Jimmy left for Iraq and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I wanted to buy him a beer and tell him to take care of himself. It is his second tour. The first time around wasn’t all that much fun. The good people were no where to be found, but there were plenty of bad guys.
Every day and every night they kept Jimmy busy. Jimmy is a medic. Jimmy is also one of the guys that I played ball with. He is just short of 34 and a much better basketball player than I am. Until 9-11 he was a software engineer who made a very nice living.
After the towers fell he decided that he needed to help defend the country so he went and enlisted in the army.
I remember what he was like before he went in and I saw the difference when he came back. He told me himself that he was broken, his words not mine. He said that he had no regrets in having enlisted and that he would do it again, but the experiences he had fucked with his head.
It took a while for Jimmy to talk to me. I didn’t go looking for it. I was curious, but I also respected his privacy. When he first reappeared at the gym he had been home for a while. He was injured while treating one of his men. It wasn’t real serious, but it warranted an early trip home.
The guy at the gym was about 25 pounds heavier than he wanted to be. That is part of the problem with being injured, for a while he wasn’t allowed to exercise. If you asked him about it he wouldn’t complain. He always said that his injuries were nothing compared to his friends.
But those are just the physical injuries. The mental damage is a different story. Over time I heard a few stories about things he had seen and done. Stories about post suicide attacks and the body parts strewn everywhere. Random shoes that still held feet, shards of glass covered in blood, rib cages that had been torn open and the stench of burned flesh.
He said that he couldn’t turn his mind off. That being back home wasn’t peaceful. For months he begged to be sent back to Iraq. He couldn’t stand being away from the guys who understood why he couldn’t sleep anymore.
I asked him if he had tried going to the VA to find someone to talk to. I told him that I would listen to anything he had to say, but I never claimed to really understand what combat is like. I have heard many stories about it. I have heard from vets of WWII, Vietnam and some of my Israeli friends and their time in Lebanon.
I have heard the stories, but I am not a soldier. What do I know about fighting. I know what it means to have a fist fight. I know what it is like to have people try to hurt me with their fists. I have been hit with broom sticks and stones, but no one has tried to shoot me. I haven’t been stabbed. I have been close to a couple of suicide bombings in Israel, but then again, I was far enough away to be safe.
I have been lucky. I have been privileged not to have to live through some of these things. If things had been a little different I would have been a soldier, but those things didn’t happen.
So when I spoke with Jimmy I thanked him for his service and asked him to let himself get help. He deserves it. He has earned it. But we all do what we do.
So Jimmy went back to Iraq. You know in the ten years or so that I have known him I never did learn his last name. I just know him as Jimmy. Like I said I would have liked to have said goodbye. It would have been good to let him know again that his effort is being appreciated.
Now I’ll just have to wait and see. Take care of yourself Jimmy. We’ll save a spot for you on the court.