I have been going through a quarter life crisis since I turned 20, almost eight years ago. Unfortunately, my quarter life crisis has not included cool cars, hot 18 year olds with six packs or new hair-cuts. My crisis has been a whirlwind of self-doubt, an anesthetized heart, and an overall identity crisis. In other words, middle class white girl problems. So, what did I do instead of the hot 18-year-old? I signed up to volunteer and I got a tattoo to commemorate a dead kid I’ve never met. When I got the tattoo, it was during a time that I was having very high anxiety. I don’t think that anything we do is truly altruistic. Even the acts we label as “selfless,” we still do as a way to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. It’s a bonus that someone or something else is also benefiting. Volunteering is a perfect example. My distracted point is however, that I suppose one could say that I’m exploiting the boy whose name is now tattooed on my leg, but I’m perfectly comfortable with that accusation because I don’t feel that I am.
Years after Nick’s first deployment, the boy I speak about in Aristotle and a Story of Love, a book was written about his unit titled, “They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq” written by Kelly Kennedy. It is an excellent book. I fancied myself some sort of anti-war advocate back then. I thought that because I KNEW that this war was wrong, and that I could back up my statement with fancy political terminology and passionate rhetoric on foreign policy, that that meant something. God was I naive. This book provides unexpected perspective, and gives a face to what the war truly is to the troops; just a bunch of kids fighting for one another. Without a cause, these soldiers only have one another to fight for and they can’t abandon that. That’s their true call of duty. Each other. I better stop myself now, before I go on a rant about this imperialist war that was created through ignorance.
I had no idea that Nick’s unit was the hardest hit until he told me about this book and suggested that I read it. Of course I did, and it was a strange experience because as I was reading these accounts of woeful events, I could remember hearing about them when they actually occurred. Nick didn’t talk too much about the war, but when he was able to call from Iraq, and when he felt like sharing, there were a few stories that stuck out in my mind. For example, one I remember him telling me happened when he was out on patrol. One of the sergeants just got out of the Humvee saying, “fuck this,” walked a few yards away, and shot himself. It made me sick to my stomach when he told me. That awful event was recounted in the book, so it was a strange thing reading about these accounts that I actually remembered happening.
One of the guys that was often brought up in the book was Sgt. Ryan Wood. Obviously, a lot of soldiers were discussed, but whenever the author wrote about Ryan Wood, I couldn’t help but think, I really like this guy. As I kept reading, this feeling grew. He wanted to go to art school after he was done with the Army, and they described him as being the one who, “often served as the conscience of the second platoon.” He kept his morals intact, at a time when I can only imagine it would be far easier to let go of moral principles. He was quoted as saying, “we can’t be like them,” during times when most other soldiers were revenge thirsty and simply wanted to murder every Iraqi because their best friend was just killed by some stupid fucking IED buried under some trash on the side of the road. I can’t say that I blame them. Hating is easy. It helps to make sense of things that don’t make sense… like war. But Ryan Wood saw the “enemies” as humans when no one else could. When you’re fighting for your life everyday, to save your mind from yourself, I’d imagine that you’d have to create an enemy monster in order to attempt to keep yourself at least mildly sane. But Ryan Wood was strong. Throughout the book, I developed a crush on this kid. He seemed funny and smart and just someone who I would get along with and should be friends with.
As I was in the process of reading the book, I found myself wondering what he was doing now. Was he at art school? Did he have PTSD? Is he married now? Is he happy? It was strange that I felt close to a guy that I didn’t know. At the end of the book, you find out that Ryan Wood died in Iraq. I literally cried. Cried for a boy that I will never know.
It’s been years since I completed the book, but I still find myself thinking about Ryan Wood from time to time. Not a lot, but every couple of months or so, he’ll just pop into my mind. I never told anyone this because it seemed like a deranged fixation, but I began to embrace the idea. I love the idea of remembering people you will never knew. People whom most of the world will never know. We remember grand heroes and legends, but people who you see in antique photographs, and people whose handwriting you find on vintage postcards, and people who are buried at the pretty cemeteries I visit, all with small gravestones from 1879 who no one in this living world probably remembers anymore… I like remembering those people. And I like remembering Sgt. Ryan Wood. The boy whom I love, but will never know.
I would like to conclude this with a very profound statement: Fuck war.