Tour of Duty

" Across the Sea "

(Casualties, part three)

I am a man.

I am a lonely man.

I am a man serving on his third tour of duty.

I am a man across the sea, far from The World, far from everything I know and love. Far from home. Far from reality. This, over here? This was the stuff of nightmares. How could it be real?

Then was it such a stretch to be thinking these thoughts? In a place without tethers, in a place without normalcy, were such thoughts out of the realm of...

Stop. Stop it. Just fucking stop it.

Why?

I ainít ... I ainít like that.

Say it then.

No.

Say it.

I ainít a fucking faggot, okay? Happy now?

Not really. Iím inside you, Anderson. Iím never happy.

Then shut up.

I canít.

Why am I awake? Why am I still staring at the door?

You donít have to be a faggot, Zeke.

Why do I want him back here?

You donít have to be something youíre not.

Why do I want his hand on my shoulder again? Fuck. Fuck this.

But donít lie to yourself.

Why not? Itís gotten me this far.

Yeah. Itís gotten you to the point where you canít sleep at night. Where you donít eat. Where you turn your hate of the war into hate for yourself. Where one guy risks his life for you and the way you repay him is by using him then kicking him out of your life.

Fuck you.

What are you afraid of?

Iím a man.

No youíre not. You havenít been a man since your second tour. You think youíre actually whole in this place? You think youíre actually a person in this place?

Iím a man with a wife and a daughter.

Ex-wife. And a daughter you never see.

The fuck difference does that make?

The difference is, theyíre all the way back in The World. Youíre here. Soís Percell.

I ainít a faggot.

And I ainít saying you have to be. But face facts, Zeke. You need something, and quick, or youíre going to lose yourself over here. That raid, that was almost the last straw. You hollowed. You went on life support. Kill, kill, kill and then try to live with who you are. Sure, youíre a man. Doesnít mean you donít hurt. Doesnít mean you donít deserve to feel.

Why the fuck why? Why the fuck Percell?

Fellow wounded make excellent companions. That look in your eyes? The one with nothing but concrete behind it? Itís in Percellís, too.

Oh God. Whatís happening to me?

Face what you need, Zeke. Face what you want. All the rest is just ghosts.

I want ... to touch him. I think that might be wrong.

Ghosts with no future.

I want his hand on my shoulder. God help me, I want him to touch my face.

Ghosts you might become. You and Percell. Ghosts that might be moving into the empty spaces where your souls used to be.

Iíd ask God to damn me if this war hadnít already.

God wonít damn you for living again.

I want to live again. I want to feel. I want to be alive.

Then go. Be alive. Be a man.

* * *

Zeke stood, his knees full of crushed ice and oatmeal. Was he crazy? Was this really happening?

He crossed the floor and put his hand on the door.

ďChrist. I want to be alive.Ē

He pushed the door open and stepped out into the sticky midnight heat.