“Hey, thank you again for volunteering!”
The doctor stuck out a meaty palm. His grasp was soft for a man with hands that large. EdD, I noticed on the paperwork. He seemed genuinely excited. I got the feeling not many people opted to spend the twenty minutes and speak their minds. I hadn’t intended to either, until I’d spoken to the first one.
I sat down in the first office with a watercolor smile painted on my face. The first “doc” was a Nurse Practitioner. She ticked off a few rote questions. How was I adjusting to the ‘States? How did I feel?
I made it through the first few as planned. I lied.
All is well. Nothing to see here.
She rattled off a remark about my employer having the best interests of soldiers at heart. There was a pregnant pause. I stared intently at the window blinds behind her. She shifted in her seat.
“No it doesn’t.” I sneered.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“They don’t fucking give a shit.”
She watched me, waiting for me to explain. After a moment she prompted me.
“I’m going to put ‘Stress related to organization and management’.”
“It’s not my boss,” I replied. “It’s not the people you see every day, who have to look you in the face every morning . . .
“It’s the ones who know you as a name on a roster. The second you’re not a face, you’re not their problem.”
I made eye contact. It opened up the dialogue. Her husband was a soldier. She heard his grievances. I told her what was weighing on my mind. Watered down versions of the truth. She kept her eyes focused and attentive, but her mouth gave her away.
Day after day of listening to angry boys who lied about their feelings, each betrayed by their tone of voice. Or the ones that broke down and dumped everything on her.
I withheld any pointed indictments. I offered a few complaints, shrugged it all off, and brought the conversation back around with specific body language and facial cues to put her at ease.
I love this job.
She was cordial and upbeat. She wished me well.
Doctor Ed took things a bit different. He read off the pages long document of legal jargon that precedes any research study. The bits about privacy of information and confidential disclosure. I didn’t care. Nothing is confidential, or they wouldn’t have asked for my name.
I kept it light and breezy.
“Did you ever feel as though your life was in danger?”
” . . . Yes.”
It seemed like a silly question. Not because the obvious answer was “yes”, but because most of the time I never thought about it. Thinking about it would have been crippling.
“Did you ever witness the death of another soldier?”
“No.” I replied, automatically. “Not in person.”
“The question doesn’t necessarily mean Americans. Enemy combatants, civilians . . . ” he trailed off.
“Oh,” I replied. “Yes.”
I waited for the next question. He looked at me intently.
“Do you . . . want to add any details? You don’t have to. . . ” The prescribed voyeur’s apology.
“Oh. Right . . . ” I rubbed my jaw.
I told him about a group of IED emplacers on a roadside. One left before the gunships arrived. Another fled after the rounds impacted, scurrying out of the dust in terror. He never even looked back at his companion, who lay prostrate on the ground.
“I could see how fucked up he was on thermal. It was all over the ground. He tried to sit up. It went on like that for maybe twenty minutes. He thrashed a bit toward the end.”
Laying there in agony. Alone. Abandoned.
“Apaches were money.”
“Have you ever been abused?”
The question didn’t ask if I had been a “victim”. That would have elicited a different response. Doctor Ed wasn’t certain how to read me. The more curt my reply, the less confident his demeanor grew.
He handed me some paperwork in case I wanted to follow up on my own information. I smiled and shook his hand.
I tossed the packet into the back of my truck on a pile of empty Rockstars. I turned over the engine. Rain traced the crack in my windshield.
I wanted a cigarette.