"Hell, Private. What do you want me to say?" Normally quick of wit, my section sergeant couldn't find the words. During a stop on a patrol in Baghdad, a crying mother approached me, carrying her son minus his left leg below the knee. I could not speak her language, nor could she speak mine, but what she wanted needed no translation. Thinking that I would be able to help, I started toward her to take her son, who couldn't have been older than seven, into my arms and deliver him to the medic that traveled with every patrol.
I never reached them. My section sergeant grabbed me by the strap on the back of my flak jacket and forced me back to the patrol. Three humvees left behind a building destroyed by artillery and an Iraqi woman, holding her son, still crying.
Back on base at our parking area, my section sergeant paced the length of his humvee, flailing his arms. His inability to hide his empathy conflicted with his attempt to verbally discipline me. He confessed that he wanted to help also but went into a tirade about following orders. "I didn't feel like one of the good guys," I said, stopping his rant clean. The moral of the rest of his speech: Following orders doesn't always mean doing what's right.
* * *
"I just didn't want to be here anymore." She had taken a bottle and a half of pain relievers and a handful of anti-inflammatories. Her body wondered why its liver became toxic; I wondered if I'd ever see her again. She called from the phone next to her hospital bed, voice faltering from fatigue and pain. We had spoken twice in the ten months since our courtship failed. She wove words with ambiguity in a way that left me in a state of fear.
She indicated that she would never try to commit suicide again. Although, she had no plan to change her life. She confessed her embarrassment about what she'd done. This made me think that, because she remained alive, her attempt became yet another failure in her eyes.
If her liver didn't fail her, I dreaded the thought of her trying again. I didn't know the true reason why she tried to kill herself. I didn't know why she called me. I didn't know what I could say to fix her. She reached out to me; all I could do was listen. I couldn't lie to her and tell her that everything would be all right. I haven't heard from her to this day.
* * *
Over the course of my life, the flow of time has eroded me. When I was young, if I felt the resistance of a situation, I would acknowledge it then swim against it, regardless of the pull. In recent years I have been ground down. It's taken over a decade of other people's pain to learn that I am no one's savior, no one's hero, no one's champion. I'm a stock human, nothing more.
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