Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Was Asleep

Written In Iraq, February, 2007:

It's 0515 and there's an alarm of some sort going off. Wait, that's an alarm clock, and it sounds close. Oh, it's mine. The veil of my coma is slowly lifting. What a pity. Ignorance was such bliss.

My legs won't work. The cold air stiffened my knees when my blankets fell off last night. I need coffee. I gather momentum and after two pathetic tries manage to roll my shoulders just enough to fall to the floor. My left arm doesn't work. Apparently I was sleeping on it. Of my four limbs I'm operating at 25%. Much like a paraplegic would, I drag myself across the tiles towards the coffee maker. Somebody had the foresight to program the device to make a pot before we awoke.

I leave a trail of polished clean floor as I heave myself along by one arm, like the heroic, gravely wounded knight in shining armor dragging his half corpse to the stiffening frame of his fallen lover before he, too, completely expires. Yet I'm nowhere near so noble.

The coffee is done by the time I've dragged myself to the machine. Propping myself against the mini-fridge, I use my one good arm to shakily pour that black death into my tin cup. The coffee spills on me and I'm fully awake, albeit still largely disabled. But I've poured it and I shakily maneuver the cup to my lips and promptly burn my tongue. Damnation. I can't even sip this stuff. I look and feel like a hobo who's endured a New York winter passed out on a steam grate. And the tin cup doesn't help. All I need is a trash fire to warm my hands… "Please, sah' I wont som' more". Charles Dickens comes to mind, but I'm too pathetic for one of his sob stories.

Ah, there's my arm. Now it hurts. Pain – proof of my existence. Great. And now there are my legs. No chance of running this morning. I'm too lethargic anyway. But I can stand up – which I now do and fall down. Now I'm seeing spots. Just as well I'm not running today. It rained last night, again, and the road is covered with a thin layer of mud. Imagine running down a slip and slide barefoot, then add speed and a firearm in your hand. Take into account my mortal terror of being eaten my some half-crazed hyena, and I'm actually afraid to look where I'm going. I don’t even bother on mornings like these.

And there's that mindless oaf of a roommate awakening. Apparently the litany of epithets I release when twice burned got him going. First thing he does it look at me, grin, and wish me good morning. That cheery, happy fool. I stare at him. I don't know what it's like to have a recovering heroin addict give you a maniacal look, but I do my best and hopefully that buffoon of a giddy moron will cease grinning at me. He looks all the stupider because he hasn’t put in his teeth yet. I am successful; he looks away. My coffee cools and I sip enough to learn the malodorous brew was apparently prepared by the devil himself. I could dissolve paint with this grime.

I hobble outside to the facilities. Porta-Jons are a fixture of Iraq. The artwork, the condition, the pleasing aroma. Today it's windy, which brings its own problems. I finally manage to wrench the door open, step halfway inside, and the door decides to attack me. I'm stuck. I hate these things. Being afraid to touch any portion of the things makes extricating myself from its clutches all the more difficult.

We get ready to pile into one of our trucks to hop to work. My cheerful roommate is going to make us late. He putters around with various bags and packs until he's satisfied he has all he needs for work. I swear he'd carry a purse if we wouldn’t call him gay. But we would. My other roommate is constantly cocking and uncocking his pistol. I suspect it's loaded. He doesn't say anything, nor do feel this is the best time to engage him in meaningful conversation. He also hates mornings. I imagine he'll be stabilized within an hour.

We clamor into the truck – a little green Nissan pickup that looks like it was rolled down the side of a mountain – not on its wheels. I think we got it when some Marines diffused a bomb in it and confiscated the thing. We call it the green monster, or worse. But it runs, and we're fond of it. And it sure beats walking.

I get stuck in the back – again. It's too cold for this.

Another fixture of Iraq is speed bumps. Apparently somebody is concerned that we'll speed on base so there are heaps of sandbags, tank treads, and countless potholes to check our speed. My spine is compressing. This truck has no shocks. If I ever come back to Iraq it will be for the personal vendetta of removing all these speed bumps. It's worse than a Walmart parking lot. The bumps are twice as big, not smooth, and will swallow a truck. There are even retarded people milling in the street – other Marines, contractors, Soldiers, Sailors, SEALs, and God only knows who looking lost. All these guys need are shopping carts.

At work I dig through a box of individual cereal boxes looking for one that hasn't been chewed by the mice. I find one that's in decent shape and eat it. Special K. What a dull cereal – and I spill the milk all over the desk. It's hard to pour from a shelf-stable juicebox.

My cheery roommate removes his teeth and eats his too. He spills a lot too, but I guess he has an excuse. I think I'll take extra special care of my teeth, lest I lose them.

Today's calamity - somebody stole my pens from my pencil can. I'm angry they're gone. I'm angry with myself for complaining about pens when I'm in Iraq. I've lost my frame of reference. And I want my pens back, too. I’d spent days, if not weeks stealing them.

Out medical corpsman is ranting about something – and stuttering. He stutters like a madman when he's excited. We all make fun of him, then feel badly for it, convinced that Providence, in His infinite sense of humor, will bless us too which special children. What goes around comes around. Doc is ranting about somebody eating his fruit, which, apparently was clearly marked and stowed in the fridge. Good job, Doc. Should have marked them with something other than a dry erase marker. Next time spend that extra second to secure a real writing utensil. Aren’t dry erase markers poisonous, anyway? I sure get funny when I sniff them for long enough. It was probably me that ate his fruit. I can’t remember.

The cheery roommate is singing some stupid country song. He needs a sedative. I need one too. Maybe it'll dull my hearing.

There's a hat hanging on the wall we made for him – we call it the 'tard hat. It's an old-fashioned bike helmet with numerous insults written on it. When he gets going, we make him wear it. He's currently chasing Doc around the room with a broom. I hope Doc gets hit. Everybody is staring at them wishing happy thoughts about a semi truck, slippery roads, malfunctioning brakes, and an inattentive driver.

The day starts with a meeting. Everybody is dressed for the cold, so it's a room full of homeless people in strange clothing. You'd be surprised how many configurations you can make with issued cold weather gear. Add to that the fact that there are many with buttons unaligned, shoelaces protruding, hats askew. Everybody is sucking down coffee. Does anybody sleep around here? The scary part is that we're the guys responsible for the bulk of training done with Iraqi Army and Police, but apparently can't dress ourselves on difficult mornings. Some "Tip of the Spear"… But we'll be okay, though, once the sun comes up and the caffeine sinks in.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Good one! Puts you on site.

  2. I like your roommate and Doc. I like the Walmart parking lot.