When she asks, you will not want to say anything, even though you should. Tell her it was like the Wild West out there, like nothing you ever thought it would be, like living in a nightmare. Don’t tell her you miss it, the plain simple routine to survive. Don’t tell her you want to go back on patrol. Don’t tell her life is simpler there than here: Wake, get ready for patrol, have enough food and water for the day, watch your step, watch the windows overhead, eyes and ears open wide.
Don’t tell her any of that. Don’t tell her that at night, when she’s sound asleep, you hear someone creeping up on you. Don’t tell her you stand amidst the shadows of the porch in boots and cammies, flak and Kevlar, a holstered pistol on your waist, watching for the enemy.
You will dream of being in Iraq, which is funny because when you were there, you dreamed of being in New York. In your dreams you will die, not your friends. You will rise with the orange heat, the crackling-crushing boom snatching you in its grip. And you’ll be glad.
Don’t tell her any of this. Keep it to yourself. When the doctor asks how you’re feeling, your wife will be with you, holding your hand – Tell them you’re fine. After all, you don’t need anybody thinking you’re a fucking psychopath. You’ll be deploying again soon, and you need to concentrate on training, not on how to deal with the memories, like a rolling film of still images, constantly draping over your eyes when you close them. You need to be strong, a warrior. Warriors deal with it. They just fucking deal with it, so deal with it.
At the funeral service, two of your friends will be buried. Red, white and blue draped over their coffins. The twenty-one gun salute pops endlessly. You’ll stand at attention. You’ll want to look over your shoulder. Don’t. No one is sneaking up on you.
Your blues are ironed crisp, the medals shining bright in the sun, and you’ll hate yourself for having them. Hate yourself for not laying in the dirt too. Don’t tell your wife about this. Tell her the funeral service was beautiful. Tell her they were good guys. They’re someplace better, even though you know there’s no heaven. All the best man can do is lay in peace under shovelfuls and shovelfuls of black dirt.
On the drive home, she will stare at you, wondering how she would manage without you, what she would do without you. And she cries and sobs, and begs for you to leave the service. But you won’t leave the service. You’ll sign another contract, and another after that, because after all, what else are you good for but war? What good are you to your dead friends alive?
When you wake up reaching for your rifle, flak and Kevlar, jumping out of bed and running for cover, your wife will wake up startled. Her half-dreamy eyes will watch you in fear, as you crawl along the wooden floors. She will stand over you and tell you to wake up, but you are awake. You’ve been awake too long. You should be sleeping long and silent and peaceful and free.
She will hold you close to her, and you will smell her clean mint curls. Rest your head on her small, soft bosom. Let her hold you. Let her stroke the short rasp of hair poking through thin, dry scalp. She will ask you to talk to her. Please talk to her. You will. You will tell her everything, and tell her nothing. After all, this is your war, the one that took your friends – your brothers – and no one understands that better than you.
Gabriel E. Calle is a former Marine. He served eight years with multiple tours overseas. He is a fiction writer concentrating his literary work on the effects of war on service members and their families.