R. B. Miner ~ Soldiers Don’t Need Therapy

For a while, deploy­ments were fif­teen months long instead of twelve. Some guys went a lit­tle bit nuts. A lot of the time, it hap­pened around month thir­teen or four­teen. They made it through a whole year of chaos and dan­ger and depri­va­tion, only to come apart at the seams with a month to go. Something about hav­ing the end in sight took away their abil­i­ty to cope. Maybe the gov­ern­ment saw that pat­tern, and that’s the rea­son they decid­ed to short­en the tours. Maybe they were just final­ly able to rus­tle up enough bod­ies to car­ry all the guns.

I only ever did twelve-month deploy­ments, so I didn’t go ful­ly crazy. But a year is still a long time to be away, to go with­out good food or sex or a drink. You wind up smok­ing a lot of cig­a­rettes and then, if you’re young, you try and make up for every­thing you missed.

It’s tir­ing, but you don’t notice that for a while. Life is about pat­terns and rou­tine. Before too long, any way of life feels mun­dane. Danger, hedo­nism, what­ev­er; we humans can adapt to just about any­thing if you give us long enough.


I tell war sto­ries to nor­mal peo­ple some­times. Mostly when I’m drink­ing. Because I’m a good drinker, I tell fun sto­ries, ones where we laughed in the face of dan­ger and were immune to the aus­ter­i­ty of war. But I omit cer­tain details. A shoul­der fired rock­et dis­in­te­grat­ing a house isn’t a good top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion. Neither is the telling silence that exists after a well-aimed flur­ry of machine gun fire. Neither is the look in an ene­my soldier’s eyes when you press on their throat and they see in your face an ener­getic will­ing­ness to kill them if they don’t coöper­ate. Those sorts of details make peo­ple uncom­fort­able because there’s not much to say after they’re heard. Conversational segues from those sorts of details don’t exist.

There was this time over there: We had cleared a build­ing and a bad guy pre­tend­ed to sur­ren­der. He let us zip tie his hands and then, when I wasn’t look­ing, he jumped on my back and tried to rip out my jugu­lar with his teeth. I tossed him off me pret­ty eas­i­ly, but before I could give the order to restrain him again, one of my guys blew his brains out the side of his head, all over the wall. That upset me. For some rea­son, I hadn’t thought he deserved to die. But instead of say­ing so, I com­ment­ed that the brain mat­ter on the wall looked like it had been paint­ed by Jackson Pollack. This got a laugh.

I’m not per­fect. I let that sto­ry slip out at a bar once. I want­ed to under­stand why I’d felt the way I felt. The peo­ple around me seemed smart, and I thought they’d have insight. Not so. Nothing worse than polite smiles and abrupt exits.

In the after­math, I drank, as you might have imag­ined. After a while I went up to this girl who was wait­ing for a drink of her own, because she was beau­ti­ful. She ter­ri­fied me, but I had to talk to her, even though I was clue­less about what I’d say. Up close she was even bet­ter look­ing, and my bones began to ache. Now I had to have her, because this girl was Persephone in a miniskirt, and if I couldn’t have her, I was cer­tain spring would nev­er come to the City again. That’s what I’ll tell her, I decid­ed. She didn’t know who Persephone was, so I told her she was a god­dess, and she seemed to like that. I left out the fact that she was mar­ried to the king of the under­world. Then the bar­tender refilled my drink with­out my ask­ing, and Persephone smiled—I must be impor­tant. And I thought, Not real­ly, I just drink a lot, but if you make me feel that way, I promise to love you for a few minutes.


Sometimes I think about this dog from over there. It hung around this lit­tle traf­fic con­trol point where we spent a lot of time. We loved that dog. He was kind of dirty and he begged but we didn’t mind because he was so play­ful. He had a great atti­tude for a dog in the mid­dle of the desert. One of the guys even got some­one to send over some pup­py treats in a care pack­age. We called him Koa, because anoth­er of the guys had been sta­tioned in Hawaii and koa means war­rior in Hawaiian. We thought that was fun­ny because he was so goofy and sweet.

He liked to sleep in the shade of our trucks dur­ing the day. It was hot over there and shade was scarce. We didn’t think any­thing of it until one day we heard a ter­ri­ble squeal while we were back­ing out of our fight­ing posi­tions. Just one sharp yell and then noth­ing. Someone had for­got­ten to check that Koa had moved when the engine start­ed up. I guess he was just too tired that day. We found him alive, shak­ing in the dirt with his back legs broken.

One of the guys had to put Koa out of his mis­ery. I offered to do it, but they said that was an enlist­ed soldier’s job. One of the sergeants shot him. I’m grate­ful for that. In the end, I don’t think I would have been able to pull the trigger.


There’s a home­less guy who spends most of his days on a cor­ner near my apart­ment. The guy wears desert cam­ou­flage pants and a big jack­et no mat­ter what time of year. His eyes are the same blue col­or as mine. I know this because every time some­one walks too close to him, or there’s a loud noise near­by, his eyes bug out and he scans his sur­round­ings like a scared dog. I gave him mon­ey once because his sign said “home­less vet­er­an. any­thing helps.” But then he was still on that cor­ner a week lat­er and I thought he looked drunk. I haven’t giv­en him any­thing since.

I walk past him now and his eyes are closed. His face is red and he’s shak­ing from the effort of keep­ing them shut. His knees are tucked into his chest and his arms are wrapped around them. I assume he has just for­got­ten to put his cup out today because I don’t see one next to his sign. I duck into a bode­ga and they give me a cof­fee cup for a dol­lar. I put the cup care­ful­ly next to the home­less guy, but I don’t put any mon­ey in it.


I’m walk­ing home from a bar and my phone rings with a call from a num­ber I don’t rec­og­nize. It’s one of my old com­man­ders, some­one I loved but haven’t spo­ken to in a while. I’m excit­ed when I hear his voice, but quick­ly real­ize it has none of the jovial tone I’d expect in a friend­ly call.

He says my name like it takes all the breath out of him.

I ask him what’s wrong.

Sergeant Miller died, he says. Took a knife to the neck dur­ing a key leader engage­ment over there. He says the guy was dressed in the uni­form of one of our allies, that’s how he got so close. He just thought I should know, even if I’m not in anymore.

I thank him for telling me and hang up. On the remain­der of the walk home I think about how he must have died a while ago, because when some­one dies over there, they shut down com­mu­ni­ca­tion for a while. They do it to pro­tect oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty, and so they can noti­fy the fam­i­ly before news out­lets get a hold of the guy’s name. If I know, I bet CNN knows.

Later, I come across an inter­view with a refugee who became an activist. Her mes­sage is right­eous and she’s pas­sion­ate when she talks about it. The cer­tain­ty of her con­vic­tions inspires me and makes me jeal­ous at the same time. I watch the inter­view twice. The sec­ond time, the tears come with­out warn­ing. They give way to sobs. Eventually they stop, and I’m so drained that, for once, I sleep until the next morning.


So I can admit things feel dif­fer­ent now, it’s just not in the way peo­ple assume. I don’t wake up at night in a cold sweat, think­ing about all the ter­ri­ble things that hap­pened. I don’t pan­ic when I see a card­board box on the road in front of me or hear a loud bang out of nowhere. It’s only that I see the world in a dif­fer­ent light, and some­times the light is so dif­fer­ent that I won­der if the world could pos­si­bly be the same place.


R. B. Miner is a New York City native, West Point grad­u­ate, and occu­pa­tion­al dilet­tante. His sto­ries have appeared or are forth­com­ing in, among oth­ers, The Saturday Evening Post, Identity Theory, Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, Pigeon Review, Soliloquies Anthology. He lives in Kansas City with his wife, daugh­ter, and dog.