September 19, 2011
Name: Garrett Phillip Anderson
Returned from: Iraq and Afghanistan
Hometown: Portland, OR
Milblog: Iraq/Afghanistan and More
I was nineteen years old on my fifth night in the battle of Fallujah. We would camp in one of the houses that we had broken into. The machine gunners would sleep on the rooftop and take post when it was their turn; the riflemen would sleep inside and rotate to the rooftop and take post next to the machine gunners. Third platoon’s navy medic had ripped some bedroom doors off of their hinges and offered me one to sleep on. I accepted and wrapped myself in the thin blotchy camouflaged liner I used as a blanket. The riflemen slept on the concrete floor around us talking in their sleep. I tucked myself in and placed the radio handset to my ear, a plastic phone that made a noise like television static. I fell asleep.
The cigarette cherry burned like hundreds before it. Sometimes I would put them out on my hand grenades. I would talk about the girls back home I wanted to sleep with. Women in their late teens danced like strippers in my day dreams. We would swap stories and ammunition when it was time. When it was cold we would cuddle, grown men dreaming of young women. She sent me pictures once. She posed in front of an apartment wall, and I would pull them out of my radio pack and wish. I fell asleep.
Before the war, when I was young I would listen to music and write short fiction late at night. The computer screen would glow when the lights were off and I was alone, tapping away at a keyboard listening to the music of plastic on skin. Movie posters littered my walls and I would write to them. Girls would call so I would talk to them, and I wanted to be a man. In high school I was the lead singer in a punk band. A friend in our crew killed himself my junior year and I stayed up one night and wrote him down. I fell asleep.
A few days before I left for boot camp I went on a camping trip with my father and friends. From out of the grey Sierra Nevada flew two Marine helicopters. My father shouted at them, or at me, “Marines! Marines!” I felt an anxiety wash over me and I could hear the nearby rushing stream washing down from the mountains. The day before I left we went to breakfast and I could not eat. He dropped me at the recruiter’s office and we said goodbye.
The corporal gave me his old radio pack and I took his old job. He spent months training me how to use that radio. Knobs stuck out of the olive drab brick and I learned the trade. One day in Iraq I slapped him on the back and we laughed about the radio. He told me he was glad he didn’t have to hump it around anymore. Down the road I heard the gunfire. They pulled him out of the house after tossing their hand grenades. He had fallen asleep.
A black man handed me blue pajamas. I put them on and he noticed my tattoos. He asked if I was a Marine. I replied that I was and he noticed that I had noticed where I was, so he told me I would be one of two coherent men in the mental hospital that night. I slept in a room with two beds, two government issued pillows and two blankets like boot camp. The schizophrenic in my room talked to himself and paced in the moonlight. I stayed awake, afraid that he might hurt me.