John Karwacki word count: 26,389
11771 West Atlantic Boulevard Unit 1
Coral Springs, FL 33071
The Arm And A Leg Farm
Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” Hippocrates
Ordinary people do extraordinary things. Allen Myles, drafted into the United States Army Infantry through lack of money and education, pulled three tours of duty in Iraq and still managed to save two unconscious lives in a northern Virginia suburb during the summer of 2008. Allen understood violence and stupidity by the sheer repetition of those factors in his life. He managed to place himself and others into danger then pull them through
in a whirlwind of incidents which changed all of their lives. Forever grateful, how do you thank a man for saving lives? Pass it on.
Allen landed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the spring of 2008. Half of his body horribly burned and scarred by a roadside ambush that had ripped apart his life in Sadr City, Iraq. Heavily doped, the first words Doctor Bartlett heard Allen speak were, “where’s Kenny?” When Bart did not answer, Allen garbled irritation through a wounded throat until he was knocked out by the drugs again.
Allen left most of his right leg and his entire right arm in the dust of Iraq, effectively ending his career in the military. Bart’s second conversation with him was equally short.
“How are you feeling, Sergeant?”
“Blowed up, numb nuts.” Bartlett had a feeling that they would get along just fine. After Allen’s initial procession of operations, Bart checked on him while making daily rounds. It was Bart’s job to engage the men in conversation and encourage their recovery, to evaluate and decide on a plan of action for their psychological well being. Allen obviously came by his cynicism naturally. He warmed to Bartlett in his own time. It was Bart’s experience that most cynics were simply practical, intelligent people.
Bart typically practiced his art bedside in Heaton Pavilion, termed the main hospital. He wrote the largest number of his reports in Borden Pavilion where he maintained a small, cluttered office. Bart collated data gathered from those bedside conversations into surprisingly coherent reports to justify his recommendations and the government funds used to pay his salary. Bart administered many of the traditional personality tests while throwing in a mix of his own probing questions so as to draw truth from shielded and many times shattered psyches. He took this job thinking he could help but after two years he was beginning to doubt his own limited abilities.
Bart’s wife Linda had left and taken their teenage daughters last summer. He remained numb. Years in the making, the divorce was less an explosion than an implosion. Bart blamed Linda’s inability to settle, Linda blamed Bart’s inability to reach. Like every other couple breaking up, they blamed each other. Bart started spending more hours on the hospital compound because he simply had nowhere else to go. In the evenings he ran the physical therapy track till he thought he’d drop, then drove to his one bedroom apartment less than three miles away and did just that.
Bart harbored no illusions about his marriage reconciling. He accepted full responsibility for his less than stellar behavior and had made what amends Linda would allow. He missed his baby girls sure as these men missed their limbs. Bart spoke to Katie and Jenny once a week, sensing the emotional gulf growing between them. How could it not? Linda had moved to Washington State; Tacoma to be exact, taken a job for a large software concern and seemed happily ensconced in the second act of her life. Bart, on the other hand, was floundering in a career he expected more from, while cursing himself a coward for not chasing his estranged family across the country. He walked through most days feeling disconnected and dull, fuzzy headed and unsure of his footing. These wounded men on the hospital wards were his only connection to the life of service he felt truly committed to living.
Bart sometimes wondered who was more crippled. These men faced violence and ignorance in every form. They saw religion fashioned into a weapon that killed and patriotism an excuse to send young men to their deaths. These soldiers had been lied to, shortchanged, discarded, abused and forgotten; yet most of them sported better attitudes than Bart could seem to muster. Allen, case in point, could be angry, even violent, but in Bart’s eyes he had never come across as cruel or self-pitying.
** ** ** ** **
“You got a name, Doc?”
“Is that first or last?”
“Last,” Bart grinned.
“What’s your first name?”
“Ha, you’re kidding?”
Stupid smirk on his face, Allen backed off the conversation, afraid of hurting Bart’s feelings. Here they were speaking over the absence of Allen’s limbs and he was afraid of hurting Bart’s feelings. Bart shook his head, incredulous. He could let sublime moments of silence fill the time he and Allen shared whereas he would grow impatient with others. With Allen, listening was no chore, it felt more like a privilege.
Allen told stories like a favorite grandpa, using descriptive words to paint pictures inside the theater of the mind. His voice blew like a Carolina sea breeze, all salty and southern. His family of origin was military; Dad dragged them from one end of the states to the other, from Yuma to Pendleton. He spent two formative years at Fort Stewart, Georgia just outside of Savannah. Allen spoke quietly and drew you into his narrative with interesting turns of phrase. He did not shy away from his own opinions though and was real quick to joke with the guys on his ward. Sarcasm bit sharp, sometimes brutal, but was never purposefully hateful.
Ninety percent of the men Bart dealt with would not, perhaps could not, be honest with him. Their indoctrination and predisposition to self-loathing and self-protection could prove a lethal mix. Bart’s statistics were miserable. When he dwelt on them, he became miserable too. Determined as Bart was to make a difference, he sometimes felt like he was drowning in the morass of depression and frustration by which he was surrounded. Still, he pushed against the tide, hopeful of steering one or two causalities from the shipwreck of suicidal tendencies.
Bart scanned Allen’s ablations for adherent scar tissue, but the wounds seemed to be healing properly. He tried to connect on a personal level which was not easy on such a busy, crowded ward. Allen’s eyes were red, dead; he did not seem interested. Bart felt like the monkey with the proverbial coconut, knowing something worthwhile lay inside but lacking the skill to open the mystery. Maybe the drugs were still too strong in Allen’s system to let Bart’s words through. Whatever the reason, Bart made several quick notes on the chart marked Myles, Allen; then moved down the line of beds.
The rumble of the Hummer was no match for the screams coming through Allen’s MP3 earplugs. He played a preset song list of heavy metal and hard rock for night convoys. There were more potholes than road; Sadr City was still three miles north. His unit was escorting three truckloads of supplies - ammunition, medicine and food to a marine division based in Sadr. Allen stayed hypersensitive in the shotgun seat of the lead vehicle. His night vision goggles scanned the desert.
He watched the first tracer round fly over the Hummer’s camouflaged hood from the east. “Incoming,” he hollered but by the time the i-n-g came out of his mouth the battle was on. His night vision was made obsolete by the flashing firelight coming off multiple explosions. Allen sensed something warm spreading across his belly.
** ** ** ** **
“Sarge, try this man, it’s unbelievable.”
“What,” Allen came to in the gloomy ward on the fourth floor of Heaton Pavilion at Walter Reed. The nightmare he had been reliving in his sleep was brushed away like cobwebs of thought by an intense effort on Allen’s part.
He repeated the question, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?”
“Diaz’ wife brought it by today, take some.” Enthusiastic and crazy faced corpsmen, Alex Warner, pushed a dark substance in Allen’s general direction with the use of his mechanical prosthetic arm.
“What is it Al?” Allen croaked, his voice ragged with sleep and medicine.
“Brownies, Sarg. Brownies is what the fuck. They’re fuckin’ awesome, PFM.” Warner smiled as if he was handing out hundred dollar bills. Allen took a piece so the happy corpsman would back off. Warner shuffled off, shucking and jiving to the next bunk to harass that patient with his chocolate gifts, pure fucking magic, indeed.
Allen, now fully awake, gathered his thoughts and decided to try to find and speak with Louis Kelly, the one patient on this floor who had served in his infantry unit.
The end of each wound felt as though there were a hive of bees jacketing the ragged flesh and bone. Allen stared at the white gauze covering the absence of his right arm, the pink hue which bleed though the cloth from the medicine and blood contained within. Despair washed over him like a physical wave, the gritty salt of self-pity cutting deep.
He maneuvered his second-hand wheelchair into place, loped his good leg off the side of the bed and dropped into the chair, wincing at the sharp pain from the acquired amputation wound on his other stump of a leg. Settled in the chair, he navigated between his bed and the next, rolled his way down the main aisle of the hospital ward. Most of the patients slept, no different than during daylight hours. Monitors beeped, IV bags dripped, lights on all manner of instrumentation blinked or stayed solid depending on their intended purpose.
The floor was a poured concrete material meant to look like stone. Allen guessed it was easy to clean. The maintenance crew was scheduled to sanitize twice a week, he had not seen them yet this week. The hard rubber wheels of his chair spun silently through the ward. What time was it? Allen wondered. Images from Iraq drove through his mind like the convoy he had abandoned in his dream. FIDO, he pressed on.
Louie was an amiable Irishman originally from some podunk town outside of Boston. He drank heavy and chased skirts like a twenty year old though he was pushing past thirty like Allen. They had spent some drunken nights together on leave in Diego Garcia back in the late nineties, seemed like another lifetime. Shared stories forged their bonds, Allen felt the need to connect and commiserate this night.
When any piece of equipment in Iraq had been broken, Louie could figure out the problem and get it running. Allen hadn’t seen anything the man could not fix or at least rig long enough to get them out of harm’s way. He was invaluable in the field. Allen wondered how Louie felt being laid up here, in need of repair. The mechanic was now the damaged machine. He had not visited Kelly since arriving at Walter Reed eight days earlier.
Allen began to check names on bed charts. Someone told him Louie was on the north corridor past the nurse’s station. Here was a Thompson, a Glendale, a Linebaugh, a Jones. Most of these guys were asleep, but Allen came up to a Tennet, Damian, Private First Class who was rolled on his side facing the opposite direction.
Intuitively, Allen stopped. Private Tennet was moving in a fashion that bespoke a need for privacy. He seemed intent on the next bed where a privacy curtain encircled the patient. Allen listened more intently. There were wet sounds, a slob at Thanksgiving; and then the unmistakable moan of a man experiencing unrestrained pleasure. Allen turned on his wheel and rolled back the way he had come.
Allen’s mind raced. A smile broke across his face when he saw the night nurse come out of the north corridor several minutes later. Guess old Kelly still had some enthusiasm after all. They would catch up with each other later. Allen returned to his hospital bed, climbed in and fell into a dreamless sleep.
OCEAN was the acronym for the big five personality traits that Bart Bartlett mined from every patient. Openness, Consciousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, these were the five. The general idea being all humans fall into these packages and the differences most relevant express themselves in the language people used to answer the questions.
Bart felt these were important exercises because he believed he could detect aberrations. Neuroticism, the tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, was the trait Bart concerned himself with most. He employed these words in his clinical papers and in reporting to his supervisors. To the guys on the ward, he was simply trying to help them transition back into civilian life.
The suicide rate among returning veterans was spiking. The Army hated unpleasant headlines and daunting news reports. Bart personally hated seeing young men emotionally traumatized to the point of hopelessness. He tried to find a way to help these guys without the standard pill and chill routine the AMA was so fond of prescribing. Bart believed anger, depression, anxiety; all of the negative emotions could and should be dealt with by excavating the root cause and discovering a way to let it go. Most days Bart felt competent in what his actions.
Technically, Bart worked for Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the largest research organization in the U.S. Armed Forces. He fell into the Division of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and its Department of Military Psychology. Applied Neurobiology was another title he could throw around. Truth was he considered himself as a worker bee in a hive of leaders. He expected to be left alone so long as he performed his work well and helped the men returning home from overseas. Of course, expectations have a way of becoming resentments. Still, for the most part Bart kept his head down and his eyes on the job.
His immediate boss, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Burke, was relatively easy going for a career military doctor. Burke only pressured Bart when being pressured from above. Recently, he lauded Bart’s written reports and continued to steer him into their concept of establishing a prototype triage and diagnostic tool for CCC (Combat Casualty Care). Bart agreed that the sooner they could help these boys and girls the better. He quickly learned to couch his language in proper military speak.
** ** ** ** **
“How do you see yourself in relation to the men who were killed May 26th on the road to Sadr City?”
“Screw you Bart!”
“It’s a standard question, Allen.”
“Well, screw you is my standard answer.”
“I have to write something down.”
“Go fuck a goat.”
“Come on, Allen.”
“Hand me your pad.” Bart hesitated, then handed Allen his notebook. Allen rubbed it vigorously on the elastic wrap covering the wound healing above the missing elbow where his right arm used to be. The paper report absorbed a pink hue from Allen’s bandage. He looked at Bart with tears welling in his determined blue eyes as if to say: there is your answer.
“I apologize Allen,” Bart stood up and trudged away, refusing to look back. It would not do to have the clinician react as emotionally as the patient. Bart felt at that moment he could not contain his sorrow for Allen, his pain and the collective pain of all their fallen comrades. He stepped away and spent an hour writing it all onto paper at his desk in Borden Pavilion, the sad determined honesty of Allen Myles’ once innocent face haunting him all the while.
Ben Mitchell pinched on top of his Romanesque nose, the solid bone between his widely-spaced closed brown eyes, and internally counted to twelve. His assistant, Andy Bruner, pretended not to watch from across the laboratory. Ben knew this idea would never fly. He hated it for the kid because he empathized with the enthusiasm and feared his need to dampen it. Alas, the directives from TECOM, Training and Education Command, were black and white on this issue. No wiggle room at all. Ben could not publish his findings and neither could his subordinates.
Ben flashed back to the moment in his early career when he bound into Pete Flower’s office, article in a manila envelope. He couldn’t understand Pete’s reluctance to accept the document. Ben had been so excited. He had edited, rewritten and reviewed the feature until it was crisp and rang true as a choir bell. Flowers had assured Ben that he would throw it on up the old flagpole. Ben sensed the disinclination and his instincts were proven correct when Pete invited him back two weeks later and endeavored to explain why publishing their findings would be counter-productive. Publicity was not something their bosses wished to pursue, no matter the edifying glory or scientific importance.
“Our time will come,” Pete Flowers tried to reassure him. “You need to believe we are working for the greater good, Ben.” All the tired clichés weighed Ben down. Now they all flooded back onto his shoulders as his assistant stole furtive glances, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fire this job had years ago snuffed out of Ben Mitchell.
Ben hurt for Andy because the paper was well written. No doubt it could be a feature article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Perhaps the kid saw a Pulitzer in it; God knows the experiments were proving that class of successful. The problem was never the research or the writing or the public’s reaction. The problem lay in the proprietary manner in which our government held all of its research information.
Stall, deny and stonewall were the watchwords when it came to government research. Hell, we were still learning aspects of Oppenhiemer’s experiments in Los Alamos and that was three quarter’s of a century past.
No one wanted to talk about the autopsies of JFK or those creatures out in the New Mexico desert. Most of the population doubted anything sanctioned by the government’s media machine these days at any rate. It was the most public of private jokes that bred cynicism and conspiracy theories. Nothing was simple as it seemed, nothing could be. There were no weather balloons over Texas. There was no man on the grassy knoll. No one could seed a low-pressure system to create a killer storm. The day the National Enquirer became as reliable as the New York Times then lines had been crossed, wiped out and proven obsolete.
** ** ** ** **
Ben’s long journey to lead scientist on this bioengineering project at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research started as a young assistant for Reinhold Meyer at the old Edgewood Arsenal at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in northern Maryland. Ben had been a wet behind the ears kid with dreams of saving the world or at least some of the people in it when he applied and took the position of research assistant. Determined to lead by example, Ben believed the content of his character truly meant more than his African heritage. He worked harder than any other student or scientist he ever met.
Meyer had been a god to him. A brilliant scientist with a murky past who had changed the way researchers studied DNA and where it would lead us. While most scientists were then concerned with mapping the DNA of humans and figuring out how to duplicate those basic building blocks, Meyer was forging way ahead of the pack. Asking and answering questions about how to clone genes and actually build tissue from amino acids and existing cells.
Ben was a student and a fan. It was such a small closed mouthed community that Ben felt grateful to have literally stumbled into the position. Ten years later, Meyer’s age was showing and Ben had fallen out of awe. They had much success with gene therapy and had progressed to nerve regeneration and wound healing. This was where Ben’s intuition was leading him while Meyer continued to focus on cloning.
Cloning was all good and fine but Ben felt there were plenty of scientists going for the glory in that arena. He wanted to concentrate on tissue engineering. He was part of a team that invented one of the first bioreactors. These stainless steel cylinders provided safe environments for cells and tissues to grow. Basically, Ben figured out a way to create an enclosed Petri dish that could grow human organs. Ben was blown away by the implications of his own research and tired of being held back by Meyer, the relic from another time. The confrontation blew up in November of 1986.
“I can’t work with the man any longer, Jack. It’s over.”
“He is a giant in the field, Ben.”
“He’s a Nazi and even worse a senile, has been Nazi. We have built a new field and left him in the weeds of the old one. Jack, I’m serious, the guy has lost whatever credibility he had. Retire him.”
“Not my call, Ben,” the man who had replaced Pete Flowers in 1982 was trying to understand how this mutiny could improve his position here in the politics of the proving grounds. Civilian positions on military posts were always political by nature. The supervisors who stayed were the ones who could navigate between pleasing the military command and effectively overseeing the contractors. Results meant everything.
Ben and Jack Ingersol both navigated these treacherous waters. Ben morphed from an idealist into a pragmatist; he learned a great deal and provided evidence even more. Without publishing a report he became one of the most respected scientists working in the bioengineering field. He moved from Aberdeen to Bethesda to Walter Reed where he became the best-funded secret in the business. He sensed another breakthrough on the near horizon. He believed in his work. He assumed he could make the world a better place. Even pragmatists can be true believers.
Young Bruner would have to swallow his pride if he wanted to continue on Ben’s team. Graduate school was over and the showboating that worked in that atmosphere would not apply here. Ben waved him over and tried to explain why the world was flat.
“Stanford! Stanford! Damn it, soldier, answer me!” By the time Allen reached into the Dusseldorf truck his hand landed in a puddle of what used to be Corporal Stanford. He pivoted and crawled back toward his Hummer, also lying on its side. He made it halfway there before another explosion forced gray to black.
Allen’s mind flipped to a picture of Lee Stanford grinning like a butcher’s dog (Louis Kelly’s description). Lee torpedoed cans of warm Heineken beer in the relative cool of the Iraqi twilight. Louie was telling a joke about fire hydrants and ten or so guys were drinking and laughing. Allen felt the smoldering coal of camaraderie, something he had not known stateside until the end of boot camp. He appreciated these men, this time, right now.
In his dream he could clearly see Louie singing “Gin and Juice” while Lee and company sang along. Private Luther Flemming from Los Angeles played the acoustic guitar. Allen called them the stinking dog pound and laughed at his own pathetic lack of urban cool. “With my mind on my money and my money on my mind.”
Moments like those were short lived and yet seemed to be the majority of his conscious memories from the war. He appreciated the fact that he did not stay buried on the road to Sadr or on a thousand other bad stretches of road stuck in his brain bank. Even in dreams, Allen could rely on the fellowship and laughter of his brothers in arms.
** ** ** ** **
Allen felt pressure on his left arm; he tugged away from the stress.
“It’s alright, honey, just a BP check.” Her voice was clear and cool and Allen rose to the surface as if from a September swimming pool.
“WTF, you have to do that now?”
“Yes, Sergeant, every night whether you need it or not.”
“No, sir, just a nurse trying to do her job.”
“Like you were doing for Kelly?”
“Nothing, how did you end up in this snake pit?”
“Just luck I guess. 120 over 85, I suppose you’ll make it through the night.”
“Good news,” Allen grumbled.
“Yes, is there anything else I can do for you Sergeant?”
The question hung above his head like a pleasant guillotine. ”Please, could you sit with me for a short while?”
“I’d be honored.”
“I hear you are a hero.”
Allen felt a chill rise through him, his libido died and he turned slightly away from the nurse. “No,” words clogged his throat and he could say no more.
“It’s alright, Sergeant. It’s all right.” She stroked his sweat-matted hair. In the dim light of the after midnight ward, she was still a striking woman. He could not see the shade of her hair but knew it was dark brown or black. He could not see the color of her eyes but guessed a smoky green or light brown. Her nose was proud but small, cheek bones high, build slight and muscular. From the way she carried herself, he figured her to be in her mid twenties maybe a little older. Allen noted an oriental slant to her speech yet her face was occidental as his. He wanted to tell her to leave but her touch overwhelmed his anguish with gratitude.
After several minutes she said, “I have to continue my rounds.”
“No, thank you Sergeant. See you later.”
“Yes Ma’am Maggie.” A smile spread across her bright face as she moved down the line. He lay on his side and watched her work down the row of wounded soldiers. She seemed tender and kind with each one, firm when need be and easy the rest of the time. He had the urge to call her back and ask for sexual relief. Now, no pretense, no games, but he wasn’t built that way. Maybe Louie was, maybe that’s why Louie was always getting laid. Allen lay there condemning himself a coward and a cripple. His tired eyes leaked salty water.
The nature of consciousness is a mystery. What constitutes reality anyway? Who is to say? Is my personal perception the be all end all of everything? Are their truly worlds within worlds, universes within universes? Where does the argument end and what is the point?
Are cells conscious? If an arm is severed at the shoulder, do the fingers still feel touch? The art of quantum consciousness paints vivid and surreal. The heart feels what the mind conceives. Instinct and reaction suggest feeling and awareness. Cells breathe. Cells think, act and react. Cells believe. Or do they?
Neils Bohr, the renowned physicist, stated, “We are both onlookers and actors in the great drama of existence.” Wise men and wizards throughout human history have puzzled the riddle, but for every question answered seems like two more appear. The only certainty in this field of investigation is that consciousness defines reality, for better or worse.
** ** ** ** **
“There are nine principle archetypes of personality, Allen. In the short time we’ve spent together, I place you squarely in with the hero archetype.”
“Bart, please. Cut it out; go shrink somebody else’s head for Christ sake. Give me a break.”
“No can do, Allen, your turn in the barrel.”
“I am not even going to ask. Let’s talk about personality, Allen.”
“Let’s not,” Bart sighed, rolled his eyes, leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers together and stretched his arms and shoulders. He laid his head over as far as it would go to the right, looking like he was trying to lay his cheek on his shoulder.
“A little,” Bart grunted. He placed his right hand on his left cheek and applied pressure. He could feel the muscles and tendons loosening. He silently counted to twenty and straightened. Bart repeated the process on the left side, then forward, then back. In quiet moments like this Bart asked God to “help me help this man in front of me.”
Allen was first to break the silence, “I’m no hero, Doc.”
“Why do you say that, Allen?”
“It’s true.” More quiet, more stretching, and more prayer.
“I went through Fort Benning basic training when I was seventeen, right out of high school. I have never been more scared before or since. The first time the drill instructors started shooting live rounds over our heads while we were crawling through the mud under razor wire, screaming at us to keep our heads down and keep moving, I thought I was going to die. Some nights I still see those red neon tracers screaming two feet over my brain bucket. I pissed myself; that sound like a hero to you?”
“A hero is someone who walks through fear and helps others do the same.”
Allen turned away from his doctor and whispered, “no one lived, I helped no one.”
“Heroes are human, Allen. Humans cannot stop bullets from ripping into flesh or bombs from blowing people up. Humans cannot control what they cannot control.”
“Really, that’s brilliant Doc; did you come up with that all by yourself? Did you read that in a book by Sigmund Fraud?”
“All right. All right.”
“Jesus, I can’t believe they actually pay you money to do this.”
“All right. Let’s get back to the questions.”
“Let’s not.” The remainder of their session Bart spent trying to return to his Emeagram typology which Allen deflected with lame attempts at humor. Bart’s disappointment with most of his patients was their inability to share in any honest or meaningful way in their own recovery. When he encountered a patient willing to open up, even a little, like Allen, he became eager to go to any length to work with that man.
The danger rested in getting too close and losing perspective. Bart’s first lesson with that came at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southwestern Germany where he interviewed patients for the head of Inpatient Psychiatry. This happened after the long and winding road from a surgical residency through treatment for his own addictions to a psychiatric MOS at Landstuhl.
There was a patient in the psychiatric wing, ward 1-D, Corporal Adams, who had worked as a mechanic for the 63rd Medical Detachment known as Operation Dust Off. Basically, he was a helicopter mechanic who couldn’t stay out of the beer gardens. Bart was newly sober himself having completed a six-week hospitalization and inpatient treatment right there at Landstuhl. His kinship with Adams was his first opportunity to help another drunk. He became so wrapped up in trying to help Corporal Adams that Bart began to neglect his own welfare. Seven AA meetings a week dwindled to four then two then none. Too busy, too stressed, Bart rationalized; avoiding the twelve-step work grew easier and picking it apart became effortless.
Jeff Adams reminded Bart of his mother. Mama Bartlett had been mercurial and dangerous, clingy one minute, abusive and indifferent the next. Long after Bart’s supervisor labeled Adams a hopeless schizophrenic, Bart was trying to save his soul. Why do you drink? Why do you do drugs? Why do you start fights? All valid questions for a person willing to admit he has a problem. Jeff Adams was a sociopath, not able to tell the truth when it would serve him better than a lie. Every word from Jeff’s mouth was an attempt to manipulate and proffer the outcome he desired. There is no recovery for the patient who chooses to remain ill.
Bart had survived a father who thought love meant belt buckles to the back. He had endured a mother who had raced in and out of sanity according to mood and mood altering prescription for fifteen years until the day he came home from school and found her in a bubbly bathtub hugging a plugged in toaster. And he had survived his own reckless forays into self-destruction through adolescence, college and early adulthood. Yet he almost came unglued over this lying drunk junkie in southwest Germany.
Jeff Adams was murdered outside a whorehouse in Karlsruhe. No one was ever charged with the crime. Bart spoke with the German coroner after the autopsy and was sympathetically told that Jeff’s face was too badly damaged to be recognizable, “aussichtslos.” Dental records identified Corporal Adams. The coroner also told Bart that it was highly inappropriate to share these details with a non-family member; therefore Bart should learn to let it go.
Something broke in Bart Bartlett that day. Something buried deep inside that he could not even name. In the process of that damage, a firm and solid bedrock was formed, a foundation that would prove to carry him through the rest of his days alcohol and drug free. Bart realized that he would always love alcoholics and drug addicts, that would be a given in his life. He realized too that the power to stay willing to avoid active addiction was available to him on a daily basis just like those drunks in AA had been telling him. He made the decision to turn his life and will over to the care of Alcoholics Anonymous and the people God put in his life. Whether that was to be in Germany, New York City or anywhere else in the world, he claimed his seat in the rooms of A.A.
Bart learned to let it go. He would need to place principles in front of personalities, his own included. He was in charge of saving no one. He let Jeff Adams go, understanding that he had no power to change Jeff or his story’s outcome. He knew he could change his own, and that would have to be enough. Let it go, the words of the German coroner rung in his head like a gothic cathedral bell. Bart claimed responsibility for his own disease, his own recovery and he drove on.
Bart asked a man in that small German town of Rhineland to sponsor him in Alcoholics Anonymous. He followed directions for the first time in his life, came to believe in and pray to a God that he didn’t begin to understand. He became willing to ask for help on a daily basis, to be open minded in listening and honest in sharing. Bart had celebrated fifteen years of continuous sobriety this past February. Along the way he had learned a thing or two about where his responsibility began and ended. He had discovered how to set personal boundaries and stick to them. He trained himself to love people and still detach from their behavior. He had indeed learned to let it go.
“Sarge! Can you hear me? Sarge?” The voice came to him like a ship’s horn through fog, muffled and unclear, but real loud and helpful.
In and out of lucidity, Allen floated above the gurney that transported his broken body to the field hospital. He hovered over the surgeons as they cauterized his arteries and veins; pushed blood and platelets back into his drained vascular system.
Allen considered leaving, as if he had the option. His will was strong. He continued to focus all of his energy on his devastated body lying on the surgical table. He even nudged the surgeons, whispering intuitive notions into their thoughts. He was not sure how he knew what to say but that did not seem to matter. He reentered his body, assuming the pain and frustration of healing the wounds.
Allen lay in that field hospital for two days following surgery. He could smell flesh rotting off of his comrades, the gangrenous odor of creeping death. The screams of his fellows stung his ears. He could not shut out their pain and suffering. The desert dust, such a part of life in Iraq, coated everything. No space was safe. A film of dust covered all, even the wounded soldiers. Sterile is a relative term in a desert combat field hospital.
He recalled the texture of dust, at times suffocating and overwhelming. He remembered the way it coated his throat. He could not drink enough water to slake his thirst. There was no taste but there was a strange aftertaste. It stayed with you. Even now, on this cot at Walter Reed Hospital, the modeling clay flavor hung tough in the back of his throat. He could not swallow it away.
** ** ** ** **
“Can I get you more water, Allen?”
She stood over him, a vision in her whites. The dreams he was having about her were one hell of a sight better than the ones he was having about Sadr City.
“Can you sit a while, Maggie?”
“I suppose,” she smiled. “You appeared thirsty.”
“Can’t wash away Iraq.” Maggie just nodded. “Tell me about your life,” Allen asked.
“Not much to tell. I work, go to school, talk to you.” Her smile lit up the darkness of the ward. Allen knew the men all around him slept but he still felt self-conscious and paranoid. “What about you, Allen?”
Maggie blushed, “okay, what does that stand for?”
“Situation normal, all fucked up.”
“I love the acronyms you guys use.”
“Yeah, we’re a bundle of laughs.”
“Tell me, I want to know about you.”
“I’m an open book, Maggie. An open wound really.”
“You are more than your wounds, Allen.”
“Doesn’t feel like it sometimes.”
“You don’t strike me as the self-pitying type, Allen. What can we do to turn that frown upside down?” He could not believe how gorgeous this lady was, and available, right here and now. She put her cool hand on his hot face and stroked his cheek. He grew hard and laid his one hand on her torso. Maggie’s figure was a full hourglass. He closed his eyes and stroked her side up and down until his hand lit on her breast. She sighed, leaned down and kissed him full on the lips. Her other hand shot to his crotch where she stroked less than a minute before he lost it.
“I used to be able to...”
“And you still can, for now you are just supposed to recover. I can help you, Allen, if you let me.”
“You’re an angel.”
“Hardly. I do enjoy your company though. Now I’ve got to make my rounds, Allen. Be sweet and get some rest.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” She shot him a stern look. “I mean Maggie.”
“Sleep well soldier.” He did and for the first time in days he did not go back to the desert and engage in lost battles with the ghosts of his old outfit. He simply slept.
“My name is Bart and I am an alcoholic.” His words were greeted with a chorus of, “Hi, Bart’s.” He told his story, a comfortable ritual after having done so many times in his years spent practicing this twelve-step program. His story changed in tone and emphasis depending on the audience and his mood, but basically it was a recounting of what he was like, what happened and what he was like now.
He touched on some scary moments during his story like waking up in a New Orleans drunk tank during a medical convention in 1986. And the time he came out of a blackout to the horrified face of his wife, crying, disgusted and unable to explain why. There was the time he came to on the bathroom floor of a motel with a needle in his arm, stained by every body fluid from his overdosed and overtaxed system.
He made them laugh with the comical account of his first sponsor’s techniques for separating a newcomer from their ego. And the story the mild manner librarian from Conyers, Georgia told that made every man and woman in the room blush. He told a stupid joke or three to remind them that sobriety was not a death sentence for their sense of humor.
He explained how an agnostic liar came to believe in a loving force that ruled the universe in a totally honest, rational and responsible way. He put in plain words how an overly educated person came to believe in the simplicity of a life well lived, how service was the key to happiness, and how decency became it own reward. He told his story in a simple, honest manner with no fear, no expectation. He felt first-class tip top when he showed up to work at Walter Reed that morning.
** ** ** ** **
Bart’s schedule spun on a three-day axis. Every third day he was able to visit Allen and the other men in Heaton Pavilion. He found time to spend with favorites like Allen but his reports reflected the three-day cycle. Today was an Allen Myles day.
“What’s up my brethren?”
“No you ahhhh.” Bart drawled in his best imitation of a Boston accent.
“What’s the word?”
“What’s the skinny?”
“Fifty penny.” They both broke out in grins and giggles at the childish banter.
“Sound like you’re having a good day, Allen.”
“All right, then I should be able to get some cooperation from you today.”
“Do I look like I give a flying fuck?”
“I am always cooperative sir, yes sir.”
“Yeah,” Bart saw Allen steal a glance at the large window half way down the hall. “Want to go out for a stroll today, Sergeant Myles?”
“All right, let’s do that. I have an hour to kill with you, might as well be an hour in the sunshine. I need the vitamin D.”
“Awesome.” Allen grinned so wide Bart did a double take. He commandeered a wheel chair from the nurse’s station and watched Allen hop eagerly into the vinyl seat. Thrusting through the debris of human wreckage they crossed the busy ward. Allen pushed the down arrow on the elevator panel and they descended in silence.
Bart did not want to dampen Allen’s enthusiasm with the usual round of questions. He quietly pushed the chair across the main entrance hall of Heaton Pavilion toward a large row of automatic doors leading outside. Allen seemed in awe of the expanse of the lobby, the marble floor with intricate mosaics, the high cathedral ceilings. They broke into bright sunlight and Allen actually hooted, “woo hoo!” Bart just laughed.
“Where to Staff Sergeant?”
“Fuck it drive on.”
“Once around the grounds, Bartholomew.”
“Hey now,” Bart said in mock anger.
“What does Bart stand for anyhow?”
“None of your business.”
“I love a mystery.”
“You are one.” Allen laughed and raised his arm high as he could as if to reach for a freedom he had not known the last few weeks. He made that silly noise again.
Bart moved them slowly and steadily down the concrete sidewalk that paralleled Georgia Avenue. Past Deployment Health, the Physical Evaluation Board and Contracting, Allen was curious and wide-awake. Allen pointed and asked a ton of questions.
As they worked past Borden Pavilion, Bart explained where his office sat in relation to the sidewalk and what he did there. “Fascinating,” Allen mocked. They rounded the Provost Marshal building and began traveling west toward the fountain.
“What’s over there, skycap?”
“Mostly maintenance buildings, I think, the fire department, steam plant, grounds crew, stuff like that.”
“You’re a fine tour guide, Bart, how’d you end up in the head shrinking business.”
“Just lucky I guess.”
“Who’s being evasive now?”
Bart bit his lip and considered his words. He decided to try honesty. “I have had my own emotional problems in life and through the process of personal recovery I found I had a knack for working with people on this sort of an intimate one on one level.”
Allen raised an eyebrow in an overstated way, “what sort of emotional problems?”
Bart looked into the sun and answered, “drinking, drugs, self-destructive stuff.”
“No weird sex stuff?” Allen’s arched eyebrow quizzed.
“Ha,” Bart exhaled, “just enough to land me in divorce court the first time.”
“Jeez, Doc, you’re more screwed up than us patients. How many divorces?”
“Do we have to do this?”
“Yes, I think we do.”
“Tell me about it.”
“No, you tell me. Was it AIDS?”
“I mean Army Induced Divorce Syndrome.”
“I wish I could blame the Army, truth is I am not a very good partner.”
“Can we change the subject?”
“No, I think we should explore the deeper psychological implications at work here.”
“How about I dump you in this fountain?”
“What would you wish for?”
“World and personal peace.”
“Ah, the impossible dream.”
The banter stopped and they sat together basting in the late June sunshine, watching the fountain cycle bleached water. The water had a green tint to it, Bart figured from the chlorine, but what did he know, he was a psychologist not a chemist.
The moment was so sublime Bart nearly missed it. He was connecting with Allen on level unavailable to him on the crowded ward. Allen was grinning foolishly at nothing in particular. Bart lay back on the grass, closed his eyes and breathed in the summer air.
Andy Bruner sat motionless at his cluttered desk. His eyes were closed. Breathing through his nose, he meditated on the nature of reality. With each intake of breath he silently stated, “truth in,” with each exhale, “noise out.” Andy believed in the power of meditation because the results worked.
He had been labeled ADHD from childhood. Andy’s parents, both clinical psychologists, treated their child with the latest greatest pharmaceuticals which changed frequently. By the time Andy was in high school, he found marijuana to be the surest route to self medication. He traded his meds for weed and smoked his way into a calm in which he could sit still for classes and pull decent grades.
In college at Amherst, he met and fell in love with Wendy Wasserman. Wendy was more spiritually evolved than Andy. She shunned drugs in favor of New Age thought. Turning Andy on to transcendental meditation, they visited a center in New York, accepted mantras and practiced daily. Wendy eventually left for a fellowship in India, Andy continued with his scientific education, but never lost the practice and came to believe that this cured his ADHD better than any drug he had ever tried.
Ben entered room S460. The door closing behind him signaled the end to Andy’s meditation. Andy floated back up into the room as if he had been squatting at the bottom of a clear pool of fresh water. He felt refreshed and ready to tackle the afternoon’s assignments. He welcomed Ben and started filling out his daily logs.
** ** ** **
Bart smelled something sweet, like cherries or honey or something else he could not touch. He opened his eyes and the sun burned his retinas. Rolling onto his side, he checked his watch. O934, must have grayed out for ten minutes. He stood up and traveled over to Allen who was peacefully napping in his chair. A pair of nurses scampered past and nodded in passing. Bart closed his eyes, stretched and asked God to help him help others. He placed his hands gently on the wheel chair and began pushing away from Abrams Hall and its famous rose garden. He could not keep the song from popping into his brain. “I beg your pardon.”
Allen roused gradually, smacked his lips and squinted back at Bart. “Where are you driving this train, conductor?”
“Thought I’d grab a coffee, you want one?”
“Yes sir.” They slid by the old hospital building. Bart answered the questions he could about what went on in there.
Allen commented, “You know it’s connected to Heaton by a tunnel.”
“Well, I’ll be.” A shadow flew across the back of Bart’s sleep addled brain, but it passed before a thought formed.
They purchased coffees at the shopette next to the barbershop. A large and sturdy looking fellow walked by them as they emerged from the store. He had a slight limp and Bart caught Allen staring at the man’s artificial leg. It was one of those titanium jobs that looked like a giant-sized bent shoehorn. The man smiled at Allen as if to welcome him into some secret society. Bart acknowledged him and pushed north.
“Where do you suppose he’s going, Doc?”
“Wounded Warrior Program, nine o’clock.” Allen looked at the building as if sizing up an opponent.
“Is that where I’m headed?”
“I don’t know the answer to that one, Allen, time will tell.”
“Do I have to get one of those Terminator legs?”
“Only if you want one.” Allen sank back into the wheelchair and acted like a passenger enjoying the ride. “We should be getting back,” Bart mentioned. They were sliding between two red brick buildings, cut off from the sun. A chill crept down Bart’s spine. The massive behemoth of a building rose before them, “what’s that?” Allen asked.
“Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“What do they do in there?”
“I think the Army rents space out to contractors, drug companies and such, who test medical devices, pharmaceuticals and prosthetics in the hope of discovering cures and such. I would guess in order to sell the stuff and make tons of money.”
“What a great country.”
“You said it partner.”
Allen’s attention wandered across the face of the ancient building as if he were trying to find an answer from its design. He dropped his gaze. Bart had not stopped moving he was simply moving very slowly. He felt dog-tired. He had been going since early morning. He was hungry and a melancholy seemed to maneuver over him like a shadow across the sun.
“Maybe we could go on another field trip some day, Uncle Bart.”
“I would like that Allen.” They were both smiling as they entered one of the doors on the west side of Heaton Pavilion. Nurses, doctors, patients and civilians all nodded greetings.
Bart left Allen that afternoon having spent more than three hours together. He had not asked one pointed question from the Pearson or any other information gathering government approved checklist. Still, Bart felt he had connected with Allen in a more real and intimate way than they had reached in three weeks of bedside sessions. Bart was grateful for the day and for seizing the opportunity to go outside when it presented itself. He had asked to live an intuitive life, here was proof that it worked.
“Watch the burka!” Kelly was shouting from his checkpoint station. They were on traffic control in Baghdad and the cars weren’t nearly as stressful as the pedestrians and bicycle riders. Allen stopped the dark haired lady in the burka and asked her what her business was on that street. Through an Iraqi interpreter he understood she was taking her seven-year-old daughter to visit a family friend two blocks over.
Again, through the interpreter he explained that she would have to go three blocks east, two blocks north and come back in from that direction so as to avoid the big hush-hush meeting they were here to protect and serve. Back and forth went the conversation; her voice was high and scratchy like a cat with a voice box. Sweat stung his eyes and he could not quit coughing from the dust that cars were kicking up. Allen tried to go back to vehicles but her voice and the apparent distress of the interpreter brought him back to the lady and her child.
“Jesus Christ,” Allen cursed, “just let her go.” The interpreter looked at him with relief and fear, as if to make sure. “Let her go.” Allen went back to running mirrors underneath vehicles and questioning drivers.
The explosion knocked Allen sideways. He felt an added burn in the summer air and turned to see a fire cloud mushroom into the air near the building they were supposed to be protecting. “Clark, Kelly, Patterson, form a column.” They pulled blockades into the street and worked their way as a line through the street into the smoke and chaos.
There were several civilians in different states of injury. Allen heard Kelly calling for a medical team, giving coordinates, explaining the situation to the radio. Allen reached down to help a man crying on a sidewalk and in the process saw something he did not comprehend. It was a small and smoking thing, he reached for it and then jumped back as if struck by electricity. It was a child’s sandal. The type worn by a seven-year-old Iraqi girl, and there was an ankle and foot still in it.
Allen came to wondering if the mother was the bomber, he had never found out. At this point what did it matter, he contemplated. He caught himself losing sleep over the strangest things, mostly situations and incidents that he had not resolved in his own mind up to this point.
** ** ** ** **
Allen could not yet bring himself to speak about these things with Bart. He had a growing affection for the man, translating into a desire to please and a compulsion to remain respected. Allen’s father was career military, retiring as a gunnery sergeant, one step below Allen’s rank at this time. He had been stern and detached all of Allen’s childhood. The most demonstrative Allen ever saw his father was in drunken rages when he would lose the carefully crafted control and let loose on Allen’s mother and older sister.
Allen’s Dad could be a vicious bastard. He remembered pulling the old man off his mother and being forced to defend himself against that blind rage. Allen’s last night in his parent’s home ended when his father punched him in the nose and Allen punched back. As the old man cursed, squeezing his broken, bleeding nose, he shot Allen a look of disgust and surprise. Allen could still see that look on his old man’s bloody face in his memory.
Beyond all reason, Allen still followed in the old man’s footsteps; high school to boot camp, boot camp to war. His father had died miserably of stomach cancer as Allen was working the police actions in Bosnia in 1990. The Army flew him home for the funeral. He walked through the motions but felt no love lost, no sadness, no grief. He ended up in Iraq not long after that, feeling more connected to the men he served with than he had ever felt to his family at home.
Allen’s mother passed a year later and he went through the routine again. His sister, Carrie, who lived in Texas with her insurance salesman husband, invited him to stay and start over there, but he declined. Everyone seemed like a stranger to Allen. No family to speak of, he assimilated into the armed forces and considered his brothers in arms his one true family. He denied love quickly as it crept into his heart and mind. He tended to treat women like whores and men like brothers or rivals, depending on the situation. He prided himself on not getting emotional. He felt numb much of the time. The times he felt most alive were during the chaos and violence of battle. He doubted his own ability to care deeply or feel like other people. Allen had the vague inkling that this was not normal. He knew Doc Bart would figure these things out with his tricky questions, and then he too would leave, abandoning Allen to his own prison of isolation and loneliness. It was simply a matter of time.
A photograph on the front page of the Washington Post showed a mob protesting on the mall at the foot of the west steps of the United States Capital Building. Many held signs, Ben read one that said “quit playing God”, another “stem cells = murder”. He shook his head is disbelief. Ignorance rules the crowd as usual. How could science make forward progress when scientists spent their time defending their work against lies and political agendas?
In the four years Ben had worked with stem cells he had never once harvested cells from an embryo or an aborted child. If that was the argument, they were one hundred percent wrong. Yet, he would not make the cover of the Post, Washington or otherwise.
Stem cells were a part of each and every human body. For some reason, they seemed to die off the older a body got; Ben postulated that lack of regenerating stem cells was the primary cause for human death. He harvested his stem cells from fertilized eggs which would never be used to create babies. These cells would eventually be thrown in the garbage. Ben believed his work was life affirming, the exact opposite of the arguments these morons made on the evening news.
The year was 1994, Aberdeen Proving Grounds remained far from any controversy because all experiments going on here were secret and therefore off limits to press and reporters. Ben Mitchell was trying to steer the course of his research away from regeneration and toward creation. Wait till the press gets a hold of a load of that, he thought.
Meyer, Ben’ boss and mentor, remained engrossed in cloning exercises. Enthusiastic about the strides he had made with single cell creatures he had advanced to salamanders, eventually other reptiles, amphibians and now the Holy Grail – mammals.
Meyer’s lab, tucked into a serene meadow yards off the shore of the Bush River at Edgewood Arsenal, was now crowded with cages of rats, skunks, monkeys, cats and dogs. Pairs of identical twins, half natural born, the others clones, waited in cages like a science fiction version of Noah’s ark. Meyer’s assistants had written volumes of evidence that these procedures worked; Ben dared question to what end.
Are we going to create humans to do our dirty work? Cloned sanitation works, cops, soldiers? There it was, the elephant in the laboratory. We are working for the military. Does that mean we are here to create a superior fighting machine in the form of genetically engineered clone soldiers? Meyer always told Ben his concerns were immaterial. “Ve are scientists, Benjamin, let ze politicians arkue concluzions.”
Typical, Ben thought; leave the hard questions to everyone else. Never mind, Ben would forge ahead. He had his own space, his own animals, his own agenda. Ben Mitchell planned on changing the face of medical history. He was starting modestly in this little brick warehouse-looking building on Edgewood Arsenal. Most people passing probably figured it held tractors or scaffold or barrels of surplus World War One mustard gas. But Ben Mitchell, in the year 1994 had just successful grown a human middle finger on the back of lab rat number 714. He felt like he was sending that universal signal to everyone trying to stand in his way.
Fourteen years later, Ben Mitchell and Andy Bruner were on the verge of preparing for actual attachment surgery. His middle finger may just come to express the views of a surgical candidate from the wounded warrior program here at Walter Reed. Ben could not help but feel thrilled.
** ** ** ** **
“Reach further, Sergeant, just a bit higher.”
“I’m trying,” Allen grunted.
“Try harder.” Allen pushed his left arm as far as he could toward the gymnastic ring hanging from the steel crossbar here on the physical therapy yard. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead, face strained red, his entire body shook with tremendous effort; finally he reached the evasive ring. Allen had been working with Dale Fortenberry since his second week here at Walter Reed. Dale started Allen slow, getting him used to the wheelchair, his IPOP’s and techniques to maneuver his limbless right side. Dale was a positive disciplinarian, he encouraged without letting up.
Allen responded well to Dale, like his relationship with Bart, he was eager to please this authority figure. Dale smiled constantly through crooked teeth. His close-cropped gray hair spoke of a military background, as did his manner and temperament. His eyes were sympathetic but forceful.
This was Allen’s third week of physical therapy and he sensed a climax building. His upper body strength had definitely improved. He did not know how long his stay here at Walter Reed would last or where he would go after, when the thought came he generally ignored it, shoving it back down into the dark hole of unanswered anxieties he would deal with tomorrow.
Uncharacteristically, Allen blurted out, “do you have any recommendation on what prosthetic I should go for?”
Dale blinked as if he’d been slapped and remained quiet for several moments. “That’s not really my area, Allen.”
“I know, I’ve just been thinking about it.”
“What does your doctor say?”
“Which one?” Allen said in mock exasperation.
Dale began rubbing the muscles in Allen’s neck, shoulder and upper arm, “your surgeon would most likely be the man to start with.”
“I haven’t seen him in weeks, guess I could ask to.”
“You most certainly can. Allen, you and your buddies are the reason every doctor is here. Hell, you’re the reason this place exists.” Dale’s square jaw was set in a determined position, he meant to be helpful.
“Yeah,” Allen said without much conviction.
Dale looked from side to side in the guise of stretching his own neck muscles and bent close to Allen’s face. “There are amazing programs happening here, Allen, incredible feats of medical progress. Hang in there, Allen, who knows maybe you will be on the receiving end of some cutting edge technology.”
“What do you mean?” Allen quizzed, his brow furrowed.
“Well,” Dale crawfished, “I’m just saying. Medical breakthroughs are happening every day. You need to stay positive.”
Allen nodded and they went back to exercising, but late that night Allen thought of his physical therapist’s words and wondered if there wasn’t more going on here than met his eyes.
** ** ** ** **
Maggie made her rounds that night and Allen continued to tell himself that her attention meant absolutely nothing. She was a quad-hag, a cripple twister, some kind of sick ticket for which no one had come up with a name. He could not deny her enthusiasm though and found himself looking forward to her visits and being grumpy on her days off.
For her part, Maggie seemed totally absent of ego, self-aware but not self-possessed. She was beautiful as she administered her care. She was an artist really. Touching what needed to be touched, avoiding wounds without guile or awkwardness. Her kisses tasted like sugar cookies at Christmas, the kind his grandmother made before dysfunction ruled the family, innocent and full of promise.
In a curious act of selflessness, Maggie never mentioned or spoke of anyone else when she was with Allen. He felt like the only man in the world when she was with him and yet he was sure she expected him to keep it just that simple, so he did. No thoughts or expectations of anything further than the moments they shared. That would have to be enough, and so it was.
Allen nonchalantly asked her if she knew of any new experiments with prosthetics and a strange silhouette passed across her face. Not long after the pointed question she made excuses and disappeared. He speculated, and fell into a deep sleep smelling grandma’s cookies.
In February of 1991, Allen entered Iraq with several hundred of his closest buddies. Later, he discovered that the world was watching most of the action on CNN. Desert Storm was Allen’s initiation into desert combat. He learned many tasks that would keep him alive in the years to come. Following the Marines who liberated Kuwait, he hung around, listening to their practical advice about the necessities of survival in this unforgiving climate. Number one was to keep your weapon clean at all cost, a fouled firing pin could ruin your day. Hydrating was also big on their list, and personal hygiene saved you misery on the long hot desert days. Turns out Baby wipes were important as ammunition. You could not shoot without a bullet and you could not see without a Wipe It.
He had seen action in the Balkans over the past few years; most of it was Croat on Serb and vice versa. He was in a platoon that discovered mass graves along the Danube River near Belgrade. Faces frozen in death, the scene was surreal and etched in his memory. Years later while Allen was fighting in the Middle East, news broke about several mass graves in that area of Croatia. Turns out the inter-ethnic war between the Croats and the Serbians had raged for centuries. Allen did not comprehend, nor did he care to.
He had seen too much of man’s inhumanity to man, but nothing prepared him for close combat. In Iraq, he looked into the eyes of the first man he killed. It was on a road outside Kuwait City. Allen and five other members of his outfit were ambushed, in the ensuing battle he spent nearly all of his time firing blindly into the night. Suddenly, a man in Arab headgear was screaming toward him. Allen opened fire with his M-16. The man and his AK-47 fell as if in slow motion. He continued running, the old chicken with its head cut off routine, and as he passed Allen noticed his eyes were a pale brown with long black eyelashes, almost pretty like a girl’s. The young Iraqi hit the ground with a soft thud; Allen kicked his side and grabbed his weapon. He checked for more weapons and kept moving forward, FIDO. In the following years the memory had not faded. He could recall the sound of the battle cry, the expression on the doomed face and the soft color fading from those pretty dying eyes.
** ** ** ** **
Andy Bruner rubbed his tired eyes, removed the small plate from the microscope clip and set it back in the stainless steel laboratory sink to be washed and bleached. He laced his fingers, inverted them and raised them high as he could above his head. A low moan escaped his lips; he glanced over at the other scien