I remember. I remember spending carefree days with a beautiful woman. I remember her face, her laugh, her touch. I dream sometimes about nights relaxing with friends while laughing and smiling with ease. I have fast fading memories of lazy days at home watching reruns while sharing the couch with a beloved pet. I remember, not happiness exactly, but contentment, an absence of impotent rage and depression. This was before, before I learned to cringe involuntarily at loud knocking, before an unanticipated phone call held only dread, before I knew about recalls, exercises, being undermanned, rank, uniforms, grooming standards, and an unending supply of acronyms and alphabetisms. This was a time when I could consider not going to work with no fear of possible prison time, hard labor, or fines. This was before I joined the military. Before I sold everything I loved, everything I was for the hope of a better future.
Once I had a beard, and longer hair. I wore whatever I wanted. My actions were derived from conscious choices. Spare time was abundant and used to nourish my mind, my body, and my soul. I moved often, sometimes on a whim, but mainly to find a better job. No one told me where to go. No one held my hand. There was no plan. There was no paperwork. There was just me: my mind, my dreams, my life, and my choices. I loved it.
My pride brought me to this. I was ashamed of failing, ashamed of being unemployed, ashamed of living with my parents again, ashamed that the woman I loved was far too good for what I had become. So I made the hard choice and I enlisted, but I remember.
They cut me off from everything that came before. They cut me off from everything that nourished my soul, my books, my cooking, and my love. I was moved, again, and again, and yet again. They took me further and further from friends, from the opportunity to make new nonmilitary friends. They put me far, far away in the middle of nowhere. They keep me in places where it is impossible to make civilian friends. Places where there are only military and military families. Now, they surround me with things I do not want but am forced to take. They work me to the point that I can barely keep my tenuous connections to lost loves and nearly forgotten friends. They afford me no time to read, to cook, to refresh my mind, to tend to my life.
It was all given up voluntarily, as I am reminded at every turn. My old life, my soul, was handed over to them to be chained by bonds stronger than iron, sharper than Twain’s wit, more complex than the most elaborate maze. They have yoked my life and soul with the bonds of bureaucracy, sharpened by signatures, reinforced with duplicates, and guarded by the beguiled souls of those who have forgotten.
My memories and my new military friends protect my sanity. My new friends are kind and generous people, volunteers as I am, but many have forgotten. Not willingly and never all at once, but they have forgotten nonetheless. Some have forced themselves to forget as they became trapped in the deceptively soft security blanket offered to their recently conceived children and young, adored wives. It’s never as secure as it seems, but no one discovers that until it’s too late. The rest have forgotten slowly, little by little with each new move, with each old friend lost, with the ever eroding passage of time. I see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, sense it in their sagging shoulders and carefully worded responses. I am desperately afraid I too might forget.
That’s what they want. They want you to forget, to lull you into a soft sense of security with the seemingly steady paycheck and constant promises of new improvements. They want to keep you, keep you till you break, keep you till they have lost interest, keep you till you’re all used up, till you’re just a husk who’s forgotten how to live. They want you to forget that you’re a toy to them, an amusing insect, a cog in the machine that they control, to be used and disposed of as they see fit. Still, I remember.
My pride, yes my pride, sustains me. The same pride that landed me here has sought to redeem itself. They have wounded it with a thousand tiny cuts, seeking to destroy it, to crush it, but it waits, it seethes, it rages quietly waiting for release. It keeps my memory sharp. When the time comes to voluntarily stay or be released, and the time is fast approaching, it will remember. It will remember every harsh word, every condescension, and every belittlement it has suffered. It will remember all four years in agonizingly sharp detail and I will remember what it was like before, before I joined. I will remember contentment and I will remember her.
Until then, until the time when I am once more offered a choice, a time still far off, I wait. I wait and I remember.