Friday, December 28, 2007

The Pieces

2008 approaches, preceded by a deep sense of foreboding, and I don't think I'm alone. Not totally, at least. Like an impending storm that you feel before you see, it approaches, and hosts of tiny voices deep inside your cells begin warning you that unless you find some shelter you're going to be inconvenienced in a very big way. Sliding down the slope towards the Sarlac (look honey, a Star Wars nerd trying to write! Thats cute....) with little to hold onto but sand.

That's really just a poor way of describing in a short paragraph how I feel about the geopolitics of it all. Another several posts for another several days--I'd rather refrain from politics or anything "geo" for now. I only mention it to bring up how this particular aspect of the current foreboding (can I shorten that? Maybe with a capital Forbode and magically turn it into a noun. The Forbode.) has a strictly external quality. It hovers in the outer periphery. There is another quality to it, though, as well. It's more internal, as though something is hovering underneath you and is ready to rise. Any walls you try and erect around yourself won't matter in the least, and any methods of intervention you try and stage will be for naught.


About four months after arriving at my first base, we received the news that we were deploying. As soon as I heard it, I didn't want to go. Not because unfamiliar places suddenly seemed utterly frightening, that part of the deal was worth looking forward to. There was the sudden feeling that something was going to happen and that Saudi Arabia wasn't going to be a very good place to be when it did. Naturally, walking up to my bosses and informing them of this "feeling" wasn't going to change a thing, so off I went.

Four weeks or so passed and everyone had, for the most part, adjusted. Taking a dump so close to another person, and by close I mean separated by only 6 inches of partition cloth, no longer seemed quite as strange. Who knew that forgetting what it was like to be cool, or clean, or alone, would become so normal, or that it would happen so quickly? That you would swear Fanta came directly from a divine bosom, or that a girl you might have previously described as "hammertime" is now "kinda hot"? Ah, the strange and disconcerting qualities of human adaptation (and desert queens)....

As I barreled from my tent to walk the 200 yards to the toilet, I ran into the First Sergeant who was closing in with a very businesslike look on his face. He abruptly got my attention, and after confirming that I was the guy he was looking for, told me I needed to get to a phone. My grandmother had died. He then proceeded to ensure that I wasn't harboring any illusions. No, I could not go back for the funeral. That sort of thing is only for direct family, and a grandparent doesn't fall into that category.

I knew it. I knew I had known it.

Again, it's not like I could have stayed behind and I knew that, but it was upsetting to know that I hadn't (or was it, couldn't?) recognized it. It was only in that moment that it dawned on me that the feeling was no different than the one I carried with me as I left for tech school. At the time, I simply thought the sense of foreboding was the knowledge that I was going to get dumped by the girl with whom I was (at the time) madly in love. I didn't want it to happen, knew it would, and eventually it did. However, during the same period, my grandfather died. I could remember wondering at the time if this foreboding had to do with both things or just one, and if it was just one of them, which one? Standing in the desert in front of the FS in the white hot sun of the early afternoon, I had my answer.

Another piece of who I was up to that point had fallen away, and all I could do was look. My grandfather was a large piece, and grandmother was a still larger one. I had much to look at.


Last night I was speaking to my father on the phone when the feeling returned. He was relating a few stories about when I was very young, a ritual to be expected with a new child joining the ranks. Indeed, how else will the common folk be able to determine what traits made it through the gene lottery? It was on the tail end of a story about me leaving a load all down the hallway that it returned, strong enough to momentarily cause a loss in my train of thought.

This is not a prediction that my father will die this year, although it's hard not to at least fleetingly think such things based on the past and the fact that my diabetic father is gorging himself in that direction as fast as he can go.* It is largely useless to try and specifically determine such things.

*And no, this sentence is not revealing as to the source of the foreboding or some subtle way of saying that I'm scared of losing my father and am not sure how to deal with it. Just so we're clear.

I've heard and read a lot of people who, when speaking of loss, describe an emptiness left behind. If anyone had asked at the time my grandfather or grandmother fell away from my life, I very well may have said the same thing, but I think I would have been wrong. When such a piece falls away, we are so focused on it lying there that it is assumed that only emptiness remains. It is not. It is you, who you are, left bare, without the protective and supportive shell that once was. Many times it is petrifying and largely incomprehensible.

Something inside me says that I'm about to see more of myself. All I can do is look. It is all I need to do because when I look, I understand, and that makes the falling pieces more of the revealing they are supposed to be rather than the dissembling they seem to be.