The Purgatorium

A routine trip to the motor pool, only supposed to last an hour or so ("Should be a quick fix, no biggie.") becomes an all day event when you find out that this truck you're driving is scheduled for full servicing.

Why not? Gotta do it sometime.

Or maybe it wasn't the truck. Maybe it was the patrol, or the police call, or the tower guard, or it was any number of menial tasks and numb moments, whatever it was, maybe you found yourself in a situation like this:

You light that cigarette, you know, the one you're going to give up when you go home, but for now there's no reason to. Take a drag, and you look at nothing. You can even turn around to do this. Drop your hand to your side and exhale. Your eyes scan your surroundings. It's all tan and barren and you've seen it a million times before. And there are the same people you see every day.

One is pissed off, likely about some task they have to do. A couple more are smoking and joking. But everyone's doing the same thing: ignoring the magnitude, the realization of exactly where we are and what we're doing.

That's right. That's you standing on a sea of gravel (keeps that moon dust down, y'know) looking at barriers and baskets filled with dirt. CONEX sheds and MILVAN containers, villages of CHUs (those little trailers MOST soldiers in Iraq live in....not your tent). A humvee rolls by and it doesn't mean anything.

That guy's bringing back a to-go plate from the chow hall. This guy's going to the gym. The phones. The internet cafe. This one's going to watch a movie. They're all going to ignore the open panorama that whispers thunderously loud "iiiiirrrraaaaaaaaq".

You choose not to see the palm trees on the side of the broken road as you roll out the gate. The kids jump up and down and demand soccer balls. The women make bread. The men stand in their gates and talk to each other. Groups congregate in front of shops. They all slide past you. You in your air guard hatch, in your multimilliondollar Stryker.

You in your $17,000 worth of equipment on you. You in your burned-out-tastebuds ether-and-xanax stupor of indifference brought on by endless repetition. You who has no idea where the world is going. You who probably never thinks about it anyway.

You who woke up for another nameless day, kneel down and jerk your bootlaces to tie them. One of them comes out right in your hand.

You who look at it with a vague feeling almost resembling confusion.

You who tucks the remaining lace in your boot anyway.

You who never uses the phones because you hate how you can never find anything worthwhile to say and neither can they. We who ALL know that the phone can never compare to being with this person. The phone that can almost never prompt the random and hilarious conversations that spring up on fishing trips. At red lights. Over the third beer and second game of pool.

You who wishes you had a better way to comfort the people you miss, other than hoping that your own absence becomes routine. You who miss graduations and 18th birthdays and anniversaries and the birth of children (possibly even your own), your kid's first step or first word or first fistfight.

You who doesn't know how The Sopranos finally ended. You who doesn't know if the Buffalo Bills even call themselves a team anymore. You who with a grudge, hopes they don't. You who will also never forgive the Dallas Cowboys.

That bored Iraq winter sun starts to set and splatters pink and orange across the clouds and everyone is milling back and forth from the chow hall. Everyone is getting through another day. Most people aren't counting. Everyone's in limbo. Everyone seems fine. Maybe everyone is a little bit numb. Maybe everyone's a LOT of bit tired.

Maybe everyone only vaguely remembers what it's like to drive a normal car. To STOP at a red light. To think that careening over the median to get through traffic is an unspeakable act. To think less of that guy dumping your french fries in a box. To smell the sweet decaying funk of commercialism in a shopping mall.

So what is it that you're doing out here? It can't technically be called "shutting down". You aren't giving up, aren't even feeling sorry for yourself most of the time. You're still keeping your eyes open and watching your corner.

Maybe you're just hibernating for a bit. And maybe you're wondering how you're going to make the transition back from Suspect to Ryan. Or what it'll be like to never tell anyone about this place.

The sun is all the way down and here and there are the fireflies of cherry tip cigarette embers doing slow arcs upward, glowing bright, fading slightly, and dropping back down again. Gravel crunches under foot and tire. For most, the day is pretty much over and it's time to embrace that sweet nothingness for as many hours as your schedule and your mind will allow you. Because tomorrow, it all happens again.

And for the most part, this isn't bad. Life in the Purgatorium is usually devoid of strong emotion. Life in the Purgatorium is a sentence of time, a test of luck and personal fortitude. It's counting down days or cigarettes or bottles of gatorade. It's wading through the echoes of a media frenzied war. It's little surprises here and there, not always good, but usually things you get accustomed to.

Life in the Purgatorium is not thinking too much. That's why the bootleg DVD sales are so high. That's why the gym is so full. That's why the MWR is always in use. Life in the Purgatorium is distracting yourself so that you can continue your dream-state trek through things that make no sense.

life in the Purgatorium is only partially asking yourself what you got yourself into, and never trying to answer that question for yourself. Life in the Purgatorium is looking forward to the things you left behind, the simple little things. It's continuing to breathe and getting yourself through the lifeless day after lifeless day.

It's doing your time.

And everyone closes their eyes and everyone lingers in that stage just before sleep, and just before they nod off, all things considered, everyone is doing just fine.

And all the while, The Purgatorium patiently and methodically feeds all of these anemic pseudo-emotions. It's only time.


  1. Anonymous said...
    Thank you for doing your time in Purgatory... sacrificing...for us.
    Anonymous said...
    hi i'm toree and really new to blogging but i truly respect you and am thinking about going into the military myself. i'd really like to chat or to hear from you again. get back to me if you want when you can.
    chou and god bless,
    toree kelly
    LT Nixon said...
    I think you might find that once you get back to the states you will realize that it's somewhat of a vapid place...You look at people and question what is going through their mind as they perform the most mundane of tasks. I had that problem after my first deployment. Maybe the purgatorium isn't Iraq after all... Just a thought, take it for what it's worth. Great blog, keep it up.
    Anonymous said...
    Amazing post man...

    hooch said...
    Kick ass post man...loved it.
    Anonymous said...
    I think this is the best writing you've done in a while, maybe ever. I had to read it twice to make sure I was reading it and not actually sitting there with you watching the embers burn out.

    Anonymous said...
    Monotany and boredom never was your forte or your favorite thing, but those handful of months will pass however quickly or slowly, but they will (this you already know).

    The little things miss you at least as much as you miss them and are patiently awaiting your return.
    themorethingschange said...
    Gosh, the memories this post brought back...I still remember the one phone call from Vietnam and you're right about the effect...I was shocked, delighted, guarded--you don't want to sound worried, you don't want to sound flip, you don't want to ask the wrong questions or dumb questions (which seem to be the only ones that come to mind), you don't want to cry, and you keep forgetting to say "go ahead"--hope that part is history by now.
    When you rotate stateside you're going appreciate so many things you never paid attention to before and you may find yourself wondering why so many people sweat the small stuff...How often have we been told "with pain comes growth, and if we're lucky, wisdom"...seems to me you're already gathering in some of that wisdom. Proud to know you. ~P~
    Anonymous said...
    I'm sending you a copy of Ernest Hemingway's short stories. Pay close attention to "The Big Two-Hearted River" parts I and II. You definately bear the soul of a writer. Someone posted a while back that you reminded them of Hemingway. I think you are the evolution of him. you should write a book. Keep your head together and come home soon!
    Aunt Sandy
    themorethingschange... said...
    Your Aunt Sandy is right!

    You remind me so much of the "Hemingway Hero"
    Anonymous said...
    "Your Aunt Sandy is right!"

    God help us. :P

    ~Aunt Lynda
    Anonymous said...
    As I read this post (today is my first visit to your blog), I thought "this is an author...this is an AUTHOR!"...So, here's what I think (for what it's worth) - you already ARE writing a book.

    You are rare, and I feel honored to have been shown your blog. If you are shaking your head, thinking I might be exaggerating...you'll just have to trust me on this.


    Keep writing - and I rather suspect you will because maybe writing keeps you from going past hibernation and into shutting down...

    Thank you for whispering thunderously loud.

    wakingdaydreams said...
    I've got to stop reading your blogs at work; my coworkers wanted to know why I was crying....

    I know cookies, DVDs, Games, and care packages don't fill the void, but I'll still do my best to send something that can make you forget where you are-even if it's only for a minute.

    <3 Mandy
    themorehingschange said...

    Couldn't have said it better!

    membrain said...
    I know you're going to hate me for saying this but Merry Christmas to you anyway. So there!
    Infantry Dad said...
    Great post.
    My son was just home for his mid deployment leave.
    Now I know what he was trying to say.
    He's 4th Brigade 2-23rd. Mugdadiyah, or however the hell you spell it.
    Stay safe.
    We'll be in Wash. when you guys come home.
    There's going to be a party!!
    Mattato Head said...
    Wow! It takes some serious talent to make monotony in a hell hole like that sound so cool. You have a great way with expressing your thoughts, and the thought that people think in the backs of their minds but just can't articulate.

    Great writing, great work, stay well, and put me on the list of people who owe you a night of drunken debauchery.
    Anonymous said...
    very cool graphic at the top of your blog, man

    did you make it yourself?
    Strykeraunt said...
    It took me a long time to have a reasonable understanding about what its like without ever being there. I wish I could have read your post back in 2003/04 when both nephews were there.

    Your writing is always good but this was exceptional!! The background music really set the mood.

    Merry Christmas. Take care and stay safe.

    P.S. It raining, raining, raining in Washington. Oh what a surprise, huh?
    ToySoldier said...
    Wonderfully written and the conveyance of emotion (or lack of) is so true.

    See you around the tent for a smoke later.
    Bane said...
    Very, very nice work.
    Anonymous said...
    A strong supporter of the war and our 'cause... but nonetheless, one of the best articles I have ever read.

    Thank you.
    Anonymous said...
    I am a new reader so Im going backwards thru your blogs, this one stuck out, Yes Buffalo is still a team, Dallas still sucks and I miss my ranger to this day and probably understand now why he stopped communicating to me after reading your blogs. Thanks for doing what you do each day.


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