December 10, 2012

Name: Sideways
Stationed in: Afghanistan

The major event this week outside of work was finally moving out of my transient billeting and into the room that I’ll call “home” for the next year. I’ve basically been living in a converted connex with two other guys for the last two weeks.  We were three men in a can. I didn’t unpack my clothes or equipment beyond the minimum requirements. Living small has its advantages, but there were a few comfort items I wanted to get to.

Framed Ty ROOMATE There are troops from over forty different countries here and getting a room assignment is a bit like playing the lottery; you don’t know what you’re going to get until the numbers are drawn. Some folks get dealt a tough hand and believe it or not, I was hesitant to move out of transient billeting for just that reason. When you’re in transient billeting if you get an obnoxious roommate he’ll be gone in a few days. The downside to the transient billets were some fairly sketchy showers and living out of a bag.

If you draw a short stick on the roommate gamble and end up with a guy who snores like a chainsaw or somebody that has, well, let’s just say “an alternative view of personal hygiene” you could be stuck for a year. I finally got the last stamp I needed on my inprocessing form and climbed the stairs to the billeting office. The Spanish NCO ran the numbers, signed my form and walked to the billeting board hanging on the wall. My number was drawn and I got a key.

I opened the door to my new room and the first thing I noticed was a stack of books on a small shelf. My eyes ran over the titles and I saw books that I had read myself: Hopkirks’ The Great Game, Ewans’ Afghanistan: A Short History of its People and Politics and Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos. The next thing I noticed was a pair of shower shoes with British flags on them and it was at that moment that I knew I’d won the roommate lottery.

I dragged my bags across the compound for what I hope will be the last time this year and finally unpacked. The room is a small and sparsely furnished. There are two of everything: beds, wall lockers, cabinets, shelves, internet cables. My side of the room came pre-decorated with a map of the world and a monster truck poster. One stayed, the other went in the hallway. It’s been lived in by dozens of men over the years and it shows. There are stickers from various countries and military units on the door along with a large round “Starbucks” sticker and the obtuse green ISAF patch.  A random arrangement of candy cane stickers adorns the wall by my bed, long since peeled off some Christmas present no doubt.  I spent about two hours unpacking, sorting, repacking the stuff I know I won’t use for the next year and getting my wall locker organized. Every time I move something I find two things: a gigantic dust bunny and an air freshener.  My roommate must be out on mid-tour leave or maybe he’s travelling here in theater someplace because I haven’t seen him for three days.

I’ve been singing Tom Petty songs off the album “Wildflowers” lately. I don’t know why, but that album has been running through my head for two weeks. I woke up one morning singing “It’s time to move on” and the whole album has been on repeat in my mind ever since. Maybe it’s the doxy. Last night I actually turned on my iTunes and cued up the tracks that I’ve been singing for days. It’s the first time I’ve listened to music in over a month. It was at once great to hear music and at the same time a painful reminder of just how far from home I really am.

It’s tough to find a quiet spot to stop and think sometimes. The empty room is nice; a good distraction from the congested work space and constant presence of other people. Solitude is the one of the things I miss the most when I’m deployed.


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