He was standing beside the body. It was the first one he’d ever seen other than on television despite being a soldier for almost a year. The eyes were glazed and staring with the worry free serenity that he imagined all the dead in this god-forsaken-hell-hole acquired upon leaving it. It was a morbid way to think about death but after 8 months on the front lines, morbid curiosity was all he could muster. He studied the face…never mind the guts hanging out of his stomach or the chest that was riddled with bullet holes. No need to focus on that until absolutely necessary. This guy couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, only 3 years younger than himself.
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The eyes held him.
The soldier thought back to a series of movies he had watched in his Literature class in high school. Something about a ring; he couldn’t remember exactly what it was. The teacher had said that the movies were based on a classic novel written by some dude with a bunch of initials in his name. There was a scene in the second one where a blonde haired guy was standing over another guy that had been killed by an arrow. He talked about wondering whether the enemy dead man was really evil at heart and what lies or stories had been told to the man to bring him to his death in a place so far from his home. The soldier wondered what roads the young man laid out before him, so close in age to himself, had traveled to end up dead on the side of some nameless road next the enemy officer he was driving for.
The eyes twinkled.
The soldier reflected on his own journey and what roads he had traveled to arrive in this place; his enlistment after high school, deployment to Iraq, assignment to the “Black Knight” Battalion, and the battles that had brought him to the here and now. The soldier wondered why he was here in the first place. He didn’t really know what this war was about. The soldier squatted in the dirt, looking at the face of the kid he had killed, and tried to recall a time when had a choice in anything he did. He remembered choosing to enlist in the military, but couldn’t remember choosing much else. He remembered a lot of being told what to do, but not many choices. He was told to go to war, so he did. He was told that these people were the enemy, so they were. He was told to kill them because they were the enemy, so he did.
The eyes bored into him.
The other soldiers filed by as the soldier knelt. They laughed and cheered for the death of the officer stretched out beside the kid. They lay down beside the bodies and posed for pictures. They jeered and screamed that the dead men had gotten what the deserved for messing with the “Black Knights”. More pictures were taken and more laughs and taunts were issued. The soldier heard someone who sounded in charge say that he needed to stay with the bodies until the “meat wagon” came to collect them. No one cared about this young boy who had died for doing the same thing he was doing now; what he was told. Nope, no one cared, the boy was bound for the meat wagon and that was that. That’s all there was to it, there was no choice.
The eyes stared back with gentle understanding.
The “meat wagon” came and collected the bodies as promised. The soldier moved away as they were thrown carelessly into the vehicle. Nope, no one cared, the “meat wagon” would take them to the “meat locker” and that was it. No choice…no choice…no choice…no choice…
He remembered the eyes.
The soldier walked back to his vehicle and pulled out his assault pack. He threw a few MRE’s in along with some underwear and socks. He added his hygiene gear, a couple of extra canteens, and tied his sleeping bag to the bottom. His jacket went into the back of the truck along with his unloaded weapon and his boots. He tied on his running shoes (“Can’t forget those, never know when we might go on a run,” his Squad Leader had told him.), shouldered his pack and walked away. The last things to go were his Military ID and dog tags, both flung carelessly over his shoulder to settle in the dust.
There is always a choice.
July 28, 2011
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' said Alice. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the cat. 'We're all mad here.'