The other day my husband accompanied me to an appointment with my surgeon about my amputation. The surgeon, who spins a decent yarn himself, asked my husband and I about his amputation story and the PA and nurses gathered around because they think we are such a sweet and perfectly matched couple. We caught one another’s eyes for a split second before we jumped into what at this point seems like the most well-rehearsed “no shit, there he was” story:
Him: So it was 2012, July, Sperwan Ghar, Panjwai… [There are two main responses to the names Sperwan Ghar and Panjwai: understanding from people who have been there or know what it has taken to gain control of and keep them, or a blank stare because they know nothing about it.]
Me: Kandahar, Afghanistan… [Everyone always nods, but that doesn’t mean they even actually know where it is, just the name.]
Him: And we were on a mission, already almost black on ammo before we were halfway through, close to black on water… [Everyone nods… They don’t usually know what a mission means, and they sure as hell don’t know what “black on” means.]
Me: That means almost out of ammo and water… [More nodding because now they’re thinking about some war movie they saw and they think they understand what a firefight is… They don’t.]
Him: When I stepped on an IED… [They don’t know what that looks like. They haven’t seen the helmet cam footage and the media doesn’t show that kind of thing anymore, so they think of some movie magic that doesn’t really capture it.]
Me: It was a 15 lb explosive filled with glass, metal, rocks, particle board, and fecal matter, and it left a crater 6 feet across and 3 feet deep…
We went through the quick and dirty story from start to finish. The whole exchange has happened so many times, it’s automatic to tell every detail and without a doubt the responses are so predictable it’s almost comical, so much so that I laugh.
I laugh at the ignorance and the awe. I laugh at the faces and disgust. I laugh at the fact that the people hearing these stories don’t know the cost of freedom, they think they do but I question that belief. It’s not actually funny, though; it’s dark and horrifying to see the utter lack of understanding of what dangers exist in the world, what threatens the safety and security of free people everywhere, and the cost of the precarious freedom we enjoy.
I wish I could believe that there wasn’t a time I was one of those awed civilians completely unaware of what selfless service it was to choose to go to war repeatedly for those at home and those around the world living under oppressive regimes, but I think it’s far too optimistic to believe that of myself. Fifteen years ago, I was perfectly happy to enjoy freedom provided by those who served but I myself was unhappy that my brother was one. One day I will tell the story about who I met and how I was changed by listening to stories not unlike those I now tell. Someday.
Now I know what it takes to be broken and to choose not only to put oneself back together but to choose to go back to the breaking point again and again because of a belief that doing so may make the world better, safer, more peaceful even if only for a short time. Now I see the costs of my freedom reflected in so many military men and women who carry a decade, two, or three of war with them everyday, epitomizing the kintsukuroi life.
I am grateful to have learned to hear the stories and to have a meager understanding of the weight of what has been accomplished by those who choose to be broken for us. I wish I could go back and hear each of the stories again, recalling every detail, so I could write them down to share with the world. The stories of those who have served need to be remembered and told so that those who will never go to war can understand why it is important to do at times and why their freedoms are precious. For now, I will satisfy myself with telling the stories of those who will share them with me, and the story of my husband and I.