Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Soldier's Tale

Tonight, something different.

The scene opens to a domicile; it could very well be a college dorm or a location similar. The composition of the room is modern from being freshly built. The gleam of luster, however, is fleeting. Trash is strewn throughout the room which, itself, is separated in two. The makeshift partition is formed by two entertainment centers, their backs against each other. Very little in the room - a uniform lying here, a pair of boots sitting there - makes it apparent that this is a military barracks room, but it is. The individual currently solely occupying the room is himself a soldier. Discipline, however, is hardly manifest here. The trash scattered throughout consists of half-crushed beer cans and empty liquor bottles. Hastily discarded take-out boxes complete the reckless motif.

The soldier, seated in a chair, faces the screen of a laptop computer. On the screen, several programs are open. The fingers of the soldier tap quickly as he transitions from instant messaging software to an internet browser. The screen lights the face of the soldier brightly - all else is dark. Being night time, light fails to cut through the blinds of the only window visible in the room.

As the soldier continues to work doggedly at the computer, the contents of the screen become visible. He is viewing a website describing the effects of a new recreational drug, known as DXM, and commonly found in cough syrup.

Moving from the screen and to the soldier, it becomes clear that this soldier is but a kid. At first appearance, one would believe him to be more likely found on a college campus than on a military base. He is wiry and wears surfer-style clothing. His shirt is a collared polo. The shirt is matched with a pair of beige cargo shorts. The prep ensemble is completed by a pair of beach sandals.

As his face becomes more discernible, it becomes clearly apparent by the glaze over his eyes that this soldier has already partaken of the drug in which he investigates. This only becomes more obvious as a flash from the computer screen reflects off the plastic of two empty bottles of Robitussin.

What’s occurring is less an experiment and more an adventure; an adventure that those affected by the soldier would later interpret differently. Those of the military in charge of the soldier would later explain the event in ways shaped by their short-sighted perception. They would also be the most off-base in their assumptions. To them this was at least a means to escape and at most an attempt at suicide. To those that truly knew him, and to the soldier himself, this was perhaps the former, but definitely not the latter.

The results of this adventure, which would include an emergency room consultation and a prolonged stay at the hospital, and its interpretations are nearly insignificant. More important are the thoughts in the soldier’s mind as he travels in ways he has never before.

While its true that stress associated with the military life probably pushed the soldier to the precipice of this adventure, it was his own desire that caused him to step off. He wanted to experiment and his adventure was currently unfolding mostly as planned. In front of him, on the computer screen, was a documentary of his favorite classic rock band, the Doors. All footage was taped live and Jim Morrison currently slivered on-screen, in front of a night-glowing crowd. And then, without warning, the soldier was there. He was in the crowd, bumping shoulders with his peers from Los Angeles, 1968. He watches, mesmerized, as Ray Manzarek makes the keyboard sing. The bottleneck guitar of Robby Krieger is as real as the air around him. The transition is complete and he is fully in the period, enjoying his temporary night of Human Be-In. The soldier can detect the palpable feel of rebellion. He has a clear sense of the Vietnam War occurring “out there” and the magic occurring “in here”, at the concert, of which he is now a patron.

He couldn’t be any more satisfied.

The soldier has his glorious trance interrupted. Someone has messaged him from online. His flight is taking a detour, but the pleasure is to continue. The message is from an old friend from a location the soldier has left some time ago. That location, however, is home to the soldier. He longs to be there again. He also longs for liberation from the demands of his military lifestyle. His buddy’s message provides momentary escape. Instead of reading words, the soldier sees his old pal. His friend is hardly conversing from computer to computer with a separation of many miles, but rather - in the mind of the soldier - sits on the other side of a wall. The soldier can see through this wall however. With each online message, he sees his friend speak his words. Having left his friend and life “back home” long ago, this act of conversing is so special to him. It is a treasure; and to his perception a very real return to a place he loved and loves.

The “success” of the soldier’s night would soon come crashing down around him, but it would occur unbeknownst to him. He would pass out in a near comatose state. The ranking individual most directly in charge of this soldier would later break into his room, alerted by the soldier’s worried parent. After being awoken in the hospital room, of the little that the soldier would later remember, the most prominent would be the thick chalky taste of the liquid charcoal he was forced to swallow to repudiate the toxicity of the overdose of cough syrup he had earlier consumed.

For two hours, maybe less and perhaps more, the soldier greatly enjoyed his adventure. He would later, however, regret ever stepping off on the journey. The enjoyment provided by the escape would be overshadowed by the embarrassment of being so reckless. Not immediately, but some years later, he would begin to understand the anxiety that his immature actions caused in others. Around the same period, he would shed his embarrassment. Instead, feeling no need to regret mistakes made in living life, he decides to share his tale through his most cherished medium. Feeling satisfied in his personal expression, he decides that many more stories should be openly shared.

To be continued. …