N.T.C. came and went without incident once again. Coming home alive after training exercises was always our first mission. Once our missions were accomplished, it was our ritual to celebrate.
For thousands of years, warriors returning from war would drink wine from the skulls of their enemies. In late 1993, during peacetime, soldiers mostly drank cheap beer from cans or bottles.
I decided to go out with C.J., instead of searching for Red, our first night back in Garrison. Convinced I had a secret girlfriend living off post, C.J. decided to probe my willingness to elaborate with questions. Realizing I didn’t want to talk about it, he backed off when I told him we broke up before N.T.C.. Watching him talk about literature and world events with the M.I.L.F.’s of Columbus distracted me for a while that night. However by nights end, I felt alone and detached from my surroundings. I wanted cocaine.
The mental obsession for cocaine is overwhelmingly powerful. Once the thought of it entered my mind it would drive my thoughts with a singleness of purpose. I had no solution to stop the thoughts. My hands would sweat and my heart would race. My stomach, twisting and turning, would loudly activate my digestive fluids. Most times i would get an erection. Regressing me to an animalistic state of being, the obsession for the drug dominated all the thoughts fighting for attention in my head. Anything that stood in the way of my lust for the drug was treated as an obstacle to overcome. The hunt for it was as alluring as the relief that came from its power.
As C.J. reported to me that he was escorting a woman home, I surrendered to the obsession to seek cocaine. A cab ride to the Drive and a hunt for Red would be only moments away.
I spent several hours looking for Red that night. In and out of hotel parking lots looking for the signs of her presence, I couldn’t find her. I checked the strip clubs, the small smoke filled taverns and even the gas station where I first met her. There was no sign of her anywhere. I began asking anonymous women i passed walking along the Drive if they had information about her location. No one had seen her. Some had no idea who I was talking about. As the mist of frustration thickened in the air, i began to see a whole new world. An entire community of zombies, clinging to life with the desperation of drowning people in a stormy sea, lived in the darkness surrounding Victory Drive.
Prostitutes, pimps, addicts, the homeless and the people who preyed on them all resided in the musty shadows of the Drive at night. As the hours wore on and the defeat of ever finding her seemed imminent, I surrendered to my obsession for cocaine. I spent the rest of that night aimlessly wandering back and forth along the roadside viewing its inhabitants as if I were invisible. Cocaine’s numbing power had worked once again.
I returned to the barracks the next morning by taxi and faced the solitude of an empty room. The weekends in Garrison required no reporting for duty. Obviously, C.J. slept out with his new “friend” and Hendo was still at the leadership school. The silence was proof that the barracks residents were still asleep. I began to fear for Red. Also, I was terrified of my rapidly growing thirst for cocaine. I needed to make a decision soon about my career and it seemed impossible without closing this chapter of my life. I was acutely aware that I was traveling in an abysmal direction. If I continued to march along my current path, I knew i would encounter alot of problems. The depth and magnitude of those problems were literally living along the roadside in south Columbus. I decided, for the second time in a month, that I would have to let Red go.
As the following days turned into months I became more and more irritable. Afraid of even leaving the barracks, I spent my time reading C.J.’s old books and watching television in the day room.
Since graduating from P.L.D.C., Hendo had become more unbearable for me to be around. As he entered the room after duty hours I could feel the heat of my dislike for him mirror off his physical being and scorch the side of my face. I would leave the room until he left the room. My obsession for cocaine was now replaced with my obsession for Hendo.
He refused to socialize with anyone in our platoon. As he waited to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant, he was the acting Senior Medic of Corporal Joes old company. His medics didn’t trust him and the infantrymen he served with constantly complained about him. Most mornings, during P.T., we would be forced to circle around to retrieve him during our run. He couldn’t finish running without falling out of formation gasping for air.
Spineless Puddin, as always, was indifferent towards complaints about anyone from his subordinates. He couldn’t be bothered with junior enlisted men’s complaints. Hendo was his own squad leader which left no one in his chain of command. Going over Puddins head would be met with the wrath of Killer Pete.
The way I saw it: the men serving under Hendos leadership were fucked.
It wasn’t until the day we said goodbye to C.J. that I had enough of Hendo. I’m not sure if it was one “goodbye” too many or the lack of any real companionship that made me give up. Once C.J. left the barracks that day, relocating to New York City, I decided to go look for Red one last time.
I had thirty seven days left in my enlistment.