Part One: Mr. Soldier
Jim lies in a sleeping heap in the middle of his small studio apartment. He’s been on that floor since four o’clock the day before. He starts to rustle around and his face contorts with grimaces, “Whaa…aaww fuck…FUCK!” He rushes to his feet and immediately falls on his ass. “Fuck, fuu…cck,” he says as he tries to get up again. He manages to get to his feet and steadies himself. He starts to make his way across the room toward the bathroom. His foot makes contact with something and he hears the familiar roll of an empty bottle of Tequila.
This scenario is an old one by now and always plays out the same way. It usually involves him feeling O.K. just trying to get to the next thing…job or classes. Everything is going along fine and he’s like anyone else on this shit hole of a planet. Then it happens. A feeling of dread washes over him. He can’t shake it and he can’t explain it. He goes inside himself and wants to be left alone. Any disturbance of that scrapes his nerves. He’s a little more than irritable. A question about how a job is going at Sunday dinner from his mother, in his mind, becomes an interrogation. A simple comment or correction from a higher up on a job about his work becomes an indictment. He always ends up in a rage and invariably tells someone to fuck off including his mother. He leaves in a black fury. He goes home and drinks til he passes out. He’s managed not to get violent…but he always fears it’s just a matter of time before he loses it. Because he feels like it sometimes. Just feels like really unloading on someone. He recoils at this…he never used to be like this.
He tried going back to school, but it just reminded him that he was not like everyone else. They don’t know what he knows, they didn’t see what he saw, and they didn’t do what he did. And this is why he will never be like anyone else. They wouldn’t let him if they knew or if they ever found out. So why not just beat them to the sentencing and not go back? He has sentenced himself to a life of isolation. He couldn’t hack it anyway. The nightmares or the insomnia made sure of that. It was one or the other that got in the way of getting to his classes. Or as in the case of this morning waking up hours after classes have started because he drank too much the night before.
The scenario is a little different this morning. A new item has been introduced to the mess that is his studio. He remembers it suddenly and his eyes scan frantically for it. He takes in the strewn clothes and piles of meaningless papers on the floor. Then he turns his attention elsewhere. He sighs with relief. It’s there on the coffee table amongst the takeout containers, empty beer and tequila bottles, and overflowing ashtray. “Shit, I can’t even manage this,” he mutters to himself. He thinks maybe he shouldn’t drink before he does this. When he drinks he passes out. This explains why he can’t follow through. “Do it now. This morning,” he thinks to himself. He answers this with, “I gotta piss first!” He laughs out loud at this.
Coming out of the bathroom after relieving himself it occurs to him that he hasn’t let anyone know. Someone should know. It’s the least he could do. It won’t absolve him of anything, but someone should know. He thinks about who he would tell. Not his mother. She couldn’t deal and besides all he hears from her is how proud of him he she is that he served his country and how grateful she is. He couldn’t deal. Not with her compliments of gratitude or anyone else’s. It always made him tense up. It made him feel sick as he managed a forced thank you. He couldn’t think of anyone who he could tell. He pretty much stopped communicating with anyone. He briefly thought of Baumeyer. It had been a year since he talked with Baumeyer. Baumeyer was an asshole anyway. A first rate asshole just like himself. Why tell Baumeyer…he already knew and didn’t give a shit. “They’re just fucking hajis, Sheahy. They’re not people. They’re fucking dirt!” Baumeyer would tell him. “Quit being such a fucking woman and let it go shithead,” he’d add. He stabbed Jim in the back in the end. Jim would tell himself Baumeyer was the reason it all happened anyway…if it wasn’t for Baumeyer he might have been able to save Raheem. But Jim knew that it was himself who had betrayed Raheem.
He thought about whether there was anyone from high school he could tell. He hadn’t talked with anyone from high school since he got back to the states. He had gotten the notice in the mail about the class reunion and promptly threw it away. There is really only one person he’d want to talk to from back then anyway. But Dixon was in England. Dixon had managed to get himself into Oxford to study Physics. He could never tell Dixon…he’d be too ashamed to tell him what he’d done.
He thought about how he and Dixon met. He smiled sadly to himself. Dixon was the class nerd. A thin wiry red haired guy with ears that stuck straight out. He always walked around with a brief case and a pen in his front shirt pocket. Dixon took a lot of shit from people. Jim had never really given Dixon much thought…never even spoken to the guy.
One day after gym class some of the guys had decided they were going to have their fun with Dixon in the shower room. Jim was at his locker getting dressed when he heard all the commotion from the other side.
“Get in there you little fag!,” he heard Johns yelling. He could hear the sound of bodies pounding up against metal and guys cheering Johns on. Jim walked around to the other side and he saw Johns and Haywood trying to force Dixon into a locker. Johns started slapping Dixon in the back of the head and kept screaming, “Get in there you piece of shit…fucking faggot!” There was Dixon naked with one foot inside the locker firmly up against the back of it. His hands were grasping the top of the locker door. He was putting up some resistance, but he was going to lose his balance at some point when the door of the locker swung outward some more. Then Jim saw Haywood grab the locker door and move to slam it on Dixon. Jim leaped over the bench and pulled Haywood away. He put himself between Johns and Dixon. Things suddenly got really quiet. Johns glared at him and Jim glared back.
“Get dressed, Johns and get out the fuck out of here,” Jim said through clenched teeth.
Johns continued to glare for a few seconds and then in a flimsy attempt to save face said, “Little piece of shit ain’t worth my time anyway.” It wasn’t just Jim’s size that kept Johns from challenging him. It was the fact that Jim had people’s respect and Johns knew this.
The locker room slowly cleared out, but Jim stayed until Johns left. Dixon sat there quietly body bent toward the floor to tie his shoes.
Jim was watching him and without looking up Dixon said, “And I was so looking forward to hours in a dark quiet space to contemplate Einstein’s theory of relativity or whacking off while fantasizing about Einstein. You, Mr. Sheahy have robbed me of both choices.”
Jim stood there for a minute trying to process this. Was this guy serious? Dixon slighty lifted his head and gave Jim a sideways look. He had the wryest of smiles. Jim burst out laughing. He offered his hand to Dixon, “Jim Sheahy”
Dixon shaking Jim’s hand said, “I know who you are Mr. Sheahy. You’re the star Quarter Back…the Home Coming King. You’re the guy that guys like me are suppose to envy. You’ve got the looks, the brawn, the undying admiration of your peers, and best of all a new girl every week. You’re the guy everyone is going to remember.”
Jim laughed and said, “Dixon, you may know a lot, but you don’t know everything. I may have all that going for me, but a new girl every week? No, dude I’m not like that. I think women have more going for them than just being an ornament for guys like me.”
Dixon looked at him with that wry smile again, “Oh wait is that how you get women into bed with you? Telling them that they have more going for them than just being with you?”
Jim looking a little put off said, “No dude, I’m serious. I just don’t think women are here to be trophys for men and I don’t think men should define the value of a woman.” Dixon looked surprised, “You are serious aren’t you? Mr. Sheahy you’re full of surprises. I need to study you more.” Jim laughed again.
That was Junior year when he and Dixon became good friends. Dixon tutored Jim in geometry when Jim was threatened with suspension from the football team. Jim needed that football scholarship. A sports scholarship was Jim’s only hope for getting a higher education. He could have cared less about being a football star, but a scholarship of any kind to get to college was Jim’s ticket. Jim loved hanging with Dixon because the conversations that he had with Dixon were intellectually stimulating and the kind that he couldn’t have with the guys he usually hung with. It made him all the more excited about getting to college. Jim wanted to major in journalism and perhaps get a minor in history. That dream went up in smoke the next fall when Jim broke his leg in a game and was out for the rest of the season. Jim was pretty depressed. He didn’t hang out as much with the guys from the team and really didn’t see anybody outside of school except for Dixon.
Jim remembered the day he told Dixon he was signing up for the military. Dixon’s response wasn’t what Jim had expected. “What did you go and do a thing like that for?, ” Dixon had asked.
Jim responded, ” It will get me an education in the end.”
Dixon replied sharply, “Yeah an education in killing!”
Jim flinched and said, “C’mon man I thought you’d be happy for me. I mean I haven’t given up on getting into college. Besides the recruiter promised me I wouldn’t be sent to Iraq.”
Dixon sighed, “Jim, I hate to break it to you, but they lie man. We are in the middle of a war that the U.S. is not winning…they’re looking for bodies. Of course they told you that. It’s not too late. Call the recruiter and tell him you’ve changed your mind.”
Jim was pissed, “Dude, you’re wrong. It’s easy for you to sit there and say this shit to me. You’re going to Oxford!” Dixon got quiet for a moment, “Look Jim work for a while. Save up. Get your associates at the community college and then get into a state school, but don’t do this.”
Jim shook his head, “No man, no. This way I can get specialized training in some things. Education on the job and I’d be fulfilling some prerequisites I bet.”
Dixon stared at Jim hard, “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, man. If you go and make it back you aren’t going to be the same. The son of my parent’s friends got back a year ago. He was pretty messed up. Not the same person as when he left. He was drunk and an addict. He hung himself four months ago.”
Jim was frustrated, “Dude I got more than just myself to think about. Whose gonna take care of my mom when she gets older? I need an education in order to get a job that’s gonna pay well. You don’t have to worry about this shit.”
Dixon came back, ” Well, I’m sure the civilians in Iraq are trying to figure out how they’re gonna take care of their families too!”
Jim took a deep breath trying not to lash out, “Look, Dixon I’m not gonna do anything over there that I don’t want to do. Besides maybe I can do some good for them…maybe I can be part of the rebuilding effort. It’ll all work out. You’ll see.”
Dixon looked away, “Yeah, Jim I guess we’ll see.” The friendship with Dixon wasn’t the same after that. Their conversations were touched with an uneasiness. They talked less and less and months later Jim was off to boot camp.
Jim sat there in his under wear staring at the computer screen. He couldn’t email Dixon. He couldn’t tell Dixon any of it. He couldn’t tell him about Raheem or Braumeyer or the CIA guy. Dixon wouldn’t understand. Jim didn’t even understand it…the betrayal…not just his betrayal of Raheem, but the betrayal of himself.
Raheem reminded Jim of Dixon. His intellect and humor were similar to what he had experienced with Dixon. He never believed Akhbar was a terrorist nor did he believe that any of the others he was charged with guarding were terrorists. Jim had been assigned to this small detainee center on his base. He and a couple of other guys were tasked with guarding the detainees as well as transferring them back and forth from the interrogation sessions. Jim was given Baumeyer and Juarez to assist him. There were about 50 detainees at the time. Jim was odered to keep the detainees standing for periods at a time and not letting them sleep long. He, Baumeyer, and Juarez kept them up with loud music. And if detainees sat or lay down when they should be standing they simply went into the cells and lifted the detainees to their feet. Jim was told that this would soften these terrorists up…would make it easier to get information when they were interrogated. At that time the detainees were interrogated by the military. Jim didn’t believe in getting real aggressive with these guys. As long as they didn’t do anything to him or his guys everything was cool…there just wasn’t any point in getting physical with them. He made it explicitly clear to Baumeyer and Juarez that they were not to get physical with the detainees.
There was one guy who seemed to stand out among all the other detainees and that was Raheem. His accent was heavy but he spoke english fluently. He was kind of the self appointed leader of the detainees there. His first real encounter with Raheem happened one day when Jim was feeling a little under the weather. He had a stomach virus of some sort and had a severe case of the runs. He left Baumeyer in charge while he made a trip to the latrine. When he returned there was commotion. There was lots of screaming and yelling going on. He didn’t see Baumeyer or Juarez, but spotted a cell door open. He ran past the cells of screaming angry faces. He heard Baumeyer yelling, ” You tell them to stay standing, motherfucking haji. They stay standing or I beat the living shit out of you. Tell them!” Jim ran into the cell to find Baumeyer slapping Raheem repeatedly across the face and Juarez hoisting Raheem up while Baumeyer delivered the blows.
Jim yelled pulling Baumeyer away, ” Baumeyer, what the fuck are you doing? Get off him!”
Baumeyer yelled back, ” This motherfucking haji was trying to start a riot!”
Juarez jumped in, ” We think he told the rest of these hajis to lay down or sit and not to get up even if we ordered them because all of the sudden he yelled something and they all just sat or laid down. We ordered them to stand and they wouldn’t.”
Jim looked at Baumeyer with disgust, “That doesn’t sound like a riot, man. That sounds like a protest. Now get the fuck out of this cell and let me talk to him. Juarez you go too.” Baumeyer and Juarez left and it was just him and Raheem.
The two men eyed each other. Raheem sat down on the floor and Jim followed suit.
Raheem stared at the floor and then lifted his eyes and said, “Well Mr. Soldier you know how to ruin a perfectly good protest.”
Jim let a little snort and smiled. ” So what is it?”
Raheem looked at him quizically, “So what is what?”
Jim started again, ” What is it that you want?”
Raheem laughed, ” You mean aside from being released and allowed to go home? Well we want our right to party.” Jim burst out laughing.
“Seriously Mr. Soldier we want to sleep a little longer and we’d like blankets because it’s cold in these cells,” Raheem said.
Jim thought for a moment, ” I can get blankets for you all, but I can’t change anything about the amount of sleep you get. It’s orders you know?”
Raheem gazed into Jim’s eyes intently, ” What’s a nice guy like you doing playing soldier?”
Jim laughed uncomfortably, “Hey wait a minute we ask the questions around here. Besides what’s a nice guy like you doing playing terrorist?”
Raheem raised his brows, “Aahh so you believe we are all terrorists in this country. If we have brown skin and live here we must be terrorists right, Mr. Soldier?”
Jim looked away for a second in embarrassment, ” No. Not exactly. But you’re here so there must be a reason why you were brought here.”
Raheem looked at Jim hard, “I just told you the reason I’m here.”
Jim changed course, “Look I’ll get you and your friends the blankets, but there can’t be any more trouble. If you have requests just tell me and I’ll see what I can do, but no more protests.” He got up and went for the door.
Raheem said, ” I will tell you sometime how I got here, but it is not the reason you think, Mr. Soldier.”
Shutting the cell door Jim said, “Hey from now on call me, Sergeant Sheahy or just Jim.”
Afterward Jim got in Baumeyer’s face and told him that if he ever pulled a stunt like that again he’d report it. Jim was going to let it slide this time. Baumeyer just looked at him stone faced. For the most part he and Baumeyer got a long, but Baumeyer was a bit of a loose cannon at times. He just needed watching. “We’re cool right, dude? Jim asked. “Just take it easy, man. That’s all I’m saying,” Jim finished.
In the next five months Jim got to know much about Raheem. He learned that Raheem had been educated in the U.S. and had come back to Iraq to be a Doctor before the first Gulf War. He supported his mother and his younger sisters. They were killed when a missile hit their apartment building. He had been at the hospital that night. Despite everything the U.S. said about surgical bombing great numbers of civilians were killed in these air raids. Raheem was never the same. He had seen too much death at the hospital following these raids and then his own grief was too much to bear. He stopped going to the hospital and drank too much. Months after the war had ended he realized the money he had saved was running out. He stopped drinking pretty much altogether. He decided to convert his vehicle into a taxi. Raheem mostly enjoyed being a taxi driver. He met many interesting people and it kept him fed. At night he would stop into the cafe for coffee, talk with intellectuals, and listen to fine poetry. He even wrote and read his own poetry there. This was how he met his wife, Amira. Jim could tell from the way Raheem talked about Amira that he really loved her.
Raheem told Jim, “She saved my spirit.” Jim envied Raheem for the love he had. “Do not worry, Mr. Soldier. You will meet the woman of your dreams,” Raheem assured him and then said, “But first you must stop playing soldier. You are not a soldier. This is not who you are.” Jim would counter this by telling Raheem that his tour would be over soon then he was done with playing soldier.
Raheem so badly wanted to get back to Amira and his little girl, Sabeen. They had survived the massive bombing campaign and the fall of Baghdad and wanted to live as normal life as possible amongst the chaos. They really believed things would get better. One day Raheem had been stopped by U.S. troops and was arrested immediately. He was told that his car was similar to one used by someone who was suspected of having planted an IED. Four U.S. troops had died in the blast. Having talked with Raheem over hours Jim could not believe that Raheem would do this…he didn’t have it in him. Raheem was smart, thoughtful, humorus, and gentle. Much like Dixon. Jim always looked forward to his talks with Raheem.
One day Jim was informed that OGA was going to be taking over the detainee center. OGA was for Other Government Agency. Jim and the other guys figured the name was cover for CIA. Jim and his guys would no longer be guarding the detainees. They built a high wall around the detainee center right in the middle of the base. Jim and his guys would act as security for this new center. They would sometimes be asked to deliver messages to those running the interrogations. Sometimes they were asked to transport a detainee to and from an interrogation session, but it was rare. Jim didn’t see much of Raheem with these new changes in place. He missed seeing him.
One evening Jim was asked to bring a detainee down to a session. He was excited to see that it was Raheem. Jim smiled brightly at Raheem, but something had changed in Raheem. He was not his jovial self. He was sullen and quiet and his head was lowered.
“So they’ve sent for me again. What measures will they use, Jim, that they haven’t already used? I’ve already told them that I’m a terrorist just to make it stop…at times I’ve even almost convinced myself that I am a terrorist,” Raheem said under his breath.
Jim looked at Raheem confused, “What? What measures…what are you talking about, man?Why would you tell them that…tell them your terrorist?”
Raheem lifted his head and looked into Jim’s eyes and answered, “So they’ll stop torturing me.”
With a horrified look Jim exclaimed, ” What. What are you talking about? They can’t do that. They’re suppose to follow guidelines when handling prisoners. They can’t torture people, Raheem!”
Raheem laughed, “You. You are a naive boy, Jim. Mr. Soldier. See? I told you that you were not a soldier.” Jim started to say something but then Raheem said, “Pull my jumpsuit down over my soldiers and see for yourself.”
Jim hesitated but then pulled the jumpsuit down to Raheem’s waist. “Fuck!” Jim said as he surveyed the massive bruising on Raheem’s torso. Raheem explained that he had been shackled from his wrists to a bar so that his feet barely touched the floor during these sessions. Sometimes he was slapped repeatedly in the torso while hanging there.
Then Raheem said, “That’s not all they do, Jim. Raheem told Jim about having been subjected to some kind of water torture and how several times he was sure he was going to drown.”
Jim was in shock. He promised Raheem that he would see to it that this stopped. He’d tell his commanding officer what was going on. Jim was sure that if they knew what really went on that they wouldn’t let it continue. Raheem looked at Jim skeptically.
“You’ll see. I’ll take care of it,” Jim said trying to assure him. He knocked at the door of the interrogation room. The door opened and a guy wearing sunglasses dressed in Khakis and a black flak vest opened it. He took Raheem roughly by the shoulder and shoved him further into the room. Then Jim saw another guy dressed in a shirt and tie and figured he was the one interrogating. Jim stared at him hard.
The guy spoke waving his hand as if to brush Jim away, “You can go now.” The other guy in sunglasses shut the door in Jim’s face. Jim felt sick inside.
Later he was sitting with Baumeyer at dinner. He confided in Baumeyer about what Raheem said. “We gotta do something about this, dude. It ain’t right.”
Baumeyer looked at Jim with amused contempt and said, “You don’t get it, do you? You’ve been taken in by this guy. The dude is a fucking haji…fucking terrorist. He’s not a person. These hajis want to fucking kill us. Remember fucking 9/11? So if OGA gets a little rough with these guys to get their information so we can stop another attack that’s just fine by me.”
Jim sighed with exasperation and said, “OK then. Let’s just say…hypothetically I mean…that Raheem is a terrorist. It’s still not right to torture these guys. It’s against Geneva Conventions. It’s a fucking violation of international law. We gotta let people know that there is violations happening.”
Baumeyer shook his head and said, “Hey shithead I ain’t gotta do nothing especially for some mother fucking haji. You’re making these OGA guys out to be the bad guys when really they’re just doing their job which is to keep these mother fuckers from attacking our country. I’ve talked to a couple of OGA guys…they’re not bad guys.” Baumeyer could see that Jim wasn’t convinced and started again, “They just gotta rough these dudes up a little to get the information…these are hard core terrorists that are trained to lie and they’re trained to stand up to tough questioning. Just relax. We got seven months left in this sand box and then we’re home. Then you can get that fucking education you’re always yammering about. Don’t screw it up.”
A few days later Jim was given a message to go to the OGA office. He knocked on the door and the man in the dress shirt and tie that he saw the day he took Raheem to the interrogation room opened it.
“Cmon in Sergeant Sheahy and have a seat,” the man said.
“Yes sir,” Jim replied. Jim sat and watched the man as he made his way behind his desk. The man sat and propped his feet up on top of the desk, put his hands behind his head, and leaned back in his chair. He stared at Jim silently for a moment.
The man cleared his throat, ” Sergeant Sheahy, do you have a problem with the treatment of detainees here? Jim began to speak, but the man immediately put his hand up, “Let me continue. I want to remind you why we’re here, but I’m sure you remember. We…America were brutally attacked by terrorists that will stop at nothing to destroy our country. These men are hell bent on it. In light of that some rules of the game have changed…we’ve had to get tougher. We can’t let them think that we are weak and if they in the least bit think that we are weak they will take full advantage of that. Do you understand that, Sergeant Sheahy?”
Jim trying to choose his words carefully began to speak, “Yes sir I understand, but are we not being like them if we start torturing people? If we start torturing people then in the eyes of the rest of the world we’re just as bad. And sir we have the Geneva Conventions to follow and…”
The man cut him off, “Sergeant Sheahy! Now see that’s just what I’m talking about…that’s just the kind of thinking that shows weakness to these terrorists. People can’t stay stuck in these old fashioned ideals about Geneva Conventions and how we need to be nicey nice if we want to protect our country. People can’t start screaming torture just because we’ve needed to use some harsher methods…we are at war with an enemy that will fly planes into buildings and blow themselves up in crowded malls to destroy us! The rules have changed not because we wanted to change them, but because we’ve had to. They attacked us, Sergeant Sheahy! The man got quiet and Jim sat there nervously as the guy stared at him for what seemed like an eternity. The man suddenly sighed and said, “You’re friend Sergeant Baumeyer understands this. He’s a fine soldier and a fine friend. He’s told me a lot about you…sounds like you got aspirations. Well I hope you fulfill those aspirations and are able to take care of your mom. It’s a real shame that your dad died and didn’t leave the two of you much. And it be a real shame if you weren’t able to care for your mother if you let something get in the way.” Then very coolly asked, “Know what I mean, Sergeant Sheahy?” It took everything Jim had to keep it together. He couldn’t process the fact that this guy had just threatened to destroy his life. His heart was pounding and he began to sweat. He felt nauseous. “Sergeant Sheahy?” the man asked.
“Uuhh Sir yes. Sorry sir. I know what you mean,” Jim said trying to collect his nerves.
“Well then good. You can go now, Sergeant Sheahy. And hey maybe when you get that degree of yours you can write a book on great history of this war…you know how we saved America?” the man said smiling.
“Yes sir. Maybe. Good day sir” Jim said and left the room. He made it outside the building. He began to shake and breath heavily. He had to concentrate to steady his breathing.
He went and found Baumeyer. “You piece of shit. You sold me out!” he screamed at him.
Baumeyer blocked a left punch from Jim and shoved him backward onto his ass. Baumeyer stood over him, “What the fuck are you talking about, man?”
Jim glared at him, “You know goddamned well what I’m talking about. The OGA guy. You told him about me. He threatened me…said it be a shame if I let anything get in the way of getting an education.”
Baumeyer looked the other way for a moment and then back down at Jim, “Look man I was just watching out for you. And from the sound of it this guy is looking out for you too. You don’t need to start trouble where there isn’t any. I think that’s all that he is trying to tell you. He’s trying to do his job and so are we. Just let it go, shithead.” Jim just sat there staring up at Baumeyer. “C’mon let’s go eat,” Baumeyer said offering Jim a hand to get back to his feet.
That night Jim couldn’t sleep. He thought of Raheem. He had so desperately wanted to help him, but the OGA guy had threatened him. He felt guilty. His mind raced and raced and somewhere in all this Jim began to rationalize. He began to forget Raheem’s humanity and lose his own. Maybe Baumeyer was right…maybe the OGA guy was just trying to look out for him. Maybe the OGA guy was right that there had to be new rules to the game…people may not understand at first, but when they saw that America wasn’t getting attacked again they’d get it. None of this shit mattered anyway. He’d be out in seven months.
A week later Jim was given orders to transport a detainee to the interrogation room. When he saw that it was Raheem he tensed up. He made his face as hard as stone. He tried not to think about how horrible Raheem looked.
Raheem upon seeing him, “Oh Jim I’m so glad it’s you. I have been wondering how your conversation went with your commanding officer. What did he say? What are they going to do about this?”
Jim did not answer this, but grabbed Raheem’s arm roughly and said, “Let’s go.”
Raheem looked at Jim startled and asked, “Jim what is wrong? Please tell me you spoke to the commanding officer. What did he say?” Jim continued to walk Raheem down the long corridor without saying anything.
“Jim what is it? Why are you behaving this way?” Raheem pleaded.
Jim just looked ahead and said “Shut up!”
Raheem suddenly strained against Jim’s grasp of his arm, “Jim what are you saying? Please Jim don’t be this way!” Jim yanked Raheem’s arm. Raheem yelled and continued to strain against Jim’s grasp, “Jim stop playing soldier! You are not a soldier. This is not who you are.” Suddenly Jim stopped and slapped Raheem upside the head with full force. Raheem crumpled to the floor.
Holding his head with shackled hands he stared wide eyed at Jim with a mixature of horror and anger, “OK then Mr. Soldier…you go ahead and play soldier. Go ahead and forget who you are. I won’t bother you anymore.”
Jim suddenly filled with rage and began kicking Raheem. “Get the fuck up you motherfucking haji!” he yelled at Raheem. He violently pulled Raheem to his feet and escorted him the rest of the way to the interrogation room. Jim knocked on the door and as it opened he shoved Raheem through the door.
Raheem turned to him and with tears streaming down his face said in a barely audible whisper, “I feel sorry for you.”
The OGA guy looked at Jim with a sneer on his face. He had won.
Jim got very drunk that night. The next morning he and Baumeyer odered to go to the detention center. He hoped he wasn’t going to have to see Raheem. He was full of guilt that he didn’t want to see Raheem again even though every part of him wanted to tell Raheem how sorry he was. When they got there they were asked to transport a body bag to an autopsy room. They were told nothing else other than that someone had died during questioning…an accident of some sort. Jim’s heart began to race. He and Baumeyer picked up the bag and carried it to another room. They laid the body bag on a table and Baumeyer turned to leave.
“Wait,” Jim said.
Baumeyer stopped and said, “What is it?”
Jim was quiet a few seconds and said, “I gotta know.”
Baumeyer sounding irritated said, “Gotta know what?”
Jim let out a shaky sigh, “I gotta know if this is him. If it’s Raheem.”
Then Jim moved to unzip the body bag and Baumeyer said,”Ah, C’mon man don’t do that!”
Jim unzipped it and froze. It was Raheem and then again it wasn’t. The nose was broken and an eye was missing from the right socket. Jim couldn’t move. He was frozen.
Baumeyer exclaimed, “Holy shit. Look at that…that’s fucked up!” This surprised Jim coming from Baumeyer.
Jim whispered, “This was no accident.”
Baumeyer leaned toward Jim, “What dude? I couln’t hear you.
And suddenly Jim screamed, “This was no fucking accident!”
Baumeyer grabbed Jim to quiet him down, “Ssh, Ssh, Ssh…quiet dude. You’re going to draw attention. Be cool. Zip the bag back up!
Jim stood there blubbering, “Ok..ok…ok.”
Baumeyer nodding his head, “Yeah, it’s OK, dude. Just zip it up and let’s get the hell out of here.”
That was the last time he saw Raheem. Jim had this recurring nightmare. He was at a black board in an empty classroom. Dixon was sitting at a desk in the front of the room. Jim was trying to work out a problem on the board. It was not a geometry problem. He didn’t recognize the symbols…they were strange looking and made no sense.
He would try to explain this to Dixon, but Dixon would keep pressing, “You know this, Sheahy. We’ve been over it and over it! Jim in exasperation would tell him,
“Dude, you don’t understand I don’t recognize these symbols!”
Dixon would come back “You do know, Sheahy. Now solve it!”
Jim practically tearing his hair out would say, ” I can’t man. I can’t solve this!”
Then a voice that was not Dixon’s would say, “You have to solve it, Mr. Soldier. You are the only one who can solve it!”
He would turn from the black board to find Raheem sitting at the desk looking at him. Only it wasn’t Raheem when he was alive. It was Raheem with an eye missing from the socket, broken nose, and bruised torso. Jim would start to cry, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I couldn’t…I can’t Raheem. Raheem please!” And when Raheem would not reply to this Jim would move toward this figure that was Raheem to beg his forgiveness. Before he could reach him this figure that was Raheem would dissolve into a pile of tissue, blood, and bones and then suddenly into dust. Jim would wake up screaming at this point. He never told anyone about Raheem. He so desperately wanted to now before he did the next thing he needed to.
He continued to stare at the computer screen. It suddenly occurred to him to email that young woman from the street protest he met a few weeks back. Jim wasn’t a part of the protest, but just happened to be wandering around down there like he did sometimes. He was hungover from the night before and looking for a bar where he could quietly drink. He wanted to be out of the apartment for little bit. He was walking by the plaza when he noticed people kneeling in orange jump suits with black hoods. Someone else was on a microphone talking to passerby about torture. There was an older gentleman standing near one of the orange jump suited people.
He was yelling at the guy with the microphone, “They’re all terrorists. They deserve what they get!” The guy with the mic seemed undeterred. The older guy seemed to be getting more agitated and moved closer to one of the orange jump suited people. He was now hovering over this person and yelling, “At least I’m not a traitor. At least I’m not a terrorist like you.”
He looked as if he was going to kick the kneeling person and that’s when Jim walked up and said, “Leave them alone, sir. They have a right to be out here.”
The old man glared at him, “Yeah they got this right because our guys are over there fighting for their rights. These people are traitors to their country. Traitors to the young guys fighting over there to protect us from these terrorists.”
Jim looked at the guy and said, “You don’t know why we’re over there. You don’t know the first thing about it. I know some about it because I was there.”
The old man snorted and sneered at Jim, “Sure you were there. You’re probably just saying that because you’re really one of these kooks. And if you are a soldier you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re a disgrace to your uniform for defending these kooks.” Jim stared the guy down and the guy started to walk off. He yelled over his soldier, “You’re a traitor like these kooks!”
The orange jump suited person rose to their feet and removed the hood. It was a young woman with short dark hair.
She looked at Jim and walked over, “So you were there?” Jim simply replied yes.
“So what’s your take on all of it… I mean the fact that troops are actively participating in torture? You obviously have some thoughts on it.” she asked.
Jim shook his head, “No. Not really. I’m not political.”
The young woman searched his eyes and said, ” Well one doesn’t need to be political to say if torture is wrong do they?”
Jim just shrugged, “Look I was there and I really don’t get why we are over there and it seems like the story always changes on that, but when you’re a soldier you follow orders. You do what your President and your country asks of you.”
The young woman responded to this sharply, ” I didn’t ask you torture. I didn’t ask you to go over there to kill in my name.” Jim looked at the ground, “Well…if you put it that way…I guess a lot of people didn’t ask us to do that, but you know when you’re in it you just follow orders.”
The young woman looked at him intently, “Do you think the U.S. should be there?”
Jim had concluded that the U.S. shouldn’t be in Iraq long ago. He looked at her and just shook his head and then said, “No. I don’t and I met a lot of guys he thought the same thing after awhile.”
The young woman asked, “So if you didn’t think the U.S. should be there then why would you and the guys you know continue to follow orders?” Jim didn’t know what to say other than, “You got a point.” He smiled at her sheepishly.
“Look, here’s a flyer. It lists some facts about the U.S.’s real reason for being there and how and why torture is being used. It also puts strong emphasis on the responsibility of the people who are against this war to speak out…that would include veterans like you,” she said handing it to him. Jim took the flyer. Then she said, ” You should come to a meeting some time. See for yourself what we’re about. You’d have a lot to contribute I bet.”
Jim just shook his head, “Again, I’m not…”
She laughed and finished for him, “Not Political. I know. But you don’t have to be. My name is Jackie by the way,” she offered her hand.
Jim shook her hand, “Jim.”
She turned to walk toward her friends and then turned around again,”Feel free to contact me by emailing us and please really think about coming to a meeting.”
He liked Jackie. She was cute, he thought. Mostly he liked her straight forwardness and she was bold. He had thought about going to a meeting, but the shame over took him. He just couldn’t imagine sharing about what happened over there with people…what he had done to Rasheem. People wouldn’t understand. But as he sat there at his computer he felt it made sense to email Jackie and tell her the whole thing…he wanted her to tell people this. He wanted people to know what was really going on…what soldiers were being asked to do and doing. He made sure to give his full name, rank, and what battalion he had been with. He wrote her all about Rasheem and how he had betrayed him. He told her about the OGA guy and everything he had said to Jim. Jim wanted Jackie to use it…to expose it all.
He finished the email and clicked the send button. He was calm and eerily at peace with himself. He got up from the chair, walked over to the coffee table, and grabbed the item he had so frantically searched for a while ago. He stood there and briefly wondered if he shouldn’t get dressed. He decided it really didn’t matter. He placed the item to his head and pulled back the mechanism on it.
An older woman across the hall heard the loud bang and heard something hit floor hard. She opened the door to her apartment and crossed the hall to Jim’s door. She knocked tentatively. “Everything OK in there!?” she called. No answer. Two other neighbors opened their doors and looked down the hall questioningly. “Didn’t that sound like a gun shot?”, she asked nervously.
Copyright © 2010 by Jill McLaughlin
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Blackholed Lives: A Story in Four Parts