Three years ago today, I got home.
Two days previous, just after midnight, I walked into the 2/502 Infantry Battalion headquarters. The Staff Duty NCO was a man I'd never seen before, a Staff Sergeant who was thin and athletic. His uniform was crisp and his hair was faded high and neatly; he wasn't Air Assault qualified and he didn't have a combat patch. I don't even remember his name. He looked at me, at my tattered jeans, my beanie, unshaven face, earrings, and asked, "Signing out on terminal?"
He got out his clipboard and received my terminal leave papers. He signed them, motioned for me to sign OUT of the Battalion on the staff duty log. I looked at the envious Specialists sitting behind the desk. The Staff Sergeant turned away, and without another word, I was free.
I stood there for a moment. I was the first of more than 120 stop lossed soldiers to sign out. There was nothing else. The Staff Sergeant disappeared, and I had no further instructions or responsibility.
Confusion was the first thought, but that curiously disappeared. Like one who realized he was standing in the wrong place at seconds before the wrong time, I regrouped, shoved open the doors, and briskly walked out. I did not take a long look back. I didn't even look back. I simply left.
Today, I walked into school with the same blue jeans and beanie. It was cool outside and the sky was blue and the sun was bright. I wore my BDU jacket through the park on the way to class. I walked past groups of ladies on their morning walks with averted eyes and suddenly hushed discussions. I haven't thought about the last three years and how quickly time has passed. After the first year of my enlistment, I downloaded a "countdown timer" onto my desktop. Everyday, I would watch the minutes and hours disappear, lamenting the number of days remaining. I watched the days shrink into fractions of what it was when I started. I even remember the day the countdown reached zero and the days and months that continued counting into the negatives. Three years had elapsed into a fourth when I completed my sentence.
I don't count anymore. I wish for time to slow like the bitch trick it used against me then, but it does not. Ravishing time speeds its rate when you find and enjoy your goal and I wish to stab it in the face with a brick to shatter its sands across the floor.
Turn and burn.