A Cigarette in Hell

When I came home, the instant I was separated from my boys, from that family, I felt desperately alone. The privacy I had craved was Hell. I bought a bottle of bourbon and dove headlong into a gulf no man can swim. The unrelenting ocean of loneliness. 

Every man wets his feet in it. Then he lies to himself, surrounds himself with the noise of others’ voices, and pretends . . .

But having loved, lost, and crossed half the world to throw my life away, on purpose, in the off chance I might have one genuine moment – One shattered fragment of sincerity . . . Even sincere fucking eye contact before my last breath . . .

All that I take from it, after we scattered to the wind, is the knowledge that we all stand in that water.

I’d read of the term mitote. Hispanic slang for gossip. A thousand voices talking at once. I thought of every conversation I had ever eavesdropped on, sitting in strange bars alone. People making noise at each other.

I tried to think of anything that I had ever said that was sincere. Words that I spoke with whatever weight my small existence carries.

Thank you. I love you. I’m sorry.

Beyond that, the most sincere things I had ever expressed involved beating someone with my fists, or pointing a gun at their head. Saying “Fuck you” is never as sincere with words as it is with force.

There is no more sincere way of telling the world that you hate yourself than that . . . To push out. With all the force you can.

To reach across that gulf of loneliness and snatch the thin comfort from someone’s illusion of life with your fists.

To beat into them that sense of fear that you are living in a complex nightmare you don’t understand, only to die into non-existence. Surrounded by people you don’t know. Who don’t care. For no reason at all.

Staring down the barrel of a belt-fed weapon on some dirt road in Afghanistan, I resolved myself. I was completely zen.

My boys would have murdered those men on site. The man looking me in the eye would have breathed his last knowing that I was.

An absurd journey to that profoundly idiotic moment has left me in the cold penumbra of that life, brief though I had it. I breathed. I was.

Soldiers. Brothers. Foes.

I’ll save a cigarette in Hell for the lot of them.

[Editor’s Note: The enclosed photo was a shot I took of two birds playing ’round the mouth of a 105 mm cannon. 41R QQ.]