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"Adjusting to Change"

[written August 21, 2004]

For eight weeks now, I've been living out of my car. Well, to be accurate, I've been in temporary barracks. "Temporary" means that I live in a shared room, or bay, with a bunch of other people, so it's best to keep everything valuable locked away. You can never really trust other people not to gank your shit. And since there isn't much room in the way of lockers, that means most everything's stayed in my car.

I left Texas eight weeks ago, where my family and Army buddies were, to drive to Georgia for three weeks, and then to Tennessee for my duty station.

All I keep at hand are some civilian clothes, some Army gear, hygiene junk, and the book I'm reading right now, The Skeptic, a biography of H.L. Mencken.

I had pictures of Anna and my Army friend Franco (which she gave me as a going-away present) in my locker at airborne school, but I left them in my car once I got to Campbell. Just seemed easier that way, to not see them every time I looked inside my locker, which was otherwise filled with the odor of many generations of moist, pungent running shoes and a "mirror" made of once-polished but now-rusty tin that makes a chilling rattling noise as the wall locker door closes.

It's a rather spartan existence. At airborne school and at the introductory battalion at Ft. Campbell, the barracks are off-limits during the duty day, except when you're cleaning them. Keeping the barracks clean is the most important thing in the world at these kinds of units. It's so important, in fact, that we're told that a failure to clean them is a disservice to the soldiers dying in Iraq. How can we be trusted in combat when we can't even keep the barracks up? We're slacking off here, while our brothers are getting shot at in Iraq.

So I feel detached. Like my valuables, I'm keeping my personality and feelings locked up safe inside. When will I get to let them out? I don't feel like I'm being myself. Why go out and meet people? I'm not going to find anyone I'm truly interested in. Why buy clothes? I don't have any occasion to wear them. Why buy electronics? I don't have time, or the privacy, to use them. I'm saving, storing. I have a little fantasy of wearing nice suits every day, and having a wired lifestyle. But it's not feasible right now. Nor is it feasible to express myself, to write, to act like Ben. I'm acting more like Victor, a distinction Anna once made to me when she was pissed off at my behavior. "I don't want to talk to Victor!" she exclaimed.

Obviously this is a very pessimistic mentality to fall into, in most situations. But right now, it feels like the sensible thing to do. Just close up shop and wait for the conflict outside to end.

I've been sharing a room with several other people. Soldiers love to talk. Soldiers love Hooters. Soldiers love to call themselves joes and talk in the third person. Joe wants to take a nap. Joe's hungry. Joe usually hates homosexuals, liberals, and especially John Kerry. Joe drives a huge pickup truck, covered with "Airborne" or "Infantry" or "Air Assault" bumper stickers, that takes up three parking spaces because Joe parks it diagonally. Joe paid 24% interest on that massive pickup truck through dealer financing. Joe gets lots of tickets, DUIs, and phone numbers.

I do like Ft. Campbell. It's worlds better than Ft. Benning. Ft. Campbell is like most Army posts, which is to say it's laid out like an amusement park.

There should be a welcoming brochure with Baldy, the SCREAMING EAGLE, as the brochure's guide. It'd go something like this:

Drive past the many entrance gates and grassy entrance fields leading to SCREAMING EAGLE COUNTRY!! Take the scenic Air Assault Road down to the air assault school, known as the ten hardest days in the Army! Or go down SCREAMING EAGLE Drive until you get to the museum where you can learn about the famous Band of Brothers! Or take the Market Garden Road rollercoaster, dodging evil MP vehicles, ruck marchers, and riced-out Hondas, all the way to the air field! That's SCREAMING EAGLE COUNTRY! Just take 101st Freeway to Ft. Campbell Boulevard and look for the decommissioned helicopter and the statue of the SCREAMING EAGLE!!! CAWWW!!

I go to the library a lot. I'm trying to keep my mind occupied. And they have internet (which I can't get right now) and issues of "The Economist", "Esquire", "Barron's", and whatever else I want to read. My current intellectual time-fillers: the Fed, inflation, and credit debt; grad schools offering international relations masters; retirement plans; the presidential race.

I think about Anna a lot. I miss Anna. The truth is she has been hard to reach for a long time. Every once in a while she will contact me. She'll apologize for not keeping in touch. She'll promise to stay in contact. But she doesn't. I swing from feelings of patience for her situation to not wanting to talk to her at all. (but secretly desiring ANY communication) For a while, I think I was still in love with her, but it's been so long that I've come to understand I just miss intimacy. It took a long time, but I've gotten over her. Do we even have much commonality anymore?

I want to be hugged, loved. Admired, appreciated. Was Anna just a fill-in for a lack of intimacy in my life? Why did it take me so long to realize the true nature of our post-relationship relationship? It makes me feel stupid.

I talked to her a couple times when I was at airborne school. And during our conversation, I actually welled up. I couldn't believe it. Such a thing is pretty rare for me. I welled up because I felt like I could tell her the truth about everything. She brings out genuine emotions in me. Pining, love, sadness, happiness. She made me feel human. I haven't shared that level of emotional intimacy with anyone else.

It's the sort of thing that only getting in another relationship will fix. I need more perspective, and probably some closure, also. Otherwise it just feels like obsessive loserdom.

Am I supposed to block her out of my life so that I can move on to the next stage in my life? Am I supposed to be faithful to hints that we would one day reunite when we were both ready? Am I thinking about this far too much? I've never had a good fix on how she feels about things. Does she even know, herself? She is my Estella. I, full of great expectations, fear my actions are all done as an attempt to win her over. I fear being the proverbial fool at Love's poker table, comedic relief for everyone else who partook in the free drinks.

I remember when Anna once told me she tends to get together with men with emotional issues. I don't know for sure whether this is because she has a sick side and likes to fuck with them, or because she finds those men most intriguing.

What a fucking frustrating thing. It's a humbling experience, dealing with Anna. Obviously I'm not as strong as I usually think I am. Because she pushes my buttons.

I get to thinking about my happiness every once in a while. I guess I keep an even keel almost all the time. My friends know me to keep a sort of monotone, sarcastic, expressionless demeanor, and are surprised when it changes. I just don't swing too far one way or the other. Two things that seem to evoke emotion in me are Anna and this (maybe silly) quest of mine to get to special forces at Ft. Campbell. On several occasions I'd go into sulking fits upon hearing news that might've kept me from getting to Ft. Campbell. I don't know why it had that effect on me -- am I more competitive and challenge-seeking than I think I am?

And then I always doubt whether I'm cut out to be a soldier -- things that are easy to most soldiers are a challenge for me, like shooting. I'm your typical fucking military intel loser. I know what I don't know, and I'm never falsely proud, so I can't deceive myself into thinking I'm good at something when I know I don't know something in and out.

I think part of my doldrums is that I've been in transit. I don't really have any friends here. Just one or two guys I know from class. I've been spending my weekends in hotels to get away from the gulags they call temporary barracks, which even the division commander apologized for as being "worse than Attica." [written later: the month I wrote this, I racked up a ton of cellphone minutes -- they were outbound calls most of the time.]

To be honest, I don't usually get too lonely by myself. In fact, I'll catch myself experiencing moments of happiness sometimes when I'm alone and go do stuff like go to the theater, or just read all day. The Internet's also been my surrogate mother for a good deal of my adult life so its presence gives me plenty to do.

But I miss my friends. We trained together, went through the same stressful testing shit together, traveled to a lot of places in the country together. We did crazy stuff, dodged danger, and enjoyed life. I met a few buddies that were among the best friends I've ever had. Now we're all separated across the country, unlikely to all come together again.

Many people I know are married and have kids. The idea of family life is far from revolting to me now. I sort of feel like I am a marriage kind of guy. I prefer being in the role of a provider and safe haven. I'd love to be raising a child. To see them learn, to see them rebel against me, to see them take flight. And I'd like to invite my friends and co-workers to my place, and take care of them. But I'm so far from that right now.

The Army to me has been two and a half years (almost) of being put on hold. My life's in stasis. No missions, no deployments, no units, nothing. I'm just some schmuck wearing camoflage. Two years in and I still know as much about the military as most civilians do. It's hard to stay motivated. The Army's kept dangling that carrot in front of me for so long. My leadership has for the most part only taken from us, instead of helping and teaching. It sucks if you get smoked, but I'm so desensitized to it that it's not really a big deal anymore. I just assume the worst out of the enlisted folks and also the worst out of the sergeants' punishments. Yeah, okay, I had nothing to do with this, but let's stay outside for half an hour longer doing flutter kicks. Whatever...

How often am I happy? I was happy as I drove away from airborne school for the third weekend. I was happy when I reached Anna on the phone. Other experiences I've had, like when I met my friends in Atlanta, or when I landed my first airborne jump were more like satisfaction and relief than happiness. Satisfaction is very common for me in my life, and I love it. I'm good at finding satisfaction. It's happiness that's tricky to acquire.

It's so bad, I get fucking surprised when I catch myself smiling.


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