Is that the last face I am ever to see; that Iraqi kid? He must be no more that twelve, and wearing some knock-off Michael Jordon No. 23 jersey, cheapo flip-flops, and a half grin. He flipped that cell phone into the debris and donkey shit at the curb like I used to toss the television remote to my brother. Bobby is twelve, too, but probably playing a video game right about now, probably close to the violent “video game” that is my existence.
Oh, wow! What a concept. My brother is playing some war game back in Rochester blowing up pixilated bad guys, thumbing his controller with determination and termination. And, in some crisscross of dimensions he is blowing me up. He is No. 23, the roadside-kid in this godforsaken outskirt of Baghdad where I am riding shotgun in this godforsaken tin can Humvee, dressed and armed like a freakin’ Robocop and with the sinking sense that my existence is completely out of my control. Christ, what a thought—Bobby controlling my life with a video game controller. Man, I had better hydrate; I’m hallucinating in this 105-degree cauldron.
Just what I was doing when I glimpsed that Iraqi kid, all distorted at first through the plastic of the water bottle I keep shoving in my face. I knew immediately when I saw that cell phone is not at his ear. He wasn’t calling anybody but that detonator, waiting for its number—and for this Humvee to be just where he wants it to be. In some invisible cyber-dimension those numbers are one their way, flashing right by me to where I can’t see, but only imagine—to that cart just ahead, or that pile of rubbish by the curb, or maybe in that pothole we’re about to drive over. My fate is written in the most mundane detritus of this Allah-besotted neighborhood. In the moment those numbers will get there.
Now I am in that moment. I am so into this existentially-compressed nano-second, because now, in this moment, the blinding flash takes over, and I cannot discern whether time is exploding or imploding, to or from this nano-compressed instant of time. It’s just the flash, that dying super-nova flash. No sound . . . yet. Light is the fastest thing in the universe, nothing faster. I remember those documentaries about the dropping of he atomic bomb on Hiroshima. From the B-29, the guys saw the flash first, before the sound, before the shock wave. The speed of light; 186,282.397 miles per second; now how the hell did I know that? But that’s why I see the flash first. My brain is fast, too, that’s why it connects the flash to what it already knows comes with such flashes.
No sound here . . . yet. No shock wave . . .yet. Still in the moment.
I thought I’d be confused, terrified—maybe that comes later, if there’s a “later”—but why this sort of clarity, these self-conscious thoughts—all in simultaneity, like dozens of windows piled on top of one another on my computer screen, all “open” and sharing the same two-dimensional space. I can see them all—together, at once. I didn’t think there would be a moment like this. It seems like everything is compressed, like I am peering into worlds that I was never able to see before—the space that exists in the universe of an atom, the variety of life that lives in a single drop of sea water. I remember hearing about this in high school science class, but this . . . this . . .
What’s making my brain do this? It never could think like this before. I could never handle more than one thought at a time. Now it’s like some computer, spilling out everything at once. Is this what they mean by “your whole life passing before you . . . ?” No, it’s not the same. It’s not the record of life, like times with mom and dad, and playing football, feeling up Alice in my car, eating hot dogs, and that stuff; it’s about the process of life, about how it happens. I feel like I am looking at my own DNA and understanding how it works.
Hey! Maybe this is what they mean by “heaven?” Nah, I never really believed that bullshit. The sergeant made us form up for a little prayer session before we set out on this patrol. He says God is on our side. Yeah, well Allah might have something to say about that. So, is this can’t be what heaven is supposed to be like—my brain downloading everything it knows, or rather uploading everything it didn’t know. Nah, Sister Ignatius told me in first grade that heaven was “looking into the face of God for eternity.” Christ, that really sounds like fun. For eternity?
Eternity. That would be longer than this nano-second, this moment between the flash and . . . what comes after the flash. I feel momentarily locked right in that moment, like a grape hovering in a square of lime Jello. No, make that like an insect suspended in . . . what’s that stuff called . . . c’mon, c’mon, c’mon brain . . . amber! Thought I wouldn’t get it in time. What is a “moment” anyway? Something tells me it is a sub-part of a nano-second, some basic, irreducible particle of time—the ultra-present. I am in it, in the moment. But, hey, maybe eternity is really no longer than a moment. Right? There you are, “looking into the face of God,” but if that’s all you are doing, the only thing you are doing, then the unit of time doesn’t make any difference, be it a second, or a millennium. Doesn’t matter, because you wouldn’t know the difference. Something has to change for you to tell the difference.
But it seems I am about to change. This moment won’t last an eternity. It’s the transition moment; I am going to be someone else, or something else. The “me,” or what was me, is going to change. To what? A crippled human, without some limbs, or senses? Do I want to live without my arms, or legs, or eyes, or testicles, picking up “repairs” and prostheses at Landstuhl and Walter Reed. Or, I’m going to be bits and pieces, like that poor bastard I saw them mopping up in Sadr City. There wasn’t much to ID that guy beyond his DNA. So, what happens if I become a blob of DNA. Maybe it’s no big deal, because that’s what we are, our DNA; I‘m just this tiny strand of stuff you could carry around in a test tube. Freeze me, then take me out some day and grow a shiny new me. Here he is folks, the new Mike Rossi, version Rossi 2.0. Bring on the Army recruiters. Tell Carney 2.0 he’s going to be a “hero” for going out there and getting those terrorists, the Terminator in Camos, Bobby’s search and destroy pixeled “Army of One.”
How the hell did I get into this moment? Am I supposed to be wasted like this? How did I get to the point where this is all right and proper, and patriotic, and keeping America’s democracy and way of life safe? Safe from what? The kid in the No. 23 jersey, with the flip-flops? Hey! I am an “army of one,” and a kid like my brother is going to take me out with a freakin’ cell phone! There is something wrong with this picture! Whoa, soldier, you are almost getting regretful, and angry. You don’t have time to think about that stuff. You’re starting to sound like your liberal sister. Angie, with her stuff about Iraq never attacking us. Then uncle Frank, still stuck in Vietnam; wants me to “win this one” because he didn’t get a parade. Well, that’s where I am, Uncle Frank—here, in Iraq—and some kid is attacking me. I don’t want to think about it. They make a new me and I’m going to journalism school, like I intended.
Hold on a moment, Lance Corporal Rossi. That wouldn’t really be a new me, would it? Unh, uh. A new physical me it would be; but the real me is me—my consciousness. The me of all those twenty-two years of life and experience, is the real me—my personality. No DNA generated facsimile could be a real me. I would be a biological “replicant.” If the new me had no consciousness of the old me . . . well, it means that what I am is not material, it’s my consciousness. Where does that go after this moment? It has to go somewhere. I don’t buy into all this soul and heaven stuff, but my consciousness has to go somewhere.
I know what’s happening here. I know I am in the front part of that nano second before everything will start flying apart. It can blow my body apart, but will it also blow my consciousness—the real me—apart? I have thought about it, dreamed about it, a hundred times, so it is all programmed into my brain. I know the concussive force of blasted superheated air, filled with particles of explosives, rock and steel and cow shit from the street are going to be like a mini-“big bang” that will blast matter into a new order, or just dis-order. No, not really. The “order” of things contains the dis-order. The dis-order is just the temporary state of things tat di not seem orderly to our fragmentary comprehension of things. So, if I become part of what seems dis-order, it’s not really so because I would just be part of a process that it so much bigger and longer and more complex than me and this stupid war, and that kid with the cell phone, and Iraq and Bush and the oil, and . . . it’s only a temporary arrangement of some carbon atoms inn some cosmic scheme I am only getting a fleeting glimpse of . . . I can’t see the forest because I am one of the tree . . . one of the leaves . . . . This is just a momentary glimpse between the flash of light and the shock wave. But I am not supposed to have this moment; I’m supposed to experience the classic refrain: “he never knew what hit him.”
Improvised Explosive Device, I.E.D.; you put a D in front of it and it spells D.I.E.D.
Hey! Am I lucky? Or not? You tell me. Gotta go sometime. This is early; but it’s quick. No lingering with Alzheimer’s, or cancer. People will say “he never knew what hit him,” not knowing that’s a pretty good epitaph for a soldier. An I.E.D., or a round right through the head, is quicker than a stroke or heart attack. Maybe too quick for pain. Problem is that I have been thinking about this for a long time, and every time you think about it you die a little bit. But I didn’t expect this moment, did I. Why bother me with all these thoughts if it’s check out time?
Hell, I never had thoughts like these, never thought I could think thoughts like these. I thought that there were thoughts like these that there were people who could even think thoughts like this. See! Is this what happens in the last nano-second; everything starts to become clear to you? Isn’t that a screwed up way if life: you go through it not knowing a damn ting about what it is, what it’s for, or anything, and then you get flash clarity as a going away present.
Hey, maybe No. 23 was just making a phone call and the phone was broken and he just throwing away a broken phone. Maybe he flash was something else, some reflection of a shiny surface, some bright sun coming through the space between the buildings. Nah. You were given this moment for a reason . . . or no reason at all.
I really wanted to be a journalist. Why all this revelation now, in this instance, this moment? What use is it to me now? By the end of this moment there might be no me, just what can be collected, bagged, flown in the dead of night to some cold warehouse in Delaware, welcomed home like some cargo of plastic crap for the shelves of Wal Mart. I wish I had time to write this down. It feels insightful. Why now? Some philosopher said that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” some Greek guy. So why shove it all into a final moment? Just a moment of self-realization. I can’t believe I thought all these things in just a mo . . . .
©2008, UrbisMedia (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 9.14.2008)