Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans! The following is a poem I wrote this day 8 or 9 years ago. I found it on an old hard drive and wanted to share it. I give it to you as I found it: unedited.
Silence is deafening.
Luckily, tonight a cacophony of booms from the annual fireworks pervade my ear drums.
As I lay in my bed, in the house I grew up in,
A “BOOM” takes me back to a simpler time.
There I am, sitting on a concrete balcony with a friend, surrounded by sandbags and observing the skyline of ancient Mosul.
Dozens of dead pigeons litter the ground beneath us, outside of our makeshift homes in the abandoned Iraqi Army barracks; thank you, bird flu.
We smoke cheap, stale cigarettes of such poor quality that they cannot legally be sold in America.
We don’t flinch, we don’t stop… We don’t care.
Another mortar sails in, two hundred meters off.
“These guys suck.”
A string of rapid gunfire erupts a quarter mile down the road. They prayed and sprayed, but apparently Allah took the night off. The bullets didn’t find their marks.
I think of my friends and family I left behind, thousands of miles away. I try to imagine their reactions to these minor inconveniences.
The forceful sun, putting her arms around their shoulders, biting their necks like a cruel, golden mistress.
A sweet symphony of small arms fire rapping on their ear drums.
The other-worldly shockwave of an explosion.
The oppressive, gritty Middle Eastern wind on a gunner’s face while roaring through a urine soaked, booby trapped ghetto.
The inherent evil in THEIR eyes.
The spiteful, demon language coming out of THEIR smiling mouths.
Then I remember…
They’re all against me, aren’t they? I’m in a convoy of fourteen people yet I’m all alone.
“Are you there, God? It’s me, Specialist Jasieniecki. I don’t know where my buddy’s head went last week but his family would like it back… Please.”
The birthplace of the original sin. I ride with Lucifer’s hand on my shoulder. His whispers disturb me; “I’ll never leave you, I promise. You and your friends, you’re all my favorites.”
A forgotten land where the very elements will my violent demise.
The harsh, sharp sand swirls throughout the dusty streets and tears my lungs apart. I pull up my gator neck and cough.
I see something on the roof! No I don’t, I didn’t drink enough water, I’m hallucinating again. And my goggles are fogged up.
Somebody died here yesterday. I’m fucking terrified.
This land is alive. The heat rises up from the beaten road like a thousand ghostly hands.
Satan shoos them away.
He leans back to my ear; “Don’t worry, not yet, I’m having too much fun with you.”
I catch a glimpse of Death’s big, black cloak passing from window to window in a battered tenement.
“Oh but that one, yeah, that one plays by its own rules. Real bastard, that one.”
I’m only nineteen years old. I’m too young to die or…
I look at the sidewalk and see a toddler missing an arm.
Hey don’t worry buddy, it’s only twelve months, oh nope, never mind, it’s sixteen months now. You can handle it, you better fucking handle it. You’re not alone.
Sometimes we were.
It wants you. It needs you.
Sometimes, YOU want IT.
Sometimes I would put my rifle barrel in my mouth and see what it felt like when I pulled the trigger. I never had it loaded, except for this one time. But obviously I didn’t pull that trigger.
And you can’t really play Russian Roulette with a magazine-fed rifle.
So I got bored with it.
Everyone experiences different feelings when faced with their own mortality; the weak destroy themselves and the strong wish someone else had.
One day, our tour ended.
Sixteen months flew by and my friends and I came back as new men. Grizzled and world weary, but eager to celebrate!
We explored the bars and clubs surrounding our post.
We realized how much different we were than the other people our age. The people that didn’t go “over there.”
We felt shunned. Even though we really weren’t. We just didn’t know any better.
Nonetheless, we went back to post and we drank, and drank, and drank.
Turns out that you can’t drink the past away.
None of us slept more than 3 hours a night for the first month we were back.
Some of us reached out in panic for our weapons in the middle of the night and woke up to find a very surprised partner screaming for her life. Oops.
Some of us are still there. And some of us will always be there.
I get amused when people I don’t even know ask me “What was it like?”
And here is the honest to God truth:
It was amazing! It was glorious! It was the only time in my life that I ever felt alive! It was eye-opening, earth shattering, breath taking. It was 16 months of nonstop laughs with some of the best friends I’ll ever have. It was the only place I ever felt normal! It was the quintessential definition of life! It is something that every single healthy, American male should experience!
But what do I tell them when they ask?
“It was ok.”
I will not humor the masses. If you have to ask, you’ll never know… And that’s not my
I lay in my bed, in the house I grew up in.
I hear the deafening silence once more and I realize that this is the furthest I’ve ever been from home.