When I got to the hospital, the nurses told me he was still recovering from surgery for some internal injuries and this and that, but I could go see him for a bit. So I went up to his room and realized that I didn't really know what he looked like, other than blood and bruises, but I could still tell it was him by the way the bandages were wrapped around his head. "Hey Chief," I said, "howya doin'?" This time I knew he was conscious but he didn't say anything. He just gave me this look like he was saying, "Who are you?" and "How do I get rid of you?" at the same time. So I replied, "I know your name is Mitchell, but I figured the only way you'd remember me is if I called you 'Chief,' like I did before." That got his attention and he threw me this sudden, glowering stare for what seemed like a real long time, like he was trying to make up his mind about something. I thought I had ****** him off with that "Chief" crack, but then he said real soft, "My name's not Mitchell."
That suprised me a bit, so all I could say was, "But that's who's room this is, according to the nurses."
"Maybe so. But that's not my real name . . . It's just a name I made up."
"What, you on the run or something?"
"Something like that."
"And you ain't a Marine?"
"How'd you . . . ?" Another stare, and then, "Nope. Not now. I was though."
"I don't get it."
"Mitchell was a name I made up when I joined the Corps . . . "
"So, why did you make up a name? . . . You got a record?"
"Nothin' like that . . . My real name is Irniq . . . It's an old Inuit name. When I joined up, I thought I was puttin' those days behind me."
"Inuit . . . What's that, a kind of Indian?"
"It means, 'People' . . . but you prob'ly think of us as 'Eskimos.' We don't like that name, so we don't use it."
He stopped looking in my direction and kinda tilted his head back and rolled his eyes back before closing them. Then he took a few real deep breaths, and said, "I grew up in a village that was mostly hunters and fishermen. It was fun, when I was little, kind of like goin' on an adventure all the time. But as I got older, I realized how dirt poor we were and how we seemed to catch less game every season. And then I learned that our tribe owned land that the oil companies wanted to drill, and that the oil money could end our need to hunt, and get us modern, comfortable lives, but the tribe kept clingin' to their old ways. My father said it was oil that wiped out the herring habitats, and caused the seal population to crash, and was keepin' the ice away. I didn't care and thought he was a fool fightin' a losin' battle. I thought I saw the future and that he was goin' down with the past. We had terrible fights and I believed that the man who had once been this mighty hero of mine had turned into a pathetic has-been, and I didn't want to get dragged down with him. I thought that by leavin', I could somehow be part of the future. I didn't have too many places to go, so I joined the Marines."
"Then what are you doing here?"
He dropped his head forward, opened his eyes, locked them right on to mine, and said, "I left the Corps a couple of months ago. When I joined up, my father told me he no longer had a son. I guess I didn't really hear those words until I went back home and he shut the door in my face. My mother came out and tried to welcome me home, and get me to stay, but I knew that my father had been right all along, and that it was me who was pathetic. So I got on a bus and went as far as I could until my money ran out, and here I am."
"What do you mean, about your father being right?"
He closed his eyes again, brought both hands up to the sides of his face, and said, "When I was in the Corps, I got sent to Iraq. I was pretty gung ** at first, and thought I was fightin' for freedom and the way of life that I wanted, but then it just seemed to get pointless. Day after day of cat-and-mouse with an enemy hidin' in plain sight and no real purpose other than bein' there and gettin' into firefights. Then one day I was on this mission clearin' some homes of insurgents. I was leadin' a squad goin' door-to-door and not havin' much trouble 'til we went to this one house and there's this woman screamin' and tryin' to get past us. A couple of my guys had to hold her down while the rest of my squad got her family to kneel down beside her. The woman kept on screamin' and we didn't have an interpreter, so I went up to her and tried to calm her down. I told her in as soothin' a voice I could that we weren't goin' to hurt anyone, we were just lookin' for bad guys, when I saw this blur out of the corner of my eye. The woman started screamin' louder, and I turned and yelled, 'Stop!!! Stop!!!' a couple of times, but it kept movin' fast and I just reacted . . . I didn't have any time to think . . . it just kept movin' . . . and I was yellin', 'Stop!!! Stop!!!' . . . but it wouldn't stop . . . it wouldn't stop . . . it just kept movin' . . . . . . and I reacted . . . I just reacted . . . . . . and then there was my muzzle flash and this red mist . . . . . . this red mist that just erupted . . . and kind of hung there . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and then the woman wasn't screamin' . . . and I wasn't yellin' . . . . . . . . . and there was just this little boy . . . . . . . . this little boy, lyin' on the ground . . . . . . with this mush where his face used to be . . . . . . . . . . . and it was quiet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . so quiet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . until I heard this sound like nothin' I ever heard before . . . this kind of moan . . . this deep, hollow, primeval moan that kind of rumbled at first . . . . . . . . and then it grew louder . . . and louder . . . and the pitch got higher and higher . . . . . . until it turned into this ferocious gut-wrenchin' shriek that filled my head and reached way down and ripped my insides out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and every day I try to put that boy back together in my mind . . . . . . I try to see his face . . . but I can't . . . . . . . . . . . . I can't see his face . . . . . . and I can't get that sound out of my head . . . . . . . . . . . . every single day . . . . . . . . . . . . and all I can see is my muzzle flash . . . and that mist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . that godawful red mist."