6. Battle for peace and quiet

Outside my tent
Outside my tent, Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan

Convoys rumble by in an endless thunder. Helicopters rip the space-time fibers of the sky bellowing the pre-attack drone of a moonsized wasp nest. I’m getting a blink and a half of sleep. A fireteam [unit of 3-4] of ASVAB-waivers [not smart servicemembers] are howling encouragement to a background of heavy-equipment operators I’ve distinctly identified are trying to hurl steel as hard as they can against uneven piles of steel.

Chris Gasperik, my good buddy back home, once described painstaking efforts to sleep in Iraq while his roommates were “building a railroad.” I expect nothing less than a skyscraper or a heaping pile of mangled metal in the compound next to our tent when I finally get up for work.

I bet convoys of 7 tons and bulldozers are lined up and refueling about a quarter-mile away, waiting for when I come back to bed again so they can start their daily races. I’m pretty sure I heard an actual train screeching and grinding by off-tracks yesterday. I wish they built a railroad here. This is annoying.

The arithmetic of trying to fall asleep: Most of the people with me on the night shift work schedules off-set by two hours, meaning I’ve either got to get in bed and hope for deep sleep during the two hours before they finish work, or expect to be up for another hour after while they get ready for bed. I got caught putsing around somewhere between consciousness and sleep when they returned, and now I’m wide awake while they settle in for a proper bedtime.

Except for the dude across from me. He’s reading a magazine with a flashlight over his shoulder facing right at me, flirting with my patience. Between body shifts and page turns, I get morse code signals at eye-level.

When I eventually fall asleep, I will still have one more beast to tackle. The midnight pee comes hard and fast. My pre-conscious monitor exacts the cost-benefit of waiting just one more minute of sleep before doing the midnight relief. Get up, balance over the edge of the bunk and ease my way down, find flip-flops and the tent exit without running into any bunks, power-walk for-the-win to the bathroom before the cold air soaks in, do my bidnass, a quick fake-out at the sinks and not wash my hands, power back to the tent, climb into bed, and get back at sleep. My bladder has learned, surprisingly, how to stop whining and let me get my sleep. Now it serves as my alarm clock.

You have to earn your sleep. Or outsmart consciousness.

===

These headphones don’t let me roll to my side, so in the darkness I lay on my back, resting my hands on my stomach and breathe slowly. The softer rhythms of Keane, Pearl Jam, Mason Jennings, Coldplay, and the stifling warmth of my sleepingbag thrown over my head create a thin, hot, but effective sanctuary. I’ll wake up the the tingling of my elevated arms going numb, meaning I’m ripe to roll over and finally sleep.

You know all that bla bla bla about the good is only really good with some bad? Well, they’re talking about deployments in Afghanistan. They’re talking about Mark this-guy Koranda finding simple pleasures amidst a lot of annoying crap. That’s exactly what they’re talking about, because more than usual I love my music, and I love writing, and I’d slay every goat and lamb here in sacrifice to play a piano right now.

There are no livestock on base. It’s for the better because Afghanistan doesn’t know what a piano is.

There’s a tranquility. It’s not Afghanistan of course, it’s the distance from home. It’s the psychological acceptance that you no longer have access to most of the things in your life. My day is 90% sleep, eat and work. If I get deprived of sleep or eat (or work), it’s easy to get over, because tomorrow is clearer on the horizon than it was when my day was muddled with the hundreds of daily concerns stateside. It’s a logical misconception that we’d be consumed with boredom out here, and time would take forever to pass. But as soon as I accepted the simplicity of my days time flew by.

Without a doubt, the highlight is the moment I step out of work at 7:15 am. I’m eager to write or listen to music, or update my farm. This relaxation time is an average of 100 minutes a day. But if I don’t get to do any of that because I’m doing laundry, showering, or just too tired to stay up, I’m not frustrated. The days burn by too quickly. Even if there’s a tractor whose sole job is to parade outside my tent and distort my sleep. It only adds creativity to my dreams.

And someday when you’re older, I’ll tell you just how crazy these dreams are in Afghanistan.

Continue reading: 7. A Christmas special

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