Posted by: alainnneart | June 19, 2009

Casualties of war

It’s cold. The flat surface is pressing against my cheek and the first thing I notice is that it’s cold. This is quickly replaced with the gushing warmth of something sticky. Unclear, my mind is slow to process the the scene of what is happening. how can something be so cool to the touch and yet so hot and sticky?

Slowly, noises begin to seep into the darkness I am in. There is a sense of panic, words not making sense, just muffled screeches. I think I can hear someone calling my name, though is sounds like it is across a canyon and underwater. Still, the darkness is around me and I can only feel sticky warmth drenching onto the cold that presses against my face.

Eventually, my eyes open, the light piercing through my body with a blinding radiance. I see just blurs of browns and blacks. White lab coats, outlines of people hunching. Still, my name is muffled and everything is blurry. My face is resting on a wall, bright red paint near it, pooling against it. The sweet smell of iron is wafting to my face. I am so confused. My thick black eyeglasses are levitating against the wall, a few feet way. I pause and wonder, in my dazed stupor, how it’s possible for glasses to levitate like that. They look so pretty, splattered with the red paint so finely and delicately.

Two strong hands pull me up. They are rough and pull me into a sitting position. Blood rushes to my head, and for a split second I feel ridiculous, realizing that I was not leaning on a wall, my glasses were not hovering in front of me suspended in midair by some magic wire I could not see, but instead I was on the floor. The red paint pooling on the wall is my blood, as it continues to pour down my face, onto my lab coat, across my pink shirt, creating a sickening example of inkblot tests.

My colleagues crowd around me. In a dazed state, I somehow notice that there is a bright light being shined in my eyes. My pupils react and still, the words that need to come from my mouth to answer their many questions are choked up in the blood that now flows. Jim, the doctor I work with, squats down before me, asking me standard question: do you know your name? Do you know where you are? Do you know the day? I find my voice and spit the blood from my mouth, answering his questions.

I stand up slowly and look around. All around me, people stare horrendously at my battered face. Patients with their balding hair, IV’s dripping silently into their arms, tears running down their faces. They are scared. They are worried. I smile, and say not to worry, and even as I do, I realize the smile hurts. There is a deep gash on my lip. It will probably need stitches I think to myself.

Beyond the looks of shock and fear I see him. He is seated with security surrounding him. He is shaking, his fist covered in my blood. He is distraught, tears steaming down his pale face. He looks like a child, and not a grown man of 33 years. He looks not like the man who came in for treatments every week for a year in order to for his mom in to fight her cancer. Not the man that enrolled in the army and served two stints in the heart of Iraq, who would always come to the hospital to visit us while on leave even though his mom was in remission. Not the handsome young man I once would have coffee with on my lunch breaks while his mom dozed in her chemo chair.

He looked scared. He looked tired. He looked like a young man who had seen too much. His gaze met mine and instantly I had no hard feelings. I understood, having been in contact with his mom, the nightmare when he came home. The fear of sitting next to windows with no blinds. I understood that he needed to face the doors of rooms when seated; that he flinched when cars backfired; that his eyes scanned rooftops when he was outside.

I understood that he meant me no harm when I walked up behind him and put my arm around him to say hello. He didn’t hear me coming. While the whole thing was a blur, and he his fist came around so fast that there was no time to react, I understood even as I was blacking out and hitting the ground, he meant no harm. and I understood that not all of our casualties of war come home in body bags. But even with the understanding, I found a little fear deep inside myself. NOt of the man who had just knocked me unconcious but for the whole generation of men and women coming home to a world they no longer fit into.

He looked at me, mouth wordlessly trying to form some sort of semblance of a sentence. He stood up, only to have security block him again. I smiled at him, and nodded my head. There will be no charges filed. It was an accident.



  1. That attitude is big of you, and very professional. I try to keep that attitude when working with my students (emotional-behavioral disabilities, but it isn’t always easy. You see, if I remain distant (and stay protected), it interferes with my success with them, so I have to take the risk of being vulnerable emotionally sometimes. It usually only comes back to bite me once or twice a year, so it’s worth the risk. Besides, if we don’t understand them, who will?

  2. LOL. I’m not sure. you should see my lip.

  3. When General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “War is hell,” he knew exactly what he was talking about. He had “been there; done that.”

    You’ve said the same thing: “Not all of our casualties of war come home in body bags.” Fundamental insight into human life.

    You are an amazingly understanding person. I wish our world had more people like you.

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