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View Diary: Baghdad ER (125 comments)

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  •  A teacher's tale: (16+ / 0-)

    He was a "good kid," who, as they say, "did not work up to potential." Whatever that means. The student who sat at the back of my class was dreamy, polite and a just geeky enough behind his horn-rimmed glasses. When I first met him, he was 15. Part of a group of Goths, he often spent his class time drawing fabulous dragons, or reading fantasy that will never appear on the sophomore curriculum list. We talked Annime; I introduced him to Ursula K. LeGuin; and I learned all about angels from him. When he elected my senior English class, our student-teacher journey continued. No, he wasn't a solid student, but he was definately a "good kid."

    Living in what I'm told is the poorest county east of the Mississippi, my friend found a way out by joining the army. His plan was to stay in long enough--maybe very long--and earn a nursing degree. Other students kept in email contact with him, so I knew he was in Iraq.

    A few months ago he turned up in the hall. Home for a visit, he told me that he'd been stationed with a medical unit in Baghdad. When I mentioned Assassins' Gate, his eyes bore into mine. "Yes, that's where I was stationed." I'm sure that he'd met many old teacher's that morning, and many people who were happy to see him, but knowing the name "Assassin's Gate" meant I knew something the others didn't know.

    His eyes more than anything broke my heart that day. Haunted. The word haunted will never be strong enough to convey what I saw in his eyes, but it comes closest of all of the words I know. Haunted. He was in the hallway, but the visions were not. Chris Hedges describes the return from a war zone like looking at life from a dark tunnel, with the only relief coming by spending time with people who shared the experience on the "in-side" with you. How unholy it must seem to someone returning from Baghdad to complete ignorance. My friend and I talked but I wanted to cry.

    He said that he would leave the army as soon as he could, and hoped that he would spend the reminder of his time state-side. But he wasn't sure. He said that he wasn't sure if he could afford to go to nursing school, but he wanted to try. And the "good kid" who taught me all about angels, now knows all  about demons too.


    •  Beautiful (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sockpuppet, LibChicAZ

      This deserves a diary of its own. "Journalism" isn't presenting two opposing sets of focus-group tested PR, it is telling stories.

      Yours is a simple, personal, true story, and great journalism.

      Certain experiences simply isolate us in ways that can never truly be bridged. Some of these can be positive, like giving birth -- an experience no man can ever fully understand. Another is the experience of combat. No one who has not been there can ever offer anything but a kind of nearly useless sympathy.

      In any case, your story is a worthy, if peripheral one. It tells the story from the side of "nearly useless sympathy."

      No one who sees death, or worse, kills is left unchanged by it. They can survive. They can even thrive. But they are changed forever by it. I hope your student can live with his memories and thrive.

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