Welcome to Unwritten's part of the worldwide A-Z Blog Challenge!! Every day in April (except Sundays), we'll have a new post related to the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. Our theme here on Unwritten is "I Will Survive". I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you. Comments are VERY appreciated!
S is for Sniper Attack
On October 28, 2004 I was a Squad Leader in the Army, and given the mission to do what was called a “walking patrol” in the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan. For the most part it was non-eventful. We walked and talked to the locals using our interpreter, and was heading back to our start point in order to go home for the night.
Suddenly two shots rang out from the top of a building across the street. I found myself on the ground and my leg in tremendous pain. Long story short, a bullet had stuck my shin, shattering the large bone there. After not a few expletives and a load of yelling, I rallied my squad and its two vehicles, reported to my commander and evacuated the area.
I didn’t blame the sniper who shot me. It’s a part of war, and a hazard of my, chosen profession. In fact, being an Army infantryman, the concept of being shot at is expected. However, something in me couldn’t let it pass as just an occupational hazard.
And so began my struggle. It was the cornerstone of events that would build and mold itself into a structure that seemed impenetrable, only to reach a climax where the world around me collapsed. The thing of it is, it all happened so slowly, and I had my eyes shut so tight, I never saw the true nature of what I had constructed.
After a year of surgeries, medical exams and physical therapy, the Army decided I no longer would be able to be a part of that organization. I, of course, fought this and told them they were wrong. There had to be a job in the Army I could still perform. At the time, I had convinced myself that the reason I wanted to stay in was for my family, but in retrospect, I know now it was for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to go back to war and give the enemy a taste of the pain I had suffered.
Behind the scenes were my wife and four children. They’re the ones who bore the brunt of the pain my determination wrought. Although they voiced their concerns, I ignored them and without realizing it, I separated myself from anything and anyone that got in the way of my goal of getting back on the battlefield. I hid behind a computer, playing combat games and delighting in the destruction of fictional enemies, while secretly plotting my own return to the real world combat going on. I remember the calls from my wife to come to turn off the computer and come to bed, but I wouldn’t hear them. There was a whole unit of digital enemy soldiers that needed to be destroyed.
Fast forward a few years. In December of 2008, the opportunity I had waited for finally arrived. After having to go through retraining to be an interrogator, I found myself in a unit going to Iraq. “Okay,” I thought, “It isn’t Afghanistan, but it would have to do.”
At the time, my wife voiced that she supported me, but now looking back, I remember her pleading face for me to stay. I ignored this, blocked it out of existence, and eagerly boarded the plane after a quick peck on her cheek.
The funny thing is I only stayed in the country for five days. A rare infection caused a cyst in my collarbone and forced me to go back home.
After another two months of medical treatments had passed when I got the word that I would be allowed to return. I remember hurrying home, and practically shoving the orders in my wife’s hands, with a big grin on my face. She dropped them, and ran to her room where she lay on the bed crying.
I couldn’t understand this. And I don’t think I wanted to. No, that’s not right. I know I didn’t want to. All I cared for at the time was going to war. I shrugged my wife’s grief off, packed my bags and boarded yet another plane, this time alone.
This was the deployment that would end my marriage.
After nine months, I came home expecting a warm welcome, a hug and tears of joy for my return. What Ifound was a wife who had moved on. At first, she kept up appearances of affection, however she was distant and stayed away from the house more and more until eventually one day she never came back.
Still in denial, I had no clue what had happened. I felt betrayed. It was as if everything I had fought for meant nothing. I mentally shut down. I couldn’t concentrate. Work was a nuisance, driving was a bother and even waking up in the morning became a chore. The world I had built came crumbling down and settled into a rubble of shattered dreams. It took every bit of my will power to continue on and not give in to the suicidal thoughts that haunted me. I truly believe that if my wife had taken the girls with her when she left, I wouldn’t be here today.
They saved my life. Those two girls with matching blonde hair and quick smiles were more than a match for my despair. Even without knowing what was going on, they gave me the strength to get up and continue on. I lived because they needed me to live and to this day they don’t know the scope of their influence.
It’s been nearly five years since my wife said goodbye and the pain still lingers, only it has evolved. It’s no longer a feeling of betrayal and loss. Well, I guess it is, but the betrayal and loss was caused by my own actions and how I allowed my desire for revenge to separate me from those who truly mattered. I still struggle with the knowledge of what I did to my family in those years and wish I could go back and change everything.
I fight a battle daily now, but with the friends I’ve found in places such as F2K and WVU, I finally have the ability to look beyond what has happened and even look forward the things that could be in the future.
I am no longer in the Army, having retired last February and once again act as a construction worker, only now my materials have changed. With wide open eyes, I’m building a new life as a postal worker and aspiring author. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but the light on the horizon shines a little brighter each day.
TJ Marshall is a father, retired Soldier and a fiction writer. He resides in Lampasas, TX with his girls andBetsy the Basset Hound. He self-published his first novel in 2013, titled Finder’s Tome, had a flash fiction story published in The Darwin Murders anthology, and is working to complete his second novel called The Struggles.
Links for Finder’s Tome:
Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/ky3f8vk
Link for The Darwin Murders: