Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Matter of Survival

This first appeared in Word Riot

A Matter of Survival


Nathan Tyree

The first time you kill you tell yourself that it's only a matter of survival. You say, softly so no one will hear, it was him or me. I had no choice, you say. You look at the dead man's eyes (if you ever get that close) and try not to imagine the light that should be there. You try to think about the sand in your boots and how it is abrading your sole. You try to focus on the itch at the back of your neck. Any small annoyance will suffice. Anything will do as long as you don't have to imagine the dead man smiling at his wife.

Your buddies have no idea. They will slap you on the back and tell you how you have saved all of them; tell you that you're some great fighting machine. All the while you're trying to convince yourself that it was only a matter of survival.

The second one is easier. You can grit your teeth and, with a little concentration, block out the dead man's children who want to weep and tear their clothes in your head. It was him or me, boys, you'll say loudly enough for the others to hear this time.

By the fourth or fifth you can't even see their faces any more. By the seventh the dreams and night sweats have vanished. By the tenth you no longer imagine the light that should be in your eyes. You tell jokes and talk about women. Your buddies laugh and marvel that you are born again hard. None of them suspect that there is something rotting inside of you.

After the war, when you rotate back to the world, you start to miss it. You can't sleep in your bed any more. It's too soft and the room is too quiet. Sometimes you catch yourself measuring the distance and the elevation between you and a stranger, calculating how much to lead for the wind. It's then that you can feel the rifle in your hands.

You don''t open up in the 7-11 with an Uzi. You don't kill your best friend''s wife. You wouldn't do that even if you had a best friend. Maybe you drink a little more than you used to. And maybe, once in a while, you catch yourself with the cold end of your .45 against your temple. Even so, you think that mostly you've adjusted well. You only wish that they would have warned you.

All through basic they drilled it in hard: you could die over there. What they never really made you understand was, you could kill too.

No comments: