THOUGHTS OF A WARFIGHTER ON MEMORIAL DAY
Written by Staff Sergeant Jaymes Poling — 1/508 PIR, 82nd Airborne Division — 3 tours in Afghanistan & co-creator of Modern Warrior.
There are days I feel I have come a long way from the rough start of my transition into the civilian world, and there are other days when I feel right back at the center of it. These were my thoughts a year ago, on Memorial Day 2016.
This morning, for the first time in a long time, I decided to take an actual bath. Laying there with my knees bent I settled my head under the water, leaving only my face above the surface. There I laid listening to my own breathing, while trying to think about how I would view this day in forty years…. Memorial Day. I realized that I had never tried to figure out what the day meant to me. Almost immediately, I began to miss everyone I served with, both alive and dead. I felt alone again, as though I had just gotten home for the first time. I laid in the bath for an hour and a half before my parents showed up at Kylie’s, and yelled up to me. I dried off and did my best to hide my thoughts, before heading downstairs. As I ran into Kylie in the bathroom she looked right through my false sense of composure and asked me what was wrong. I told her the day had gotten to me. She put her arms around me. I immediately began sobbing on her shoulder. It took me close to a minute to compose myself enough for her to feel comfortable leaving. I spent another two minutes in the room trying to make myself look normal. I must have done a good job, because when I joined our families outside, no one noticed. I was relieved.
As we sat around, I listened to our fathers discussing home renovation, and our mothers discussing family. However, I could only think about my friends that weren’t with theirs. I sat there quietly, occasionally getting on my phone to look at my military friends’ ideas and memories. They were the memories we shared, the memories of losing loved ones in the fights we survived. We all missed them. “Till Valhalla!” would bring us all to tears if we thought about it too long. As I’m pulled from my own thoughts, I hear a complaint about my being on my phone. I’m not angry. I understand their perception of the day. One person says to me, “This cookout is what Memorial Day is about, and you’re on your phone.” Kylie mouths “I’m sorry” from across the table as I smile and apologize. After that I remain silent and eventually go back to my friends through my phone. The opportunity to clean allows me to go inside and Kylie follows. I feel uncomfortable around everyone. This isn’t a new feeling, but it’s one that has been absent for quite some time. Kylie and I walk to the living room and sit down to talk for a minute. She lets me know that she’s there for me and I’m not alone. I know this, and it’s embarrassing to discuss, but it still helps to redirect my thoughts.
As I go back outside, everyone is now aware of my uncommon sensitivity to the moment. Everyone looks at me as though they just saw a dog hit by a car, and even if they aren’t, my mind is making it so. I feel like a child that just embarrassed himself by crying over something irrelevant. I know this is not how I’m perceived, but outside of Kylie and a handful of warriors, people don’t see me cry. I’m able to readapt to normal social behavior, but for the rest of the day people are soft with me. It’s uncomfortable, people want to feel out if I need to be comforted, and I just wish they could forget the prior situation.
These moments are rare now, and are becoming rarer. However, I don’t know how to prepare myself for them. Maybe I never will. Maybe I never want to.
These writings are part of Modern Warrior, an autobiographical musical drama of a soldier’s journey, working to build bridges between veteran & civilian communities through stories and music. Modern Warrior is co-created by Staff Sergeant Jaymes Poling & artist Dominick Farinacci.