Happy Hollowdays

...I walk into the next room, squeezing my eyes shut for a second, trying to clear my vision. I'm not even sweating that badly. But I keep losing my balance.

I take another step and my shoulder slides against the wall and it's like I'm moving through quicksand. Have I been drugged?

I step on a weak spot and the floorboards give in (floor boards? Where am I?). I crash through the floor and land hard on an emergency escape ladder. And here I am in an inner-city mix, part American, part Iraqi. There's trash everywhere but there's air conditioners in the windows and brick buildings but all the interiors are like wooden shanties.

I can't stand back up. I'm not even hurt, but I can't even stand up. Everything is moving in super slow motion, everything is a smeared visual blur.

"Get the fuck up, man, Christ..."

So this pal of mine grabs my wrist and yanks me up. I fall back through a doorway and knock some woman's TV stand over. I'm on the ground again, and just outside the door I fell into, shit hits the fan, RIGHT OUT THERE but it's sounds washed out, a million miles away. It's like everything is underwater, without the water.

The chaos outside intensifies as my debilitation continues to creep over me. I roll onto my side and drag my rifle to the ready, and it weighs a hundred pounds.

And the charging handle is missing.

"Suspect? Time to get up! Merry Christmas! Santa came!"

My friend dives on me. Up to that point I was able to hide my waking state. Then the skinny fucker impacts on me and his knee comes dangerously close to smashing my balls.

"Gotta be ready in a half hour," he says.

Fuck it.

I rub my eyes and stare blankly at my walled off little cubicle of a living space. Don the uniform, throw on the battle gear, walk to the truck. Routine. Just another day, right?

The truck blows down the road and the wind whips our faces, those of us standing out of the hatches. I rest a hand on the 240Bravo while I watch the cars skim by. I briefly wonder what each person is thinking. I make sure no one comes too close to the end of our convoy. I take a picture.

We return from our initial stop and stand by. Christmas is to be held at our outpost. Sitting in the truck, pissing away the minutes, I listen to the radio traffic.

Bad shit, possible bad shit, and violence against civilians. Merry Christmas.

We pull into the outpost and everyone is there, and everyone is in great spirits. They're throwing footballs around and we drop off a feast and everyone digs in. I didn't bother.

Everyone is making the best of it and being positive, and I wander aimlessly around the sea of gravel wishing I didn't have to be part of it. I have no interest in making the best of it. I want to miss it and not even realize it was there. That whole plan, about not acknowledging the holidays this year? It doesn't work when it's shoved into your face.

So I bullshit with a few people, impatiently wander, trying to kill the time. I'm not even feeling sorry for myself. This isn't a pity party. It's just a sleight against a family tradition that I kept for 21 years.

No, I'm not going to eat your food.
No, I'm not going to gather in the festivities.

Don't get me wrong, they did a good job making do. It just wasn't for me.

I climbed into my truck and zoned out, thought about the people I SHOULD be with. I wasn't angry, I wasn't depressed. I was just there, and I was just waiting the festivity out. Because these guys definitely deserve it. I just chose to participate as less as possible. I'll celebrate MINE when I get home.

There's egg nog in my glass and I've probably drank a quart of it already, but who gives a shit? We're devouring turkey and everyone's talking, the TV is on for the kids in the living room, the house is completely packed with family and friends. The card games come next. It all goes on late into the night and some come and some go and finally the night ends and I stay up, and my little brother kicks my ass at Madden. Defeated, I too go to bed.

The younger ones wake everyone up at some ungodly hour ready to tear presents open. Everyone throws on sweatpants and the nearest shirt or a robe, anything, and they slowly coalesce into the living room. Our eyes are all puffy and half closed and our vocal cords still haven't stretched out enough to talk in anything more than guttural mumbles but the kids are alive and clawing through paper and spazzing out and the parents are smiling through their morning haze. Cameras flash and the carpet becomes covered with wrapping paper.

They watch me open mine, and they seem a little unsure since I never ask for anything, they never know what to get. But I open it up for the cameras and I'm completely satisfied each time.

They could wrap up empty boxes and I'd still be happy as a pig in shit because I'm at home.


  1. Anonymous said...
    You'll be home soon. The boys left for FL this am, so I'm waiting out the day myself. Tell ya what, I'll make an apple-tini in your honor. Turn on "Christmas Story" and take a drink every time he mention's Red Rider Bolt Action Carbine. Two drinks for "fra-gee-lay" and "you'll shoot your eye out!" The day you come home will be Christmas, your birthday, Easter, and every other excuse for giving you a present. Hell, we'll even throw you a bar-mitzvah! (SHould be interesting- a jewish festivity hosted by Lutherans! HAAA) Merry Christmas.
    Aunt Sandy
    WmEarl said...
    I had trouble telling my eighty year old mother why my thirty year old son somewhere in the Pacific wasn't really having Christmas, but you understand - we get spoiled and when you take away those we love it will never be the same. Hang loose, good to remember the best of times from before and plan (gently) the ones to come when you return to Earth. God loves us and then has to shake his head at what fools we are. Take care out there in Limbo.
    Anonymous said...
    This is some excellent writing. It has relevance beyond your situation. Take care, and good luck!
    Anonymous said...
    Anonymous said...
    I will be checking back with you. Your work is quality, quality. It broke my heart. Aside from the fact that you give a vivid, almost tangible description of the sandbox, my girl left to go back on Christmas Eve, so it hits home knowing what she's headed back to. I know what it is to want to pretend it's not happening and wait 'til next year. I will have a drink for you as soon as I can get may ass away from the newspaper I work at and hit the bar... merry freakin' Christmas and happy December 25.
    best. -c
    Anonymous said...
    Ryan, I thought about you as soon as I got up this morning. As you described, the kids were throwing paper around and on the radio they started doing the soldier send outs. You know, where they mention the name of some relative overseas or some soldier says hello to they're family. All day I couldn't help but think about it. Its never been this way before for me. I never paid a lot of attention to it. Bu this year I thought of you and then everyone else over there. Knowing that my next Christmas could be spent in a desert away from my family made it more real. I was actually choked up when the radio thing was on. Thank you suspect, thank you. Thank you for having the testicular fortitude to be there and go all in with the hand you are being dealt. Hopefully next Christmas is better for you than any that came before it. Rock steady soldier.
    Jessie said...
    Hey kiddo. I know you're not celebrating it (er, did since it's waaay past the 2am here), but I still hope you have a merry one when you *do* get home and can see your family. It might be a little late, but hey, what's so great celebrating the major holidays when you can make your own up on random days? Make it School's Out or something.

    Take care, yeah? I don't mean physically, but just take care of yourself. I'd send you the portable DVD player I got, but uh, I don't think you'd appreciate the Barbie pink. *grins*
    Strykeraunt said...
    I know from experience that it sucks on this end of the world too when a family member is deployed. However, the Christmases will be extra special (they still are for me) If my math is correct, your on the downhill now. Take up Aunt Sandy's offer. We did exactly the same thing when my nephew's came home and it was a blast. Never thought of including the bar-mitzvah too (Darn!!)
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    Jenni said...
    Christmas wasn't bad this year, but it wasn't the same without you. In our family Christmas was never about religious rituals, but about being together...and just so you know, your absence was always felt. But I kept thinking of last year, and how much fun it was, and next year will be even better. I took having you home for granted. But now I kinda miss you. Kinda. But like everyone keeps saying, you're on the downslide now, and we can't wait for the inevitable chaos that will come when you get home.

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