What lies within our own heart of darkness?
September 3rd, 2009 by MOTHAX
...the changes take place inside, you know... Since I returned from Afghanistan, I’ve had a nearly complete inability to sleep on my own. My nighttime rest usually finds it’s genesis in 4-5 Excedrin PM, chewed up to enter the blood stream all the quicker. And before I actually get to sleep I have to listen to a book on Audio Tape, preferably one which I have heard numerous times, so that it isn’t so interesting as to distract me from sleep, but that I have sort of a soothing voice. I also don’t really like big rooms, having shared my 15x30 foot plywood “B-hut” with 7 guys who make all the noises guys generally make outside the hearing of women. Last night as I drifted off to sleep I was listening to one of my favorite pieces of literature read to me by some British chap who’s voice all but demands slumber. Written by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness is generally associated with the book you were supposed to read in High School (but didn’t, thank you Cliff’s Notes!) or as the inspiration for the movie Apocalypse Now. Anyway, one passage struck me last night and ended up paradoxically giving me insomnia as I thought about it, and the modern implications for coming back from the war zone. Here our protagonist is preparing to take a venture for a mercantile company up a river in Africa, and before he leaves he must be signed off on by a doctor.
"The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of something else the while. `Good, good for there,' he mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my head. Rather surprised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like calipers and got the dimensions back and front and every way, taking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man in a threadbare coat like a gaberdine, with his feet in slippers, and I thought him a harmless fool. `I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,' he said. `And when they come back, too?' I asked. `Oh, I never see them,' he remarked; `and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.' He smiled, as if at some quiet joke.Now, I’m not necessarily referring to post traumatic stress, but more the reintegration that I’ve fought to effectuate as I came back. My friend Alex at Army of Dude compared it to a drug:
War is indeed is a drug, a horribly destructive thing men do to themselves that gives a rush unlike anything you can find on this planet. I've never had heroin or cocaine, but I bet it hovers near the feeling of a sniper's bullet missing your head by inches. Or the tremor in your guts when you have a live body in your sights - how the world drops away, and there isn't a thing on the planet that matters more than you, him and the rifle in your hands. And when those rounds explode out of the barrel in a brilliant flash and the acrid smell of gunpowder burns your nostrils, you know that no amount of skydiving or drag racing or sex will ever come close to what war makes you feel in your bones. That's why I can't stop getting speeding tickets or rewatching old videos from my deployment. I want that feeling back. I haven't kicked the war habit yet.I haven’t gotten any speeding tickets (my Jeep Wrangler would fall apart at 55 mph, and is literally "unsafe at any speed"), nor have I engaged in any behavior that was self destructive, but all the changes he talks about are there, like a constant unwanted companion. When I pay bills I get angry. Not because of the money, just that my life has come down to filling out a piece of paper and moving around something I never saw anyway. Pretty ridiculous compared to walking around with the business end of my boom stick ready to help free one country and help salve the wounds of my own. My nieces just got back from Disney World, and the eldest (5 years old) wanted to go on Space Mountain or some such roller coaster OVER AND OVER. It scared her, but she couldn’t get enough of it. Now, I wouldn’t compare being in a combat zone to a roller coaster, but some of the same elements are there. I do find happiness in the little things, clean sheets, 2 showers a day, sleeping 8 hours…but sometimes I still feel like I am missing things. Every now and again I wake up panicking, reaching for my M4. Not like I am in cold sweats and rocking back and forth Rainman-style, but like I am still forgetting something….letting my guard down. So far my unit has lost more guys to suicide and car accidents back here than we lost over there. One guy engaged in behavior that in a million years I wouldn’t have associated with him. And I wonder what changes did go on with him, on the inside. More so, I worry at which of my friends also has changes that I haven’t been able to size up. I don’t want to say goodbye to any more of them, so, how can we take the measurements, so we don’t miss any others?
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