This is the sixth installment in our series of essays written by veterans. We asked service members to share how their time in uniform shaped their perspectives on American life.
When I came home from my first deployment to Iraq, readjusting was literally impossible for me. I was a 33-year-old Army combat officer and I could no longer feel or see beauty in anything. And while I didn’t know how to leave the destructive path I was on, I also couldn’t stand to crush the hearts of my wife and children anymore. So, I temporarily moved out of my home and slept on various couches, more concerned with drinking than eating. When I would sit down to write, like I had done my entire life before deploying, I’d come up with nothing but blank pages. I had lost a lot of myself on the battlefield, it turned out. Large, significant pieces of who I was had been killed off somewhere in the desert, missing in action, never to come home.
On my second tour, two and a half years later, I tried my best to prepare the first-timers for the realities of war. My soldiers would ask me what I did before the Army, and I would laugh and tell them I used to be an artist. Those words sounded so foreign to me, too, so profoundly silly coming out of my mouth. An artist. My muse, I believed, had been gone for some time at that point. All I really felt like writing was my obituary, but even that proved too difficult an exercise. I was exactly what I needed to be for the Army, though. My job was running a unit in a combat zone, not explaining the world for the sake of art.