Gritty Details

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday's Storyteller: "Did you know warriors were encouraged to marry each other so they'd protect each other more fiercely in combat?"

by Belinda Roddie

Did you know warriors were encouraged to marry each other so they'd protect each other more fiercely in combat? It's true. It was encouraged in Sparta, for example. I'd like to think the only reason it stopped was because some of the warriors didn't feel like they were compatible with one another. And if they survived the conflict, well...the divorce proceedings would be pretty agonizing if it didn't work out post-war.

Love's a funny thing, isn't it? Especially among soldiers. War can drag a lot out of us. Our health, our stamina, our sanity. Our ability to feel anything besides the need to survive and the need to kill. We become husks of our former selves under helmets and camo, and we try to fill in the empty space with machine guns and tanks and beer and cigarettes in between missions. But it's all just shallow. Impermanent. Not like love. Love is sustaining, keeps us nourished.

Only it's dangerous, too. Love, I mean. I can understand why warriors who got married fought harder for each other - they felt like they had someone to look after. Someone to keep safe. And it made them work harder to stay alive because they didn't wanted to abandon their spouses. I think a lot of those marriages lasted after the war, actually, if they lived through it. Of course, nothing would really be the same. But at least they could understand each other's pain once they settled. They knew each other's scars. Where they came from, how long they'd last. How much they stung.

We don't go on an "official" battlefield anymore with swords and spears and horses. It's all machinery and droids and planes. Operations and bombs. Suddenly, you feel like you can only do so much to protect your platoon, let alone someone you love. So you're encouraged not to connect to anyone. Shut it all out. Focus only on yourself. Here, in the middle of a hot desert. It's my third tour, actually. I really haven't known anything but desert for a while. Surviving in it. Thriving in it. Finding ways to enjoy myself with the rations and company I have.

You got someone at home? A husband? A wife? I'm not sure if you're luckier with or without one. Me, I never married. Had a girlfriend. She couldn't handle me going overseas. She didn't want me in the army. Thought she'd lose me. I tried to rekindle everything after my second tour. She said I wasn't the same person. She didn't comprehend the scars I brought back with me. Oh, sure, she wanted to hear the stories of how I got them. Was it a stray bullet, she asked. Shrapnel from a suicide bomber. Something traumatic. She always liked to hear how it happened, but she didn't want to actually listen to the aftermath. Everything I endured here - still endure here - had to be kept at a superficial level for her to deal with. Like she couldn't handle it. Like she was too weak to manage my own suffering.

Anyway, it didn't work out with her and me, so I came back here. Look at you - you're young, and you're green. Maybe you're in love with someone back home. It might feel weird fighting out here, because you don't know if you're really protecting anyone, right? Not like the old days. Not like when someone said to the Spartans, "Let's give the warriors incentive. Let's give them something to fight for. Someone to fight for."

Gets cold out here at night, doesn't it? Here, have a cigarette. There's beer at the base, too. C'mon - I'll walk with you back.

This week's prompt was provided by Arden Roddie.

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