Thursday, July 1, 2010

737. Beware! Combat Rage

(This is a re-post from my blog at, check it out!)

It still comes out sometimes. The combat rage. Usually at bars; other people get so plastered that they lose their filters. They will come to me with disrespect, being uncouth or accosting me for no real reason. I’ve learned to be a peaceful man, but don’t doubt that beneath my wild beard and extra pounds of flab, the green, clean, killer-confident Marine still lies dormant.

You wouldn’t poke a stick against a serpent would you?

It’s the hardest part of the combat experience to erase – that warrior instinct to maim or kill at a moment’s notice. It’s part of boot camp: beat up the other Marine, knock off his helmet with your pugil sticks, and get a phone call home.

It’s an aspect of weapons training: peer through your rifle’s iron-sights at the targets shaped like people; imagine what it’s like to violently end another human.

And it’s the most essential part of war: an explosion ignites while on patrol, rack your machine gun and get ready to kill.

I used to spend a lot of time at bars because I was depressed and didn’t care about life. Drinking allowed me to at least feel a burn, the flaming spirits torching my throat and charring my mind, which was something at least. Or maybe I’d just consume so much I’d never wake up again. That would have been fine, too.

Now I drink however, because I have found a calm and joyous spirit, and I love to be social and spend time with my friends. I’ll have a few brews and laugh and watch sports; or stay up late, engaging strangers with discussion of the arts, culture, or life and the lessons I’ve learned.

But I forget sometimes who I am really am – the warrior I was programmed to be – and the mental struggles of surviving battle that I may never entirely rise above.

A short, muscular man with a shaped-goatee, tried to take one of the chairs that I had reserved for my friend, as I chilled with some friends at a local trivia night. He did this even though I reminded him when asked about the chair several times already, that “Yes, my friend is coming. He’s just running late, man.”

His question, this time, was especially disrespectful. During a chug-off (if more than one team gets the correct answer, they send a representative to throw back a beer as quickly as possible to try and win the round), he had already taken another one of our chairs when we left our table to cheer our teammate.

“You sure you need this chair?” he asked yet again, jeering us, as he began to drag it away.

I slammed my palm against the table and leaned into him. “Take your hands off that f***ing chair.”

He stared back, deciding if he wanted to pursue a brawl. I’m sure he was way stronger than me – I haven’t lifted much in the years after getting out – and maybe more trained. Who knows, maybe he was even a part time lightweight cage fighter; almost everyone I meet is into martial arts these days. But I get blackout rage, this deeply ingrained caustic instinct that prevents me from feeling any pain when I’m mad. And I don’t think those who haven’t survived man versus man, life or death combat (or ever even had to consider their mortality) can really understand how that can be. Like a suicide bomber, you can’t stop that mentality. There’s no defense.

He backed off and returned to his group of friends, chair-less, and leaned against the bar. My friends stared at me awkwardly and my pulse still roared.

It was all the better for him, though. I like to think of myself as a pacifist now, but I cannot shut off my nature. It’s in moments like these that the darkness returns. I pray I’m not pushed too far in these times. They are less and less frequent the further away I get in years from Iraq and war. But I know that they’ll always remain.

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