by The Buffalo Wrangler
The red light gleamed off the dash of my rusted F-150. It was a piece of shit, the blue paint had faded and the right tail light was out, but a new truck was far out of budget. A late-night trip to get a pack of smokes from the local mini-mart had become a daily routine and frankly was the only solace I found nowadays. It was midnight, and the radio clock turned to another calendar day. These days went by in a blur. Dragging days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months into mundane years.
It had been a decade since I put up the uniform. A whole fucking decade since I felt I’d had a purpose. A decade since my family guilted me into giving up what I knew and loved.
“If you stay in I’ll leave you.”
“You’re never home.”
“It’s us or the job.”
These words rang in my ears like the final screams of a dying child. These compromises my wife had given have always felt more like threats, and at the time, getting out felt like the only option. After the army, the next ten years had become a purposeless depression filled with non-attachment and gray space. The woman I married was not the one I lived with today. She was manipulative, hateful, and spent all the extra money I made on bullshit hobbies and pyramid schemes. The two kids took after their mother; greedy, fat, and never expressed an ounce of gratitude for what I gave to them.
I didn’t even want to give a thought about my job. A white-walled cubicle office filled with college snobs,
egotistical managers, and no one with outside life experience or work ethic. If only they knew I’d led young men into combat and had been the hand that killed the very evil they feared. I was older than the majority of my colleagues by a long shot, and it showed. Dark, perpetual purple bags around my eyes had formed, and my hairline had receded a good two and a half inches.
I missed my brothers. The late nights of drinking and fighting danced in my memory like a children’s film. I missed the crisp mountain air of the Hindu Kush. At the time, the firefights were too often and never-ending; yet, now the simple thought of gunfire made my skin crawl and brought a smile to my face. Most of all I missed being a team leader; the satisfaction of transforming a wide-eyed, clueless 18-year-old kid into a leather-skinned, cognitive warfighter was unmatched. Back in those days I
had a purpose, I had a home.
I looked at the red stop light before me. A decision had to be made. To turn left would be to return to my sullen, worthless life; my superficial house, superficial family. There was a tattered glock 19 that sat hidden in my sock drawer. It always had a round in the chamber. My wife tried to make me sell it, but I used the excuse that it was for home defense. That was bullshit. I kept it for personal use. I kept it
for when everything became too heavy to carry, kept it for when everything came crashing down. And I always kept that avenue in the back of my mind. Inner dialogue started to plague my mind.
“But don’t I have a moral obligation to care for my family?”
“Is that my duty?”
“Is that my curse?”
I don’t fucking know.
On the other end, to turn right was an ocean of uncertainty. On one hand, it could be a fresh beginning, a way to rebuild my shattered life, rebuild to a better life. Even more important it would give a chance to start healing from the past and maybe someday be proud of the man I see in the rearview mirror. On the contrary, it could be a deadly path. I would leave everything behind. The only thing I had was the clothes on my back, a fresh pack of cigarettes, and the war medals kept hidden in the center console.
This could be a plunge into a dark abyss with no solid ground in sight. I sat, my 37 years of life flashing before me like strobe lights at a Pearl Jam concert. The stoplight turned green. Taking another drag off of a Marlboro Red, I turned my blinker on.
The Buffalo Wrangler is a US Army combat veteran.
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.
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