From Brooklyn to Afghanistan

The sound of silence didn’t last very long as I woke up the next morning to a text message from a foreign number on my cell phone. It was from an old boyfriend, someone I had almost purposely lost touch with over the years. He was crazy (they all are) but I dated him on and off for about eighteen months back in 2003 and 2004. We met online and on our first date, we discovered that I knew his father through my work, a man he despised with such intensity, it was difficult for him to swallow the beer that sat in front of him as we talked about his hatred for the man who gave him life.

The night before our second date, he called to confirm and told me he was getting a tattoo that night. I playfully responded “Well, I’m not playing nurse tomorrow, so don’t go crazy.” I met up with him the next morning for Sunday brunch and a few minutes into our meeting, remembered the tattoo. “So…what did you get?” I asked him. He explained that upon meeting me, I stirred up such intense feelings within him, that I was the inspiration for his latest tattoo. I was a little concerned, a bit flattered and wildly curious. “Let’s see it!” I exploded. I couldn’t wait any longer. He held out his hand and right there in big, black, bold letters was the word “HATE” spewed across his fingers.

I gasped.

“Um, I…I…Uh, how was I the inspiration for that?”

He replied “I haven’t thought about my father in a long time. I try not to think about him at all, what he did to my Mother, to me and to my brother. I hate him. When we were talking about him in that bar, it brought up all of these old feelings. I had to express it. You helped me to remember those feelings, not to repress them.”

I asked him why he had to display his feelings across his hand in big, black, bold letters? I mean, couldn’t he have written his Dad a letter and then thrown it away? Or perhaps a nice journal entry or a poem?

Nope. The tattoo would have permanency.

Despite the “HATE” tattoo, I continued to see this man for quite a while. He did have some good qualities. He was smart, funny, well-read, experienced and of course, good in bed. He was also an alcoholic with no real life goals and quite the liar. We dated from early fall until February, when he broke it off with me. We saw each other a few times in-between  the winter and summer and then spent the summer together. When I met my STILL husband, and broke off the relationship with him for the first time, it was MD who took me back into his arms. We had fun together.

I don’t remember exactly how it ended, I think it just kind of faded away, but my STILL husband and I finally became serious, got married, got pregnant and it was at that point in my life that I decided to join Facebook. He was one of the first friend requests that I received. I denied his request and though I did think about him from time to time, he was one of the few men who didn’t seem to have any lasting impact on me. We dated for a long time. I inspired his “HATE” tattoo. We hung out a lot, and yet, I could go years without thinking or wondering about him at all.

Until this past Sunday. The text message read “Hi TattooGirl. It’s MD. I don’t know if you remember me. I used to live on X street. How are you?

I shook the sleep out of my head and reread the message. Should I respond? Of course I should respond!! Why shouldn’t I invite another crazy back into my life?

I replied “I’m doing well, despite what you may have read in the rags. How are you?”

He was confused. He wrote back that he didn’t know what I meant about the “rags.” He was writing from Afghanistan. He had joined the Army several years ago and was on his second deployment. He had text messaged me from a calling card and told me it was best to contact him through Google Chat. I don’t understand Google Chat, so I just used plain ol’ e-mail and that’s what we’ve been doing since Sunday…catching up through e-mail.

I told him all about the scandal, the divorce, the cancer, and my daughter. He told me about his decision to join the Army and sent some photographs. We joked around a bit and then I asked him “What comes next, MD? Is the Army your new home? Your new career? You sound happy and fulfilled. I’m proud of you”

A few hours later I was sitting in the waiting room of my Oncologist’s office when I heard the buzz of a new e-mail. It was his reply and this is what he wrote:

“Honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never be truly happy or fulfilled. I’m constantly searching for challenges and that’s what gives me satisfaction. Physical, mental, whatever. Pushing myself, constantly. I love that. No one back home really understands what I do or why I joined., least of all what my service means. And I get that. It’s a pretty alien concept. New York Jews don’t join the Army and go to Afghanistan for their mid-life crisis, They buy sports cars and sleep with 19 year old blondes. That’s not me.

To be honest, tattoo girl, I was never happier than I was on my last deployment, sitting on a mountainside, haven’t showered in weeks, no laundry, crunchy socks, eating MRE’s and drinking warm water, getting shot at randomly. Once, I got shot at while taking a dump. Now that was a humbling experience. Me and 10 other guys. I’d come off patrol at 6 AM, read notes from underground, sleep, wake up and do it again. Simple existence, nothing mattered more than what I was doing right then and there. No internet, no phones, no way to communicate with anyone aside from my team and platoon…”

I had to hold back my tears. How could people change so much in eleven years? I don’t mean just him. I mean me, too. God, we have both changed so much. Our lives are completely different than they were when we used to date back in ’03-’04. We are different people, and for some strange reason, we still connect. We can still have a conversation a million miles away from one another and it’s meaningful. I felt so much stirring up inside of me after I read that e-mail. I was proud of him, I felt sorry for him, I connected with his feelings of being misunderstood, I felt a useless existence in comparision to what he was experiencing, what he was contributing to our society, our country… He made me want to DO something. How many people actually DO something?

He is.

And despite the questions that swirled around in my head about his former character, his hate, his lies…they are a decade old. And so are we, me and MD. We’re a decade older now and I’m still here and he’s over there and I never would have thought of him had he not sent me that message last Sunday morning, but all week, he’s all I can think about–not in a sexual or romantic way, but in a human way.

I look forward to his next e-mail.



 

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