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Written from Alex Shepherd's point of view, these diary entries serve to flesh out Alex's character prior to Homecoming. It highlights the more important aspects of his life, such as his poor relationship with his parents, his closeness to both Elle Holloway and his brother Joshua Shepherd, and his activities in a military unit prior to the events of Homecoming.
It’s hot here. Sweltering. I can barely breathe. But I guess that’s the point. War is hell, right?
Why am I writing this? Some of the guys said it would be good for me to communicate with the outside world. Keeps up your morale and improves mental health. Sir, yes, sir. Besides, what else am I gonna do with my free time? Write home?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where I am. And I can’t tell you what I’m doing here either. All I can tell you is my name. PFC Alex Shepherd. And all you need to know is I’m a million miles from home in the middle of the nowhere, with thousands of people trying to kill me every day.
So how did I get here? Well, I guess I should probably explain.
Went on patrol today. That’s pretty much what we do every day. I’d give you the details but a) I’d get court-martialed and b) it’s not that interesting. It’s mostly driving around, keeping your eyes open, looking for bad guys. Most of the time, nothing happens. If something does, I’ll let you know.
I said I’d tell you how I got here. I guess there are a lot of reasons. They’re pretty much the same as everybody else's. Small town, not many choices. Military dad, military son. I’ll get to him later. Don’t have energy right now.
But I guess the main reason I joined up was I wanted to make a difference, do some good. I know it sounds cheesy, but who knows? Maybe I’ll learn something about myself.
I’m not trying to be a bad ass or a hero or anything, I just want to do something that matters.
Today it was so hot I thought my skin was gonna melt right off my body. Our tents have A/C but the cool air never stays in. Still, when you go inside any of the mobile CPs, you stay there as long as you can whether you have any business there or not. It feels good.
I used to love the heat. In the summertime my brother and I would spend every second we could at the beach. Our town is on a lake and there were always tourists coming into town to go fishing or boating or whatever.
When I was in high school, I would sometimes work at the docks filling gas to make some money. The girls who came there on vacation... Don’t even get me started talking about girls while I’m stuck out here.
Damn, I just got really homesick for a second thinking about summertime. My last summer there, I hung out with my friend Elle pretty much everyday. I could probably write five pages just about her. Just about the coolest chick in the world. We were friends all through high school up until I left, but I haven’t really been in touch with her since. I haven’t really been in touch with anyone.
I guess that’s kind of the point. One of the reasons I left. Things weren’t always so great back there. They weren’t always like the summertime. In fact, most of the time, things sucked.
We took a patrol through a town about 50 miles from here today. It was like a ghost town. A storm blew through and you could barely see twenty feet in front of your face. Every once in a while some villagers would appear and we would train our weapons on them. They wouldn’t even react. They would just walk right by us as if we weren’t even there. It was spooky. I was glad as hell when we got out of there.
That was the first time I ever really felt afraid here. I felt like there was something waiting for me around every corner. I felt vulnerable. The only thing that kept me going was the mission. I’m just glad to be back in my tent now.
My dad would have called me weak. He spent fifteen years in the military. Yeah, nothing to live up to there, huh? He tried to groom me to be a soldier for a while, but he pretty much gave up on that after my brother was born. I think it surprised the hell out of him when I enlisted. He probably didn’t think I could do it.
Well, here I am.
There’s a local kid here who comes by everyday trying to sell stuff. When he first showed up, the MPs were nervous and searched him to make sure he wasn’t carrying bombs. But after two days he became everybody’s best friend. He’s got this huge smile and he just charms everybody. He reminds me of my brother Joshua. Everybody loves Joshua. Even when he does something wrong, he never gets in trouble. He just smiles that big smile and gets himself out of it.
I remember the day he was born how happy my parents were. It was almost like relief. Joshua’s ten years younger than me and I think they were trying to have another kid the entire time so I think they were just glad he was healthy. They pretty much spoiled him from that day on. I didn’t mind it at first, because he and I get along great. But they basically wrote me off after he showed up. Even now, I haven’t received a single letter from them since I left. I don’t bother with mail call.
Back in high school, I knew I had to get out of town. That’s something I could never really talk to Elle about. Both our families have been there for generations (get it, Shepherd's Glen? I know, don’t remind me how much it sucks to have the town named after some great-great grandfather of yours) so it’s not an easy thing to discuss. But Elle never really felt that pressure to live up to her family name. She was independent, she did her own thing. No one told her how to live. I loved that. When I left, everything was just so chaotic that I never even got the chance to say goodbye. But I’ve been gone so long now. I don’t even know if she’d remember me.
I saw a guy’s legs get blown off today. He was walking patrol alongside an APC when an anti-personnel mine went off on the side of the road. The top half of his body did a back flip and landed right in front of me. Without thinking, I wrapped a tourniquet around each bloody stump and began to give him CPR. I was at it for an hour before the medics showed up. Then I went around the corner and threw up for twenty minutes.
I grew up in a small town. I left because I wanted to make a difference and the people around me were too blind to see that I could. I don't care if I ever go back there, but I'd like the people I do care about to know that in a bad situation I did everything I could to make it better. I'd want them to be proud of me.
We're going on a mission tonight. No patrols, no guard duty, a real mission. Militias have taken control of a nearby town and we're going in to clear them out and liberate the civilians living there. We're trained, we're ready, and this is the reason we're here.
I know it's been a while since my last post. I've been asking them to let me get to a computer, but they kept saying I was too weak.
I guess it's kind of obvious I'm not in the field anymore. The last time I wrote, we were just about to deploy in a small town to dislodge the militias that had taken control. It sounded like a good idea.
The town was quiet when we entered it. That already made us suspicious. We were entering the town center when small arms fire erupted all around us. A rocket took out our lead vehicle, trapping us. It was an ambush.
We called in air support and returned fire. But we were outnumbered. Guys starting get hit all around me. Guys I knew, dying right in front of me. Sgt. Nash pulled us together and we took cover behind a concrete wall. The last thing I remember was the whistle of an incoming rocket and the weight of that concrete wall crashing down on me.
A chopper ride and a couple flights later, and I'm back in the States. I don't really remember any of it. Everything went black and I woke up in this military hospital, being wheeled in for surgery. I was in and out for the next few days, dreaming mostly. Even now, I'm not 100%. In fact, writing this has made me exhausted. I'll have to finish the rest later.
They gave me a hard time about using the computer again. I need my rest, they say. That's all I do. Rest. I need at least some connection to the outside world.
I found out today that Sgt. Nash is alive and here in the hospital. I'm gonna try to visit him when I get a chance. I'm still in a wheelchair, so it's hard to get around without someone's help. Makes me feel pathetic.
I don't know if anyone else made it. Maybe Nash will know.
Haven't heard anything from my parents. I don't even know if they know I'm here.
I found Sgt. Nash. He's in good shape and remembers a lot about what happened.
As it turns out, the militias were tipped off to our coming that day. The very same villagers we were sent there to protect were keeping tabs on us - our movements, our departure from base, everything. They gave all this information to the militias so they would be ready for us when we got there. They sold us out.
Air support arrived shortly after I got hit. They levelled any building the enemy might be hiding in. Choppers came in to make sure everyone got out - wounded, dead or alive. We lost over half our squad.
This whole ordeal taught me an important lesson. Instead of paying attention to the task at hand, I got sidetracked, thinking I had to do some sort of “greater good” in order to prove myself or some shit like that. I got caught up in trying to save the world instead of focusing on what was important and sticking to the mission. That kind of thinking costs men their lives. It won't happen again.
The food here is terrible. My bed is stiff. There's only one thing that makes it bearable: The nurses.
These girls are incredible. They have these pristine white uniforms cut right above the knee, their breasts spilling out from their shirts. Look, I don't want to sound like a dirtbag or anything, I'm just saying I appreciate the military providing us with this one thing to brighten our days. Maybe it's sort of like payback for getting us stuck in this place to begin with. I don't know. All I can say is, “thank you.”
Started my physical therapy today. I'm making it a goal to be walking in a month. They say that's pushing it, but I don't care. I can't stay in this place forever, although I'm not really sure where I'm going next.
The physical therapy was grueling. Holding myself by my arms and trying to teach my legs how to walk again. They felt like two big sacks of potatoes. But I kept trying. No matter what, I'm gonna keep trying.
I talked to Sgt. Nash again today. He's doing much better and will probably be heading home soon. He's a good man.
My days now are filled with exercise, mental and physical exercises to make me stronger. Vitamin shots in the morning, breakfast, physical therapy, lunch, more physical therapy, dinner, psych evaluations, vaccinations, weigh-ins, muscle measurements, bone density tests and on and on and on. I'm starting to feel like a science experiment. But I am getting stronger. I can hold myself up on my own two feet. At night, I do push-ups on the floor and then climb back into bed. I refuse to waste away in this place.
Sgt. Nash left today. I went down to his room on my crutches to say goodbye. He's heading home for a couple weeks and then they're shipping him back over. He was hoping he could spend more time with his wife and daughter, but they say they need him. It really kind of freaked me out. Is that what they're gonna do when I'm better? Ship me back? I don't think I can go back there. I don't think I can watch people I know dying in front of me again.
Nash said something weird before he left. I don't know if he felt betrayed for being sent back into the field so quickly or whether it was a reference to the ambush that put us here in the first place, but he looked at me and he said "Don't trust anyone."
I walked down the hall and back today. All by myself. No crutches, no handrails, nothing. I wish Nash could have seen it. I felt a real sense of accomplishment. But also a sense of dread. What's next? I'll be better soon, and then what will they do with me?
Okay, this is gonna be tough. I may ramble a bit. I'm still a bit confused. I'm trying to remember it as best I can but it comes and goes. That's why I need to write it down.
I had a nightmare last night. I was here, in the hospital. But it wasn't really the hospital, you know what I mean? It was transformed, like a twisted version of it - everything was the same but kind of upside down. I kept hearing weird noises and sounds like people were being killed. And it was dark. I could barely see anything.
And then I saw my brother, Joshua. He was here in the hospital, but every time I got near him he would run away. He talked to me like he didn't know who I was.
When I woke up, I was screaming. I wasn't sure if I was awake or not, because I was still in the hospital and it was dark. But then the nurses ran in. I couldn't calm down, so eventually they stuck me with a needle and sedated me. That's why all of this is kind of a blur. I'm still a little loopy from the drugs. I think I've calmed down but I can't get those images of Joshua out of my head. Why wouldn't he listen to me? Why was he here in the hospital?
I'm feeling a little better today. I've been having trouble sleeping but I'm trying not to let it get in the way of my exercises. My legs are stronger. I'm starting to walk stairs now.
When I was back in high school, I remember my friend Elle used to run track. After school you could always see the team circling the gym, running up the stairs to the weight deck then back down the other side. I remember thinking how exhausting it must be to run all those stairs. Now I feel that way after climbing just one flight.
But getting stronger is the one thing I have to focus on right now. I don't really want to think about anything else.
I had the dream again. It went on even longer this time. No matter how close I got to Joshua, he always got away. He kept asking me for things, but whatever I got him didn't seem to help. He didn't look good. Something was wrong. I know it was just a dream, but I've had this bad feeling all day long that something's wrong with him.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but I just can't shake it. Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow. The doctors are gonna give me something to help me sleep tonight. I'm not so sure I want to.
I asked the staff at the hospital to try to get in touch with my parents. I haven't heard from them since I got here. I just want them to leave a message or something, let me know Joshua's okay. I'm sure he is. I just want to know for sure. I can't get better if I'm worried about some stupid dream.
I'm having the dream every night now. I stopped telling the doctors about it. I lie now because every time I tell them, they stick me with another needle to make me sleep. I'm sick of it. And the psychiatrist is at it everyday too, wanting to know all the details, wanting to know if I'm stressed out about anything. Yeah, asshole, I'm stressed out about this stupid dream! I'm worried about my brother and my parents won't call me back! So, yeah, I'm stressed out.
The drugs keep me drowsy. They make my muscles weak. Which is why I don't tell them about the dreams now. I need to get out of this place. And the only way I'm gonna do that is if I've got my wits about me.
I've been doing reconnaissance. During my morning walks around the halls, I've mentally catalogued all the exits and all the places where the MPs are stationed. It gives my days purpose. It's like another mission.
The dreams haven't stopped, although I haven't told anyone (aside from whoever's reading this). I feel better now that they've stopped giving me the drugs. I'm more focused.
I dread the thought of going back home to Shepherd's Glen, but it's a necessary evil. I can't stay here feeling like this. I just need to check in on Joshua and make sure he's all right.
They found out about the dreams. I must have been talking in my sleep. I woke up shouting Joshua's name again the other night and they sedated me right away. I told them that I just needed to get out of here long enough to check on my brother. They said that I'm suffering some sort of post-traumatic shock. They don't know what the hell they're talking about. Or maybe they do. Is that all this is? If so, how do I make it stop?
I can't think straight with the drugs they put me on. Whatever they are, they're not helping. They make me sleep, but they don't take away the dreams. More importantly, they don't take away this awful feeling. I just need to go!
I'm making a plan to get out of here. It's not like it's high security. It's not a prison or anything. But it is a military hospital. They've got MPs by all the exits and you can't leave without the right papers, so I'll have to break out. Will they come after me? I doubt it. They'll probably figure I'll come back eventually. And who knows, maybe I will. Then again, I don't know if military life suits me anymore. I don't really know much about what my future holds. Only that, I won't be in here much longer.
The plan is set. On my morning walks, I discovered an exit to a loading dock at the back of the building. I was out there looking it over for a good five minutes before an MP found me. I acted dumb, like I was drugged up (an easy thing to fake at this point). I pretended I was lost. "Well, you can't be back here, soldier," he said. "You gotta get back inside where they can make you all better." Condescending ass. Boy will he be pissed when he finds out I got out that way.
I went online and got a map of the area around the hospital and found that the main road in front of the place leads right out to the highway. I figure I can get out through the loading dock exit, get up the road to the highway and then hitch a ride from there. If I leave before midnight I should be in Shepherd's Glen by morning.
Hopefully none of the staff here are reading this. If they are, I'm screwed.
My last entry. I'm fully recuperated, I'm strong and they've laid off the drugs the last couple of days, so I'm lucid. I figure this is as good a time as any to make my exit. I just need to find out for myself that Joshua's okay. I'm his older brother, that's my job. And I'm never gonna find out in this place. They're never gonna let me leave if the nightmares don't stop, and the nightmares won't stop until I've checked on Joshua. So I'm stuck. I only hope it goes okay.
With any luck I'll be blogging again soon with good news, a clear head and some idea of what the future holds.
PFC Alex Shepherd, signing off.