Drop Your Helmet and Howl (Part 3 of 6)
A night spent drinking with young veterans suffering from PTSD
“Have there been any rumors about deployment?”
“There’s always a rumor.”
-Kyle and I talking before Christmas Dinner
We find Fielding outside the back door, smoking a cigarette with a Cherokee girl while her boyfriend sits to the side, eyeing Fielding up and down. Kyle rolls his eyes and throws his arm around Fielding, dragging him off towards the parking lot.
“Sorry if this guy’s bothering you, have a good night.”
Fielding winks at the girl and salutes her boyfriend. “Kyle you’ve always got my ass,” he says as we pile into my car. He sits in the passenger seat and turns to me. “I get your cousin into way too much trouble but he’s always got me. Y’know? Hell of a guy.”
Fielding isn’t the only one to say this about Kyle. Every one of Kyle’s friends I’ve ever met, going back to when we were in grade school, has said the same exact thing. If they needed someone, they knew they could call Kyle. If he considers you family, he makes sure you know that he’ll do whatever it takes to have your back. As he puts it, “Back in the day I was always down for my friends and when my friends called, I didn’t give a fuck what the deal was.”
This loyalty to his friends got him thrown in jail. One night he was back from military school and got a call that one of his best friends was in a fight on some guy’s front lawn and needed help. Without hesitation Kyle drove to the address, just in time to see his friend chase the guy he was fighting into the house. Kyle got out of his car and walked up to the open door. He peaked his head in and decided it was a fair fight and there was no reason for him to join in.
“Goddamn that shit went south quick,” he says if you ask him about it. He sat out on the front steps smoking a cigarette as his friend and the owner of the house beat each other senseless. When the cops arrived, however, the owner told them that both Kyle and his friend had broken into the house. They were put in handcuffs, Kyle trying to talk his way out of it the whole time.
“I told them, I said, ‘Technically only Johnny burglarized, I was just an accomplice. I was drunk as hell at the time,” he says nowadays.
Fielding drums his hands on my dashboard, bobbing his head although no music was playing. “Did your cousin tell you about fighting with a special forces officer in the hospital cause he wouldn’t fly your injured-as-fuck cousin out to where the rest of us were pinned down by the Taliban?”
I shake my head and he launches into the story. I had heard so much about Fielding from Kyle. How he got in fights almost every night. How Kyle had once found him in a bathroom in some dive bar in South America covered in cocaine. How he had accidentally killed two of a Taliban leader’s young daughters during a raid on their home. And I had built this man up in my head to be a horrific caricature. I imagined Rambo or a cartoon soldier in camo pants and a tanktop, seven feet tall and strong enough to lift a car. Maybe with an eye-patch.
But in reality, Fielding looks like a kid. Like one of my friends’ younger brothers. He’s five-foot-four. Scrawny. He’s energetic and gesturing wildly, laughing as he tells me about my cousin yelling at someone who outranked him. And even having been through everything he has, he looks naive. He looks as though the world has kicked him around but he keeps expecting that someone will come along and hold out their hand to help him up. He doesn’t talk much about the war, not like Kyle does at least, and any time I try and get him to talk about himself he switches the conversation to Caswell or Kyle. Telling stories about them and brushing his own life out of the way. You can tell he’s uncomfortable with the idea that his life is worth writing about. And as the night went on, I began to realize it’s not because he thinks his life is unremarkable. Instead, it’s that he cannot stand thinking about the past. Or at least his past. He is constantly moving towards a future that only he can see. It’s why, drunk or not, he bought the ticket to Thailand. It’s forward motion, or at least seems to be. It’s a way of creating a present momentous enough to cover the past. If anyone mentions what happened to him in Afghanistan, he tries to laugh it off, making horrific jokes until everyone lets the discussion drop. When it was brought up in front of me that he had accidentally killed the two girls in Afghanistan, Fielding shrugged and said, “Hey, how was I supposed to know it was bring your daughter to work day?”
It sounds monstrous. And in a way it is. Somewhere in his head, a monster sits and waits, emerging whenever it sees its chance. The same monster in Caswell’s head that made him shoot up a nursing home with a flare gun. The same monster in Kyle’s head that he drinks to ignore.
Two weeks before my trip to Tulsa, Kyle and Fielding had an episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the same time, unable to talk the other out of what they themselves were dealing with. They began loading every gun they owned with ammunition, certain that they were at war. Kyle had called a friend when he felt the attack coming on and she had promptly called the cops, asking them to make sure Kyle was alright. When the police called, however, Fielding answered the phone.
“We’re waiting for you motherfuckers,” he shouted. “We’re armed so bring everything you’ve got.”
The Tulsa Police Department sent a SWAT team out to deal with the two veterans and when they kicked down the door, there was my cousin holding a sawed off shotgun, laughing his head off while Fielding tried to smash a beer can with his forehead.
To a certain extent, most of the trouble Kyle gets into these days is due to Fielding. The short, crooked-grin veteran loves making sick jokes, loves picking fights with men trying to act macho around their girlfriends, and when someone challenges him, Kyle tends to step in and be the muscle to back up Fielding’s words. A bartender, Katie, who knows the pair well, told me about a time Fielding had shouted at her, “Hey Katie, how about you get me a drink and not be such a bitch!”
“I swear to god half the heads in the room turned to look at that fucker,” she says, leaning over the counter and resting her chin in her hand. “And Fielding is sitting there laughing his ass off like it was the goddamn funniest thing he’d ever said. But I know the guy, I know he didn’t mean anything by it. Anyways, this guy from out of town decides he’s gonna defend my honor or whatever. Pretty sure he just wanted to sleep with me. But he starts telling Fielding he can’t speak like that and sure enough your cousin comes in and starts shoving the guy. Had to kick them all out and let them fight it out in the parking lot.”
The more that I’m around Fielding, though, the more it becomes apparent that, for all the trouble he gets Kyle into, he keeps him out of much worse. Kyle went through a period upon his return in which he became close with a group known as the Coyote Brotherhood, a motorcycle gang that is widely known for its involvement in the illegal drug trade as well as prostitution, extortion and just about any other criminal activity you can conjure up. It wasn’t so much the illegal activity that drew Kyle in as it was the sense of brotherhood shared by the members. To hear him tell it, after leaving behind such close bonds as he had formed with his brothers in arms, he found himself craving anything remotely similar while living alone in Tulsa. There were a few vets around, but no one from his unit. Fielding and Caswell were still traveling, and the rest wanted nothing to do with anyone who reminded them of their time overseas. He started looking at becoming a “prospect”, a potential member, and even started helping out with various criminal acts when he needed some extra cash.
It seemed as though it were only a matter of time until he would join.
One night he was out at a bar in downtown Tulsa with a few of the Coyotes and began swapping insults, nothing harmful, just banter. When Kyle made a comment about the diminutive stature of one of the bikers, nicknamed Jagger, the man shoved him against a wall and put a knife to his throat. Kyle grabbed the man’s wrist and twisted it, pulling out his own knife. He was about to stab the biker until the man’s brother’s rushed in and grabbed the two, pulling them apart.
“I’m not trying to fight you motherfuckers,” Kyle yelled as the three men holding him shoved him against the wall of the bar. “But if you come at me I’m gonna go nuts.”
The Coyotes claimed it was all a test, a way to see how Kyle would react under pressure. At their next meeting however, they took a vote on whether or not to remove Jagger, chewing him out for attacking a vet with PTSD. He was allowed to remain by three votes. Kyle, for his part, decided to put some distance between him and the group.
As we pull into the parking lot of the Twisted Lizard, I ask him why.
“Man, they’re just in prostitution and the drug trade all around Tulsa, and I’ve got a good job and I’ve got people around me who are my real family now so I don’t need to mess with all that.”
Fielding is a big part of that family. And as much as he drags my cousin into the mud when it comes to a good old fistfight, he and Kyle have become brothers in all but blood and watch out for each other, and with a brother behind him, Kyle had no need for the Coyotes.
That’s not to say they don’t slip up. A year ago, Fielding had made a deal to buy cocaine for a weekend getaway.
“He paid three hundred dollars to a guy named Nacho for cocaine,” Kyle says. “And the dude never came up with the drugs!”
Not one to be taken advantage of, Fielding came up with a plan. He called Kyle and said my cousin needed to get home quickly. When Kyle arrived, Fielding had laid out their army uniforms and dug out some paintball face masks. There was also a plastic bag with a package of zip ties Fielding had bought earlier that day. The plan, Fielding said, was to break into Nacho’s apartment and pretend to be DEA and start taking everything he had, leaving him tied up on the floor. Kyle tried to talk him down but Fielding was adamant. Finally Kyle suggested they get a drink and talk it over so they headed to a bar near their apartment.
They had been there about an hour, swapping rounds with two Creek men (“these were the biggest fuckin’ Indians I’d ever seen,” Fielding chimes in over Kyle’s story), when Nacho himself walked through the door. Fielding had been complaining about being taken for three hundred dollars for most of the time they had been there so when he saw that fate had delivered Nacho into his hands, he was quick to enlist the help of his new friends. One of the men grabbed the back of Nacho’s neck as he ordered his drink and dragged him over to where Kyle and Fielding were sitting.
“Well what the fuck do you want to do about this guy?” He asked.
“Fuck him up,” Fielding responded.
The two men began hitting Nacho and knocking him around the bar.
“We kicked this guy’s ass from here to Timbuktu and out the door,” Fielding says when telling it now.
He laughs all the time while telling these stories, some tame, some unrepeatable. He laughs and I laugh along. Because I can’t find any other way to respond.