Someone I once served with killed themselves on New Year’s Eve. At the funeral — and I hate going to funerals — I learned that two other people from our unit took their lives since we had gotten out. Christ, it’s been months. We all nodded when the priest spoke, because that’s what you do.
On your first deployment they’ll tell you that it only takes a few times getting shot at before you get used to your nerves being on edge all the time. You never stop being scared, you just sort of develop this numbness in your hands and neck and your head learns how to take deep breaths. Some people cry, but they’ll get over that, too, eventually. No one is crying at the funeral.
The first time you see your friend get shot or blown up or wedged underneath a humvee that ran over an IED, that numbness all goes away. You’re back to your instincts, back to surviving. You can’t cry because you have to run. You can’t run because you have to fight. It’s how they get you.
Losing people when you’re deployed is different than losing people back home. We’re supposed to be safe here — that’s why we went. We were protecting our homes, right? I spent the whole night on the floor of a dark closet trying to drink so much that I wouldn’t wake up. But I did, so here I am.
They want me to say a few words. What am I supposed to say? I’m trying, too, and I know I’m not the only one.
Statistically, out of the dozen of us who showed up, a quarter of us will have committed suicide by the end of the year. I got a text message from a friend who was worried about me, and when I never texted back I was suddenly getting emails about free counseling for veterans. My phone keeps buzzing. The casket goes down, down, down.
I’m glad I’m not on the funeral detail. Four Marines, sharply dressed, none of them know any of us. They’re from a local unit. The flag is folded, the end tucked in neatly and handed to a sibling. I’ve never met them. March, drill, fire the guns.
Funerals aren’t for the dead — they’re dead, they don’t care. We all came because we had to, because even though we’re powerless to stop one another, something deep down needs to connect with familiar faces, to remind ourselves that the hollow feeling has an end. The road ends somewhere, and we’re all getting there eventually.
No one’s getting drinks. The family left after shaking all our hands. They don’t notice that we’re all shaking, too. It’s been a rough day for them so we try to avoid small talk.
We’re the last ones at the graveyard.
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