War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

heal time (from May Day)

Another installment of May Day, a fictional series of letters from a young woman to her lover serving as a Warrant Officer in Afghanistan. For a backgrounder on the project, click on the May Day icon at the right, or listen to the audio broadcast, writing May Day.


I have to say. J is looking good these days. brighter. fit. almost as if it—whatever ‘it’ is, whatever happened over there—was just a bad dream. oh ya, nights he sleeps over. on my couch. when his chica is out of town for work (rescuing the half-dead), J actually sleeps. doesn’t shout. doesn’t scream. barely flinches anymore. when I slam a cupboard, slam a door. and he’s lost the 2000 foot stare. that blank out. to somewhere only he can go.

yesterday, drinking Africanos at my office (the green brocade couch at Caffe Fantastico, the kind mothers used to cover with plastic sleeves, forbid kids to sit on, circa 1973,) J says to me, “they’re talking about me coming back to battalion.”

he says this like a kid opening Advent calendar doors. or a teenager grounded too long. marking X’s. the countdown. to Santa. to car keys.

but M, is this possible? so soon? you probably know more about this than J. are you behind it, giving advice to the chain. your RSM, your CO. do you think he’s ready. or is this notional, his fantasy?

“really” I said. “do you want to go? what about chica, what about your work?” because J loves the time he spends looking after his animals down at the little farm. afternoons. nights. watering. brushing. feeding. cleaning out pens. taking the miniature horses out on their leads for long walks. through the park. now cherries blossom. and he hardly spends time down at the armoury. just checks in once in awhile.

“look S, I just want to do my job. I didn’t go to RMC for four years to end up throwing bales of hay. as for chica, she knew I was a soldier from the beginning. signed on with me anyway.”

(and I’m thinking I should take chica out for a drink. give her a little course, a primer, in soldier’s woman 101.
lesson 1. learn to be alone. a lot.
lesson 2. learn to be alone. a lot.
lesson 3. learn to be alone. a lot…)

“what would you do J? command a platoon again? head back to Afghanistan?”

“not right away. desk job for a few months. put me on course. get me back to speed. let them keep an eye on me. check me out. see that I’m solid. good to go. again. besides, they’re short-handed. they’ll want me back. I know.”

“though what I’d really like. before I go back to the ‘Gan,” J sits up. his back straighter than I’ve seen for ages, “is to go to Wainwrightistan. CMTC. take part in Desert Ram. grow a beard. be on the other side for a change. you should see it S. it’s a blast. Afghan vets done up in man-jams, real beards, planning attacks. living in the woods for days on end. armed with RPGs. AK47s. laying IEDs roadside. setting up ambush alley. trying to scare the shit out of those newbee 19 year olds jumping in and out of their LAVs. them thinking it’s paintball weekend. or something out of Hollywood. Jar Head. and us telling them, ‘this is as real as it can get man, pay attention. next time you drive through an Afghan village, the bullets, the bombs are for real.’”

and when J tells me about CMTC (again.) I’m thinking, what’s with that place. your dress rehearsal for Afghanistan. the love-hate thing you all seem to have with it. the wind. the cold. the heat. the dust. the mud. the puppet-masters at HQ. the lousy food. how sick you get of it all. what an amazing time it was.

but I sit, listen patiently. interested to hear about how you and he worked so well. (always interested in anything about you.) and how the two of you got on. laughed about things. about how J came to you M, when he needed to know. what to do with the young guys who snuck to town. got pissed. messed with a few oil boys’ girls. got into a fight. the MPs, the RCMP escorting them back to base.

and you WO, training the young officer pup J, for command. weeks together in the prairie dirt. sand. and how you got to know each other, trust each other. so by the time you hit the desert. the dust. five months later. it was as if you had some kind of psychic bond. knew what the other was thinking before the other one did. one of those amazing army things. when two guys click.

until it. happened. Shah Wali Kot. accident? incident? what?

half a call on the Satphone from you. late last year.

it’s so damned hot. taberwhet! Christ S. trouble. I can’t talk. I can’t talk. J is out of it.

then I heard incoming. shouts.

gotta go baby girl. take care. you hang up.

and I sat up waiting for news. imagining the worst. not realizing how lousy some of their rockets really are. that incoming sometimes are the least of your worries.

then that email that pissed me off,

take it easy

steamed me so much I thought, that’s it. that’s it. but of course it wasn’t.

and a year later, neither you or J will talk. tell me. what happened. still. now he’s better. as if the before and after never happened. that it’s all seamless. silent. like laser surgery. no visible scar. like this time of J’s. away from the army. is just some kind of vacation.

only I know different. I saw the eggshell boy. not the armoured man. come back last year. I’ve watched him recover. sort of.

but let me tell you. every time we hear news. something bad. the ceramic plates in his flak crack. just a bit. and though it’s only a matter of days before he’s solid again (it used to take weeks). they’re still not going to hold. he’s not like you. can’t separate. his worlds. his work. his head.

and M, f.y.i., though it’s none of my business. I’m thinking J’s wound is still too young, too freshly sprung from the grey folds of his brain. I’ve watched injured dancers go back too soon. put too much pressure on their fracture. their wound. end up injured for life. or worse.

J may be whistling these days. walking straight. making plans. but it’s early days yet. for him, M. no matter what he says.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled heal time (from May Day). It was posted here on March 30, 2009.


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