I stayed up most of last night, drinkin’ and smokin’. It was kind of a cheat, because I had a doctor’s appointment at 0930 this morning, so I’d arranged to do some other admin duties (renewing car registration), so I knew I wouldn’t have to haul my sorry self out of the rack until at/about 0900, and I wouldn’t be going to work, so I wouldn’t need to be at the top of my game. Cheat time.
“The lads” next door are all dive instructors and guides. The lovely and talented Mrs. Mongo calls them “the puppies.” They each have palavered their experience here in the Keys into launch pads for bigger and better things. The party last night was for Jake, who left this morning for Hawaii to be an assistant director for a dive operation out there. Jake and I are pretty tight. Jake didn’t like his life as a Crip gang member out on the west coast, did not like the things that his gang membership forced him to do. He was frustrated that the only things he seemed to have a talent for were violence and mayhem. Left the west coast and basically hitch-hiked to the Keys. Once here, penniless and homeless, he worked effectively and hard enough to become a diver, then a dive instructor, then a dive master. Then he did well enough to get recruited to a leadership role with the dive gig out in Hawaii. We’ve spent hours outside, talking about how to build a moral compass, and that there is, in fact, redemption (okay, those are my talking points, but they led to hours of discussion). His decision to sojourn to the Keys and leave the thug life behind was made instantly, when his pregnant fiancé was slain sitting next to him in a car.
Adam is a college graduate and departs soon for a year-long “audition” running a dive operation in the Cayman Islands. Maria is going with him. She started out as a one-night stand. Then she became a long-term friend, but Adam was always adamant that it was just a “friends with benefits” situation, and that there was never going to be a long-term relationship. I’ve been watching her reel him in for over a year. Now he tells me (on the DL; he’s afraid if Maria finds out, any bargaining power he may have is shot. Sucker. His single life is over, he just doesn’t know it yet. I ain’t telling him.) that he doesn’t think he can live without her. I’m pretty sure he’s sincere about that, because pulling in bumper isn’t an issue for him. Know that guy that plays Thor in the Marvel movies? He looks just like that, only probably a little more buff. So it’s not like the kid doesn’t have options.
All the four puppies are great, all of them are unique and special and a pleasure to watch learn and grow. So going to their party to say goodbye to Jake was a no-brainer, especially knowing I wasn’t going to work today. I got a note from my doctor. Whom I’ve waited far too long to see.
When I mustered out, part of my VA claim was my hip, because it wasn’t working right, and it hurt, and it had been violently dislocated a coupla/three years before I got out. Now, I think it’s a lumbar spine issue that used to only feel like the hip, but now has decided on a hostile takeover. So, girdle of pain across (as my old football coach used to say, “acrosst”), the hips, with pain shooting all the way down to my heals. On my feet, taking a big breath expands the diaphragm and causes an…inappropriate amount of discomfort. Last week, I decided “ok, go see the doc” when, while walking the dog on her SOP morning two-mile walk, I found I couldn’t take a deep (i.e., sufficient) breath, without taking a knee. Doing any kind of extended walking is putting me into an O2 deficit. Then I’m, what, panting for the next coupla hours. No Bueno. See a doc, dummy. And, because I’m passing on work, party with the puppies to say goodbye to Jake.
I established a hard out time with the lovely and talented Mrs. Mongo and we went over to hoist a few with the puppies. Blew that hard out time to smithereens. Fell into the rack before sunrise but after BMNT. But it wasn’t all party, party, party that kept me up and drinking all night. I met a guy, and we talked.
I’d marked him as soon as we got into the house. Imagine looking at a terrarium full of garden snakes, and then you see, in the middle, a boomslang viper. This was like that. I mentally tagged him as soon as the lovely and talented Mrs. Mongo and I entered the house. In my usual party positioning, I made sure that I was positioned so that I could see the door, and so that I could always see him. I dunno what goes into my internal threat assessment mental software, but this dude pinged it — hard, so he bore watching.
I noticed about 20 minutes in, he was doing what I was doing; floating with the ebb and flow of the crowd, but he always had me and the front door in his line of sight. Huh.
After a while, one of the puppies asked me, “Hey, you were in the Army, right?” Yeah, for a little bit. You need to be introduced to Joe. Joe was in the Army, too! Ok.
Joe had spent six years in the Army, all of it with the Ranger Regiment. It’s not hard to suss out poseurs and pretenders. Not hard to establish bona fides. A guy either knows what he’s supposed to know, or he doesn’t. All kinda people claim to have been special operators. Not all that many have. If I find a guy, even a vet, that’s doing some stolen valor special operations selling of wolf tickets, I’ll usually give him an option: right here, right now, do a public disclosure of what you are not, or get wheeled out on a gurney. Has never failed.
Joe passed the test. Joe also vetted me–turnabout is fair play. Apparently, I passed his smell check. Then we started talking. That dude is hurtin’ for certain. Got out of the Army, was definitely suffering from that “now I’m a civilian” dislocation. Got himself a girlfriend when he got out, same girlfriend who was at Jake’s going-away party (so hopefully this couple has some staying power). They went to a bar. They had some drinks. Someone grabbed her butt. Joe told that someone that random butt-grabbing was not acceptable, and turned back to his girlfriend. Said butt-grabber sucker punched Joe.
Joe doesn’t remember anything else. He came to from his blackout with people pulling him off of butt-grabber. And butt-grabber was a mess. Joe beat butt-grabber so hard, the EMS had to use the defibrillator twice before they evac-ed him by air.
The authorities charged Joe with attempted murder. Then offered him a plea deal, and he pled out. Fifteen months in prison. I assess that’s kind of rooty-poot. If you’re actually trying to murder someone, there should be more of a sanction than 15 months. If the person trying to murder you is a former Army Ranger, chances are you’d done be murdered.
So, I spent all night (until the birds started tweeting at BMNT) talking to Joe. He and I put down most of a bottle of Bulleit’s rye whisky. A couple of thoughts that I hadn’t had before hit me. Some about Joe, some about me.
Joe did two three-year hitches, all in the Ranger regiment. Y’know what we pay the Rangers to do? Kill people and break things. As efficiently as possible, but more equals better. Then this kid got out. No counseling, no adaptation assistance protocol. Just six years of killing everything on the objective, and then boom! Civilian. Good luck.
About 99.95% of head-shrinkers are totally unequipped to deal with a former Killer of Men. I went, on advice, to head-shrinker when I retired, and decided therapy wasn’t going to work. When you get booked for a one-hour session, and 45 minutes of that is just providing context and perspective, you’re not going to get a lot out of it. I quit. Joe quit. There needs to be something better. I don’t know what that is. Oh, and going to the VA ain’t the answer.
Something I realized last night, talking to Joe: we mistakenly co-mingle guilt with trauma. I have helped numerous ne’er-do-wells achieve room temperature. No guilt, none, ever. Joe kinda/sorta had the same experience. But that kind of activity does induce trauma. One may have done the right thing, and have no guilt whatsoever, but it’ll still leave a mark. I don’t know how to fix that.
Our military is so extruded from regular society, that when troops muster out, they have a hard time figuring out what the moral and societal calculus is, because decision-making and policy-making are so bass-ackwards of anything sane.
I cried a lot when Joe and I were talking. Mostly (hopefully) on the inside. Mostly for Joe. I’ll admit it, maybe a little bit for me. It seems extraordinarily unfair to train a guy to become a human killing machine, and then prosecute him and put him in prison for being provoked and sucker-punched and reacting like a human killing machine.
I got Joe’s phone number. Not this weekend, but next, I’ll give him a call and make sure he’s doing all right.Published in