- Shitbag! An Autobigraphical Essay
In the year before 9/11, you could've found me after school working as a cook at LaRosa's Pizza, a Cincinnati chain restaurant. I was biding my time until college. I was all set to go to Ohio State with a scholarship, when life changed.
Change came in the form of a phone call from my congressman's office: I had been accepted at West Point. I put in my two weeks' notice—if I possess an inborn superpower, it is the ability to adapt to, accept, and adopt great change at a moment's notice. It was about to rain when my career as pizza-maker ended. Instead of going home, I drifted, and drove my mother's car through the night, listening to the radio. It is in my nature to wander. As I remember it, I found myself trolling the empty streets of downtown Cincinnati. There was a French movie playing at the Esquire, the fancy theater, and I would miss dinner if I saw the movie, but that was not unusual for me.
The movie was about a man who ruins his life—buries himself in debt, betrays his friends and cheats them out of their money, loses his family—all so he can drive and listen to the radio, and for whatever reason, whichever compulsion, this man could no longer do anything but that: drive and listen, and he would do so at any cost. I can remember seeing this movie and thinking, "I am like that."
And then life changed. The regimens and high standards of academy life did light some kind of fire in me. My posture straightened and I was never late for breakfast formations. But the man from the French movie, driving with the radio on and running from life—I knew he was still there; I just had no idea when he would reappear. And then I was a lieutenant in the Army, and the country was at war. Life had changed.
After enduring the Army's version of Hell, i.e. Army Ranger School, I reported to my unit and served in the infantry as a rifle platoon leader. We left for Iraq and life changed. While war is absurd, from day-to-day it can feel ordinary, and you find yourself simply doing the job, and that is the best way to think about it.
You'd have to ask my men or my commanders or the Iraqi locals who met me to know if I was any good as a platoon leader. But I think I was alright.
Anyway, in a year's time life changed again; we were home. I bought a motorcycle and one day in late December, navigating a winding country road in Kentucky—river country—the beautiful smell of mud, sight of beautiful green, I slammed into the engine block of an old steel pickup truck—fast; I was going so fast. Ambulance, helicopter, emergency surgeries on the heart, femur, veins and arteries—coma.
Dream. When I woke up, I knew that life had changed when I saw my parents sitting at my bedside. The Iraqi government killed Saddam Hussein on that same day, which is strange to think about.
Hospital. Bed-ridden, wheelchair, walker and crutches back to bed-ridden, wheelchair, walker and crutches to cane—I would spend years in one of the Army's busiest medical centers. There were hundreds of us there, crutching around, some walking fine, some wheeling about, dressed in various degrees of uniforms, our bodies in various states of wholeness; minds also in various states. Most were soldiers who'd been wounded in the war, but there were many others like me. Accidents and mishaps and things. We were all considered the same, for which I was thankful, and I have no complaints concerning the medical care I received. But that's not to say that any of it was perfect. [End Page 88]
Though we were little more than out-care patients at the hospital, we were still assigned to a unit: the WTU, Warrior Transition Unit. By that time I had a rank of captain, and...