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“This time . . .”

The office didn’t have a smell. Not even an air freshener. Modular building. An indication of the immediacy of the need, and the amount of value the Army was placing in the mental health of its Soldiers.

A temporary solution to a permanent problem.

“You’re back in the gym more. You’ve said how much you care about your health. Is it helping?”

I cocked my head at her. Would I be sitting here if it was? Gotta stay fuckable.

“Is it helping you sleep?”

“If I go twice, three times a day.”

She looked down and made a note.

“Did I ask about group, before?”

Did you not even look at the file? Are you fucking . . .

“Group?”

“Well . . . Cognitive behavioral therapy. It has shown to be very effective with some of the symptoms you’ve described. The sleep issues . . . “

Symptoms. You mean my anger . . .

“You much a student of Chrysippus, ma’am?”

“Who is that?”

“Are you a fan of the Stoics?”

“Is that philosophy? I never really studied philosophy.”

I put my head in my hands. Leaned my elbows into my knees. She’d mentioned this the last time. Group. Dream journals.

It would have been the same thing, over and over. I had the answers to the test already. Crisis response. Behavior journals. Survival kit. She wouldn’t have known my name if it wasn’t written on my chest.

It was Jesus 101. The same things I endured as a kid.

Secure a commitment. Observe behavior. Instill guilt. Build belief.

Behavior modification.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

The same psychology worked on groups. Gustav Le Bon. Turn an idea into a belief. Create action. Cause revolution. Or evolution . . . Progressive social change through modified belief systems.

“I’m not interested.”

“You’re not interested in group?”

“I’m not interested in listening to some supply clerk bitching about his CO. Or that one time when a 107 hit KAF and he saw Jesus.”

She scribbled on her pad again. I had run out of prompts. There was nothing left for me to tell her. I sat, hands on knees, looking at her with the same circumspect glare I gave highway cops and the DMV.

The silence was palpable.

“You’re so angry . . . “

I stared directly at her. Dragged the moment out. I prompted her by cocking my head and raising my eyebrows at her.

“I mean, I guess . . . I’m . . . What happened to make . . . I mean, you are too young to be so jaded.”

The world is a hard place to be. No one cares about your pain. Only you do.

The gunshot refrain. Memories of Georgia. Pre-Afghanistan. My instructors all recently returned vets. Each of them wearing the weight of the world. Dead friends. Broken families.

It wasn’t about the things that happened downrange. A man could rationalize the unimaginable in Afghanistan. That was a place outside of time. There was nothing sane or rational about war.

What was irrational, unbearable, was the way they treated their bravest Sons at home. It was garrison. Twelve. Sixteen hour days filled with two hours’ work and a lot of waiting for permission to leave.

Watching Soldiers who were unflinching in the face of a gun become restless. Bored. Watching them disintegrate.

Cutting grass and painting rocks.

 . . . And suddenly the men who had been good enough in wartime – who’d come in as nothing more than a fresh pair of legs to lose – were hard men. Real hitters. But they were not what the Army wanted now.

I felt like I was explaining hard sex to a virgin. She scribbled notes and talked about ‘techniques’. I didn’t even bother with safe words anymore.

“I have to go.”

I didn’t shut the door behind me.