As I'm typing this in my rented room in Wilmington, North Carolina, there's a strange and constant curiosity floating around the back of my mind. An afterthought of sorts. It's asking me what the fuck I'm doing here, once again in the place that I left not 14 months ago. Strangely, despite the plethora of reasons for being in North Carolina, I can't really answer that question. What the fuck am I doing here? How the fuck should I know?
And that's the million-dollar question, isn't it? How the fuck should I know about anything? The answer to that shouldn't surprise you: how the fuck should I know?
Maybe it's me, maybe it's this place, maybe it's the fact that my three dogs are split up in three different locations, but I really feel like I shouldn't be here. During one of my first days back I was driving down Market Street headed for downtown, and I could've sworn the trees were telling me to leave. No, I'm not crazy (not certifiably, anyway), but that's the sensation I got.
I know what you're thinking and you're probably right. It's just me. Nothing new there, everything I've done right and done wrong has always been just me. This shouldn't be any different. But it is somehow. My whole life I've been little more than an afterthought to most people, but here I'm practically nothing. The person people roll their eyes at when his number shows up on their caller IDs. It's worse than afterthought... it's not being thought of at all.
Of course, again, that's mostly my fault. I didn't really make an attempt to embrace Wilmington when I was here the first time, even though I love the place. Then again, that logic might not work here, since I hate Fayetteville, North Carolina, but feel absolutely at home in the shadows of Fort Bragg.
I've never been remarkably good at anything. Baseball, maybe, but with most things I was merely competent. People say I'm a good writer, but most of that is undoubtedly false encouragement, and until I make a living as a writer, I won't ever make the mistake of agreeing with them. There was, however, one thing that I was among the best at, and that was being a soldier. Now, I never fit in well with the Army system, but nobody in uniform anywhere in the world could tell me that I didn't know my job, and know it well. Whether it was demolitions-related or reconnaissance-related, I knew what I was doing better than most in my field. Jumping out of planes I can't claim such confidence with, but I'm not really confident with anything that you can do perfectly and still maintain a good chance of dying.
The irony here is that I treated the Army much like most people treat me: as an afterthought. It was merely something I was doing until I was ready, financially and mentally, to pursue other things. My dreams, in particular, and we all know how those are turning out.
Still, as Memorial Day approaches and the notifications from the Army become more frequent, I can't help but feel some guilt in not being a soldier anymore. There are friends I will remember this upcoming holiday, though I remember them always, and the burden of not being there when they were killed is sometimes too much to bear. Maybe I came back to North Carolina to fulfill some fucked up destiny. I, with my good-for-nothing left foot and bad attitude, just might wind up back in uniform. Half-unwillingly, of course, but who knows? I have a tendency to leave things unfinished, and maybe this is one of them. This is all, of course, afterthought to me. But then again, it's probably even less to you.
Still, I'd rather be an afterthought buried next to my friends and fellow paratroopers than "that guy" you sometimes hang out with.
* This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that's happening over at The ...
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