Here am I, voyager into life
Tough are the souls that tread the knife's edge
A Passion Play 1973
It is August, two thousand twelve. My shift starts in twenty minutes, at midnight. I tap out a Lucky Strike and light it. I draw deep on the cigarette. I exhale. Smoke clouds my face. I look out across the dark desert. I think about random shit… my busted four wheeler, Shannon, property taxes, whatever.
Lightning catches my eye. There is a summer storm brewing up north, in the mountains. Rain is uncommon for this time of year. June to October, hardly a drop falls.
And there is always that bone-dry wind blowing. Some nights it is stronger than others. Tonight the air is oppressively hot and that dusty breeze is goddamned annoying.
My tee-shirt sticks to my back. I have been out of bed for only half an hour and, already, I am sweating. Christ, I am living in no man’s land, a geographical toilet.
I take another draw on my cigarette and look back at our awkward shanty town. It is a mix of hard and soft shell structures, tents and tent-cabins interspersed with primitive wooden sheds.
Nylon flaps snap in the breeze. I see slivers of light escaping between loose boards of the framed offices; illumination glows from soft-sided sleeping quarters.
There are sounds of men at work, talking, planning. I hear the usual bullshit off-duty guys talk about.
And I hear the weary, as they try to sleep.
In the center of our desert ghetto is an armored Humvee. Mounted on its roof is a Ma Deuce. I cannot see him, but I know there is a guy with his finger on the trigger of that fifty caliber machine gun. He is up there, watching, waiting; ready.
I smoke my cigarette. A jet flies high overhead, I wonder who is flying it, I wonder about that pilot’s mission. That miserable wind changes direction and the stench of our burned waste hits me full on. Jesus, how can any living thing stand the smell?
We torch it all. Trash, feces, everything. The smell hangs like an invisible fog, always permeating the air. I have spent so much time in these kinds of places, breathing acrid, polluted air, that I suffer from permanent nasal problems. I am constantly clearing my throat because of a never-ending sinus drip.
Along with the stink of our burn pit, diesel-powered generators grind away. The smell of our fiery trash, the sound from those machines, all of it is out of place. Just like me.
In a sorry attempt to escape the noise and odor, I turn my back to the wind and look up at the night sky. Unlike cities, or even small towns, there is no light pollution out here. It is beautiful, the whole of space is alive with stars. I see a meteor or maybe the space station streak across the inky blackness.
I look at the moon. It paints a sad, silvery glow across the Afghanistan desert. In nine and a half hours it will be bright over Tennessee. I wonder if my daughter will see this same full moon.
The wind gusts, blowing grit into my face, making me tear up. I swipe at the moisture in my eyes and try not to think about Shannon.