We're back now. Back in the states.

Back to the booze. Back to the insanity of normal living. Fresh introduction to ridiculous gas prices. Great guys coming home to disastrous situations. The most unexpected, failed marriaged, and thankya very much Uncle Sam. Seeing as ol' Unc gives such a shit about fixing these quiet problems. Cheating wives. And who can blame who? Gone for over a year, what is a human being to do?

Just don't discredit the army, and everything is ok. Fuck you, Joe. Figure it out.

The Army cares about families. Really, it does. And that's why the happiest couples are in such an interesting state. That's why a married guy is crashing in the extra space in my room. Because we're all such heroes, we're all supported oh so much. But I guess refusing the dick is a bit much to ask from married women. I guess this is just our new culture. More money for the lawyers.

Here is your shiny happy future! Repetitive briefings filled with scare tactics, to the point where you don't even want to leave your room because it is a FACT that you will fuck up and the Army will destroy you. You're back, and "thank you" and all that, but really, hardly anyone truly cares. You're not in Iraq anymore, you're just another "vet" and yawn an' fuckoff kindly. Deny it all you want, but its the truth. The second day we were back, we went right back to not meaning shit to anyone except our mothers.

When I left, phones flipped open, but made sense. Now my phone has a keyboard and a touch screen. I should need a degree from MIT to run the bastard. You can't find a normal TV, they're all flat pannel HD spreadyercheeksandcoughupthecash crazy contraptions. Now I can see all the starlets blemishes in SUPER HIGH DEFINITION.

Sure, I catch myself scanning the freeway in high def, and the strangely shaped roofs. The shops and malls and hotels and godknowswhat. All to find even less.

"Oh, you're [Father]'s son, the one that just came back from Iraq?! How was it? Was it fun???"

I couldn't make this up if I tried. I've just been holding my tongue, being on my best behavior. That is, til I ended up at a friend's house, this friend being dead, and talking to his widowed wife, drinking wine and feeling awkward. Before I know it, I'm on the porch, hiding from everyone else, and the faucet is turned on, and I'm completely losing it, trying to find logic behind everything when I know that there is none. Trying to come to grips that one of the greatest people that I'll ever meet wasn't able to come home, and now I'm a guest in his wife's house. Oh you can bet I hung my head.

And then I went back to the Consumer Binge, namely in the mall. Sure, the Arabic fellow selling lotion didn't deserve the instinctive freak-out that I gave him, or the threats of bodily harm. He didn't deserve my desire to stomp the life out of him, but what business did he have being in my homeland, freedom aside?

Half the time, it's like I'm still There. The other half of the time, it's ALMOST like I had never actually left. Maybe just slept in. But now people are "proud" of me for doing whatever it is that I did.

I asked a Vietnam Vet a few questions. He said that it took him no time at all to readjust. Once again, we were the weird ones. Step outside and hear some other unit at the range unloading rounds, and for a second, it could be another firefight in Dourah, Baghdad. But no, it's not.

You're home now. You're no one again. All thanks aside, you're just a Joe. And no one here gives a shit. Most of 'em have done it, and the ones who haven't, well those newbie bastards are heading there sooner than soon. No ticker tape parade. Just a slideshow. Powerpoint.

Just liquor. Pouring as much of it into your face as you can, just as long as you don't have to work the next morning (even then, it's debatable). Everything is explainable, but nothing makes SENSE. We got no action, we got no motion. Don't think the boy can play much anymore.

We're kinda just like the rest of you now. Trying our damndest anyway. Got another year left. Then four years inactive.

Far as anyone else is concerned, I was never there. Never once.


The Grand Fucking Finale

Kuwait. Nightmare of customs.

Waiting. Sleep deprivation. True sand. Dangling freedom right in front of us.

One flight after another. Layovers. Sitting in a bus in the middle of nowhere in Kuwait. Popping Unisoms and watching flight attendants disappear before your eyes. Next time they open, everyone else is eating. Everyone but you, as you wipe a thick sticky streak of saliva off your cheek.

You wake up in Ireland, just long enough to smoke a cigarette and catch another briefing.

You wake up in Bangor. By the time we got to our destination, no one even seemed that excited. Only a little. I always imagined that the plane would be fucking INSANE as we were landing, like a riot of very pleased Joes that no one could contain.

The truth is that most people were too tired and worn out or self conscious to even make a sound. Scattered "Whooo!" and clapping could be heard, but ultimately, our shit was weak.

When I stepped off the plane for the last time, a three star general and several other officers were waiting. As I shook the general's hand, I really couldn't think of a profound reply, so I responded to his thanks and hooah-congratulations with a heartfelt, "WHHOOOOOO!!!!!" Fuck it, treat it all like an AC/DC concert, right?

Another briefing. Turned in our rifles. Received packets. The voices echoed in the large room and no one had a fucking clue what the important ones were saying, and really, we doubted that it even mattered. We were home.

They stuffed us on buses. And to my LEGITIMATE SURPRISE, we waited. And waited. In my wildest dreams, I always thought that when we went home, it would be an expedited process. Truth is, they drag it out so long that you can't even get excited about it.

Then we arrived at Fort Lewis. It was weird. It was the same, and different at the same time. I didn't know WHAT the hell to think. They had us form up, big mass formation, complete idiocy if you asked me. Finally we marched in, in columns of twos, to a live military band.

Cheers. Like we were fucking rock gods or something. We were heralded, and for who know's what reasons, and dammit, who cares? It was without a doubt the one and only cool part about the redeployment process. The Beatles couldn't generate this much cheering. The families looked like they were ready to tear the gym apart. Ravenous for their American Boys.

It was weird. It was like I'd never left, but at the same time, like I was going to wake up at any moment and still be in Iraq.

I got my room key, threw my bags inside, and left with the family. Steaks. Beer.

My time in Purgatory is fucking OVER. Nice ride. See you on Part 3.