by Cleo DeLoner
If I could turn back time to 12, January, 1993, the day I deployed to Somalia… the last time I saw myself…
In preparation for my first deployment, I took the time to say goodbye to myself.
I gathered some small boxes. Each one had a label.
Upon my return I would be able to open each box and take what I needed of that which I would lose.
The box of Hope contained…
A paper clip…representing that hope could hold everything back together.
An empty water bottle…representing the emptiness I will feel, knowing that it could be refilled as many times as I wanted with anything I wanted.
A lighter…representing the eternal flame of the human spirit
The box of Dreams contained…
A picture of a sunrise…reminding me that every day is a new chance at life. An opportunity that many of my brothers and sisters would no longer have.
A picture of a sunset…reminding that if I choose not to live, the light will eventually go away, leaving me in darkness
The box of Smiles contained…
Many pictures of me and my loved ones. Everyone smiling. On the back of each photo, a description of the captured moment.
The box of Laughter contained…
Old recordings of my favorite comedians.
The box of Compassion contained…
A broken egg shell. To remind me when I touched it, how fragile the human heart and soul are, that they need to be treated with sensitivity and understanding. How fragile life is, and how it can be crushed in a moment.
The box of Faith contained…
The Holy Bible and a wooden cross.
The words of my Lord that will guide me through my life.
The cross where Jesus gave his life for me, like my brothers and sisters gave their life for me, and our country.
I then began a physical inventory.
I looked down at my feet that filled my boots. Crisp, clean desert boots.
I thought of the final steps I would take on American soil. The steps I would have to take in defense of my brothers and sisters. The steps I would have to take in defense of the innocent and the steps to defend my nation.
I observed my knees.
I hoped they were calloused enough after the many times I was on them in prayer. Wondering how many times war would bring me to my knees in fear, in sadness, in sorrow, in pain, and in guilt. Would I have the strength to rise again to my feet? The ones that now wore dusty boots?
I studied my hands.
I envisioned them gripping my weapon tightly. The power they would soon hold to end a life, to save a life. Would they tremble when the time came to pull the trigger? Or would that come afterwards? How many times will they be stained with the blood of my enemy, my comrades, my own? Would they hold my face at the end of a mission, catching my tears? Would they clench in fists of anger?
I looked at my chest, that caged my heart.
I wondered if my chest could keep it contained while facing the enemy. Or would it beat so fast in the midst of chaos, that it would leap from my body? Would it still have the capacity to hold all the things in those boxes when I return? Or would it become so hardened and scarred that it could only hold rage?
I walked to a mirror and stared at my reflection.
I looked at my ears.
I wondered if I would be able to handle hearing the God awful screams of anguish, the deafening explosions, the sound of bullets. When I return, will music sound the same? What about the cries of a baby, the laughter of a child? The voices of my loved ones. Or will any sound I hear only bring irritation, overrun by the sounds of battle?
I focused on my nose.
Knowing I would get familiar with the smell of gun powder, the stench of blood, rotting bodies…DEATH! The strong aroma of sweat after days on end with no shower going from mission to mission. Fear. Would I experience the smell of fear? The fear of my enemy if I got close enough. The fear that I might emit?
I looked at my mouth.
Savoring the flavors of my last home cooked meal and already looking forward to my first home cooked meal upon returning. Knowing that I would eat many field rations. Would food ever taste the same again? Would it taste better? Would I even care?
I knew my mouth would scream out my battle cry. Would it hunger for blood? Would I then taste blood? Would I know what fear tastes like? Would the God awful scream I hear come from my own mouth? Would I ever be able to speak words of love after war, or just words of pain?
It was time now to look myself square in the eyes.
They were filled with wonder and curiosity, but as I looked deeper, I saw a speck of fear from the uncertainties I would witness.
Mangled bodies that had been shot, blown up and burned was in the future of my minds eye. The atrocities that mankind are capable of inflicting on each other was something I was about to be exposed to.
Will these eyes ever bring sleep again, or will they just see the images of war every time they close? Will they ever be able to see innocence afterward? Or will they only see evil, and look at every person they meet with suspicion? Will they ever again hold that spark of life, or will they be dead like the darkness of battle?
I looked at my head, where my mind lives.
I knew it would be tragically altered during this deployment. How long can it last in battle before it breaks? Will it contain horrific secret thoughts that can never be spoken of? Will it be able to wrap itself around the things I will witness and do? Will it even remember anything? What will it convince me of as I sit alone with my thoughts after a mission? Will it transport me back home where the chaos of battle is absent? Or will it embrace the chaos and feed me strength?
I was now done.
As I took a final look, I wondered, if I would recognize myself when I saw my reflection after returning home.
I smiled one last smile, looked deep into my own eyes, whispered goodbye to myself.
And then I went to war.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on October 19, 2015.