I’ve never been in the turret before.
My thumbs rest on the butterfly triggers of the M240, metal still cool in the desert sun. Am I pushing too hard? The safety’s on anyway. Wait, is the safety on? Where’s the safety? Oh damn. I take my thumbs off the triggers.
No, I was in the turret once. We were in the courtyard at Al Asad, taking pictures on the Humvee for our Facebook pages on the 4th of July. Someone from college said I looked jacked. But we were just playin around. Now I’m a real live turret gunner.
Shit! I think I just flagged the dudes behind us. Maybe no one noticed. What was my sector of fire again?
It was Jana. Janabelle. She’s married now, at least one kid. Married that guy that kinda looks like Mason Jennings. They had In N Out cater their wedding and I was stuck in LA traffic coming up from Pendleton for six hours.
The only thing in my sector of fire is the row of HESCO barriers protecting the base perimeter. Matt slows the Humvee down as we turn onto the road to Husaybah. I dip my muzzle as we pass the guard tower. Remember that part from the convoy brief. I nod at the gunner sitting tower post. Yeah, man. You and me and these guns. He doesn’t nod back.
Evan was there, at the wedding. Now he’s working for the King of Tonga. Best dude, didn’t even flinch when we first met in Hawaii. I was pasty white and scrawny, scrunchy shorts and glasses and scared to swim more than six feet from shore. Hawaii is a place that can change a guy.
“You see that?” Mike yells from the Vic Commander seat. I don’t. Unless he’s talking about the goat farmer sitting in the wadi. He’s found a nice shady spot under the date palms and doesn’t even turn around as ten steel, gun bristled war machines roll by. Nothin’ new in the zoo.
I didn’t even have a place to live when I moved to Hawaii. No job, no home, not even accepted into school because I forgot to send a transcript before I left for Basic Training. I did have 350 dollars in my account and a divorce to run away from. That seemed like enough. I slept on Glen and Ashley’s couch for a week. ‘Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right, it’s all right’.
The Vic lurches, my Kevlar bangs against the rim of the armored shield around me. Maybe I’m riding too low. I look at the Vic behind me and their gunner is sitting a full three feet higher. Damn. I scoot up, cresting the armor line. We’re getting into Indian country and I feel like a Homecoming Queen with everyone lined up to punch my dance card. ‘Stay Frosty’, right? Right.
Glen was right about her, though. I always thought he was a pessimist. About people, anyway. Always assumed they were their worst versions of themselves. Been almost fifteen years since he threw my mom’s favorite plate out the window of a moving car and I’m just now starting to see his pessimism as intuition. Maybe I just like to think that because, even with all my mistakes, I was never on the chopping block.
The convoy rolls to a halt. Isn’t it dangerous to stop? I guess these other guys do this every day, I’m sure they’re keyed in. I crank the hand shaft and the turret shifts. A dusty blue Nissan Sunny creeps past on the dirt path next to the road. There’s one bullet hole in the door. The driver doesn’t look up, either. ‘They’re more scared of you than you are of them’. Like a rattlesnake. Why do I think he should notice me? It’s like everyone wants to just pretend we’re not here. I guess I get that. I do it all the time. Lots of places I’d rather be.
Like Diamond Lake. White Cloud Mountains in the Sawtooth Range, three miles off the Little Queens River trail. Get Glen, Devin, maybe a few others. Just pack what we need and dive into those pines. That’s a real world. Nothing there wants to win. No one wants to kill you. And so you don’t hold back, you don’t look too close or hide your eyes. And you get everything. Maybe somewhere in a valley of rocks, misplaced and raw, I can find that balance of who I was and who I am. I keep telling myself I’ll do it this year, but you know how it is. Always putting off the things our soul needs for the things our body wants. Maybe I’m better off not knowing. Maybe the friction keeps me sharp. Or maybe I’m better off hiding in a wadi somewhere with a herd of goats. Wouldn’t that be it, if that guy back there, if he’s the one who gets it? Maybe he has it.
Radio crackles. I can’t hear what they’re saying. “Headed back,” Mike shouts. “Haboob coming in, big one.” Dust storm. I cinch my goggles and pull my neck gaiter over my mouth and nose. The convoy turns around and grumbles back toward base. Shepherd still sitting in the wadi. Nah, he can’t be the one who has it figured out. Not when he’s about to live in the middle of a giant fucking hell of sand. I drop my turret as we pass the tower. At least we’ll be back in time for chow.