I’ve tried to write this a hundred times in the year since I folded up my uniforms for the last time and placed them neatly next to my pictures and awards in a beat-up footlocker out in the garage. Every attempt ended the same way, in disgust and a pile of balled-up papers. I would feverishly scribble until my hand felt as if it would fall off and then I would rip the sheet from my notebook and angrily toss the ball of lies and grandstanding to the floor. I would grumble off to a troubled and restless sleep, watching the parts I edited out, the truth, play out across the backs of my eyelids like a horrific movie stuck on repeat.
When a friend forwarded me a link stating that the Statesman was looking for Iraqi war vets to tell their stories, I decided to take Hemingway’s advice and just tell the truth. He always said that all you needed was one true word to start and then just continue from there. So I put down all the crutches I have used to prop myself up over the last year and decided to figure out what my word was. After several days of trying to ignore the one word that kept creeping into my head, hoping a better word would come along, I gave in and wrote it down. It stared back at me and I had to look away. It sat there quietly in big black bold-face letters, ringing in my head like a piano falling down a staircase, until I tossed it a desk drawer, disgusted with myself.
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Zackary Dryer was medically retired as an Army staff sergeant in 2012 because of injuries from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He lives in Austin with his wife, Sarah, and two young children. He is attending the University of Texas, hoping to earn an advanced degree in English, then teach with a focus on post-World War II American literature and write about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The difficulty that some veterans have in the transition to civilian life was the focus of an American-Statesman special report that found high numbers of suicide, drug overdose and vehicle deaths among Texans receiving VA benefits after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Find the report at Uncounted Casualties.
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