I did not expect to encounter a Marine that had just returned from Iraq, with quite a bit to tell us consumers in line about exactly what was on his mind. I did not expect to have my life shocked into perspective.
Update: Thank you everyone for recommending this diary, to me it is such a powerful commentary on the "collateral damage" of war. It's time to stop the insanity.
Update 2: It seems like I failed to mention this, and it really changes the whole dynamic of the story - this was not a young man, rather one of middle-age. Just makes it that much more difficult. Also, there is no ironic twist where I was purchasing a war sim game - but I definitely didn't consider it after meeting this man. As a final added note, I'm getting a ton of questions about whether I actually bought the system - yes I did, I'd been there since early AM and the man left us just as fast as he showed up.
This is a bit long, but I don't care because this experience is staying with me forever.
I arrived at the mall at 6:30 or so, and spent a bit of time in my car watching the "mall-walkers" head inside while having my coffee. I'm assuming it's a widespread phenomena, but the mall opens in the early morning for those that want somewhere warm and quiet to walk. After about 20 minutes, I headed inside to join the line that was building up outside Electronics Boutique, all sorts of excited for my silly new toy. Those in line had the same glossed over look of excitement, and before long we were meeting each other and talking shop.
The mall-walkers have most likely included the activity in a morning routine, so a few were perplexed to see a line of young adults/parents building up outside of a shop. Some were curious about what was being released ("Are you guys in line for Britney Spears tickets?"), others laughed at our eagerness to purchase a piece of paper that allows us to buy more stuff later.
And then, there was him. A man walked by, and the person in front of me in line asked "Hey, did that guy just smell like booze?" I answered yes, as the scent was still lingering around after he passed. We traded a few glib remarks about what exactly would compel a drunk man to go to the mall so early in the morning to wander around. Ten minutes later or so, the man came back the other way and decided to inquire about our line.
"What's this all about?" The smell returned. Somebody told him about the Nintendo system, and how they're offering pre-orders, so on and so forth.
"Oh, you're buying those Nintendo tapes? You've got those ones that are all war.. I've been there. I've seen it." A few people were perplexed, but still curious about what the guy had to say.
"I'm a Marine, and I just got back from Iraq on.. what day is it, Friday? Monday, and I've been drinkin' since. Probably be drinkin' until I go back - not to Iraq, but back in."
The mood of the situation changed immediately. Toward the front of the line, there were myself and a few younger guys (I'm 22), and 4 people I assumed were parents pre-ordering the system for kids. Nobody knew what to do besides listen to this man, because it was awful clear he had something to say.
"This war is a mistake, it's all based on lies. We never found any weapons over there, men and women are being killed for no reason. It's a mistake and there's no reason for it." People were becoming noticeably uncomfortable, and I was hoping to high heaven that there weren't any nutty righties in the line that felt the need to "correct" this man. I initially had my doubts about what he was saying, but halfway through a repeated "I've been there.." his face jolted as if he had just realized what he was saying. This man was broken, and there was absolutely no reason for it. His voice cracked as he continued, and I fought off tears that hadn't materialized yet. People in the line did the best they could to encourage the man, and thank him for serving.. but nothing was going to help.
"You remember that, when you're playing your little tapes," the man said as he gestured playing around with a controller, "you remember that there are people really doing that. They're shooting and they're getting shot at." On that note, encouragements were repeated as the man decided to wander away from our line.
This was easily one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating moments in my life. I've been pissed off in general at those in charge because of incompetence on their part, but this was different - this man's life has been completely spent on a false war. The blank stare he had on filled me with anger, as I knew there was nothing I could do to help him through in the state that he was in.
Not only was it a moment of intense frustration, but also introspection - I was sitting in line for a fucking Nintendo while there are people dying for no reason. I'm programmed to buy the latest crap just because it's the latest crap, and play games that mock the reality of the horrifying environment of war. You can try your best to change the status quo sonny, but it's not gonna work - so fire up your Sony NintendoBox 2000 and shut the hell up.
From now on, I will never allow myself to lose the perspective I have gained from this experience. The future needs us, because those in charge aren't worried and the lives of those fighting for the freedoms we're losing are being squandered on greed.
IT MUST STOP.