I was thrown to the ground after loud thud. As I sit up I try to focus on anything in front of me but can only see a dust cloud. I reach to adjust my helmet. There is blood on my hand. Suddenly a figure approaches me in what seems like slow motion.
“Are you ok?”
Why is his voice so muffled? Who is he? My mind is spinning. I see the dust behind him slowly clearing.
“PFC Graham, are you ok? Answer me!”
PFC Graham? What is he saying? I lay back onto the ground, the hot sun blinding me. I reach my hand to block the sun from my eyes. Again I notice the blood. “My God,” I thought. I’ve been hit. That thud was an IED. The mysterious figure is our patrol corpsman Coleman.”
“Holy shit, am I ok?” I feel my body start shaking as everything starts making sense. I was on patrol and we were hit. I hear men yelling all around me. I sit up quickly. I see Marines moving frantically across my vision. I look past Coleman to see Private Elken on his stomach crawling towards me. Through the caked dust on his face I see his pain. His helmet no longer on his head. At this moment I realize my hearing sounds normal. However, the situation before me is anything but normal.
Earlier we moved out on a morning patrol on the outskirts of Fallujah. As we waited for orders to move out I joke with Elken, a tall white kid from Lawrence, Kansas. We have been in the Marines together from boot camp through infantry training. Afterwards we both are sent to 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines at Camp Lejeune. Four months later we’re in the desert of Iraq. Marines before us captured this city after intense battles with the Iraqi Royal Guard. For the two of us, we are in a combat zone for the first time. Today we both lay on the desert floor.
“Graham dammit, are you ok!”
I look Doc Coleman in the eyes and say yes. I am a little stiff as I reach for his hand and lifts me to my feet. I look down and notice my weapon on the ground with blood on the stock. I feel fine, my vision is normal and my senses have returned. “Doc, I’m fine. What about Elken over there?” I say pointing to what is now a group of men around him. I reach down, grab my weapon and sprint that direction. I push a couple of Marines aside to reach him. He has two corpsmen attending to him along with our company gunny. As I look down at him, he is now on his back. His face covered with a mixture of blood and sand.
As if there was only one voice out of the chaos in front of me, I hear “we need to apply a tourniquet to each leg ASAP!”
The gunny turns quickly to Lance Corporal Flemming, the company radio operator and yells “get me a medevac Fleming. Right fucking now!” He turns back to Elken and says “we’re getting you out of here Marine. Hang in there dammit!”
My body turn numb as I see Elken’s legs are gone below the knees. Everything slows down as if my mind is drugged. I begin feel a slight pain in my arm that I hadn’t felt before. I try to make sense of the scene in front of me. How can this be? I stare at Elken’s face. Does he see me? Does he understand the extent of his injuries? What is he feeling?
“Get the hell back everybody, get organized with your squads! We have this handled'” Gunny instructs the bystanders.
My mind hears his instructions but my body doesn’t move. My eyes move between Elken’s face and the corpsman working on his legs. I want to say something to my friend but words never escape my mouth.
“Graham, get the fuck away,” someone yells to me. I feel a hand grab my flack jacket and pull me backwards. I turn and take a few steps forward. I am again in front of Corpsman Coleman.
“Let me see your arm Graham, I see you are wounded. Move your arm for me.”
“Doc man. Elken, he’s hurt man, what the fuck! What’s happening Doc?”
“He’s being taken care of. They’ll get him outta here. He’s fucked up man but he’ll live.”
Live. What is living for Elken now? What is living for any of us now?
As the corpsman tends to my shrapnel wound I can’t get the sight of Elken on the ground out of my mind. This is crazy. The suddenly realization of combat is numbing. There was no speech or manual to explain the horror of this morning. I can’t stop thinking why am I here as I am lead to a field ambulance. Soon I will be in the safety of our makeshift base a few miles away. The numbness doesn’t escape me as we ride away from the morning patrol. I say nothing as my wound is cleaned and bandaged. I think of my parents back on our farm in Iowa. I hear the sounds of birds in the morning and the cows mooing in the background. It all seems surreal to me.
After we arrive on base I walk into the medical tent with Coleman. I sit on the examining table waiting to be seen by a doctor. I understand the magnitude of this morning. Of combat. Of me in combat. It is nothing you can imagine it to be and much worse that I could have envisioned.
I will live with that vision of my first combat action forever. After nearly a year together Elken and I will be seperated. I begin to cry as I realize that he is going to leave this country without his legs. His life altered forever. In an instant. In a country far away.
I will eventually leave also, but without my innocence. I am forever changed.
This is a work of fiction. It was written for Picture it & Write
I urge people to join in, comment with your paragraph of fiction to accompany the image. It doesn’t have to follow my story or reflect the same themes. It can be a poem or in a different language (provide a translation please). Anyone who wants to join in, is welcome. This photograph will be reblogged under Ermisenda on tumblr and added to the Picture it & Write gallery on Facebook and Pintrest.