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First Weekend Home

A Return Home from a Gray War

Michael May

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(Michael May)
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Andrea Gillingham: You walk into a place where you have a bunch of people you don't know, and maybe you're having a crappy time. And someone comes up and is trying to talk to you and be all next to you. And you're like, "OK, just get away from me."

They don't think they're doing anything wrong, but they don't know you, and you're not used to people who don't know you. It's hard to get along with civilians. It's kind of sad to say, but I'm just not used to them yet. I'm not used to how they act and how they are, the undisciplinedness. But I'll fit back in eventually.

I'm easing back into it a lot better than I thought I would. I don't like crowds so much anymore. I used to be a partier, in the middle of everything. Now if it's too crowded or too loud, I have to sit down get away from it.

Michael May: Give me an idea of what your typical day was in Iraq.

Wake up about 4 a.m. We had to be at work at 4:45, because it was too hot in the middle of the day. By 4:45, it was already 90-some degrees, but the sun wasn't out. And then dug trenches, laid conduit and ran fiber through them. We did about 46 miles of fiber. It was a lot of digging.

Why did you join the Army?

I've always been patriotic. Very gung-ho. I love guns. I've always been a tomboy. A big, big tomboy. I think my dad wanted a boy. So when I got the chance to get in the dirt and the mud and shoot guns, and you see all the cool commercials and stuff like that, I was like, "Hell yeah! I'll do it."

So, has it lived up to your expectations?

Oh, I needed it. But there are times when you wake up and you're like, "Oh what did I do? What am I doing? I can't believe this."

I was very gung-ho when we were headed over there. I was like, "Let's go. This is what I joined for. I want to see some action."

At the end, I was like, "Get me out of here. I'm sick of everybody. I'm sick of looking at these people and talking."

I love them; I'd die for most of them, like my roommate. It would sound like we were married. She was funny about smells. I might microwave something that smelled funny. She started spraying Lysol. I'm like, "Why are spraying Lysol on me? I'm trying to eat."

And she'd say, "Why are you heating up food while I'm trying to sleep?" Later we'd say sorry.

I think it might sound weird that you are making it sound really boring to be in war.

That's the other, unglamorous side of it. The stuff you don't see on the news. Boredom kills you. I volunteered for convoys, but I never got picked for stuff. The boredom kills you. Boredom drives you nuts.

There's no color, there's no life. There's no nothing out there. It's just bleak desert, but it's not like a pretty Arizona desert, you know, where you have cactuses and cool little birds and flowers. Every once in a while, we'd find a scorpion and a spider and make them fight. That was like the big thing.

Amidst all the boredom when you were over there, when did you feel like you were actually in a war?

I woke up to a 26-round mortar attack. There's nothing you can do. You go into a cement barrier and hope to God you don't get hit. I still have dreams about the mortars. If I hear a boom while I'm sleeping, I go into a dream about mortars.

What are the things you did get joy out of?

We started playing board games. Cranium. We would get really serious, start yelling, with all this energy, ready to go. We'd start screaming, "Push the button, roll the dice. I got a kadoodle! Don't pick a word worm, we're terrible at word worms."

Now that you're back, what does it feel like?

Everything looks bright. There's so much color here. Everything there is dark, gray, black or brown. There's nothing. Here everything has colors. I said, "Wow. Has it always been this green?" My sister's like "Yeah, you just never noticed it."

The little things. There are so many tiny things that you notice. Grass. Wow. Roads and Sidewalks. Just lying around. You appreciate everything so much more. I drank a gallon of orange juice, because we didn't have orange juice over there. America's great!

More stories from our First Weekend Home series


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