One Veteran to Another: Goodbye to You
by Leonard Benton
I have to tell you it is getting hard to be your friend. Every time I turn around you are killing yourselves. I have reached out to you with both hands when I had nothing to hold myself up just to hold you for one more day and you won’t take my hand. I don’t know what more I can do or how much more I can give.
Do you realize how hard it is to keep surviving everything life throws at you when you, my friend, are throwing pain at me like freight trains? Do you know how many of your funerals I have been too? Do you realize that you never leave? I hear your ghosts all around me, haunting me, punishing me for still being alive.
I have been there my friend. I have drunk until I could not stand. I have caressed my pistol and tasted the steel. I have driven like a formula one racer taking every risk imaginable because I hoped, prayed, that I would lose it and finally die.
I went to war to die and that did not work either. I suck at dying I guess.
But living is starting to suck again too brothers and sisters and I have only you to blame. You are going to read this and make it my fault. You always do. I tell you to call me if it gets dark and you don’t. I will not feel guilty because I could not spend 24 hours a day with you. Life still has to happen and you will not bring me to my damn knees because I tried to live while you were deciding to die.
I will not give you that. I may give you my life, but I will not carry your guilt. Damn you. I will not suffer just because you were. I have pain enough of my own.
How many times do I have to get a call telling me you are gone? How many of you will leave me till I am alone?
I love you brothers and sisters, even those of you who are assholes are my friends when you are in need, but damn it! If you will not reach to me, I will not feel guilty for lacking the omniscience to check at the right time, right place, right moment, to bring you back from the brink.
I don’t know what else to do for you. So I am saying goodbye now. This way I will have closure. I don’t want your damn note to leave me unanswered questions. I don’t want to ask your casket why. I am saying goodbye now and if you feel like talking to me you will and if you don’t, well at least I got to say goodbye this time. I am going to be selfish for a change.
It will suck tomorrow because that six-pack will always have an extra. The backyard grill will lack the person who knows why there are eight buns in the bag. I will not hear a funny joke again said in a stupid accent. Because the person that made those things memorable…YOU…will be gone.
You will hide behind a façade that finally collapses inward and you will feel shame the size of Everest and you will not reach out to me, you will reach to a bottle, to a gun, to pills, and I will get another damn phone call telling me you are gone.
I should buy stock in a casket maker.
I will be by later to pick up the stuff I know you would want me to have. Because all that junk is easier to load when you can help. It is the least you can do for me. And we can stop by Goodwill and you can help me remember if there is something you want me to keep or if I can get rid of it. Maybe wipe away a tear as I remember and desperately want to forget.
I am getting a notebook and I want you to write your suicide note and I will read it and then by God you will answer the questions you leave. I am tired of wondering why. I am tired of looking at mothers in the eyes and not knowing and getting blamed because I don’t. I don’t know if I can look in the mirror one more time and wonder what I could have done differently so if you were ever my friend, you will absolve me of your death.
You will answer before you go so we know instead of fall into the sickening trap of worry and disgust and pain. And guilt. Dear friend if you loved me at all stop making me feel guilty. I tried. I tried. I tried.
I cannot bring the dead back to life. I got asked that once. I was asked to fix it. To bring you back and make it better and I had to look my friend in the eyes and admit that I could not fix this and I have never felt so useless and such a failure. Imagine, if I could just bring you back to life, I would have not failed. Then your note, that one I have memorized, to me, I, had failed you. By name. Thanks.
I raged at God for answers that you could not give me. I don’t know if you wanted to give me that much pain or you were in such pain you did not know what you were saying. Either way, God did not trade me for you. I could not fix it. I just had to live with it.
I will do my best to explain to your children why I am crying. I will try and make them understand as gently as I can why you will not be there to make their cereal on Saturday. I will watch over them as best I can. There are so many little ones who will grow up without you now. I cannot wrap them all in my arms anymore. My arms are not long enough.
So, goodbye my friend. If you don’t mind, give me a heads up so I know when to be near your mom. It helps when someone is close by for news like that. Do her a favor if you won’t do me one. I will tell someone else to be near work to tell your spouse. You know, the one that is going to have like a planet full of guilt because even their love could not save you.
I guess that is all. Don’t forget the game later. I will see you, if you are there to be seen. But I guess I will see you anyway.
I see all of your ghosts just behind my eyes.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal May 19, 2019.
Leonard O. Benton is retired from active duty military service with 24 years and two combat deployments to Iraq. He left the Regular Army after 10 years and became a National Guard Recruiter for his first tour in the AGR program followed by over 10 years in Operations as Force Protection, CBRN and three years as C-IED. He has an Associates degree and is currently working on his Bachelor’s. He is an amateur metal smith and when he is not working or writing he can often be found in his shop pounding away in the attempt to transform a lump of metal into an icon of beauty or function.
His years of operational planning, threat analysis, and a deeply cynical view of our imperfect world leads him to focus on world events and cultural beliefs that tend to cause the most friction and chaos in the world around us. He is a libertarian and he believes in personal freedoms and accountability. The Havok Journal gave him an outlet to express the things he sees wrong in the world and the opportunity to once again provide advice on how to fix it. Leonard can be contacted a firstname.lastname@example.org.
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