Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, August 2010, Camp Delaram
My mouth dropped open.
There was no “sir” to my response. All of the blood rushed from my head to collect in a pool at my feet and I felt my stomach drop deeper than I had ever felt before. And I was suddenly cold, as if I were in the Arctic instead of the middle of a 120 degree desert.
A Marine’s rifle is his life. During deployment, it becomes an appendage to our bodies. We train with it, we sleep with it, we lean it against the wall or across our laps as we use the restroom; the resounding smack of a rifle against our body is the comforting reminder that our safety is at our fingertips. The seven pound, eight ounce rifle is always present, always comforting, always painfully there.
“Hand over your weapon, Marine.”
The CO’s face was firm and he warily began to stand behind his desk.
My hand went instinctively to the barrel of my rifle around my right side and I grasped it tightly.
Shaking, I unslung the rifle, swinging the black three-point swing around and over my head. Holding the barrel in my left hand and the buttstock in my right, I pulled the rifle close to my body and looked at the CO’s face to make sure he wasn’t joking.
Incredulously, I pulled the bolt to the rear and locked it. Fastened to the rear, the contents of the rifle’s chamber could be seen. Inspecting it officially, my voice shook.
He reached out his hands and grasped my rifle, pulling it from me and to him. I let go reluctantly. He inspected the chamber for rounds, then slammed the bolt to the front and closed the flap to hide the bolt. Then he placed my rifle on his desk and sat back down.
“Do you want to tell me why I got a call from RC-Southwest’s general this morning saying we had a Marine who wanted to kill themselves?”
“What…do you mean?”
A Marine Corps general? What the actual heck?
RC-Southwest, or Regimental Command Southwest, was the international military command in the southwestern portion of Afghanistan.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Never a truer statement had been muttered by me.
“So you can’t explain why during the regimental general’s brief, a contractor stood up and told a bunch of Marine officers that there was a Marine who wanted to kill themselves out on Delaram?”
Simon. Oh. Fuck.
My shoulders sagged as I realized this was actually happening.
He was almost mocking me.
“Do you realize what that looks like? That a contractor has to tell A GENERAL THAT WE AREN’T TAKING CARE OF OUR MARINES?”
“So is it true?”
“No, sir. I didn’t say I wanted to kill myself.”
“What did you say?”
“That it would be so much better if I wasn’t alive.”
The CO studied me firmly. Decades of leading troops into battle and he was watching the weakest link begin to fall apart in front of him.
“Why? Why on earth didn’t you come to me?”
I almost snorted with laughter, choking and immediately turning it into a cough to cover it up.
You made it very clear that I wasn’t wanted here.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“What on earth could be so bad that you would think that?”
I said nothing. We stared at each other in silence for a few moments. It seemed like he hoped the silence would break my ability to stay quiet. He broke his gaze first and sighed, shuffling the papers on his desk.
“You’re going back to Leatherneck today. Your command already knows about the situation.”
Shame filled me further, if that was possible.
“Be on the flightline at 1500.”
I turned and walked to the door of his office, leaving my rifle on his desk.
God dammit, Simon.
My mind swirled in panic and confusion.
What the fuck is going to happen to me now?
Leaving his office, I walked to the help desk where William worked. One of the Marines asked where my rifle was.
“Fuck off. Where is he?”
I motioned to the desk where William usually sat. The Marine, abashed by my bitchy response, shrugged and turned away from me.
I walked out of the compound and didn’t look back.
I started furiously packing my stuff into the black gorilla box, a toughened foot locker sold to the military to hold extra gear. I had bought the gorilla box from Delaram’s tiny post exchange, PX, in anticipation of heading back to the United States a few weeks ago. I rearranged item after item into the box, trying to make more stuff fit so I would have to hand carry less of it out of country. Everyone loves to have their stuff handy, but 200 pounds is 200 pounds to carry around from country to country on the flights back.
Once I was fully packed, I stacked the stuff I would hand carry next to my can’s doorway. Flight bag, military backpack, seabag. They probably weighed 250 pounds together. I gave my footlocker a lift and guessed that it weighed about 150 pounds.
How did I get so much crap?
Leaving my stuff by the door, I began dragging my gorilla box down the small steps and down the rows of cans to the post office.
With each step, my breathing became more and more labored. The sun scorched my hands and the back of my neck. I could feel my skin burning.
Drag *step* *step* Drag
I repeated the motion again and again, over and over…and my heart began to physically hurt. I looked down the row to see how much further I had until I would reach the post office. I couldn’t even see it yet.
Drag *step* *step*
I stumbled, my legs giving way under me, and I fell to my knees, cracking both against the sharp rocks. I gasped in instant pain and tears filled my eyes. I placed my hands on my knees and sobbed, rocking back and forth, crying from shock and pain and shame. Then I sank back onto my ass and looked up again to find the post office, attempting to will it to appear closer.
You have to get up. Literally no one can help you right now. Look around. There is no one. This is all you, all you, so get up. Get up, Savannah.
Yes, you can. You have to. You have to. Get. The. Fuck. Up.
I stumbled to my feet, placing my hands on my knees, remaining bent over. Whether it was the heat or the situation or the weight of the gorilla box, my vision began to go black, and I fell backwards.
Stifling my tears, I stood again, and felt more of that stupid sticky liquid fall out of me and onto my underwear.
Blegh. Let’s go. You need to go wipe now. Get this to the post office and find a bathroom. Stop whining and go.
I shuffled the rest of the way, What seemed like a mile, and tried to focus on not passing out the entire time. Swaying, my vision was blurry. When I tried to fill out the import forms for my box to make it back to America, my brain kept faltering and the exasperated postal assistance corrected my form multiple times.
My speech was slurred.
That’s weird. Fuck, I need water.
The assistant dismissively waved at me and put my box behind the counter with ease.
Stumbling to the bathroom, I pulled down my cammie pants and flopped onto the toilet. I tried to pee but I had nothing in the tank. Giving up, I wiped, and just to see how much clear liquid had fallen from my body, I looked down at the toilet paper.
It was everywhere. It covered my underwear, covered my thighs, and had leaked through my cammies.