A United States MARINE, A Greyhound and A Hundred Miles
"Leave the driving to Greyhound".......
It shouldn't have to be a major drawn-out decision to choose a means of transportation just to visit an old friend. How difficult can it be to make up one's mind on such a simple issue?
Driving alone did not appeal to me. I surely wasn't going to fly a mere hundred miles. I could think of only two more options. I jotted down the pros and cons to Amtrak versus Greyhound. After calling each for information, I chose the bus.
It's not much for status or comfort but quite frankly, I didn't care. A good book and a couple of magazines and I am good to go.
On the day of departure, in my usual compulsive fashion, I made sure I was first on board to carefully choose just the right seat. I reasoned the while, that no matter who took the seat next to me, it would be a vast improvement over my last airline buddy. That's all I will say. I can't even go there.
Less than two minutes into position, cracking open my book, I saw by peripheral vision, an enormous figure slide in next to me. "You don't mind if I sit here, do you, ma'am?" A deep, but gentle voice asked as his shoulder slightly nudged me, unavoidably toward the window.
He was a young, handsome man in uniform and my heart melted as I thought of my own U.S. Marine son, my pride and treasure. Through my best welcoming smile, I simply said, "Of course not."
Marines on leave are friendly and talkative. Trust me on this.
We exchanged names and destinations. He stood slowly, all 6'6" of him, removed his jacket and sat right back down, put his head back and closed his eyes.
I gazed out the window to peek at the scenery. We were rolling by farm country on a gorgeous Autumn day...a breathtaking view, to say the least. This was going to be a pleasant and relaxing ride. Plugged in my ear phones and fluffed my little pillow..... I gave myself a pat on the back for my decision to travel by bus..
My bus buddy's name was Peter. Sergeant Peter Bennett, U.S.M.C., on his way to see the love of his life, a couple of cities beyond my destination. I closed my eyes and made a wish. A wish I would make for my own son. Whatever is next for this young soldier...Please let it be here at home.....not in the Middle East....not the war. If he must go to war, please keep him safe and return him home to his loved ones,healthy and whole.. I allowed myself only moments to think back to the torturous months of what is now, thankfully, a blurr.....the months my son spent in Iraq, during "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The second tank over the border from Kuwait into Iraq, the very first day of the war.
I banished the memory quickly. The orders of this day were no painful thoughts...no stress, no worries....just a peaceful ride to Pennsylvania.
The Sergeant's cell phone awakened him from his little snooze and startled me out of my trance. He didn't answer, but hit the reject button instead and apologized to me for his phone having disturbed me. Gosh what a sweetie, I thought, such a polite young man.....of course he is, he's a Marine....Again I smiled at him and told him that I hadn't been sleeping, just day dreaming. He then said something I found quite profound, "Sometimes, daydreaming is better than sleep." I looked at him and wanted to agree, but he kept talking. "When I was in the dessert in Afghanistan, I think I day dreamed my time away." Then I knew it best to say nothing. I remembered the form letters that military families received from Marine Corps Family Support Groups that strongly suggested we leave discussions of the war to our soldiers, if and when they chose to talk about it at all.
A Soldier pours out his memories
It became apparent to me that this young Sergeant wanted to share his story. It also occurred to me, he'd have done this with or without me next to him.. He was intent to clear away some cob webs, to unload the dust that had collected in corners of his mind.
"When you're camped out in the vast expanse of a desert, in a foreign and hostile environment, there's a whole lot of time and silence that lends itself to some pretty deep thinking. I started out thinking there might be a lot of guy-talk and camaraderie, but that isn't how it was. After we'd traveled a day or two and set up our camp, we were pretty beat, I mean really dog-tired. Some of us slept and the rest of us took our shift at being awake and alert."
I couldn't help but notice he stared straight ahead as he spoke, as though seeing the vision of his words play out before his eyes. I knew he was just as aware that I was focused on his every word. It was a strange place for me....somewhere between wanting to be his audience,yet not knowing if I could handle the emotional impact of hearing his tale.
All things are as they should be, at any given moment.
I was feeling a bit smug, relishing how my intuition never fails me. It's such a powerful force within me. it's busy doing it's thing even when I'm not consciously aware. "Good Job, inner self, way to go!" This encounter, the soldier and me.....it was in the Plan. Yes, meant to be. I anticipated his continuing story and was not disappointed.
"It's funny, Peter went on, joining the Military never entered my mind in High School. No way I could have pictured myself being kicked around and beaten up at any boot camp. Nah, I never saw myself in uniform. I'm still wondering what I'm doing ....me, Pete, the screw-up, calling myself a United States Marine, one of the chosen few. Yea, my buddies are still laughing, I'll bet. How it happened isn't important. Once you're in, you're in. You've heard that one, right? Once a Marine, always a Marine.
"Yes, Peter, I have definitely heard that, more than once." I didn't want to sway his train of thought. No need to tell him that both my Dad and my son, served as Marines. I could clearly sense he wanted to talk....no, he needed to talk. I was feeling honored to listen.
Being sent over there was inevitable. My whole battalion expected it. Some of the guys were all gung-ho, real crazy to go fight the enemy. A few didn't really say much at all one way or the other. I'll be honest. I was scared....scared shitless. I know I shouldn't admit that and I never would to my comrades, believe me. I guess everyone just automatically figures only brave, tough guys join the Marines. I'm sure they think we're made out of something beyond human stuff. Hell, most of the time even we believe that. But take a 19 year old kid, stick an assault weapon in his hand and fly him to enemy territory, where people hate you and all they want to do is kill as many of us as possible......it's hard to explain. All the aggressive training in the world doesn't guarantee a damned thing.
Peter paused for awhile, looking pensive, seeming I guessed to be thinking about what he'd just said. I could feel my emotions lining in position to bombard me and fighting against them was never easy for me. For a moment I felt queasy and had to ask Peter to let me out, so I could walk back to the lav.
Alone, in a stainless steel cubby, I realized this young Marine was literally flooding my mind with a hundred thoughts just swirling around in my head. I had questions that I knew I shouldn't ask. More than that, I wanted to say something to him to let him know I was truly understanding but felt it might sound disingenuous, however sincere. I'm never speechless but this was a whole different deal. For once, I decided, my job was just to listen. Barely back in my seat, he turned to look me in the eye for the first time, a sheepish sort of grin on his face.
"I'm sorry, I must be boring you, bothering you. I'll shut up..........I couldn't get the words out quickly enough. I assured him he was not boring me nor bothering me at all ....."No, please," I encouraged him to tell me more.
"It's been a while since I've had the chance to talk to someone other than a fellow Marine. I haven't been back that long and I guess I had more to get off my chest than I knew. I didn't say too much about what went on over there to my parents. My Dad's a pretty quiet, serious guy and...well, we never really talked a lot. My Mom just cries a lot and hugs me and sticks bowls of food in front of me. You know, Moms are like that.. Never tell Mom anything that might upset her. HA! How could I tell my mother how close I came more than once, to getting blown to bits? Or how I broke down and sobbed as I helped carry a wounded buddy into the medic's tent. I don't think I cried that hard since I was a kid. We all cried.....couldn't help it. That's what I mean. We're human beings. We hurt and feel pain. We're not always big and brave.
Now, I wanted to cry. My heart was becoming heavier than I could handle. I shifted in my seat, took a sip of water and glanced quickly out the window,,,,,,took a big deep breath. Thoughts of my son's tour in Iraq had new meaning ...and not in a comforting way. As though the horrid nightmare I had lived through while he was gone, with all my deepest fears, hadn't been enough. Now, my heart was breaking for every single young American who left their home and family to fight a war, halfway round the world. Jesus. Peter took up where he'd left off, as though reading my thoughts.
We all knew what was being said back home...all the anger toward another war. The World News broadcast daily, how Americans wanted to know why our military was in Iraq. They demanded to know what the hell Iraq had to do with 911. And the loudest screaming was..."where are the infamous WMD'S?"
Why did we give a damn about a lunatic named, Sadam Hussein? We don't ask questions. We follow orders and defend our country when we're told and how we're told. There's not much time used up explaining WHY. Know what I mean? The American public didn't want us there and for sure, most of the Iraqis didn't want us there. But there we were, just as big and bold as can be.
We saw a lot of bad....really bad stuff. The battle of the bullets was everywhere. The worst, most horrific thing was how those coward bastards would send young children out with assault rifles ......hell, almost as big as the kids were. The way they strapped bombs around women and forced them out to blow up American soldiers.....suicide bombers who should be honored to die for Allah. No greater sacrifice than to be a martyr for Islam! I don't get it. I mean, what's it really all about?
I had a lot of time to think about things I'd never paid much attention to before going over there. You want a lesson in gratitude and pride in your country? Want to figure out in a hurry, just what's important in life? What really matters? Spend a year in a country run by radical extremists, where there are no rights, no freedoms, and absolutely no regard for human life. Yea, that'll do it. A condensed and speedy type of education on appreciating all we have and all we are. A major awareness and rude awakening to the incredible suffering and oppression elsewhere in this world. I was proud to fulfill my duty. I'm overjoyed to be home.....No matter how bad it gets here, whatever struggles we have or rough roads we need to travel.....We are the greatest country in the world, sure as we're sitting right here. Ah, Ma'am, speaking of right here, I do believe Mr Bus Driver just pulled into your destination station. I'd be happy to walk you off the bus, if you don't mind.
We'd actually gone a hundred miles? I was in disbelief. Gathering my few belongings, Peter motioned for me to walk ahead of him and he followed me off the bus. Hmmm, will you look at me? I thought....my very own bodyguard.
I spotted my friend waiting for me at the curb and motioned to her I'd be with her in a minute. I took both of Peter's hands and squeezed them. "Thank you so very much, Peter. this has been the most wonderfully inspirational hundred miles of my life. I mean that sincerely, and I wish you anything your heart desires." He gave me a shy smile and said, "It was very nice to meet you and Thank you for listening to me ramble on. I appreciate that, ma'am."
He boarded the bus as I walked a few steps and as the bus pulled away, I smiled and waved. Peter gave me a peace sign and off he went.
My old friend Carrie appeared with her hands on her hips...."Well, now who was that and what's going on here?".......I ignored her questions, gave her a great big hug and said, "Damn, girl, it's good to see you. Now let's do some crazy Mall shopping! " It's a beautiful day, to spend some money....don't you think?"