And In The Beginning, There Were No Judgments

The act of writing is deeply personal. The words flow from the writer's head, placed on paper or typed on a screen, only to be held close to the writer's heart for fear of societal judgment of their most personal thoughts. If a reader studies the works of an author, they can see into the writer's soul, exposing good and bad. And typically, writers don't want to be judged; they wish to create or share, to teach others or heal themselves.

The author of A Million Little Pieces wrote about his personal experiences in a riveting book, only to be crucified when it was discovered that some of the stories were expanded beyond his experiences into a fictional realm. So a writer must take care to hold themselves close in their writing. Don't expose much, don't expand the stories to seem likable, don't reveal the multifaceted factors of a person's character that cause the person to go from a likable character to a relatable character. People are drawn to Melanie Hamilton and appalled with Scarlett O'Hara because identifying with Scarlett forces the reader to identify characteristics of their own that are unlikable.

In writing about personal experiences, a writer will water down the relatable characteristics to seem more likable, to escape persecution of their wrong doings. But what if an autobiographical author told the truth? Could a reader grow to like the unlikable character and accept that everyone, including themselves, is completely flawed? Or will they close the book and judge the writer as they ready themselves to commit their own flawed acts?

Chapter 34- You’re Gonna Wish These Days Hadn’t Gone By So Fast

The atmosphere of the compound was relaxed once the accident victims left. The sun had started to lower in the sky and Marines were milling about discussing dinner plans. Everyone was tired of the Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MREs) that were stacked in a small shack to the front of the main building. The interpreter offered to go inside of the town and grab us some food. The boot lieutenant peeled off a few bills from a stack that he pulled from his pocket and handed the money to the terp. The man left the Marine compound alone and walked to the marketplace to get some food.

Dumaw fired up the grill that was located in the tiny courtyard. Everyone stood around talking and joking and enjoying life as young Marines do in a combat zone when there are no responsibilities and danger. Suddenly, there was a slight commotion at the entrance of the compound.

“CHESTY!”

Everyone ran up to the puppy that wandered into the compound. I squealed and ran up to the mangy pup. Falling to my knees, I gathered the puppy into my lap and received multiple licks from her dry tongue.

“Oh my god, she’s dehydrated.”

“You’re going to get a disease.”

I poured some water from my camelback pouch into my palm and let her lick my hand dry multiple times.

“Chesty is a horrible name for a girl dog. Who named her?”

Sgt P watched me fawn over this mangy dog. She was the first exposure to life that I had seen in four months. Her presence reminded me of home and the dogs I had grown up with in Georgia.

“One of the guys.”

Chesty was short for Lieutenant General Chesty Puller, a Marine Corps officer that was revered around the Corps for having received five Navy Crosses during World War II and the Korean War. He was somewhat of an idol amongst Marines for being badass and not giving a fuck if Marines put their hands in their pockets, which is a highly debated topic between Marines. When Marines conduct their annual physical fitness test, they conduct an additional pull-up on top of the required 20 as “AND ONE FOR CHESTY!” The Marines calling this dog “Chesty” was a symbolic gesture of respect and admiration for a dog that always managed to pull through difficult situations.

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As I rolled around on the smooth pebbles with this dog, the other Marines gave up on trying to pet her. Jokingly, one of the Marines tried to kick her and I gave him a harsh scolding. Marines have a weird relationship with dogs; the majority love the FOB dogs, but every once in a while there is an asshole who tortures the dogs in-country. Marines were on the news in 2008 for throwing a puppy off of a cliff in Iraq. War does strange things to people, but some Marines are just assholes.

The terp came back inside the compound carrying some meat, bread, and a bunch of grapes. Dumaw took the meat from him and threw it on the grill. Eventually, smell of cooking meat filled the air.

I asked the terp what kind of meat it was.

“Maybe goat.”

“Maybe?”

He glanced at Chesty rolling around my feet and sat down next to me.

“Let’s say it’s goat.”

I blanked out my mind and ignored the implications of what his words. I looked down at his hands as he took the cloth wrapped around one of them. As the cloth unraveled, a malformed hand was exposed, missing fingers. The skin was completely healed and it looked like the cloth was only to prevent stares.

“What happened?”

He answered that there was an accident when he was younger and the hospital could only save a few fingers.

“What hospital? You had hospitals?”

“Of course. I went to college in Florida.”

The realization of how I had profiled this man came crashing down on me.

“Why did you come back to this place?”

“I wanted to help my people. Afghanistan is a beautiful place and I want people to remember that.”

I gestured around at the desolate sand and empty desert as he sat down and handed me a handful of warm and juicy grapes.

“This is beautiful? This is a shithole.”

“Kandahar is amazing. So full of green and beauty and history of our people.”

“If you say so.”

“Come and visit my family one day. You’ll see. Afghans are a proud people and we have a lot to offer.”

I nodded and we continued talking about the land and the green trees of the city. He spoke of the war ruining the temples and land of his youth. I imagined the green of the city.

Dumaw shouted that the food would be ready soon. Everyone shuffled up to the grill.

“I didn’t realize you could grill.”

Sgt P responded to one of the other Marines’ half-insult to Dumaw.

“He’s preparing for the Father’s Day grilling he’s going to have to start doing for himself.”

I slapped Dumaw on the shoulder.

“What??? You’re going to be a father? You’re having a kid?”

“Yeah, the wife is due in September.”

“Aw, man, that’s awesome!”

“Yeah, it’s a boy. I can’t wait to teach him how to-“

Dumaw was cut off by a rock hitting the building next to his head. Quickly bending down, he scooped up a handful of rocks and chucked them over the compound’s wall.

“KNOCK IT OFF, FUCKERS!”

Looking back at me as he went back to the grill, Dumaw shook his head.

“The little motherfuckering kids like to fuck with us.”

“Careful, you’re about to raise one of your own.”

Dumaw went to start handing out the meat.

“Women first.”

I looked around for a plate.

“Uh…are there any plates?”

“Are you insane? We barely have food. Here.”

Dumaw quickly tore a flap from a box of MREs. Throwing the meat on it, he handed the “plate” to me. As I ate with my dirty hands from my cardboard plate, I kept talking to Dumaw and Sgt P.

“I guess you could say this is Dumaw’s birthday party too.”

Sgt P stood back and let his men eat first before taking his own plate.

“No, shit, Dumaw? When was your birthday? How old are you?”

“I’m 23. It was last week. Best birthday ever. Remember that patrol, P?”

“Yeah, motherfucker, it was last week.”

Everyone laughed as they ate. Everyone was full, calm, and content as possible in a combat zone.