The first call I made when I got back to Kansas was to my parents in Iowa. It was New Year’s Eve. They talked about staying up until midnight. I talked about the weather until I knew more about how the previous year in Afghanistan had changed me. They listened, mostly, asking me the same questions they asked their friends who returned from a tour of Italy the week before. Did I sleep? Was I eating enough? Did I sit next to anyone interesting on the flight? Aisle or window? Did I have to work on Monday? Was I ok? I wondered if the way I described flying across ten and a half time zones from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan to Ireland to Kansas in less than three days had made any sense to my father. It still doesn’t make sense to me.
The chill from the desert in Kandahar followed me back in the form of a closed fist of cold air and jet exhaust that punched through my sinus cavities as soon as we stepped off the plane onto the tarmac. The asphalt beneath the boots of 128 men matched the star shattered Kansan sky once again above us. My combat uniform retained the thick but faded musk of the Marlboros I smoked before leaving the airfield, confusing my senses further between two places. The jet lag didn’t help. Not even the feel of my own apartment keys in my pocket for the first time in over a year could piece together the vortex of what happened in the last 56 hours, the last four weeks, the last eight months and the last year that was all still somehow part of the same life. A two star general other than the one in command when we left the year before welcomed our unit home, in a gymnasium full of families wielding poster board signs made by third graders. Attention. Dismissed.
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