Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, August 2010, Camp Delaram
Simon cleared his throat and told me to fix one more thing on the encryptor device.
I walked out of the room and into the main server farm across the hallway of the TCF. After fiddling with the encryptor settings, I reentered my area and picked up the phone again.
As Simon checked that the network traffic was routing from Camp Leatherneck to my location on Camp Delaram, I trailed my fingers over the top of the plywood desk, brushing the sand into a pile and then squeezing the mound between my fingers. I sat down on the table and let one leg dangle to barely touch the floor.
“We’re good. You’re up.”
The lack of usual excitement was noticeable in my voice. A network coming back up is something to be excited about, if not relieved. We both fell silent; our work completed and only the night laying ahead. He sat in his TCF hundreds of miles of me in my TCF. We had never met, and we didn’t know what each other looked like.
“Simon, I mean…I…”
He stayed silent and waited for me to continue.
“No. No, you know what? I’m not okay. I’m so fucking tired of being miserable. How do people live like this? In such constant misery?”
“What do you mean?”
“This country, this world…everything is falling apart, people are dying and being tortured, and families are ripped apart because of selfishness and war and greed and stupidity…”
As I trailed off, my mind started to wonder if I was even speaking about the war anymore.
“Cannon, look, that’s just life, right? People get knocked down but they get back up.”
My scornful tone practically torched the phone handset.
“Yes, they do. In fact, my wife is leaving me. We are getting a divorce and I-“
I rudely cut him off.
“See? Even you’re getting a divorce!”
“Well, I chose to remain out here for two more years. She fell in love with someone else. And I’m getting over it. Work helps.”
“This is fucking bullshit.”
“Love. Marriage. All of it. Everyone always leaves. Always. I can’t fucking stand it anymore. I just want to…give up.”
Once I had verbalized it, I felt better, like a weight had been taken from my heart and placed onto his. Simon’s tone changed and became wary.
“What do you mean, ‘give up’?”
“I just…I want to…I just don’t want to be here anymore.”
“You mean Afghanistan?”
He was hoping for a reassurance that I couldn’t give him.
“No…This world. There is no good in it. I don’t want to live in a world with no good or love. Give me one good act you’ve seen this week.”
Simon was silent.
“See? Even among fellow Americans, we are so shitty to each other. I’m tired of being so alone and so…I’m so fucking tired.”
I was crying silently at this point. Tears streamed down my face.
“Hey, look, you’re going to be fine, right? You have, what, a month left before you go home?”
“Supposedly three weeks”
“See? And you can go home and enjoy everything America has to offer.”
I barked a cruel laugh.
“Everything America has to offer? Like what? I have no friends, I have no family there. My husband won’t speak to me and my entire unit in America hates me because of what he’s telling people. I’m leaving Afghanistan to go back to an even worse place. At least here I’m in a environmental stalemate where I could die a martyr.”
“You have to stop talking like that.”
“Do you know how easy it would be?”
“Stop. You’ll be fine. Go back to America and get some In and Out. You’ll be fine and all of your problems will buff out. They always do.”
I stayed silent for a minute or two and listened to his breathing. I’m sure he was scrolling through work on his computer while we were on the phone. I couldn’t hear him typing though, which would have immediately triggered a hurt disconnect from me. He finally spoke again.
“Promise me you’ll be okay.”
“I’m not going to make any more promises that I might break.”
I hung up the phone and disconnected it from the wall. I shut my laptop and stared at the small, and now crumpled, mound of sand and moon dust on the table.
My head snapped up to see a wireman standing in the doorway.
“Shit you scared me.”
“There’s someone outside asking for you.”
My heart shuttered to a stop.
“Nah, some Marine.”
A Marine? Who couldn’t come into the TCF? Who the fuck could it be?
“Do I look like a fucking secretary? Get your ass up and go look.”
Bewildered and wary, I grabbed my rifle and slung it over my shoulder as I walked into the hallway. These buildings erected by the CBs were all the same: one main hallway down the center with doors on each end that lead to steps to the sand and various rooms on each side of the hallway. The TCF was special because it had a fake floor that allowed us to run cables between the tall server racks that held our equipment. But if you’ve walked through one of these buildings, you’ve walked through them all.
The hallway stretched out ahead of me like some cartoonish display. I had one small hope of who could be on the other side of the door, but…
Could it be…?
I pulled the door open to the night.
And there stood Sergeant P.