Checklists. If there is one thing that a veteran can tell you about, it's a goddamn checklist.
There are checklists for everything, all the time. I am positive that somewhere there exists a checklist for crossing the street. I guarantee there is a military organization somewhere that has published one.
On one hand, they are often frustratingly procedural and inane in their level of detail and instruction. On the other hand, a completed checklist is insurance against having forgotten something.
I had five or ten very incestuous checklists in a blue folder. Many of them were interdependent and inter-related, so that when stopping at a certain office or desk I was forced to sift through them all to make sure there was nothing else to be done at that station.
I was dealing with these checklists because I was getting ready to go away again.
She was out of town for the week, so I spent the week following the endless corridors laid down by checklist after checklist. My life was a checklist. I woke each morning to a checklist.
ALARM OFF: CHECK
SHOWER ON: CHECK
- WHILE WATER IS WARMING:
- TURN ON KETTLE: CHECK
- GRIND COFFEE: CHECK
- RINSE PRESS: CHECK
ENTER SHOWER & WASH: CHECK
PREPARE COFFEE ACCORDING TO COFFEE CHECKLIST: CHECK
DRESS AND CONSUME COFFEE: CHECK
BEGIN NEXT CHECKLIST: CHECK
It wasn't something I was prepared to tell her by telephone, but when she walked in the front door and saw the big pile of green canvas bags in the middle of the livingroom, I didn't need to say a word.
She found me in the hallway, laid her hand on my back as I rooted through a pile of gear in the closet, and said, "Hey, don't worry about it. I'll be by when you're done to pack my things."
COHABITATION MAY NOT CONTINUE WITHOUT PERSONAL EFFECTS
I was thus given to understand that this meant she was finally leaving me.
The simplicity of her statement and the calm with which it was made were not unexpected. She was always good at holding everything together until letting go at the worst possible moment, aiming for an instant emotional fatality instead of a long brawl ending in submission.
I really couldn't feel betrayed by her choice. I tried briefly, and failed. I'd only been home for two weeks this time. Two fucking weeks. I'd been gone for six months and now I had another week before I'd be gone again for eight. In three years I'd spent 8 months total at home.
IF RELATIONSHIP WORN, LOOSE, OR MISSING, CONTINUE CHECKLIST
And this time it's different. Scary like my first deployment was, heading into the unknown; Because this time was different; this time was fresh and exciting. A new group and a new mission. I would not be tearing ass overtop the country, safe in an airplane that costs too much to risk blowing up, too much to get within reach of the ten thousand little bastards who would love to soil it with their hateful little hands, too much to trust its protection with anything other than altitude and carefully planned orbits.
You see, altitude is everything, because altitude is time. Time between the launch and impact of AAA or MANPADs. Time to react to threats. Time on the glide slope between us and the ground. Time to get the fuck out of there if this immensely complicated airplane decides to break hard, time to get out of the way of fast-movers or the arc of artillery headed towards people who need to die.
This time I am going in at 0 AGL. There is no time at zero altitude. By the time you've intersected terrain, it's too late.
She comments that there seem to be more bags than usual. I flailed at two of the cumbersome, hard-to-carry, but omnipresent and always suitable A3 bags in particular, the nylon fabric still unscuffed. One was full of Kevlar and ceramic and nylon web gear, in particolored desert, ACU, MultiCam, and woodland flavors. Nothing matched, and that was fine by me. The vest had good Velcro and the plates were factory new. It would all be the color of dirt soon enough anyway. The other bag was full of the hilariously bulky cold-weather gear that has been standard issue for the last thousand years, and is completely useless when trying to wear it and do anything but look stupid. Anybody who could afford to bought commercial gear and tried to write it off on their taxes later.
She picked through an open duffel bag, asking about the "weird shit", two piece flight suits that were the only fire resistant gear we had back then, noticeably newer and different than my usual scuffed rags. Her reaction when I told her said that she was adding to the emotional stockpile.
She asked if I'd been selected for non-voluntary deployment, and why I was going with fireproof clothes.
EXCESS EMOTIONAL PRESSURE MAY CAUSE UNSAFE DETONATION!
AVOID UNNECESSARY DETAILS AND PROVIDE COMFORTING LIE IF
DEVIATION FROM CHECKLIST AUTHORIZED AT OPERATOR DISCRETION.
When I told her I'd volunteered for it, she started crying, and didn't stop.
When I realized that the sobbing sounds coming from the living room were, in fact, sobbing, I ceased my rooting and tried to console her. I knew she wasn't going to have any of it, but I had to make the effort.
Effort made: CHECK
NOTE: If effort is too little, too late, discontinue checklist
and proceed with next checklist
I let her sob on the giant pile of taxpayer dollars, moving her to the couch when I needed to get into some of the bags she was using as a body pillow. A few hours later she asked if I had any extra bags that she could use for her clothes. The last thing I ever said to her was,
"There are some A3 bags in the closet."
And the last thing she ever said to me was,
"Oh, well don't worry about it then. Those things suck for carrying anything heavy."
I laughed because she was right, and I was about to heave five of the motherfuckers onto a cargo plane. The laughing set off another fit of sobbing, but I had already reached the end of the checklist.
Ensure all necessary equipment is packed: CHECK
Vacate apartment: CHECK
Surrender feelings: CHECK