“Hey man, do you have a smoke?”
“Sorry man, I don’t smoke.” I replied while trying to shield myself from the cold wind that was beating against my fleece coat.
“Fuck, it’s balls cold out here man.” The young guy said while shivering.
“You’re telling me man, I’ve forgotten how cold it got up North.” I mumbled out as my teeth chattered.
“You must be from down South.” The guy answered back.
“Actually I’m originality from Maryland. Just got out of the Army. Came up here to visit some college buddies, and now heading back down to Texas.” I said as a gust of wind blew my fleece hat off my head.
“You been overseas?”
“Yeah I was there twice. Baghdad and Mosul.” I said picking up my hat.
“How was it?” He said.
“It wasn’t that bad if you overlook all the people trying to kill you.” I said as I was trying to blow warm air into my hands.
The young guy could sense I wasn’t in the talking mood.
“Well man good luck to you. I need to go inside. Too fucking cold out here.” He said while opening the door.
“Thanks man.” I said nonchalantly.
I was standing outside the Pittsburgh Greyhound bus station. I rather bear the cold than to be around people. People made me anxious. I’ve always had anxiety since I could remember. Everything scared me. My own shadow even scared me. My head was my worse enemy. Maybe it was due to getting the shit beat out of me my entire life. I’m pretty sure that had something to do with the mortal fear of people. I learned to cope with it by isolating myself from people. Unhealthy or not it seemed to work for me.
I didn’t have a plan for my life. I was a month out of the Army and wanted to drift for awhile. I had a little money saved up and was going to see how far I could get with that. I wanted to get away from all the bullshit. The last 8 years of my life felt like I was in prison. Rules, bullshit, and lockdown. I wasn’t the type of person to follow the rules. When rules serve no purpose but to control others, I have no obligations to follow those rules. The Army and I didn’t see eye to eye on my philosophy. Fuck em. I’m free.
It was getting close to the time my bus was departing to Austin. I walked into the bus terminal and the warm stale air made me want to retreat back outside. Everyone looked so fucking sad. I sat down next to an older fellow. He was sleeping and his gray thinning hair was laid in a million pieces across his face. I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he exhaled. He looked homeless, but hey who am I to judge? He grumbled and moved suddenly. I jumped a little. Fucking people and their sudden movements. I settled back down.
“There are no bombs here.” I said to myself.
The bus was dark and smelled of cheap cologne and sweat. It was warm as the heaters on the windows hissed. It was a nice change from the freezing wind of Pittsburgh beating the hell out of me. I tried to relax, but there was no relaxation. I was always on edge. Always ready in case I had to spring into action. These events I imagined in my head like a great action movie never came to be, but it gave my mind something to do.
For the last 8 years my whole existence was one great risk. Excitement. Danger. Adventure. Now I was back in this world. No 4am wake ups. No impending deaths. No adrenaline rushes. Nothing. I was lost. I hated the Army for its rule, but loved it for what it gave me: a sense of purpose. There was no purpose anymore. Just freedom. I valued freedom more than I valued the commitment to my country. I was just a number. Patriotism is what they fed us so we could smile while going to the slaughter.
The rumbling of the wheels skating on the pavement kept me from falling asleep. There was faint snoring somewhere in the back of the bus. I was envious. The night made me alive, and sleep was dead to me. The occasional jolt of the tires hitting potholes kept me alert. In these quiet moments I would think of things that feared me the most. I had this illogical fear of death. My mind was a twisted morbid fantasy. There were a 1000 ways to die, and everyday those deaths would rehearse in my mind. My cope with life was the fear of death.
“When is the next stop?” A yell pierced through the silence.
“We got another 2 hours till Connellsville.” The bus drive shot back.
That appeased the weary traveler as he grumbled something inaudible and settled back into his seat.
The American landscape continued to fade into darkness as the tires from the bus skipped along the bumps in the road.
“SGT. Rainey clear that fucking building!” There was an explosive, a kick of dirt, and silence.
The sun was bearing down upon my eyes and I had to quint to see what was happening. There was lots of confusion, yelling, and blood. Lots of blood.
Fuck I’m going in and out of consciousness. I still see the sunlight and feel the pain of the rocks digging into my back. I’m wet. Why the fuck am I wet?
“Secure that fucking building.” Was echoed throughout my head. I have no idea who was yelling, but there was a ringing piercing my head. I could taste the grit of dirt in my mouth and the dust suffocating me through my nostrils. I was dying. The only thing I asked of God is if I was going to die, let it be quick and painless. And not suffering in the hot desert sun, laying in a puddle of shit water. But that was my luck. This was an embarrassing way to die. Everyone wants to be the fucking hero.
I jolted from the sleep to find myself still in the bus, amongst snores and the faint smell of body odor. The bus was still bouncing along the road in a silent roar through the sleeping landscape. I started to think about what I was going to do when I reached Texas. I really had no fucking idea. I wanted to escape from this world, leave all the bullshit behind. I had enough of society. We’re all numbers to a system that uses us until our purpose is done. From kids we are lied to so that we can be controlled by a system that only seeks to destroy the humanity we have inside. But we are content by the lies, because believing in lies means we don’t have to do the work to finally live the truth. Truth is ugly. Truth is final, but above all truth is freeing. We work so hard to manufacture lives that don’t exist. I rather have freedom, than the chains of security.
The moon shone bright, and wondered if it recorded all the secrets that happened at night. How a burden that must be. To have all the dark deeds of man, but have no voice to convey truth.
“When is the next stop?”, I said to myself. I had no idea where the hell I was. I needed some fresh air. All I could see from the foggy fingerprint streaked window were fields sleeping in the moonlight. They looked so peaceful blowing in the quiet breeze. Such a simple life they had. They only had to soak up the sun’s rays,the clouds rains and grow. I wish I could lay in that field and sleep life away. But life was raoring at me going 65 miles an hour down this highway and had no idea what would give me. But I was free.
2 hours later, the bus slowly pulled into a rest stop. The exhale from the air brakes signaled the bus was exhausted as I was.The rest stop was illuminated by an overbearing McDonald’s sign with its arrogant “billions served.” The air was crisp, but refreshing. The rest stop was surprising clean. It had fresh floors and smell that didn’t hint of weary travelers. My first mission was to the restroom. I had hours of piss that needed to make its home down the drain. I never washed my hands. Maybe that was disgusting, but I thought it if I could make it through a couple wars, then human shit and piss had nothing on me.
It was hours since I’d eaten a “meal.” The greasy aroma from the McDonald’s was too seducing to ignore. I b-lined my way to a young freckled face kid by the look on his face hated his job.
“Can I take your order” the kid exhaustingly called out.
“Yeah man, I’d take that two cheeseburger value meal large size.” I said.
“Anything else?” The kid said.
“That’d do it” I said.
I had 8 minutes to devour this GMO pile of delicious substance. The growl of my stomach told me that it wasn’t going to be a problem. I succeeded in 5 minutes flat. The bus driver came in and bolstered a “alright everyone on bus 5704 to Austin, were leaving now!” That was my queue to get my ass back on the bus.
I had no idea exactly where we were. Judging by the slightly warmer temperature, and open fields we were somewhere in Tennessee. Rain was firing upon the windows as if they were having their own firefight. I eased back into my seat and pressed play on the iPod. Loud vibrant trance music engulfed my ears. The track was a beautiful chaos entwined with melodies and drum beats. I thrived within chaos. Probably one of the reasons I was drawn to the Army. The heightened senses, the danger behind every corner, you know the shit you see in those army commercials that make you want to say fuck your current life and sign up.