AfghaniStan Diego

Chapter 2; It’s Always Darkest Just Before it Goes Pitch Black

Before I resume the chronicles of my leave misery I must first provide a warning to the hundreds 3 of you who read my blog. This warning should be read similar to the way legal caveats are read in a quiet, crack-cocaine paced manner at the end of a used car sale commercial; ApprovedAPRTaxTitleLicense … SoulMustBeSignedOverToDealer … EventEndsMonday … etc. Before I offer my warning I need to step back a bit and offer a bird’s-eye view of the situation I found myself shortly after my last entry. At some point during the saga I ended up spending 2.5 days straight in the Bagram Air Field TERMINAL, with little sleep, living off of popcorn, coffee, and snacks provided from the USO. As would be the case with anybody else, I completely lost track of days & time during that period. I recall the events that took place quite well, as each permanently etched an unhealable emotional scar upon my being, but that is about all. I suppose in that sense, my story will resemble that of a drunken wino who witnessed the JFK assassination attempting to describe what happened. So, in short, understand that the traditional ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’ method of storytelling will, in all likelihood, dwindle down to ‘What’ and maybe, with luck, ‘Who’. To my credit, the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of the situation could not be explained even in the best of mental states.

I made my retreat back to the R&R tent again, this time leaving my 2 larger sea bags filled with Christmas presents, under a baggage awning so I would not have to drag them back with me in the morning. I had already finished the only book I intended to read in transit, so I decided to attempt to lighten my mood a bit by watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. In hindsight, the only constant that remained throughout my entire trip was the sadistic parallels to movies that illustrate the ludicrous things people endure in a humorous or dramatic fashion. I would eventually identify with everything Clark Griswald went through, tragedy after tragedy. He remained by my side smirking all the while, his chimple (chin dimple) basking in all of its glory; he’d whisper “I know how you feel. I have been there too, hang in there it will all work itself out.” In the darker times ahead I would look down at my waist and see Frodo looking up at me in a gay little hobbit way; he’d say “I too have endured the pains you now feel, I too have lost everything in an attempt to reach the end of the Earth.” Oh yes, his Mordar was my San Diego, and I would endure equally trying times ahead. So far the relatives had arrived, and I still had to put up the Christmas Lights, watch the Christmas Tree go up in flames, battle a squirrel, electrocute a cat, and learn I would not receive my Christmas bonus. At that time I had no idea my brother Eddie was well on his way and that the sword of a Ringwraith would damn-near take my life.

Another night in the oven. I started to sympathize with bread. I laid awake thinking about organizations like PETA that make every effort to protect living creatures. I wondered why there are no great protectors of yeasts, or of breads. Hell, female doctors massacre them by the billions and they are still considered the poster-children of American Society. I vowed to myself that I would take up arms on their behalf first thing in the morning, for I saw that we were brethren, for I too have felt the feeling of being cooked to death.

Sunday, 14 December

Upon awakening I decided that I would go eat breakfast and perhaps visit the gym, and dropped my pursuit of becoming the great yeast protector all-together. I had a few hours to kill so I made a conscious effort to savor every bite of my breakfast, and to do exactly what my commander and chief had suggested the troops do in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006; to de-stressify [sic] myself. There are many people who don’t quite understand gym rats at all. Hell, I typically hit the gym 5-6 times a week and I am both puzzled and amused when I see large, spaghetti-strap-shirt wearing guys throwing plates down and yelling each time the lift something. One thing can be said without debate of frequenting the gym; the stress release is remarkable. I finished lifting and smirked as I noticed an attractive 40-something kind of looking me over. For those of you who don’t know me personally I need to qualify the previous statement by informing you that outside of the volleyball court, I am in no way conceited, and that I smirked because I get such looks once every 5 years now less frequently than I used to (perhaps losing my ghetto booty?), and so, when a female does show her approval of my physique, I tend to bloat about it and revisit the memory later in life much like a young kid reminisces of solving their first puzzle or scoring their first goal when their ego needs patch-work.

I returned to the R&R tent and shuffled over to the shower room to enjoy a nice 30 minute shower. After showering I shoveled down lunch (so much for savoring) and grabbed my bags to head to the TERMINAL. It is 11:30. At the TERMINAL, I and about 200 other military members shuffled around with deer-in-headlights looks permantly fixed upon our faces as if we all moved aimlessly just for the sake of not standing still, doing whatever we could to prevent from falling into total purgatory. Hours passed and there was still no word on our flight. The TERMINAL continued to fill up and the standing room only portions were soon no longer available. We were all part of a massive rave, or concert, sans music, fun, and alcohol of course. I noticed as an interesting social dynamic developed. I seemed to feel that I knew many of these people, and not just by facial familiarity. I had not spoken to more than 2 of them, and for the most part they haven’t spoken to each other, but they seemed to share the same observation, perhaps realizing that we all would share whatever fate the TERMINAL sent our way collectively, and similarity begets social familiarity. It had been 3 hours since we all turned in our ID’s in order for the TERMINAL workers to manifest us on the next flight. I noticed a chaplain reading the “Audacity of Hope” and laughed out loud at the irony before becoming self conscious of people questioning my sanity. We struck up a conversation and I could not help but to appreciate his genuine empathy and honesty. He was soft-spoken, a good listener, non-judgmental, and very bright. I wondered quietly how history would have changed if all Christians were like him. It is an interesting thought really. We were interrupted by a voice on the intercom which announced that our plane had left Kandahar Air Field an hour earlier and would soon be landing to transport us off to our little holiday heavens. The ETA for our plane was an hour. Everyone became restless and instantaneously chatty. The mood was temporarily lifted.

2 Hours passed and whatever good-will the Chair Force had generated had long since vanished. I imagined a 200 person coup overpowering the TERMINAL and hijacking a plane to fly to Kuwait. I looked around and noticed the others imagining the same thing, or perhaps something much worse. Even old chappy at this point was carving an anarchist symbol on the wall with a dull survival knife. (This last part may have taken place solely in my imagination due in part, but not exclusively, to a lack of sleep and the physiological results of a popcorn-pop tart diet.) I looked up to see a young teenage Airman wondering into the crowd with a little sheet of paper placed in his hands. There was sweat on his brow and he looked absolutely horrible. I have seen rabbits in lion dens that were not as timid as this guy. He was Kunta Kente at a Merle Haggard concert. He stopped and scanned the room for a way out, and in a sense found one in the chaplain. A look of relief swept across his face as he shuffled over towards us. He kept his eyes on the floor as he muttered, “Your …uh flight… has been cancelled.” The others started to sense that something was rotten in Denmark and began to talk amongst themselves. The chappy stood up, took a deep breath, and told us all that our flight had officially been cancelled. There were a lot of horrible things said throughout the ordeal. More would follow. I won’t go into that too much. Suffice to say the entire group was approaching a level of anger than has not been seen outside of a Scottish Soccer Match.

Monday, 15 December (12:00 AM)

I sat, in my seat, in my own little wooden and textile world. I would not give it up no matter what the cost. A senior enlisted female made her way in to drop the full story on us. Apparently the plane left too late and did not have time to land so it just flew over us. I sensed that our collective mood was in danger of reaching a point of no return. I am not sure if it was a genuine effort to make everyone’s life a little bit better, or simply because at heart, I am a smart-ass. For one reason or another I mimicked her voice and said, “However, we may have seats for three on Santa’s sleigh which is presently scheduled to arrive at 14:00 on December 24th. I got a pretty good response from that and others immediately began to turn the situation into their own little standup/sit down routines. The senior enlisted female did her best to ignore all the smart-elic remarks as she told us that another flight would be arriving soon, and that seats were available for 70 of us. They had some weird scheme for deciding who would be on that flight. She started calling our social security numbers and low and behold I was called. Once she was finished the group of non-selectees mumbled and cursed as they made their way out of the TERMINAL in hope of salvaging some sleep.

We sat, and sat, and sat. Civilizations rose and fell. Great walls were built and torn down. Ice caps melted and turned to rain, which turned to snow, and created more ice caps. And we sat. It was sometime around 2 in the morning when we, the lucky 70, where instructed to grab our gear and prepare for our flight. At that point in time I had been in the TERMINAL for about 14 hours. We all collected our carry-ons and began shuffling to the back of the TERMINAL in preparation of boarding our plane. We got on buses that shuttled us to our C130. Everyone was excited, jubilant, and awake. It was the best of times.

We boarded the plane and took our seats. We strapped in and looked around at each other with silently communicating some sense of achievement. Some needed to take a piss, and went through the difficult process of propping themselves up in the back of the plane , and aiming into a small cone-like object about 6 inches in diameter, all the while trying not to be seen by female crew members. Others simply rested their heads against the plane and went to sleep. I sat, alert, observing everything, and eventually began imagining my arrival in San Diego as the plane began to taxi to the runway. The lights were out, and most everyone was asleep. We seemed to drive around for a good 15 minutes before we came to a stop. I remember thinking at that time, “there’s no fucking way.” The back door of the plane opened and I looked around for some visual explanation. Those that were asleep began waking up and looking around and commenting that the flight seemed “quick”. I turned to them and informed them that we never left the ground. Once again the emotional rollercoaster had lifted us up sky-high only to drop us to an all-time low, and at an unparalleled speed. Nobody said a word. It was the absolute definition of silence. Like the offspring of Helen Keller and Charlie Chaplain silent. A female crew worker stood on a chair and requested our full attention. She informed us that the back hatch would not shut fully, and that we would have to leave the plane while they attempted to fix it. She also told us that the buses were being used somewhere else so that we would have to walk all the way back from the runway. Again our little group, previously the ‘chosen 70’, now the ‘cursed 70’, erupted. Cursing, slamming, throwing things, kicking, biting, clawing, and doing everything else one might experience during a trailer-park Christmas. I figured I would spearhead operation ‘lighten things up’, though I was certainly angry myself. I called for everyone’s attention. The looks on their faces indicated that they do not know rather or not to take me seriously. I quickly answered their doubts. “I just received news that a plane will soon be arriving, and that it will drive us back to the TERMINAL!” Everyone hooted and hollered their approval, and the jokes continued from there. I proclaimed loudly that I doubted the Taliban went through such problems going home for Christmas, and that was definitely a positive recruiting point. For about an hour the jokes continued back and forth as we waited for word on the condition of our plane.

On the outside I was the jester, on the inside I was Jack Nicholson in the Shining. I could not escape this evil place and could not imagine any ending other than me loosing my peanut jar. I swore I heard the word “redrum” echo in my ear. Children were riding big wheels down hallways as it snowed outside. All the signs were there. It felt hard to breath. My neck and throat hurt like they do when one breaks up with their first true love. I was breaking down like 80,000 mile Dodge sedan.

Again an employee shuffled into the TERMINAL and told us all that they were working on the plane, and that we needed to stay there in case they could actually get the hatch fixed before they silence the runway. Whaaaaaaaaaaaa? Silence the runway? I ran up to ask her what that meant. “Oh”, she said with a smile, (oncoming morning shifter with a good nights sleep, food and coffee) “The president is landing here at 0800 and the runway will be shutdown from 0700-1100.” Now let me step away from the story awhile and explain something. There is a definite yet unpredictable progression of feelings and emotion that run their course when one encounters relentless adversity. At first I took the hits in stride. After awhile I began to get angry, which in turn morphed into me making fun of the situation. I believe it was after this news that I reached my next point on the Totem Pole of madness, pure, unbridled amazement. I am a numbers guy at heart and always have been. Even when I was young I used to spend hours on end observing chaos and probability. I used to play with my dad’s little lottery trinkets just for the sake of witnessing the unexpected … wow, 37 four times in a row! What, with regard to the whole system of things, was the possibility of experiencing such a progression of epic shitiness, and even more interesting, what was the possibility of each event overshadowing the last? Numerically speaking it was a marvel, the 8th wonder of the world, a perfect shit storm.

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