wrestle. Civilians back home can stomach this war despite the lunacy of it, the scale of lives lost to it, because we give them numbers. Cold and sterile numbers, the furthest thing from the experience. But how much blood is contained in those numbers? How many of the statistics in this war are coated in human agony? We’ve all seen the funny one bite the dust and felt for him in the moment, but what happens after? For most, they go about their lives. Follow it up the movie with a bite at Chilis or pick up some toilet paper from the grocery store. What of those real lives outside the numbers and the moving pictures that make war an easier pill to swallow? What of my life?

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’m happy. 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 a voice 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. Itisn’this finger on the trigger. No one isforcing me to do this. This ismy 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. Where I want to take it and what I want out of it. I don’twant this. I don’t want this.

“I don’t want this,” I say to no one. 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 Iknow it won’t last forever. 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’re going to make it. You have to.”

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