As a Crazed Iraq War Veteran™, I’m supposed to have vivid flashbacks of my traumatic time in the ‘box (Sandbox, Iraq, Rumsfeldian Vietraq Quagswamp, etc.), not of my time on the university campus.
Since I had to drive Mrs. Melobi to work in the Human Transport Ark Eltreum, I decided to stop in and say hi to some former coworkers of mine. Luckily, most were already avid readers of this site, so the inane “how was Iraq?” questions were kept to a minimum – and even those were better by far than the utterly clueless response of a pretty young car salesperson, who upon hearing I’d just returned from Iraq said, “oh, how was it? I’ve never been there.” No shit? Not much tourism going on there – between the Ba’ath party and al-Qaeda it’s sort of fallen off the hot vacation list.
At any rate, it was a strange feeling to be there again – prior to my activation, I had spent the last six years of my life there, between school and subsequent employment. Somewhat like the Army, it was an all-encompassing environment; work, play, love, hate, friends and foes all rolled up into a tidy package. (Not that I’m romanticizing about my erstwhile glory days – college for me was generally a pleasant chore at best and a miserable drain on my human spirit at worst.) So many memories, with some places there so saturated with imagery so as to be almost overwhelming.
So stunning, too, is how far removed the campus is from Camp Liberty. It seems like an obvious statement, but the sequestered nature of my Army job isn’t too unlike spending a long day in your house in front of the TV. In either case, it’s easy to temporarily forget the existence of the outside world, and so the transition from trailer 5-264C to Fort Delobi isn’t as abrupt as one might expect (with obvious exceptions: cats, wife, food I have to pay for, indoor bathroom, etc.). The campus, though, is alive with people and strange sights and strange smells and the humming vitality of self-centered youth.
(I sound like an old man writing that. Curmudgeon before my time, I guess.)
There’s hate there, too; on virtually every light pole there’s some mockery of Bush, or the Iraq war, or some exhortation of some “progressive” cause. A tableau of anti-Bush quotes and pictures, erected by Melobi’s two agitated co-workers, decorates the office door. It’s the look on a new acquaintance’s face that’s the worst, though; it’s the deer-in-headlights stare, the literal seconds of silence as the brain tries to reconcile his/her own virulent feelings about Bush/Iraq/military with the reality of this short nondescript friendly guy standing there.
I got that look from one of the guys in Melobi’s office, when he came in and Melobi said “this is Alex” and he responded (stupidly), “so…what’s your connection?” and I said “I’m her husband. I just got back from Iraq.” He hit me with the usual “how was it?” (no token “thanks for your service” to be found on this campus, I’m sure), and when I said it was pretty good, all things considered, he kind of blundered through the rest of a sentence and left. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he almost looked afraid. Honestly, I think he would’ve had more to say if I had said I just had a testicle removed and that the other one had just rolled down my pant leg.
I guess that informs my future interaction with other campus residents; except for what I need to discuss in any potential job interview, I’ll keep quiet about everything that happened – it’s just easier that way. I’m tired of people acting like I’m telling them I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and then receiving either awkward silences or unwanted pity.
It makes me even more glad that I kept this blog – I’m able to tell my story, however trivial it may seem at times, in the way I know best – and the rest of the world be damned.