Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
FLASH-FORWARD TWO AND A HALF MONTHS:
Afghanistan, July, 2010, Camp Delaram
I stepped into the tent and walked across the dusty floor to my bunk. My boots scrapped the dust as I walked, leaving footprints that I would later sweep away. No matter how often I swept, the desert was unforgiving of where it would blow in its dust to settle.
My bunk bed was in the back left corner of the tent that was designed to hold over 30 bunks. The tents are giant containers shaped like a soup can that has been cut in half vertically and turned with the cut side to the ground. The metal frame is covered in a sandy colored canvas designed to “protect” its inhabitants from the sun and other elements. The canvas did nothing to protect from mortars.
The only other girl on the base of Delaram slept in the same tent as I did. Our bunks were alone in the empty tent, both situated in the back. I had hung extra sheets from the top bunk to enclose the area in which I slept on the bottom bunk. She had done the same; not that it mattered because we never saw each other. She and I were doing different jobs, saw different people, slept at different times if and when we did sleep, and patrolled at different times. We were strangers with similar and vastly different experiences.
I took off my rifle and sat down on the bed. I stared at the blank wall. Everything was the same color in that desert; a weird yellow tan. Even things that weren’t that color were covered in the dusty sand and eventually melted into the never-ending landscape of boring tan. I used to look up pictures of fields to see some green.
I pulled my rifle between my legs, the butt stock on the ground. Sweat dripped from my face. If I sat too close to the edge of the tent, the canvas would radiate heat onto me from the 140 degree sun. The joke was on me though; the edge of the tent was also where the air conditioning tube ran. So I could move my bunk to the center of the tent, where it was stifling hot or I could have it near the edge, where the sometimes-cooler-than-140-degree wind would blow on me.
I grabbed the 30 round magazine from the cargo pocket of my cammies on my right leg. We had to keep the rounds of ammo on us at all times and since we weren’t supposed to have our rifles loaded on base, most people kept their cartridge in that pocket. As I pulled it out, I looked at the scrap marks on the cartridge from the constant insertion and retraction that we practice with our magazines. The portion of the mag that had been scrapped against its place within my weapon was a shiny, silvery color and the rest of the mag was black.
I flipped the mag around in my hands a few times, feeling its familiar weight of 30 bullets, picked my rifle off the ground, and inserted the mag into my rifle.
I racked back the charging handle. As it slid forward, I heard the bullet move into place. I knew that when I pulled the trigger, that bullet would travel down the chamber and meet its target; the mag would be lighter than usual to the person who would pick up my rifle.
I placed the butt stock of the rifle back between my legs and onto the dusty ground. I slid both of my hands around the top of the barrel. As my right hand slid down the rifle and towards the trigger, I felt the dusty sand scrape against my fingers on the plastic and metal.
I placed the end of the rifle into the bottom of my jaw and held the butt stock between my boots. I strained to reach the trigger.
I was shaking. I placed the rifle on my bed carefully, still loaded, and slid to the ground. I opened my flight bag and rummaged through the silkies with that stupid restraining liner and found what I was looking for.
I leaned against the edge of the bed, sitting in sand on the tent floor, and looked at the positive pregnancy test in my hand.