Refineries and Vanilla Beans

Downy’s lavender and vanilla fabric softening sheets reminds me of home.

Well…it used to at least, which is why I loved it so much.

Now it reminds me of coming home to Kuwait from the dirty and dangerous roads of Iraq.

Thanks to my mom, I never ran short of those wonderfully-smelling sheets during my year-long deployment.

Whenever we started the haul back south to Arifjan, I looked forward to three things: a mangled, metaled mess of what I’m assuming used to be a steel light pole of sorts, oil refineries lining the way to S-POD, and my Army green laundry bag with the lavender vanilla fabric sheets waiting inside.

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The wrecked utility pole let me know that I was only 30 minutes away from the border. It was a visual reminder that I was still wandering no-man’s land…but that I was oh-so-close to being able to tear off that extra 16 pounds pulling down on my shoulders and take off that additional three pounds pushing my head into my neck.

Twenty pounds lighter and my M16 stowed away on safe, my senses always sat up a bit once we crossed into Kuwait. My nostrils always waiting patiently for the scent of rotten eggs to lead me to the twinkling stars of the ships waiting to be unloaded at SPOD (Military Sea Port of Debarkation.)  Somehow these oil refineries never seemed to spoil my senses the way the ones in Iraq did. I think it was because I knew these distinct smells of sulfur and skunk meant I was oh so close to home – to my tented up bunk bed, to a day or two without the extra ballistic weight, and more importantly to the sweet smell of lavender and vanilla.

It wasn’t so much of a ritual as more of a mandatory check list that I ticked off as fast as my feet would take me. We would roll truck number 33 into it’s stall in the corral, do the speediest PMCS (Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services) we could without making it look like we just breezed by, unload my road gear from my truck to my back, turn in my weapon to the armor connex, and range-walk my ass as fast as I could to my tent and the wonderful green bag waiting to be filled with dirty clothes.

Most times I would open the purple box to smell home while I jammed a week’s worth of sweat stains from my sand-coated road bag to my laundry bag – feeling the grit fill up under my fingernails with each transfer of a hand full of crusted clothes.

I always looked forward to laundry day. I couldn’t get enough of the purple box while I patiently waited for my clothes to dry. And now, home for almost ten years…I still can’t get enough of the purple box. I’ll try different scented laundry detergents with every needed refill….but I have never swayed from my lavender and vanilla sheets.  Now it reminds me of my home away from home. Of the times I made it through the long hauls, the stuck trucks and the year of sweaty, white-lined brown tee-shirts.

Julys….

…are generally difficult.

They’re hot. There’s the whole 4th with the fireworks. And then there’s the anniversary of Walker’s death.

We all made it back home safe and sound.

We survived the IEDs in coke cans, the mortars in Baghdad, the shrieking duds in Fallujah. We drove past the burning tankers, always wondering if we hadn’t had that flat tire or the loose chain if it would have been us. We sped up under fire and zig zagged as RPGs flew around us.

Through it all, we made it home safe and sound – one company unscathed.

Or so we thought.

It didn’t take long for the anxiety to kick in. For the panic attacks during traffic jams, the increased heart beats at red lights, the flash backs at inopportune times. The shaky hands and nervous glances at packed venues. The never-ending awareness of everyones’ everythings around you.

Some of us dealt with it accordingly.

Most of us didn’t.

We drank. We smoked. We rarely slept and if we did the nights were generally restless ones. We sought ways to escape the memories, the oddness of normal civilization, and the missing of what we felt to be normal.

Walker made it a little over a year before normal life got the best of him.

The idea that we survived constant threats to our lives during our year in Iraq and yet couldn’t cut it in the real world dented me up pretty badly. Walker’s nonsensical ending hit me hard in the gut.

I still struggle on a daily basis on what to release and what to keep in. What to divulge to coworkers, friends and family and what to save for those who went through the same bullshit I did. Who to let in and who to keep at arm’s length. It’s a constant ebb and flow that I’m not sure I’ll ever be successful at steadying, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Walker (left)

Vacation Time!

I started my first real vacation from my first real civilian job yesterday.  Said goodbye to my pup, got myself packed up and caught a ride to the airport.

I’ve always traveled sporting my Army gear…but of course, most if not all of those travels were through the Army.  Yesterday was no different in terms of gear.

Geared Up

 

I got to the airport on time, found my way to my gate and had some time to spare to start my vacation off right – a nice glass of red wine and some yummy cheese!

Cab and Goat CheeseObviously I cleaned my plate!

Once on the plane, I was able to sit next to the cutest older couple who were surprisingly frisky! The drink cart came by and my inner fatty decided to order a sandwich (I’m on vacation!) and apparently my Army gear paid off, and was able to enjoy a brisket sandwich on the house as a thanks for my service.

The plane landed. The nice old couple wished me a happy early birthday, and after circling to find a parking spot, they wished me a happy early birthday a couple more times before we finally docked. I meandered through the airport and Murphy and I chatted it up while I looked for her non-ambiguously gay green hornet of a car.

We gabbed it up all the way out of the airport…and then some more….and then maybe a bit too much because Murphy missed her exit and I got a quick scenic tour of the Chicago skyline at night.

I was welcomed to Murphy’s home by an adorable puppy named Apollo and an even more adorable note from Murphy’s girlfriend.

OreosWe took Apollo on a walk and caught up more.  After a bit more talking…what, Murphy?  a talker?!  🙂  The two of us decided to call it a night.  I was pleasantly surprised to be sleeping in the guest bedroom/crafts room brimming with full-out nerdome of Spiderman, Star Wars, The Ultimates and a variety of record covers.

FootlooseThis first trip to Chicago is going to be pretty damn amazing!