Every goodbye is the birth of a memory
What was to be our last day at the FOB started with pregnant drops of rain sizzling through the predawn darkness. They fell in a tumbling cascade, slowly gathering strength until the air was thick with water. The first few drops of rain splattered into the dust like micro meteorites, sending tiny puffs of dust into the air from their sudden impact. For the first few minutes the air was filled with a strange elemental alchemy – the elements of water, earth, and air all defending their respective domains. Eventually the rain turned into a torrent, and the fallow dust yielded, transforming into tarry pools of mud. Just like a year ago.
The mud is the same, the high walls still grope for the sky, even the wind tastes the same as when we arrived. But I am not earth, nor stone, nor air. I am creature of blood and bone… and I have changed. I am leaving this FOB a different man then the one who arrived at these chill gates those many months ago. I’ve sipped from the poison chalice of loss. Felt my veins run with chill blood and my face streak with hot tears. And I’ve watched as the reaper’s scythe whistled through the desert air. Mortal things cannot brush shoulders with eternity without bearing the psychic scars of their meeting. And so I am changed... both inside and out.
I have aged and weathered under the sun’s fierce glare, my face creased with worn lines as faulted as the sun splintered fields. They remind me of the fearsome toll every one of us paid. I don’t mourn their arrival, they are the outward manifestation of those ethereal scars the crease my soul. It seems somehow fitting and proper that I be left with a physical reminder of what was lost… and what was gained.
Do not mistake my words. I am not broken, nor am I damaged. The story of our mission is not a tragedy, despite our losses. The deepest etchings on my soul, the ones that will remain in both this life and the next, were the incandescent examples of valor, courage, and brotherhood I witnessed each and every day. The men who served at my side were bound to me, and I to them, with tidal forces that have no equivalent in the sterile formality of the living world. Back home the concept of "self" is a rigid construct, a domain mapped with the formality of a land agreement. But here on the bleeding edge we became more something greater than our individual parts. We became a family.
Our time in Iraq is drawing to a close. Our bags are packed. The sun is about to set on our 18 month deployment. And now that we aren’t in daily contact I’ve found my feelings centered on the fierce and solemn pride at having served alongside so many bright souls.