A surreal moment. We’d moved out of Zharay and relocated to Spin Boldak. It was a relatively quiet AO at the time, but tense. My platoon was tasked with the downtown sector, down to the AfPak border. My boys got parted out between a few different missions, which included being down at the border crossing.
We ran a “ghost crew” mission – minimal manning – to the strongpoint. Supply drop. It was a milk run mission. We dropped ramp and I never even got out of the Stryker.
The combination of smells triggered an old memory as I stood up out of the hatch. In an uncharacteristic moment, I wasn’t wired hot and paying attention to my surroundings.
The result was strangely ironic . . . and bittersweet.
The cool night air was choked with dust. It filmed over my eye-pro, drawing the shape of the lenses on my cheeks. My driver aimed us for the Entry Control Point and I chambered a round. I stared at the tail-lights of the lead truck in a daze. We rolled down the empty highway with music blasting over the intercom.
“I’m gonna school you boys,” I deadpanned. “This is ‘Black Sabbath’. From the album ‘Black Sabbath’. By . . . Black Sabbath.”
My driver and gunner laughed simultaneously in my earpiece. They’re just kids. Early twenties, at best. When I mention Sabbath I may as well be talking about Charles Mingus. Even if they’ve heard the name, they’ve never listened to the music. I can barely wrap my head around it. I grew up with Zeppelin and Sabbath on vinyl.
” . . . You fuckers and your God damned Katy Perry and your bubble-gum pop. It’s like sitting in a fag bar with no booze.”
They were still laughing.
“Your generation is fucked . . .”
It was one thing we all agreed upon.
Listening to my Joes talk, most of them are generations deep in the military. More often than not, their father wasn’t around. Or he was an abusive piece of shit. Sometimes all of the above. It goes hand in hand. The infantry is full of cast-offs. Kids who never fit in anywhere else, with nothing left to lose. Sometimes they just want to do something real.
Some have nowhere else to go.
The air in the market place stank of burning plastic and rot. Rotting food. Rotting meat. In the daylight, skinned dogs swing in the open. We passed a late-night hajj hangout. The man-dress mafia hung out in open doorways, They eyed our trucks warily as we passed, heavy weapons turning slowly in their turrets.
We left the market and it went dark. Just an open stretch of highway. The death smell was replaced by diesel fumes from the truck. Diesel and the residual penetrating oil soaked into my gloves.
It smelled like something old . . .
When I was little, my old man would take me with him to work to pick up his check. The dispatch office always smelled of diesel and petro-chemicals and pumice soap. If I was lucky, I would be given a handful of change to run into the break room. It was unlit, except from the outside. It smelled of strong coffee from the lousy machine in the corner. I dropped my change into the snack machine, punched the numbers, and waited for whatever sugary goodness I had ordered to fall off the screw.
He took me on a run once, during a week-long break from school. We left late at night. In the crawling hours. I rode shotgun as he spooled up the Peterbilt. I brought my bootleg copy of Master of Puppets. The old man hated heavy metal. He let me play it anyway, as a concession to our “bonding” experience. Five days in the passenger seat, watching him hammer down coffee and row through the gears. We drove through parts of upstate that may as well have been Canada, and all the way back down into the worst parts of north Jersey.
He was different at work. I didn’t recognize him without the constant shouting. The last time I saw him was right before deployment. It was the first time in over a decade. I hadn’t recognized him then either. Where had these memories come from?
I was jarred from my hallucination when a rock struck me in the face. It glanced off my eye-pro and fell harmlessly on the ground. The little boy who threw it disappeared into an alley.