The war will never leave me. I suppose I should’ve realized this sooner, but the burden of war has a cumulative effect. It slowly reasserts itself as the years go by, when it becomes safer to think about it. Or so you think.
It never becomes safer to think about, though. The reality of war, the reality of having gone to it, having survived it, having known people who did not survive it (or did not survive the peace, because of the damage inflicted during the war) – all those things never fade. Never. They will always be there. They will always be with me and all the other men who went to that war, and everyone who has been to every war since. Men and women who slogged around in the countryside, and became brutalized and traumatized and deeply wounded in ways no one else but us can see.
I’d like to think I could pick out a combat veteran in a crowd, especially an Iraq or Afghanistan vet, because with them, the raw pain is still very close to the surface. Maybe not even beneath the surface. On the other hand, I might mistake a heroin junkie for a vet, because the dark hollowness around the eyes, the lingering, aching emptiness within, all look and feel much the same from the outside.
I got my fix in Viet Nam, every time some son of a bitch took a shot at us, or someone hit a booby trap, or we walked into an ambush. Not many months in, and I was hooked. The ecstasy of a firefight cannot be understood by someone who has not experienced the fire and lead orgasm of screaming pain and anger that just pours out of you through the barrel of your weapon, blasting fear, blasting tiredness and loneliness, giving you a sense of joy and power and fucking white hot revenge for every ill ever done you.
I don’t know. Maybe my analogy is all off. I’ve never done heroin, I’ve just done war. And the war did me. Yes it did. It did me real well. But it didn’t throw me aside afterwards, the way heroin does with some people. No, it had burrowed so deeply within me, that for many long years I didn’t even realize it was still there. But it is. It’s been there since that day in November 1969 when an AK-47 round flew my way for the first of many times. The war is still there, and it will never end, and it will never let me go. No matter how many words I write, no matter how many ill-fated loves I fall into in hopes of finding joy and ecstasy again, no matter how many days accumulate between then and now, I will never be free of it.