Once again, I spent several hours looking for Red. My pace was more hurried and my patience was worn thin, however I needed to know she was OK. It had been a few months since I had seen her last. In her way of life, I knew a few months could be a full lifetime.
As always, I searched all the familiar seedy places where I used to find her. This time, however, my investigation concluded at the strip club where she used to work. After greeting a familiar stripper and asking about Red, she pointed me in the direction of the clubs night manager. In a direct matter of fact way, lacking any emotion, the manager told me Red had been found “non responsive” in an abandoned building a few blocks away from the Drive. The paramedics were called immediately. Nonetheless, they were unable to revive her. She had died a few months back.
The air rushed out of my lungs so fast that i believed I was going to pass out. I rushed out of the door, in search of fresh air, to avoid suffocating. I leaned against the outside wall of the business and vomited onto the faded asphalt of its parking lot.
As I sat in the darkness alone, gulping in the warm spring air, I became convinced that her death was my fault. Intuitively, I knew I couldn’t prevent it. She was addicted to several different drugs by the time we had met. She had at least three full time jobs that I knew of: stripper, drug dealer and prostitute. Those jobs all served a purpose which was to feed her addiction. I could only assume that the monkey on her back became to heavy for her so she gave up. Where I was to blame in her life’s tragedy included the assistance of her death. We are either an addition to someone’s life or we are takers from it. I took from her life because I had my own demons to feed.
Again, with no solution for the uncontrollable obsession for cocaine, I spent the rest of the night numbed by its power.
The next morning, after spending all my money on the drug, I walked a dozen or so miles home to Kelley Hill. Broke, alone, scared and confused, I considered throwing myself in front of a moving car. I shook my head, violently from side to side, in an effort to combat those continued thoughts. I worried that my lack of control cocaine could easily expand into the same lack of control over suicide.
I decided to go back to the barracks and take a long hot shower, hopefully alone. Suicide would be there, patiently waiting for me, after my shower I assumed. I viewed death as an option yet I was hoping for an alternative. Maybe I could find some peace over the course of a hot shower. I needed to report for duty then disappear from sight so I could think of a plan. My brain was now hectically searching its perimeter for an after shower plan of action.
I reached the barracks early enough to take a shower by myself. 0330 was too early for soldiers to be getting ready for P.T.. As I opened the door to my room I noticed Hendo wasn’t in his rack. Assuming he met some woman who was drunk enough to like him, I went to my wall locker to retrieve my toiletries. I was shocked to see that it was open. I never left my wall locker open. I closed and locked it every time I left my room. As I frantically searched the contents of my space the only thing missing seemed to be my shampoo. My shampoo? Did I leave it in the shower? Did I run out and forget to buy more? I began questioning my structured routine when the door to my room opened.
Hendo walked inside wearing a towel and carrying his own toiletries. Oddly enough, he was also holding my shampoo. With no explanation, he walked right past me and returned it to my locker. He smirked as he walked by me again on the way to his own wall locker. I watched him dress for P.T. as the rage began to take over my body. Once fully dressed, he began to walk towards the door in an effort to exit the room.
I stopped him by saying, “if you ever go near my wall locker again I will hurt you, pal.”
I set him up. I knew he wouldn’t allow me to talk to him like that. As soon as the words began to leave my mouth I began to walk directly at him. My words stopped him in his tracks. He spun around violently as if he had some words of his own to say to me. I was in no mood to talk however.
I lead with two quick left handed jabs to his right eye just to shock him. As I watched the confusion spread across his face, I planted my right foot and dug it into the floor. Twisting my foot while I pivoted my hips, I felt all the weight of my body enter my right handed fist. With all the frustration and anger built up in my body, I connected my punch directly to his mouth. A very loud crunch echoed through the silence and bounced off the walls of our room.
As I watched him loose consciousness, I planned to continue to hit him until I could no longer use my arms. The extremely sharp pain that shot from my middle right knuckle to my elbow prevented me from throwing any more punches. Hendo dropped to the floor like a wet mop. He landed awkwardly causing his back legs to twitch in an almost convulsion. Blood was flowing from his mouth onto his combat boots that were placed under his bunk.
My own blood was now dripping down my hand and onto the floor. The adrenaline that flowed through my veins entered directly into my brain. I began to scream at Hendos unconscious body at the top of my lungs. There were no words formed by my mouth nor any rational thinking behind my war cry. I just screamed in an effort to rid my body of the pent up anger.
My screams alerted the rest of the barracks. As C.Q. came running into my room, I calmly head towards the latrine to take my shower.
One by one the men of my platoon entered the latrine while I showered. I had turned off the lights and stood under the water to hide my tears. I was sobbing uncontrollably. As they faced my nude body standing there, they were jumping around excitedly proclaiming my heroism.
“You’re the fucking man bro! He’s still knocked out on the floor!”, one of Hendos medics exclaimed.
I knew better, however.
I stayed in the shower, purposefully, until Sgt. Gleason came and retrieved me. He ordered the platoon out of the latrine and onto the parade field for P.T.. As I dried off he inspected my hand. I had ripped open a two inch gash along the shaft of my middle right finger starting at the knuckle. When he put my wound under the flowing cool water from the sink faucet, he exposed how deep the cut was. We could see the bone. Also, tucked under the loose flap of detached bloody skin was Hendos front tooth.
Sgt. G. sewed up my wound and gave me a tetanus shot for preventative measures. Once the bleeding had stopped and he finished suturing my knuckle, he said only a few words to me.
“I can’t help you this time Doc. You know where you stand with Puddin and Killer Pete. The Commander warned you about standing in front of his desk again. I will not jeopardize my career for you. This time you are on your own.”
Just like that it was over. When Hendo gained consciousness, he filed an official complaint against me. Denying he ever went into my wall locker, his complaint read how I attacked him for no reason. He claimed I shouted racial slurs as I beat him unconscious. It was my word against his and I had already been warned.
When it was all said and done, the Commander stripped me of my rank and barred me from re enlisting into any branch of service “until the end of time”. My military career was over.
Thirty five days later I was honorably discharged from the United States Army as a private E-1.
I returned home to my parents house at the age of 23 as a veteran of combat …
I was also being tortured by demons. Those demons had a lot more damage planned for me once I got home.