Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, June 2010, AUP Station in the Town of Delaram
This time when we entered the grunts’ compound, Virkler and I acted like we owned the place. We strode in with the guys from the convoy and immediately headed to the radio room. Waving to some of the guys I remembered from last time as we walked in, I felt at home and completely safe in this small compound in the town of Delaram. The boot lieutenant was standing in the middle of the radio room when we entered. He was speaking to a large Afghan man wearing a blue uniform of the ANA. The presence of the Afghan put me on immediate alert.
This is an American compound, meant for Americans to be safe. And didn’t P say they weren’t supposed to be over on our side?
The LT looked over the man’s shoulder as I entered the room. His face was one of sudden concern.
“Ah, Corporal Cannon, you guys made it.”
“This is General Abdul Wasea, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Afghan National Army.”
The General turned to me and sized me up and down with his eyes. I reached out to shake his hand. He glanced down at my extended hand with a calculated look before extending his own and grabbing my hand in a firm grip. I quickly tried to remember what I had been told to say in the briefs the Marine Corps gives everyone before we deploy to Afghanistan.
“Salaam Alaykum.” “Peace be unto you.”
The General seemed surprised that I knew the proper greeting. As he spoke back to me, he didn’t release his grip on my hand. Instead, he squeezed harder.
“Alaykum salaam.” “Unto you peace.”
I knew what I was meant to say next. It was something along the lines of “Sin gay ye”, “How are you?” and then he was supposed to say “Haik” “Fine” with a throaty finish. But I couldn’t speak. The General’s grip on my hand was getting tighter and tighter. He looked down on me and we locked eyes as he crushed my fingers together, the bones cracking as they slid past each other and crumpled.
Do not show pain. Do not grimace. Keep your face calm. Smile.
I smiled at the Afghan as he slowly gripped tighter on my right hand. My eyes were wider than normal and I was struggling to breathe from the pain.
Don’t pull away. This is the general of a country we are at war with. If I pull away, it will show that America is weak. This is a test, simply a test. Don’t give in. It has to end soon.
What was occurring between the General and I seemed to be just that, between the two of us. The people looking on couldn’t see a change in either of our behaviors. The General knew what he was doing to me, and I refused to show weakness by pulling away. It was a battle of wills between friend and foe, old and young, man and woman, officer and enlisted. In that moment, I stood for everything this man hated, and he stood for every man who had ever tried to say I was weak. I refused to be weak, I refused to break, and I refused to let him see me give in.
After what seemed like eternity, the General seemed satisfied with my lack of response to the pain he was inflicting. He released my hand, said a few words to the LT, and walked briskly out of the radio room.
I waited until he was gone to look down at my hand. It was still white from the lack of blood it had received during his handshake. My entire body was shaking from the adrenaline that had rushed through my body and prevented me from screaming during the exchange. I couldn’t flex or extend my fingers. Using my left hand to break apart the fingers, I gingerly bent them one by one. My heart rate spiked with every bend. After I ensured that no bones were broken, I started to rub my hand to get the blood flow back to my fingers. As the blood re-entered my hand, the sensation of a thousand needle pricks coursed through my veins and everything in my field of vision started to go white.
I swayed back and forth until I fell backwards into a chair that was luckily right behind me. I tried to play it off and went to pull off my equipment using only my left hand, my right hand dangling useless at my side.