Friday, August 05, 2005

Brief Uncertainty

During bad or uncertain times, time itself doesn’t stand still or slow down, it’s more like it spreads out, like each minute has its own personality and some of those personalities really want you to get to know them. That happened with me today, probably with a few of us.

We were out in the city, the filth evident in the open sewage flowing into the streets, creating small puddles and ponds of shit water. Trash, wet decaying trash, with vehicle parts thrown in, form little islands in these puddles. It’s not uncommon to see dogs, cats, and even cattle feasting on these piles of filth and lapping up the black liquid surrounding them. It was just another hot day in the cradle of this uncivilized world. A couple of trucks full of Iraqi soldiers were with us as well, putting a local face on this global war. We'd been out about three hours with no contact, a somewhat noteworthy achievement given the experiences of the past week or so.

After sitting in one place for a while, letting the IA soldiers search the area and pass out some leaflets, we began to move again. The humvee I was gunning in brought up the rear, with me facing our six, looking back over the area from which we came. I was busy moving around in my seat, looking left and right and to our rear, smelling the black shit water and trash, scanning windows and rooftops, trying to consume as much water as the amount that was quickly leaving my body, and BOOM!

The sound of the explosion doesn’t affect me so much as the thought of what produced it. It was another IED, and a cloud of smoke and dust began rising over some buildings around the corner.

I immediately realized that some of our humvees were around that corner, the same corner from which the smoke cloud now floated over like some evil spirit. That's when time started spreading out, forcing me to come to know it intimately. I needed a ticket for the train that would take me to the next station, the next minute, to get back to the present that was leaving me behind. The radio became my ticket.

"Red 3, this is Red 4 over" "This is Red 3" "Is everyone okay?" Short pause, "Roger, it was in front of us, over" I knew there was another humvee in front of Red 3. Our platoon sergeant called over the radio again, "Red 2, this is Red 4, is everyone okay?" Silence. I've now stopped chewing my gum. Silence. Silence. "Red 2, this is Red 4, is everyone okay?" Silence. I do a mental list of who all was in that humvee. Sgt. B, Ray, Farrell, Rob, and Hogan. Ray is going home on leave soon to see his wife. They’re going on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean. Silence. Before we left, Rob and I were acting like we were getting pumped up by the loud music coming from someone’s computer. It was ACDC, and everyone in our room was mockingly throwing fists in the air like we were about to run out onto the field before the biggest game of our life. Someone joked that the terrorists were probably listening to some music as well, preparing themselves to meet us on the battlefield. Silence. This minute is spreading thin. I borrowed a movie from Hogan the other day and need to return it. Silence. Farrell couldn’t stop smiling the other day after getting a letter from a girl back home. Silence. Sgt. B has a son that looks just like him.

I'm now looking down at the radio as if looking at it will make them answer. Answer the damn radio. Out of the corner of my eye I can see little beads of sweat running down the cheek of Sgt. P. "Red 2, this is Red 4, is everyone okay?" Still staring at the radio, the run down, slum-like buildings, trash, car parts, car frames, cats, dogs, goats, people, shit smell, sewage puddles, heat, and the sun no longer exist, only this green radio that looks like a brick.

In his high pitched, one of a kind, can only be Sgt. B voice, Sgt. B brings the little brick to life. "This is Red 2, roger, we're fine, the IA truck took most of the blast!" My train has safely reached the next station and I’m reunited with the present. I turn away from the radio and continue looking back to our rear, my mouth again chewing the spearmint gum. I became aware of the hot sun, the shit smell, and the feasting felines lapping up sewage water.

The radio speaks again, but I barely hear it, something about a medevac for some of the IA soldiers. I later felt bad for my relief in knowing that it wasn't any of our guys that got hurt. It's not that I don't care about the Iraqi soldiers, I do, but they aren't family. Three or four of them got loaded on the back of the meat wagon, and our humvee and another escorted them back to our outpost. Able to stand up now that we were back in a safe area, with no threat of snipers, I could see the wounded getting out of the back of the truck. The most serious, the one with a bandage over his head, got off the truck without any help and walked inside with the others. All of them are walking wounded, and I again feel relieved, just not as relieved as I did before. The fact that no one was seriously injured is no mystery to me. I attribute it to God’s presence and protection, even on these shitty streets.