My name is Jacqueline. You can call me Jackie. Until recently you could call me Sergeant. I am now retired from the service. I will be twenty-seven years old on Sunday, at fourteen hundred hours. I was a hematology nurse. I am in good health, considering. I have a dog named Gus. I live near the beach. I drink tea. I learned to love tea in Kirkuk. Some days we had tea ten times a day. We found a samovar and learned how to use it. There was a man among us who could play that thing like a guitar. It got so we couldn’t drink anything other than the tea he summoned from that samovar. He vanished one day when his truck was hit by the bandits. Another man took his place. He vanished too. I took his place. After a while I forgot everyone’s names. For a while I called people by their numbers but after a while I didn’t call them anything. That’s when I knew I had war sickness, big time. I never got hit by fire but pretty much everyone I knew did. For a while there I thought it was me, that as soon as I said hello to someone or shook hands or learned their names they were doomed, so I stopped touching people and learning names. You would think wigging out in the middle of a war would be bad but it’s just normal. No one talks about what happens to the people nothing happens to, but something happens to them, and no one talks about it. Probably because we don’t have any words for what happens. Wars kill words, but no one talks about that. Wars kill everything except more wars. Some of what wars kill off you see getting killed off. But some of it you don’t, like the birds. The birds don’t nest in wars, you know, so pretty soon there are no birds. What kind of world is that, with no birds in it? You notice things getting killed off little by little and then after a while you stop noticing things altogether. You don’t even notice yourself. You just get by. By the end all I cared about was my shoes. You want really good shoes in a war. I had the best boots you could ever imagine and I kept them clean and oiled and ready for anything. When I got out of the war I kept wearing those boots for a long time. I wore them with pajamas and with a bathrobe and with shorts in summer. It’s only the last few weeks I go anywhere without those boots. When I am in those boots nothing can happen to me. Trust me on this one. I keep them on a special shelf at home, just in case. You want to know something real and true and deep about wars? Boots. Boots are the secret.

Related: Don't Look Away, by Barbara Mujica

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland.
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Published in the 2011-03-25 issue: View Contents
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