As a child, I wrote them out for reasons I cannot explain. The words appeared on the paper as some sort of secret truth or feeling I, myself, could not know. The words were written by my own hands but their meaning was all but lost upon my young mind. I knew only that these words were significant and no one’s eyes could ever rest upon them. I watched as the flames engulfed them as if I were burning away the memory, thought, or feeling. I tried so hard to transfer them onto those pieces of paper, to remove them, to avoid what they meant, to destroy them so they would be forever lost. Yet, they trickle through my thoughts and feelings every day. They free themselves in these very writings and private conversations. They are the things I once sought to avoid, to destroy, but they were only locked away. The haunting lyrics of Mansion by NF explain it better than I ever could.
It took me a long time to realize this pursuit of destroying these words was futile. I was seeking to destroy the history that shaped my here and now. It was all the bad I wanted so desperately to bury, to avoid, to ignore. With each shovel of dirt, I buried myself, the weight of the dirt weighing pressing upon my chest as I gasped for air. What I found was this futile pursuit was destroying me. Not only was it destroying me; I was destroying others. What I found was that while my life experiences (childhood, military, and adult) were unique compared to the general public, they were far from novel. I found some solace in knowing this, in listening and reading the stories of others. I realized that while my worst experiences are worse than most people’s, they are far from the worst. It puts life in perspective. I have found solace and peace in the words of others and realized that to some people, my words and stories bring them the same. This is still something I struggle with.
It is hard for me to share my words. It always has. Especially my written words because they are there, black and white, to be critiqued, evaluated, interpreted, and, my greatest fear, used against me. That was why I once burned them. Why I once buried them. My choice to share them each and every time brings anxiety and debate. Despite this, I do share most of them. I read them over and over until my eyes are numb. I read not for grammatical errors (though I really should get better at this), but for content. I agonize over how every word, every sentence, used both in the overarching context or how pieces could be used as a weapon of my demise. I am always left with a series of dilemmas.
I have come to understand that my words do mean something to people. Some have described them as an intersection between those who understand and those who want to. Do I share these words to potentially help others combat feelings of isolation and help others understand, despite the great risk of personal destruction? Do I restrict personal risk by limiting what I share, betraying my self-created obligation of honesty? How can I admire the honesty that brought me solace and peace only to spit in its face when I might provide it to another? It is hard for me to share these words, all of them. It is not just the fear of their use against me. It is the fear my words actually mean something to others or that others might feel these same dark and haunting feelings. Having had these same tragic and chaotic experiences, someone might consider me more than the flawed human I am. I fear that my words might land upon an undeserving pedestal.
I share, in earnest honesty, so that I might help others strip away the feelings of isolation that can consume and conquer our lives. I share so that someone wanting to understand might get just a glimmer of insight. I share, in earnest honesty, so that my flaws, my struggles, and my experiences do not become a painting of undeserved glory. I share because I want others to understand the complexities of life, of war, of law enforcement, of it all. I want others to know that in single moments of time, you can find both good and evil, beauty and ugliness, life and death. I share for these reasons, in earnest honesty, despite that their existence is beyond my control–and my greatest fear.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.