There’s a hill behind my apartment that needs climbing. I sit on the left side of my couch, stare through the sliding glass door of the balcony, and imagine myself on that hill, crawling through the juniper, past the shaggy spruce trees, over the bald spot near the crest and to the top. I don’t know what’s on the other side of my hill, but I could take a guess. It would probably be more development and technology and people living on top of other people, but I like to imagine a different scene.
I’d like to imagine the hill doesn’t stop where I know it should. It levels out then peaks again after few hundred meters and again even further still. Beyond the second peak is a narrow, winding trail snaked between impossible boulders and ragged evergreen trees leading down the other side. From the ridge it looks like I’m standing on the edge of a huge crater with a basin lake miles below hued green from the trees on its shores. The lake doesn’t have a name because no one has been there to give it one. I would keep it that way. I wouldn’t name it Lake Jayme or Kohler’s Lagoon or anything so mundane. I might not even tell anyone about it.
I enjoy the view for awhile, letting the wind roar around my body from below as I lean hard into it. My eyes water but I don’t mind. It’s better than sand. Despite my yearning to stay I begin my careful decent, spiraling around and around the cone with the lake growing ever closer on my right. I’m alone here, as I like to be, because too much talk always gets in the way of the scenery. Few people understand where silence is golden.
The once howling wind is reduced to a casual breeze through the pines at lake level. There’s a slight ripple in the water but mostly from migrating geese skimming the surface, wing tips cutting delicate lines along the way. Even they are unusually quiet, letting me appreciate my surroundings without the din. This lake is a good place to stay. It’s isolated. It’s quiet. It’s simple, above all, like how I grew up before my gadgets existed.
I could stay here awhile.
But I can’t. Because I’m in the Marine Corps. And I just got back from Iraq. And I’ve been feeling a bit stuck in this real world. Out of place. Confused. Mission less. And in March I’m going back. And today I hit eight years in the Corps. And the list goes on.
Being back hasn’t been what I expected it would be. My eyes are drawn to the hill from the living room windows to the dining room window to the window of my imagination when I’m not at home. I feel detached from things and people around me. I lose things, find them, and lose them again. Too often I stand in the middle of the apartment, looking left and right and back again, thinking of where I last saw the item I’m searching for. And more than once I forgot what it was I was looking for to begin with. I find myself restless throughout the night, waking again and again from dreams of thirst and displacement and sometimes violence. By nightfall I can barely keep my eyes open. Mornings are heavy. My body, my mind, my actions. Maybe I’m not in the right place? Maybe I’d be better off deploying sooner rather than later?
I think, all in all, I just need more time to get things right in my head again. If all works as planned I’ll be cycling the 1200 mile leg of Lewis and Clark Trail from St. Louis, MO to Bismarck, ND this October, and finishing it. There’s nothing in my head that an early autumn headwind and sixteen days on a bicycle can’t cure. Absolutely nothing. In any event, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
There are many people* I’d like to thank for making my tour in Iraq much better than it should have ever been. They sent letters, chow, magazines, books, and the assorted toys to keep my occupied. They sent me support, knowing my email was practically nonexistent and going the extra mile to lick a stamp or hoof it to the post office to get mail my way. Without getting too misty eyed, I’d like to say ‘thanks’. Thanks for the goodies. Thanks for the communication. And thanks for being there. I owe everyone some Iraqi souvenirs.
* People who need thanking, in no particular order, are: Dale and Jodi. AJ and Lanette. Sean and Stacy. Robby and Tracy. Chris and Laura. Travis and Keeta. Dad. Mom. Joseph. Shirley. Twyla. Angela. Missy. Zach. Zuli. Keitha. Ron. Charlie. Sarah and Devin. Adrienne. Klimas. Alicia. And Monica.
I’m sure I probably missed a few. I apologize in advance.