“I wake from sleep violently, only to witness those lives and faces disappear slowly behind me”-Being As An Ocean
Dear Jeff,
Hey man. I hope things are well where you are—peaceful, dark, and calm. I can’t say I believe in an afterlife. I see a lot of veneration for our suicide victims and references to “Valhalla” and such. I don’t have much use for the sentiment. To me, it’s an excuse for people to not live their best lives in this one. Regardless, I do believe people live on in the memories of those they leave behind. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. No afterlife…memories. I’m here. You’re not. It’s that simple to me.

And that’s also been the problem, man. I’m here. YOU are not. You had a beautiful new wife and a big family waiting for you to come home. I came back to an empty barracks room, no one waiting on the flight line with signs and ticker tape. I came back to people taking me for granted, a big sigh of relief that they could resume their regularly-scheduled programming. A part of me felt like I somehow robbed you of coming home to a warm welcome. It was this cosmic injustice that someone like me made it home and you didn’t.

I struggled so hard with that for a lot of years.  I resented myself. I spent every moment I could ensuring that I was living a life worthy of your sacrifice—of the sacrifice of your family. I always reflected inward. Am I using this time wisely? Am I making the most of the time I’ve been afforded? Am I living my best life, no compromise, no half-measures? Am I living? I’d always conclude that I wasn’t, and down I went, into the pit of despair. I never felt like I was honoring you and the rest of the boys with my choices. I wasn’t making the most of myself. I was failing you.

But, in my age came wisdom. I started to learn that I wasn’t living life on my terms. I was holding myself accountable to ghosts. I figured out that I was living life for the approval of the dead, not for me. I love you, man; but I was living for corpses. I was ruining myself and pushing people away because I wasn’t living the way I thought a bunch of fucking dead men wanted me to. That had to change, or I was going to be joining you in that dark nothingness.

So, I started living. That isn’t to say that I had forgotten you, that’s impossible. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t honoring your memory. But, I’d stopped holding myself accountable in that way. I allowed myself my humanity. I’ve made so many mistakes and my life isn’t exactly where I want it to be, but I’m hopeful and working towards something better. That is my fire, brother. That IS something I think you would be proud of, THAT is something I think is worthy of the second chance I got.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you. It’s been 14 years, and now I’m loving hard. I’m hating hard. I’m not pulling any punches. I’m more compassionate and patient than I’ve ever been. I am working my ass off to improve not just my life, but those of the veteran community. I have you to thank for that, man. I recognize that we only get one shot at this life, and I promise I’m cherishing the moments and making the most of them. I am fortunate to see life the way I do now. The wine tastes better, the love is deeper, the pain is more intense, life is at “11” for me, and that’s amazing. I appreciate you for that lesson.

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Just an update, the GWOT is still going on. Yeah, still. It’s been repackaged, sure, but we’re still taking casualties and doing the damn thing with no clear end in sight. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ended unceremoniously and the American public really hasn’t noticed. They still pay lip service a couple times a year, more depending on the makeup of the community. As far as that goes, it’s sad. Another war, another mistake. Moving on.

I know you can’t be here to see it, but I have a lot in store for my life. I plan on living the best I can for as long as I can. That’s all one can really hope for, right? Anyway, take care, Jeff. Until next time…

Semper Fidelis,

Johnny

P.S.-you’re not going to believe who the president is…