There are scenes in movies—especially long, drawn out, introspective movies (i.e. “Thin Red Line”), where things will progress and then stop. The characters will suddenly have memories surface, and scenes from the past will replay, maybe from different angles or focusing on a different detail, or maybe from a silent moment in the midst of the memory—looking at a sunset, a tree line or a bird flying.
With my anniversary of returning home from Iraq approaching, I’ve had a few of those—cut-aways as they’re sometimes called, something to cut to instead of just the guy thinking. I let them wash in like those scenes from the movies. It’s sort of neat. From the distance, looking back, I don’t remember too much noise or dialog—just small moments.
I’ll be hunched over my desk at work, pouring through an email and I’ll flash to standing in the dim lights of the flight line, waiting for the rotor wash of a nearby Chinook to bathe us in hot dust.
Sometimes I’ll phase out of a meeting to a time when all of us in the humvee had a laugh from something on the radio. Whether it was a bad report from our lead vehicle, or just a bad sex joke from a gunner, we’d cackle and adjust our ear pieces as we sat sweating in the dark.
I remember after hour six or seven in that damn back seat how my legs would catch fire. The cramped space would make me a bit squirrelly and I’d fidget. I’d kick and lift up as much as possible, like I did back in the womb, I imagine, to let all that burning out of my knees and shins. In the cab, illuminated green from the truck commander’s monitor, I’d look left and right across the pile of ammo, food and water in the vehicle’s middle, scanning around. I’d mess with my camera bag at my side to make sure I was ready to take photos if a big blast happened.
Then I’ll snap out of it when somebody laughs, then start in again.
The smoke and sun bled bright bands of red and gray at the day’s close. I would have lit up a cigarette if I smoked, but sat, watching the burn barrel turn the day’s confidential papers into soot and ash. Plumes of white and black smoke ran out in all directions in the shifting winds of the desert evening. The evening call to prayer echoed and lilted, fading in and out, carried too in the winds.
The memories are all intentional, I’m not cursed with flashbacks. I bring up the fun and almost-fun situations, and it dulls the rest to a quiet murmur. Some milestone like an anniversary always brings back more occasions to remember than others.
And it helps to remember the more scenic moments.