November 16th, 2020
Hadhramaut region, Yemen
I had yet to experience the kind of freedom Adam had until Adam died in the car bomb and everything got better. It was key (to the engine. ha!) to this journey of positive social freedom that people saw me in my heroics. A guy with goats saw me, a few Infantrymen from 2nd who we were traveling with (3 of them died, too, including Mimoosh, the guy who slept above me in the barracks) saw me too, and most importantly, to spark my success, a dash cam go-pro attached to the windshield of the screeched-to-a-halt delivery truck behind us.
And let me get this out before things really get started: I know how all this will sound. I’ve always been fucked up. I’m not one of those lonely college poets who hits enter between a few words of his whiny diary and romanticizes his secret narcissism (at least not anymore! haha!). I’ve decided to live honestly now. Not to spoil the beans, but that is what I’ve learned from all this. Live honestly and the room to complain collapses. Plus, it’s not like I killed them myself.
I joined the Peace Corps and got 343 likes on my Facebook status. Old teachers from high school, this bully, also from high school, that asked me once why I never said anything, college girls that said I was “adorable”, my older brother’s cool cigarette carpool companions. I went thru the list of Likers slowly and fast and then slowly again. A minute would go by and I’d feel like I missed some. The imaginations of the around-the-counter conversations discussing my selfless trip to Yemen involving this one Like-er and his mother, this other Like-er and my cousin’s cute wife, even my own siblings, weren’t quite evolving clearly enough in my head. Maybe I thought that if I started to believe myself what I hoped others believed about me, then I wouldn’t need to go thru lists of Like-ers like this anymore (haha. This is funny. Tell this to new counselor). I was on Facebook for 11 hours the day before I left for Yemen.
You know the feeling like there’s this clawing lightness that is pulling you gently from behind your eyeballs, keeping you just a little bit out of focus, unable to direct yourself, widening the angle of your presentness to encompass everything you’ve ever done and everything you’ve ever said or thought? I think they also call it ADD. In the weeks before I got here, I remember lying awake all sweaty in my childhood room, lights off, trying to focus on the moon. I’d force thoughts about its awe and longevity, my communion thru it with all men who’ve come before me. I’d think things like “Crazy shit, man. Moon’s been around forever. Yea, yea. Space travel. They bounce high when they walk up there. History. Moon is important and cool. Crazy. Think more smart stuff about it. Am I a genius?” Then I’d imagine little brown children in sandals reaching for my face and for gifts of candy. I imagined my face and my smile and someone else’s Instagram of all of our love-inducing happy-from-giving-and-taking-charity smiles and my mom sharing it with her Super Fun Ladies Club and more Likes. I yelled at myself for liking Likes so much. Was this all some sort of grasp for attention for me? How come I didn’t show up to my going away party? I will get better in Yemen, I thought. Some selfless focus on the Other will be good for me.
A giant woman in a pink and blue silk dress rubbed against my skin the whole two hours of the bus ride, and I yelled “Fuck you! Die! Die!” at her in my head. I had to keep my right hand holding on to the grasp-less ledge underneath the smoky window to my left. I breathed out twice as much as in and tried to get the woman to notice. She was really polite when she woke me up at the volunteer base.
Four minutes later, I was holding a tray with rice and beans and fried plantains and going thru a list of common expressions and reactions that friends say to one another. Even if you’re not the social King, persevere, just try, and eventually you will break through and it will all flow. I felt like everyone already knew my deepest fears and I’d yet to say anything to anyone except a quick point towards the tent and a mumbling of “volunteers, go?”
Then, Adam approached me and I fell in love. His khaki shorts weren’t past his knees as he led me to a table of ex-class presidents. Everyone was so young. One girl with large breasts was asking way too many questions. Every time I thought to answer, three guys from the South jumped in and I kept eating to keep busy. Hopefully, more structured Ice Breakers would follow. There was a quiet skinny woman at the other end of the table, and I wished I’d sat next to her. She wore tight Amish-denim overalls and I knew she would be running early the next morning. Adam and her made an inside joke and everyone laughed. The guy across from me had the worst acne you could ever hope to have. I wrote quickly in my leather pocket journal that if I had that bad acne, I would definitely get close to killing myself. I laughed once and laughed again for show, hoping someone would ask what I was laughing about, comment on my cool journal, and promise to recapture the easy going nature she could see behind my scared little-boy eyes. No one said anything.
Three days later, I sat in the back of a Humvee underneath a mountain of blue jugs of water. They told me after that I had severe second-degree burns, but the jugs exploded with the rest of them so perfectly that it doused most of the fire off of my body pretty quickly. I imagined a 360-degree video, paused. A thick jellyfish of blue water inches from the fire all over my skin.
Adam was two rows ahead of me and towards my right. When the initial falling and yelling was over, I crawled towards the right side of the road. The ringing and muffled silence after explosions in movies is accurate. Ringing because of sharp sudden noise and muffling because there’s not enough time for your brain to begin to process the information. My memory played me a constant loop, a sound-gif of fire and bones, and popping blue jugs. I tried to think of words other than “cut,” which was not what ran down the length of Adam’s legs and torso. As I tried to yell, I stared into his eyes and hoped that he was OK with me being the last person he saw before he died.