Memory: Tales of “Castle Rock”

I can remember those days when all we knew were the storms. When all the world was set against us, unrelenting fury bent upon our destruction. Have we seen the end of such times or have we only perfected an art to which the future generations will have to answer for our sins. This place could be described as the edge of the earth, it is the doorway into the unknown. To the east and south the dust rises endlessly, and in the day the sun is unforgiving with the nights cold and unrelenting, unblinking darkness surrounds us all. Each night the smell of burning fields rise up and fills our lungs, while the morning greets us with the smell not unlike rotting fish. It is something the human body might never be able to become accustomed to, and yet we live each day with the hope that someday it will end. We are the guardians of what is known as “Castle Rock,” the northern most point of the spear tip that begins in Baghdad, and we for all our luck are the ones making up its fine edge. This is not by far the worst of it, the more challenging issues are those which cannot be seen, heard or smelt; rather they can only be felt when we look out across the city and understand that this place is not ours. It is a kind of madness that eats away little by little at the mind, it makes one feel as if he is relaxed and comfortable and that everything is good when in reality the situation is spiraling out of control. There is no exact name for it, one of the guys here, Haruki, has said it is similar to “hysteria siberiana” whatever that is supposed to mean. He explained it to us and told; imagine that you are farmers, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plow your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it’s directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks in the west, you go home to sleep. And then one day, something inside you dies. Day after day you watch the sun rise in the east, pass across the sky, then sink in the west, and something breaks inside you and dies. You toss your plow aside and, your head completely empty of thought, begin walking toward the west. Heading toward a land that lies west of the sun. Like someone, possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die. We only half understand, if only for the fact that we are still among the living. ( Sept. 9. 2004. 11:24pm; Northern Iraq.)

I remember those moments that we did have to ourselves, each of us would have some task, self given of course, if only for the reason of keeping that creeping madness at bay. These tasks did not work of course, and for the most part just made us all the more frustrated, how stupid they were to allow us to focus on something that would just make us ever more furious. For example I can remember how a man /Anderson/ would collect bottle caps and put them into a larger clear plastic jug with the hope of filling the jug within a years time. And yet he would tell us of how if he were to pick the bottle caps he saw off the street he would be able to fill that bottle within a week without question. This was a torment to him I know, it was clear for me to see how his face would change from stirring questions to anger to a almost unbound rage when he though of such a stupid issue. He would walk and count the number of bottle caps on the streets of the city, and slowly become obsessed with the thought of his bottle caps in that jug waiting to be filled; for no other reason than it was something for him to do to fight the impending doom of boredom, fatigue, and keep PTSD away for just another day. He eventually was taken out of our squad for medical reasons, that was the day when it all started to sink in. There were the others of course, I remember Haruki, logical with his ideas thinking to the potential ways to make “Castle Rock”, little more than a man made cave, more comfortable and relaxing with only minimal effort, which of course could only be dreampt of, due to the illogical constraints of being in such a place on the edge of hell. No no, for us real comfort was far off somewhere else, not here amid the gunfire and thundering explosions in the background. Nothing here is quite what it seems and even so, for good reason. This is an unnatural place, we all agree, that has more suffering than should be allowed to be upon the earth; and yet it is far from the extreme of which our minds can imagine, and it is this point that makes this place ever more dangerous. For such a place as this gives you the false sense that nothing is wrong and that it is possible to find ways to relax here and be comfortable; and only after some days pass you realize that it is impossible to remain so alone, trapped within your own consciousnesses. It is this reason, more than any other that we found each other as the best company, not really friends, and nothing really in common other than the bad luck to be here, fighting an enemy we did not know, and could not really see. If only we knew the madness for what truly was, or maybe it is something that was lurking within us all along only to be dragged out due to the lack of human contact that is found most readily in the horror of war. ( Nov. 12. 2006. 1:58am; Northern Iraq.)

…For all that we have done, for all that we have seen, the world will never forgive us, of this I am sure. (Dec. 24. 2006. 3:47am; Northern Iraq)

. /Photo “Castle Rock”/ Jan. 11. 2005. 11:38am; Northern Iraq/



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