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His name was Bob*. Tall and skinny, he approached our table with a mischievous smile. He immediately started to dish out shit, like only a British ex-pat would feel obliged to do. He was pretty drunk. He bought us a round. I learned he grew up in Hong Kong, his parents met in Singapore. As a young man, he moved to London then the United States to go to college. A close friend was killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. He felt like he had to do something. Burdened by a load of student debt, and imbued with a deep sense of purpose, he enlisted in the US Army. He ended up in a medic unit in Iraq, and he did and saw things that we couldn’t possibly understand. His face pauses. He’s had two more drinks since his story began. A beer, and a double gin and tonic. Tanqueray. The words come slower now. Stilted. He looks down. He pauses. He asks if I’d ever killed a person. I said no. He asked if I could ever kill a person. I said I doubted it. He did. More than once. More than ten times. We never hear the number. Over a year of combat near Tikrit. He imagines the lives that he ended. The people that no longer exist. How they had girlfriends, families, mothers. The thoughts don’t stop. The gin helps a bit, but not for long. When he gets home, he talks. Probably cries. He never says this explicitly, but I sense it in his eyes. His story meanders. Circling around, repeating, breathing. He tries to tell his girlfriend. She’s French. He loves her more than anything. He just wants her to know. To understand what he saw. What he did. He wants her to tell him she loves him. That he’s a good person. I don’t know if he believes it himself, but I can tell that he is. ┬áHis girlfriend doesn’t know how to deal with him. He doesn’t know how to deal with himself. He never blames her when she leaves. He probably would do the same. He just needs to know he’s a good person, in spite of what happened. In spite of the lives that he ended. I nod. I try to reassure. He’s a strong man. Stronger than I could be. His scars are deep. He just wants to be fine again. He hopes to forget. It’s only me now. Me and Bob. “Do me a favor, stay and have another round on me.” I should have left two hours ago. “Sure thing,” I say. We stand at the bar. Bob introduces himself to a couple who’s visiting from out of town. “Where are you from,” they ask. “Well I just got back…” he stops himself. “Nevermind. So you’re visiting New York? You’ve NEVER been?” he asks incredulously. His attention starts to drift. He’s out of cigarettes. When I turn away from the couple, Bob is gone. I walk over to his Marine friend and ask if he knows where Bob went. “He ran out to get a pack of smokes.”

“Oh… When he gets back, tell him thanks, and take care of himself.”

 

 

*name has been changed.

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