Small Wars Journal

Senses, Shadows and the Soul

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Senses, Shadows and the Soul

Keith Nightingale

In the darker recesses of the night, I see things that have been seen I wish not to see again.

But they come, and they go.

Combat begins at dark and ends at daybreak.

Almost every night.

Furtively, as unformed thoughts, sounds or sights that withdraw from the deep emotional viscera within come full force with blinding clarity by some unsought and unwanted sense.

Please. Stay away.

No. They are here and always will be. They are part of my developed DNA.

What will they be? How will they form? When will they go away?

They move onto me with furtive steps and shadows that shroud my sleep and invade my pensive wakefulness.

Like a night of inky dark in the deepest green at the OP.

Sounds and senses. They are there. I know it. I cannot touch them, but I can feel them. Never more awake.

I wish the protective shroud of sleep. Won’t happen.

They are back. The enemy always is. Persistence is their power.

They erupt at their call. Not mine. Just as enemies always do. 
We are friendly. Why me?

Sometimes comforted. Sometimes not. Disturbing for the companions then and now.

Beside me, the odd mix of softness and steel. Just as soldiers are.

The senses dull. The shadows recede and the comforting soporific of sleep prevails.

For the moment. Like the morning movement to the next objective, it will all return.

Ruck up the mind. Move out. Try and make matter over mind.

Trying is not doing. Less succeeding.

How do I stop the invasion? Where do they lurk? How do they listen and await the moment of their choosing to emerge?

Drugs don’t help. They cover momentarily but do not remove.

If I can catch them, perhaps I can release them.

Is it the stream that we ambushed? They were so unsuspecting and so close. Blood on my stock. Not mine. Eyes open and forever unseeing. Less than a foot from me.

Is it the dog? The unfortunate victim of an errant but not mortal shot. The eyes. So large. Wondering. Pained. Frightened. Supplicant. I hated to do it. I had to.

Always. I see those eyes.

Is it the building we cleared? The dark stairs. The thrown grenade. They had kids with them. No. I didn’t do that. Yes. I did.

Is it the open field we crossed? Something happened. I couldn’t move. Hours looking at the clouds pass, the rain fall and my erratic breathing. The blood is strangely warm in the cool of the morning. Then cold and itchy. In time, I feel the cold-beaded floor of the chopper. Nurses-hair bobbing, probing, eyes like pin holes. Needles. Scissors cutting pants.

Excruciating pain. The doctor’s eyes. No answers. How can such soft-bodied people be so hard? Lost to the magic medicines. It returns with such clarity. Why wasn’t it clear then?

Was it the early light of the laager position? The bodies stacked in rows as if on parade. Covered in mud and now ochre dried blood. Last night we won. Tomorrow will always come. So will they.

Was it the hasty encounter in the street? Neither of us saw the other until we met. Sudden reactive impulses. A short haircut skull imbedded in the handguard. Curved in a perfect U shape.

Paid no attention.

Now I do. Every night.

Compartmentation is great gift. A moment of peace with a constant future price.

Forgetting or ignoral is not an option.

Pulling the trigger of the mind.

Find a strategy. Fight them on my terms. Get a step ahead.

But always behind. A mental retreat across the vast prairie of the mind. Endless horizons with shadows and stealth stabbing at every point. Surrounded. No surrender. No quarter.

I will fight always. One day I will win.

Then I will no longer care.

About the Author(s)

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.