February 16, 2011
John regained his vision first. White nothingness was replaced by rapidly expanding blackness, which in turn dissolved to reveal the world around him. His ears rang a high pitched whine that drowned everything else out. As his head cleared, he saw the street he was laying on, a torn up, potholed mess running through a dense city.
Uniformed men scurried, bent over, to new positions. Men in desert camouflage hid behind low walls and crouched behind cars parked on the street. On the other side of the road flashes of white erupted from the barrels of automatic rifles. His hearing was recovering. The high pitched whine was replaced by the chatter of gunfire, the screams of men, and the shriek of bullets impacting metal. Questions raced between his ears. Where was he? Why was he laying on the ground? Was he okay? His memory cleared slowly, basic details first. His name was John Taylor. He was 19 years old. He was a private first class in the US army rangers. More recent memories filtered down into his consciousness. He was on patrol in Baghdad. Command had sent them out, something about a roadside bomb. He had been crossing the street; there had been a man with a cell phone, then a flash, and darkness.
The realization dawned on him. He was in the middle of a firefight. Fear charged into his mind like a pack of wild horses. A horrible thought flooded him, where were his legs? He couldn’t feel them. He reached down, feeling around with his hands. They were still there; he said to himself, his legs were still there. He willed them to move, but they wouldn’t obey him. Thoughts of his legs were drowned out by a single notion. Death. His mind went into survival mode. His months of training kicked in. Higher thoughts were abandoned. He could rely only on his instincts and what had been drilled into his mind in boot camp. His mind processed his current situation in bullet points. He was in the middle of a firefight. He was wounded. He was in danger. He couldn’t lie in the open any longer; he would be shot or captured.
He needed to move. The one thought filled his mind. Move. Move. Move. He rolled over onto his stomach. The sand was gritty under his forearms. He started to crawl. He winced with pain, but continued. Arm length by arm length, he pulled his battered body towards the relative safety of an overturned dumpster. Bullets kicked up the dirt around him and he pressed himself as close to the ground as he could get, wishing he could just melt into it. He resumed crawling. His legs, useless, dragged across the street, slowing him down. He wished he could cut them off and leave them behind.
It was then that one of his squad mates noticed him crawling toward them. “Hey, Taylor’s alive!” he called. John recognized the voice of Pvt. Murphy.
The firefight was winding down. The gunfire was no longer constant. The building it had been coming from had taken so much fire it was a miracle it was still standing. Only the occasional burst indicated that hostiles were still inside. Pvt. Murphy and Sgt. Nelson ran into the street. Each grabbed one of his arms and together they hauled him over to the wall they had been hiding behind. “D*** Taylor, we thought you was dead.” Nelson’s poor grammar never ceased to amuse John. He smiled weakly.
“No, still in one piece,” He replied.
“You don’t look too good,” Murphy was talking again, “Don’t worry, we’re gonna get you a medevac. You’re going to be fine.”
John could barely speak. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” The last phrase was slurred. The world was spinning.
“Whoa, stay with us Taylor,” Nelson sounded unsure of himself, “Won’t be long now. They gonna come and put you back together.” Nelson was shaking his shoulder. Murphy was talking fast into a radio.
“Nelson?” he said.
“Yeah Taylor?” Nelson asked.
“Are my legs okay?”
Then he passed out.

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