Human Last

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He was a solider. A child once, perhaps, but now he was nothing more than a callused-over soul and a broken heart that would never really mend. He was a soldier. Son second, brother third, friend last, but in his mind the dog of the state always came first. He was a soldier. A mere boy in boots, his gun half-cocked and lazy on his shoulder. Here he was ready; here he knew what to expect and how to react should the very worst happen. Here, he was complete as a human being because once out of the hazy jungles and tall grass he didn’t know how to be a human. There were no manners here – no common courtesy, no please or thank you. Here there were only your wits and the things your head told you to do before your feet could act. Here there were only the rules of warfare and how, if you were smart, you could survive. You could go back to the real world. You could go back.

But go back to what, he always wondered. Go back to what, exactly? Family? Friends? People who, no matter how they tried, no matter how they wanted, could never really understand? Could never really understand the fact that he just did not want to talk about it and when he did, he would be too heartbroken and distraught to form the words? The world through tainted eyes, especially out there, is not a world easily shared or recognized. You’re trained to see it that way. You have all the hope in the world blown out of you just once but that’s all it takes. The first time you hold a gun, shoot, and hit someone and hear the boney crunch. Or the first time a buddy dies in your arms because he’s bleeding out of everywhere and there ain’t a tourniquet or an ointment in the world that can change it. Or the first time you feel the echoing nothingness of your own body.

You die every night and in the morning you wake up a little less of a person, you wake up a little more of a monster. Every morning you wake up with one foot in the grave and the other threatening to fall. It’s a hard life. You trudge on; you put the carnage behind you for now and just get through the mission to the next checkpoint so you can breathe easy for at least a couple seconds before loading your gun again and moving on. You go to bed hungry and cold but you’re thankful to go to bed at all.

Out there, out here, he knew how to be human. He was complete. Because he didn’t know how to be anywhere else.

And that scared him. More than friendly fire, more than hidden mines, more than the enemy. It scared him that he felt human in the monster.

He was more monster than man now, with one foot in the grave and a half cocked gun on his shoulder. And tomorrow, he’d wake up, and be very much the same. Day in, day out. He was a soldier. Man second, enemy third, and human last. But the dog of the state always came first.





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