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Joe Random-the Last Legacy
It all happened so fast. “BANG BANG BANG.” The three shots rang out, piercing through a calm day like a sword through a body. Trayvon crumpled onto the filthy ghetto street like a candy wrapper, tossed aside onto the sidewalk of life, a reminder of what once was. I leaned over his face and said, “No no no no! Come on, don’t! This ain’t fair!” The boy I once knew was almost gone, and my life, as tumultuous as it was, spending it how I was, had taken another turn for the worse. I beheld at the gore on my hands, closed my eyes, and looked back on my life.
The evictions, the letdown, the sweat, tears and blood that my mom and I had shed to scrape out a living in our little corner of the world, which just so happened to be a shabby ghetto in Houston, Texas all seemed to fade into the distance. All that mattered to me now was Trayvon. My best friend, the one who had been with me through thick and thin, was vanishing, and vanishing fast. Then, only then, I realized I had to get out.
“Joe, wake up.” My mom’s voice rang out through the deep darkness that I was immersed in. I had been crying for almost three days straight now, and had not gotten out of bed in just as long. Trayvon’s death had left a hole in my life as big as the sun. Life seemed to stop, and there was no purpose anymore. Several times as I lay in my bed, I pulled out my .45 caliber pistol, cocked the hammer and held it by my head. “Just do it!” I thought. “The pain will be gone!” In those three days, my life hung in the balance, but every time I brought the gun to my head, I heard my stern mother in my head. “Joe, you have a future!” she seemed to scream. However, my future had long since passed. My drug addiction overshadowed my high school basketball skills, and there I was, a wash-up basketball player scraping out a living in the ghetto. I liked to think I was sober at that time. At least I thought it was true.
After Trayvon’s death, I felt no need to get myself up from that bed. There I sat, with the gun in my hand, and almost in a pattern, I would sit and click the hammer in place, then think better of it and pop it back.
There I sat. My existence became more insignificant by the second, and my mom grew persistent in her noble quest to save me from this dark abyss. She used a tone of voice I had never heard before: a soft one. “Joe, you want me to whip you up something? I could do it real fast.” When I refused, she would slowly slink out. In and out she went, checking on me almost hourly. I think she was afraid that she would walk in and find me dead, a victim of my own doing.
After doing nothing with myself for over a week, I decided it was time to go out. I got in my car and went for a drive. I drove all around my neighborhood, and noticed that all of the kids looked exactly like me when I was their age. I imagined them making the mistakes I did, taking the roads I took in life. I couldn’t bear to visualize it.
About two weeks after Trayvon’s death, the week I turned 25 years old, I decided to join the army. My thought process was that if my purpose in life was destroyed, why not try to avenge it? I would end up going to my local enlistment office, and they accepted me. I would report to training immediately in Fort Knox, Virginia.
The army paid for my flight. I could not believe my luck, riding on an airplane like this. It amazed me to be this far up in the sky, flying this fast! Two and a half spectacular hours later, I was walking to my cab in shock from my flight experience.
Once I arrived at the training facility, I was grouped in with the others and we were given the standard procedures. First we got our bunks and were told where to go. Next, we got our hair cut, which was not a problem for me because I had always kept my hair short and tidy and had never had any interest in long hair. After this it was about dinnertime, so we made our way to the mess hall and got some food. The army food was average, and I didn’t eat too much. That night, there was a notification that we would be training tomorrow, and to report to the training ground at exactly 8:00 AM tomorrow morning.
“Training”. More like “h*** on earth” if you know what I mean. All day, from 8:00 until sundown, the instructors did everything in their power to make one of us fall over and die from exhaustion. Carrying sandbags, shimmying through muddy ditches, you name it. At 7:30 PM we were finally done. I honestly thought I was going to die. I muttered to myself, “Dang, Joe. One of these days…” At 8:00 PM, a full twelve hours after I had started training, I stumbled into my bed and fell asleep without even having dinner.
Training continued like this for a few more weeks, until mid-February. I wrote to my mom occasionally, and she always wrote back, seeming chipper and high-spirited. I wondered if she missed me, but pushed the thought out of my head daily. We learned basically how to operate the different guns that we were issued, including a service pistol and the standard infantry weapon, the M16 rifle. I immediately took a liking to this rifle, and was one of the best in my division with it. At the end of training, I graduated at the top of my class. Morale was high within our division, and we waited to be called upon for the war effort. On March 15, 2003 the call came. We would be going to Iraq as reinforcements to Operation Iraqi Freedom. We were shipping out.
War provided a way to forget about the pain that forever will be inside me. In Iraq, we fought Taliban insurgents daily who knew the territory and were not afraid to die. The fighting was bitter, and we lost quite a few men. Some of the images of war will stick with me forever, maybe even more than Trayvon’s lifeless body on that street. I fought bravely, and after the first month of combat, was named for a promotion from private to PFC, private first class. I felt emboldened, and fought even harder. Sure, we were killing other humans, but what did I care? We were doing it for a greater cause. I never gave much though to this topic until later in my life. I was too young and dumb to care.
We cleared houses in several cities, going from house to house, kicking open doors, praying that there was not an AK-47 barrel sticking out from the dark. This was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I have ever undergone. After house clearings, I was promoted to corporal, and I wore my insignia with pride. The boys respected me, and I loved it.
Over the next year or so, my division and I remained in Iraq, clearing up pesky insurgents. I flew up the ranks, and at the close of operations in Iraq, (or so I thought), I was a Master Sergeant! I could hardly believe my skill. “I guess I really am good at this combat thing,” I said to myself. On one of our last days of the Iraq War, we got a call from a superior. He said that we were to move to the city of Fallujah to spearhead one of the biggest attacks of the entire war. Wow. I guess you could say I was in shock, but shock didn’t really compare to the way I was feeling. One more attack. One more chance to shine. One more chance to get promoted. I couldn’t wait for Fallujah.
“Go, go, go!” I called out as my forces moved towards a hostile base in the southern half of Fallujah. We had been fighting for the better part of a month, and my men were the bravest I have ever commanded. I was now a Sergeant Major, and in command of an entire regiment of men. We fought intensely, like clockwork, and now we were one of the most respected regiments of men in Iraq. This was our last stand. Insurgents were everywhere in the city, and we had been tasked with clearing the thickest part. My men slowly worked their way through the city, clearing neighborhoods carefully. In this last pocket of resistance, there was intelligence that said there were up to 500 insurgents in just that neighborhood. It seemed everywhere we stepped there was a cold steel cylinder or an IED just waiting for us to spring the trap, then to pounce on us. We lost many men in that battle, each one of them fighting bravely. We didn’t stop until every last insurgent was neutralized, and we were then given the clear to move out.
We were given leave, and every one of my men thanked me and drifted away, back to the states, to be with their loved ones. On the last day, as I was packing my things, I got a surprise visit from General Petraeus, the commander of field operations in Iraq. Once I saw him, I gasped and almost doubled over. This could only mean one thing. I was getting a promotion. He walked up to me and said with a smile, “Relax, kid. I just wanted to congratulate our new Sergeant Major of the Army.” “Th-th-thank you, sir,” I sputtered out. Not an SMA. The SMA. Wow.
Upon returning home to my mom, I was so happy I didn’t even think about Trayvon. The war had made me understand death, and I was the SMA, so I could think of it as a win-win. “I heard the news! I’m so proud of you,” she said. “Look Ma, I bought you something. I showed her a picture of the fanciest River Oaks house she had ever seen, then handed her the deed. “I-I-I don’t know what to say,” she sputtered. “Thanks would be fine,” I laughed.
We drove to our new house, and once she got out of her car to go look at it, I looked back on my life. Upon thinking, I said, “Hey Trayvon, pretty nice house, huh?” In my head, I heard him laugh, and he nodded yes.