“You talk to my girlfriend again and I’ll take out your teeth out with a fucking pair of plyers!”
Not exactly the best wording, but still, Bryson got his point across. I was there with him and his girlfriend, Sarah, walking through a Sonic drive through. It was late and our group consisted of several others accompanying the three of us. The fellow having his behavior corrected was familiar only from that night. He was tall with blond hair looking like an Abercrombie model. He was flirting with Sarah and Bryson wasn’t taking too kindly to it. Strike that, I’m not sure Abercrombie was even flirting. He was just talking, drunk and making conversation.
I watched Bryson as he spoke to this student, appearing to be in full-fledged PTSD mode. Indicators included eyes opened wider than usual, voice constricted to a scratch, sideways stepping, and of course the language and tone. I stepped in front of him and he calmed himself almost instantly. Looking back, it is difficult to determine if he was being crazy for the sake of looking intimidatingly cool or if he was about to gnaw your face off. Bryson had several conflicts in his personality that didn’t quite match up. In modern times, maybe there is something scary about a man who has a deserved confidence in publicly illustrating that there is nothing to be thrown at him that will scare him anymore.
When I first met him, Bryson was a well built, good looking, college freshman, 24 years of age. He had served one tour for our country and was now ready to get an education. He was smart and had a natural charisma to him. Because of this, our small group of friends found him to be our unstated leader for the first year I resided at OU. Our small group consisted of most of the occupants living on the third floor of our upperclassman dorm.
When we met, Bryson invited me into his room for drinks. College campuses and military barracks share similar living conditions, smaller that possible rooms and an indefinite supply of alcohol. His room was just down the hall from mine and when I say invited me in, I mean opened the door as I walked five steps down the hall. From this living situation, I met several friends, most of which I am still in some form of contact with on a regular basis. Bryson, though, mostly left our group. Possibly it was the intensity of his missions for his country that screwed with his head. Maybe his values were challenged by civilized life, those same values that he could have died for in battle. The different aspects of thinking patterns, changed only slightly, made him see himself as the outcast, though it was a dead wrong assumption.
Being the close quarters and not knowing too many people, our group became close rather quickly. We drank together almost every night and went to bars and parties, and even more intimate daytime activities including lunch at the dining hall and sometimes even class. Bryson was every bit a part of our group and usually even constructed the plan for our evening activities. This was because his girlfriend had been at OU two years prior to us and helped Bryson find his and then our social circles.
I believed that Bryson truly loved Sarah. He conducted his behavior in such a manner that he seemed to push away other girls. He seemed to be protective of the girls in our dorm and even more, he constructed a presentation of ungendered specific relations. “What up dude?” he would ask everyone in greeting girl or guy. Eventually I learned this presentation to be a hoax in an attempt to secretly sleep with the girls in our dorm without anyone noticing. What bothers me about this isn’t his tactics, but rather the dissected character that it would have taken to set this up. I learned this as I was cuddling next to one of our dorm mates. She was a red headed, slightly plump, unattractive female. We had become close and this night we were sharing a bed, though no sexual exploits were accomplished or attempted. College was a time a bending perspectives and without some of the more practical rules, I quite often shared a bed with members of the opposite sex without dubious intentions in mind. Here though, she informed me that she had slept, meaning had sex, with Bryson recently. From this I was able to follow clues to find out that he had slept with nearly every other female member of our floor without any of us knowing.
There were further mysteries to Bryson’s behavior. After that first year, he moved out of our dorm and into an apartment with Sarah’s girlfriend, though only on a platonic basis of course. I wondered what came of that. Anyway, we met a few times after that, but for as close as our group was, it felt like he must have faked his sincerities towards us as our visits faded. Worried I had been fooled, I waged an investigation of Bryson’s personalities and found that he prided himself on being the soldier type. He had no problem with more intimidating actions or being heroic when the time called for it, but found less use for himself with the lack of such circumstances. His mind must have searched for the qualities that made him unique even as he struggled to learn why he was allowed to leave the battlefield. Those small unique qualities that kept him alive may have simply come down to chance and now as a civilian, the style of the clothing he wore may have a greater effect on the way he is perseeved. I believe he just wanted to be able to fit in, but couldn’t bring himself to do so.
At the time I lived with him I accepted most of what Bryson said as truth, but perspective shapes a different picture. He had many conflicting human qualities and some were flawed. Was he inventing stories to gain greater acceptance within our group of peers or was there something to the affects of PTSD that had him supplementing memories? Maybe it wasn’t a military thing and more of individual issues with the development of his character.
What I can now determine is that he had needs that he desperately wanted to satisfy. It is depressing to think that possibly what draws most individuals to a military career is that it offers some stability, financial or in intent, but idealistic notions of honor and country are not fully understood by the self-awareness of often a teenager. The truth is that such notions give us troops, but at what expense to the individual. What can be seen, aside from actual physical injuries, is a plethora of mental disorders stemming from trauma, but also from the unrealized potential and character growth of the individual.
Bryson and I lost touch, but I believe he did graduate, probably with a degree in political science. I choose to believe that he decided to distance himself from our group because he had shown us a heroic personality and feared that we may eventually see him for what he was, human. He was veteran struggling to find his way back to society.
It was cold one night and for one reason or another I didn’t have a jacket handy as Bryson and I were to go out to smoke a cigarette. It was college, so the mental state of the two of us was probably influence by alcohol. Bryson handed me his military jacket, before we went outside. There on me was that familiar pattern etched into my mind of the different shades of green, forming the camouflage.
Somewhere either in the process of receiving the jacket or our walk outside Bryson told me a story. He explained of an extremely traumatic experience that he once had. At this point I was quite familiar with stories of burning shit and carrying tampons on missions in case of bullet wounds, but this was something much more serious. This was the epitome of what he would reveal to me about his military exploits. He told me of how his close friend, one of the members of his platoon, was blown up in front of him. He told me of his initial reaction. In this description his friend was in pieces, with nothing really to salvage. In a state of shock, Bryson walked over to his friend’s remains and picked them up putting them into the pockets of his jacket, the very one that I was now wearing.
As I stood accidently picturing this horrific image my hands crept into these pockets searching for such remains. What would dried blood and flesh feel like now? I found nothing out of the ordinary, maybe a few pieces of what seemed like crumbled leaves. I still have that jacket, Bryson later gave it to me for keeps. Every time I see it I check the pockets.
Scott W. Trainer has multiple articles published at watchfit.com on personal fitness topics. He works with children at Avondale Youth Center, taking them on kayaking and other adventure oriented trips to build efficacy and esteem. Currently he is finishing his MFA in creative writing at Ashland University.