June 7, 2013

Rain

It's been raining all day. It still is when I finally go to bed. My wife loves the sound of rain. Says it soothes her as she tries to get to sleep. Me, not so much. I tend to worry about what damage the water might be doing from leaks or flooding. Then there's the whole monsoon thing, long stretches of heavy rain, hour after hour, day after day.

I lie in bed trying to get to sleep. The steady drum beat of rain on the roof rattles around in my head, a loose cannon banging into neurons, triggering random associations. The musty smell of canvas from the tent I slept in for a year creeps out from my brain and into my nostrils. For some reason I flash on Doc, the company medic. Yes, we called him Doc. Among other things, he dispensed amphetamines to keep us awake at night when we had guard duty. You'd be out there at 3:30 in the morning, eyes open and senses alert in an unnatural sort of wakefulness, things that aren't there catching the corner of your eye under a full moon that bathes the landscape in a false light.

During the rainy season we all got fungi. Doc treated them with some sort of dilute acid. Yeah, that burned. They don't really go away, though. They just blend in with the crowd of parasites and bacteria inside us and make themselves right at home. A few years later, they let you know they smuggled a ride home. Surprise! Like when they tell you not to give blood for several years because you might have malaria floating around in your bloodstream.

I get out of bed and go downstairs, trying to break the rhythm of my thoughts, but the past isn't done with me yet. Memories are a lot like malaria. They lie dormant for months or years, then all of a sudden you are running a fever. Hard to say what triggers it. Maybe it's because I borrowed this book from the library today, a collection of short stories written by vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War. I was too tired to read it tonight, but I'm anxious to get into it. I can tell from the titles of the stories that it will be familiar territory: Tips for a Smooth Transition, Play the Game, The New Me.

I've come to understand that no matter what you did, no matter what war you fought in, the worst of it doesn't come until you are back home and you realize that things have changed, that you have changed, that coming home isn't possible because the home you remember, the person who remembers it ... they are gone with the wind. Worse yet, you realize that the war followed you home, stuck inside your head. If you are lucky, like me, the roar recedes and you live a relatively normal life. If not, then the roar inside your head builds, like the rain pounding on a roof, drowning everything else out. The silent rain, the secret rain.

Back to bed. I toss and turn and doze on and off. I jump out of a dream and roll over to look at the clock. 12:08 a.m. A new day. A lyric from an Eagle's song emerges from the background music of the rain: It's another tequila sunrise, this old world still looks the same, another frame.

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