In the last couple days I’ve sat up awake,
staring into the empty darkness and waiting for dreams to take me far from this
barren land. I wish I could say that my
insomnia stems from something noble, like an earnest reflection on the ebb and
flow of fortune. But it isn’t the larger
questions of mortality that have kept me up lately, its something far more
personal – I’ve lost a coherent portrait of life back home. That may sound like a small thing, but
memories of home have been my phrenic umbilicus to better times and places. And somehow the loss of all the subtle mental details
seems to stretch the distance between Iraq and California to a shade under infinity.
If there is some consolation it is that I can see some things with perfect, almost brilliant clarity. The clearest of memories involve my beautiful wife. The way her shimmering hair cascades onto her shoulders. Her glittering eyes, and her wide and perfect smile. The way she would neatly arrange her hair brush next to the sink. Even things ancillary to her seem to burn a little brighter, as if her lilting presence somehow dignified details that otherwise would have been lost.
But in a way those perfect snapshots only
highlight all the other details that seem stretched and pale. When I try to remember everyday scenes from back
home it almost seems as if I’m peering through a rain fogged windshield. At first I was convinced that my memories
were falling victim to entropy, as if the arid environment could somehow shift
neurons in synchronicity with the tides of blowing sand. But the more I mull over it the more I’m
convinced that the problem isn’t a matter of systematic degradation, I simply
failed to appreciate the little things. Instead of recognizing each day as precious I assumed
I would be there to watch the next dawn, as if my mortality were somehow
preserved through willful ignorance. Rather
then revel in the raw splendor of just being alive and aware I was eternally
fixated on some future destination that never seemed quite so important once it
had arrived. My only consolation is that
the time I spent with my wife snapped me out of that empty self absorption and
left me with memories as clear and deep as a mountain lake.
Looking at the contrast between memories makes me loathe the careless way I used to move through life, and reaffirms a lesson I have learned here in Iraq. Both danger and potential lay curled in every passing moment, we have only to watch with keen eyes for their fateful silhouette. Maybe that level of attention is impossible to maintain for any significant length of time. I guess I’ll just have to see.