I came back to my barracks room to find my bunkmate meditating in darkness to a cranked death metal album and when he looked up he smiled like Vincent D’Onofrio on the toilet in Full Metal Jacket.
There was a kid who walked like a dinosaur who got caught masturbating while reading the Bible. Think of the type of insane stress that’d cause something like that.
Getting up at 3 a.m. when you just went to bed at 2 a.m.
Figure out how much you actually make per hour and it would be illegal as a civilian job.
You can die. And military deaths tend to be venomously brutal. This isn’t dying of old age. It’s dying of young age. Of black age. Of poor age.
PTSD. I’ve had it. I’m post-post-traumatic stress disorder now. Mostly. But I remember when I first came back, and I wasn’t even frontlines. I did telecommunications. During Desert Storm. I’m not going to recount any of that here, but let me just tell you that PTSD is like being forced to swallow your tongue when you just want to go to the beach. It’s like having someone grab your lips and attempt to shove them down your throat. There’s no sun when that’s going on. The world is all throat and fist and lack of air.
The suicides. The sheer number. The Marine who put his rifle in his mouth while doing security patrol. The Brit Marine who drank himself to death. The suicides happening, as you’re reading this, to vets. Twenty-two vets per day commit suicide.
But it’s your decision. If you want to serve your country, go ahead. Maybe you don’t want to serve at McDonald’s either. But don’t think those are the only two choices. That’s a false binary. That’s how Americans think. We’re taught false binary. Some of us don’t even know how to think other than false binary. It’s programmed into us. My girlfriend is from France and she’s lived all over the world and she said this is the most repetitive country she has ever been to. She said the news reports here will say a certain line or show a specific image so many times that it gets shoved into your body and you can’t get it out. She said they don’t interrupt sporting events in France for commercials. She said the audience would turn off their TVs and riot. Here, she said, the level of repetition of a single ad will be done to the point where its music, its narrative, its message will be heard a hundred times, a thousand times, a hundred thousand. It’s part of being an American, being strangled by capitalism.
In high school, I saw a Marine ad on TV with this teenager turned into a majestic statue of a soldier. I wanted to be that.
I went and saw Full Metal Jacket in the theater. It was supposed to make you not want to join the military. It made me want to join.
You know what makes you not want to join the military? Being in the military.
Ron Riekki’s nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, River Teeth, Spillway, Rattle, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Canary, Bellevue Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, Little Patuxent Review, Wigleaf, Juked, Dunes Review, New Verse News, and many other literary journals.1