all alone with the quiet
A moment’s rest from a day’s noise, hustle and bustle may seem like a small thing, but it can drive you nuts.
There’s a part in the movie “The Neverending Story” (the original, not the seven crap sequels made years later) where the fantasy protagonist has to face some sort of mirror. All he has to do is look into it. Compared to the other trials he’s endured, it seemed super easy. The problem, one of the characters explained to another as they waited to hear how the protagonist did, was that the mirror showed a person his true self.
Beautiful, boastful people saw that they were spiritually ugly. Rich, wealth-obsessed people saw that they were poor, lacking in true substance. It was enough to send people running away, screaming.
That’s the kind of mirror staff duty makes you look into.
There you are, in a big building–a barracks in my case, sitting at a desk in an empty hallway in the dead of night. And there you sit, staring at your reflection in the front window, staring back. What’s out there? What’s he looking at?
Hours one through seven go by with relative ease. The waning sun and the parting of the day gives some traffic and conversations with some of the barracks-dwelling troops. But in the span between two and six in the morning, when the night seems to hold its breath and your own exhaustion sets in, staring at that reflection has a bit more resonance.
“Well, here I am,” I said aloud. It’s all I could think of to say. Where has the time gone? Did last year happen?
Tomorrow is the ol’ birthday again. Last time around I was in the sandy place, just arrived, waiting to make our final push to Taji. I can’t say it was a fun birthday…come to think of it, the last three birthdays have involved some unpleasant duty or location; but it wasn’t too bad. I remember getting to have mint ice cream last year–that was pretty rockin’.
I’ll be 26. 26! I hadn’t even gotten used to being 25 and *poof*, here we go again.
“Who is that guy?” I said. But there he was. Every inch of him. Familiar and yet not. I had changed. My brow was lower and more frumpled than I remembered, like I was glaring. I looked older.
It’s weird how often you don’t look at yourself in Iraq. Be it no mirrors or just not caring, there is seldom the opportunity to examine one’s self without the close company of a dozen other gents in the communal shower. Too much attention to facial or bodily grooming gives a very “metro” vibe–poor form in the service.
Every couple of hours I was required to make my rounds of the premises. I’d go in circles, around the wings, through the day rooms, up the stairs and repeat. Air conditioners leaked pitter-patters of water in some spots, bugs zoomed around the occasional working lights in others.
“Do I hurt? Am I tired?” Now it was the caffeine talking. Copious doses are required to push through such an ordeal. The human body can only sustain this drug-induced state of alertness for so long before the parts begin to seize up. There’s still the sudden jolts as you wake yourself up every few seconds and you sit, embarrassed that your reflection saw you sleeping.
“So sorry. I’m okay, just need to stretch my legs.” Who are you talking to?
“Not a problem. I know the feeling.” I said back. WTF?
“How often do they have this shift?”
“Dunno, this is my first time on. I don’t think it’ll be too often. And it’s pretty easy duty, just babysit the troops, make sure the doors are locked. That’s why I brought my laptop.”
Hey! That’s MY laptop, jerk. You didn’t bring anything accept that frumpled brow and persistent stares.
“You want a soda?”
“Ya, sure that’d be great.”
“Oh, shoot! Never mind, I only have enough for one more.”
“That’s cool, I don’t mind sharing. I could use the pick-me-up.”