Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, August 2010, Camp Delaram
I walked down the hill after changeover. This time, it didn’t bother me to see the men laughing and joking together while avoiding me. I had the memory of last night to replay; the tangerine had stained my fingers a bright sticky orange. I was able to look at the laughing men as I stood completely apart, separated by more than just gender. As I leaned against the wall in the back of the room, I noticed how different they were from me. They were still children. Without saying anything, I walked out without being noticed, and I practically glided down the hill. Their self-inclusion was fine with me. I could stand being alone again.
I needed to pick up my laundry before going to sleep. Staff Sergeant Rambo said I would be leaving Delaram soon. Soon meant today? Tomorrow? Two weeks? No one knew. I didn’t have a replacement and the regiment was loathe to let a body go so easily. But still, I needed to start packing and shipping my things back to America. I had dropped off all of my sandy, sweaty clothes to the laundromat a day ago to be washed by the TCNs. It was time to pick them up.
Before I passed the tents that contained the throned toilets, I took a left to navigate towards the laundry tent. Between the laundry tent and the bathrooms, there stood a large tan bladder of water. It spanned more than the length of a tent, approximately 25 feet long by 15 feet wide. As I walked up to it, I noticed streaks of dust and sand covering the tan plastic. I touched the thick and hot material that bulged from the strain of holding water. The bladder was higher than my waist. My fingers left tracks as I drug my hand back and forth. The dust came away easily and caked my fingers. As I brushed my fingers together, I watched the dust fall onto the sand on the ground. I started poking the plastic with my fingers, testing the strain of the fabric. I could see the fabric strands as I looked closer. Plastic covered fabric.
I wonder what would happen if I sliced a hole in the bladder with my knife. Would it explode outwards, sweeping me off of my feet? Or would the water sink too quickly into the sand?
I looked around for the hole used to fill the water bladder. It was bigger than the palm of my hand, and had a handle that needed to be turned. It was locked.
I flicked the water bladder once more and walked into the laundromat.
Delaram was infinitely smaller than Camp Leatherneck. Leatherneck had food, yes, but the rest of their amenities were horrible. The mattress I slept on on Delaram was like a cloud of heaven, and Leatherneck had thin, hard mats. Another amenity that Leatherneck failed on was their laundry services. Once a week, we were expected to walk a mile to the mat on Leatherneck and turn in our laundry in our white mesh laundry bags. The contractors on Leatherneck were so inundated with dirty laundry that they would toss the whole bag into an industrial washer with about six other mesh bags at the same time. The clothes would be “washed” and “dried” all while staying in your mesh bag. When you picked up your laundry, the bag would be tossed to you, shades grayer than before. Balled up socks would be crusted shut with sand and chunks of clothes that hadn’t separated in the wash would be crusted together and wrinkly. The clothes never smelled clean and were never folded. I would wrinkle my nose at the chunky bundle of sandy, still sweaty gray clothes but accepted that was just how laundry was done in country.
Delaram, though, oh Delaram. You got the laundry situation down right.
I walked into the tent and leaned against the pressed wood counter that had been built just inside the doorway. A fresh smell filled the room. Individual sized washers and dryers lined the right side of the tent, and the left had wooden cubbies labeled A through Z. The very tan gentleman saw me come in and bustled up to me. He took the piece of paper I had in my hand and immediately set off to the cubbie labeled CA-DE. When he set down my mesh bag onto the wooden counter, he motioned for me to open the bag. Loosening the strings, I gazed in at the laundry that had been neatly and perfectly folded into color coordinated piles. Light green, dark green, tan, and all of my thongs individually folded into colorful squares.
I was no longer embarrassed that a strange man was touching my underwear and folding it. Anything was better than a gray bag of dust rudely tossed to me by a smelly man on Leatherneck. Somehow, the men on Delaram managed to keep my brights brighter and smelling amazing. I honestly couldn’t complain about weird hands touching my undies when I could enjoy something that fresh, clean, and meticulously folded. Laundry day on Delaram was a bright spot for me in the land of death and unhappiness.
I nodded and thanked the man, tying up my bag and putting it under my arm for the journey to my tent. He waved at me as I left, sticking my paper through the center as he placed it on the giant receipt spike. As I walked towards my tent, I noticed a Marine standing outside of my door.
“The CO wants you.”
Getting summoned by the commanding officer was always a tossup. Either you were being praised or you were in deep shit. It was never the former.
“K, hold on.”
“You’re telling the CO to hold on, not me.”
“Well, if the CO wants me to walk in holding a bag full of my underwear then yeah, I’ll come right up. Jesus fuck, just hold on.”
I walked into my tent and quickly tossed my bag onto my bunk in the back of the tent. My eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the tent’s darkness before I was back outside and sprint walking to the Commanding Officer’s office. Heart pounding, I knocked on the doorway. All of the things I had done wrong swirled through my head.
What does he know? Fuck. What does he know?
The CO called out for me to come in. Shaking, I opened the door and stepped in, snapping to attention front and center of his desk. My eyes were fixed over his head.
“Good morning, Sir. Corporal Cannon reporting as ordered.”
I stood slightly swaying in silence. My knees were locked and I was rapidly approaching unconsciousness between the nerves and the heat and the fear. I felt his eyes studying my face as I stood stiffly. What seemed like an eternity passed before…
I snapped to the “at ease” position, with my legs apart and my hands behind me in the small of my back. My rifle had smacked my leg multiple times during this process, and my right arm was awkwardly wrapped around the buttstock as I clasped my left hand behind my back. My eyes went to meet the CO’s eyes.
Here was the man who told people to avoid me, who told everyone that they would be punished if seen with me. This was the first time I had seen him since the day he yelled at Ski for throwing me over his shoulder and making me laugh…four months ago.
“Hand over your rifle.”