Friday, July 4, 2008

"Call It."

It's cool today in Hanau, Germany. Partly cloudy, with a stiff breeze from the west.

Pioneer Kaserne is nearly empty. The Hanau Community is in the final stages of base closure, and with all but an MP detachment remaining in the area, the Kaserne, maybe the size of my hometown, is strangely empty. I don't even have a unit anymore. They left for the states months ago. For a while, I was attached to the local JAG office, but now they're closed down too.

Having chosen not to re-enlist, I've been left here to finish out my time. I finaled out yesterday. Anne and I have moved out of our apartment, and now the building where we made our home for three years stands silent and empty. We were the last tenants in the building. A blue Ford Windstar sits abandoned in the parking lot, baby-windowshades still plastering the interior.

It's over. I'm on my way out. In a few days, I'll be back stateside, and a new phase of my life will begin. This moment, this place, is an ending. A chapter of my life is closing, and in the background, a chapter in my nation's history overseas is closing, too. Here in a sleepy mid-sized suburb of Frankfurt, an era is ending, and soon only the old vets and their German widows will be left to remember. There is relief for many in this, to include myself, but also a sadness.

I walked by my old apartment this afternoon. The pinwheels my wife stuck in the flowerbeds are still there, along with the old picnic table under the ornamental apple-tree. The feuerkorb still contains the charred remnants of peat logs we burned the other night, sharing a bottle of prosecco with our friends the DeSotos. In the branches of the young tree over the table, the mason jars my wife hung as lanterns. Late at night, their candles glowing, I used to sit at that table with Anne, talking over the crickets, and think of fireflies. She always knows how to insert those little touches, the small things that made a place feel more friendly, feel like home. So it was with this. Preparing to move our things to the hotel, I came out to the picnic table and found my wife there, trying not to cry. Seeing those homemade lanterns, the way they swing in the breeze, I finally understand. I allow myself a sad smile.

It is a strange thing--the life I have lived for the last three years is ending. I am grateful, I am relieved. But I am sad, too. It occurs to me--soon I will no longer be called Soldier. There is a bittersweetness. On the one hand, it means I will have my freedom back; on the other, it means I will have given up my wings, the thing that made my countrymen admire me. I will be just a man again, and after three years plus one combat deployment, I know longer know just what sort of man I am. I have the clues, of course--I am a husband, a son, a writer. I am the voice of Alina. But beyond that, the rest is a mystery. I am excited to solve that mystery, but at the same time there is a mourning in me.

I will miss passing under the oak boughs in the early mornings, staring up into the green as I walk to PT.

It is ending now. I am coming back to myself, even now. I am older than I was when I started this journey, and I'm a different person as well. I'm no longer "just a kid;" no, for the first time in my life, I can look in the mirror and truly see a man. But what sort of man is that, I wonder? Who will I be, now that I no longer have the fences and protocols to contain me?

And how long will I have to fear their return?

I used to think that war was hard. It isn't, not in the sense I understand now. You do what you're told. Nor is being in the Army all that difficult. Show up every morning, in the right uniform. But I've heard the stories about soldiers who come back from Iraq and find themselves rootless; now, preparing to enter into a new life out West, I fear that the same fate may befall me. Adjusting back to life with my spouse was easy, but this, this new beginning... this will be hard.

One chapter ends. Another begins. Today, I'm the man with one foot out of the airplane. I'm the man with a grip on the ejection handle, counting to three. I'm the man who sees his cards, sizes up the other players, and then pushes all of his chips toward the center. This is it, I tell myself. No going back. It's time to see where you stand. What's it going to be?

I have to smile. It's a cool day in Hanau, Germany, and on Pioneer Kaserne the buildings all stand nearly empty. Beneath a blue sky spotted with clouds, the cottonwood boughs whisper softly with the breeze. Walking underneath the canopies of oak, I smile and allow myself to breathe in the shaded air, smell the unique green that is the Hessian Rhineland. When I open my eyes again, my mind is clear. I am sad, but I am also eager. I push my chips forward, and smile.

Call it.

(Crossposted at "The Calm Before The Sand.")


Seven of Six said...

Milo, Best of luck! It is somewhat of a gamble. Better than staying in (currently).

I hope you got copies of all your medical records. If you ever need to file a claim with the VA you'll need them.

If you and the wife are ever in AZ look me up. We'll get together and have a few beers, poolside bar-b-que, and swimming. Maybe go to Mexico?

Anjha said...

Welcome home Milo.

Keep us posted, let us know where you are.

I never tire of reading your words.

SOS - where have you been?!

Seven of Six said...

I still have a bad case of tennis elbow. My Ulnar nerve is fucked up. I keep trying to get the VA to look at it but I feel guilty about such a simple request when so many need so much. I've been trying to rest it but the intense pain remains. It's hard to do much more than lurk.