Jake is 25 years old now. When he was 18 he was my senior prom date, and for years before that he was my friend. I don’t know how many years we were friends, but I know that it took 5 years for Jake to change from the boy I knew and loved to this stranger sitting across from me now.
Jake is in the army. He was sent home on leave after he lost his mind and tried to kill another soldier in the motor pool. When I ask him why he just shrugs and says
“The guy was pissing me off”
Jake spits a lot now. When I was 16, Jake and I skipped our 4th period class and he taught me how to spit while we dangled our legs off the side of the football stadium. He doesn’t spit like that anymore, now he says he’s asserting his dominance. I think it’s a joke but Jake doesn’t laugh anymore, so I’m not sure.
He’s built like a wall, and his jaw muscles ripple because he keeps them clenched so much. He has a black tattoo, poorly drawn and sinister, cutting into his right bicep and cursive poetry on his left. Jake used to have blue eyes but they are so cold that they look black now, and his beautiful blonde hair is falling out. Jake hates that he is losing his hair, blames it on the Kevlar and hats he’s always wearing, but we all quietly know it’s not that. He was sent to what he calls “the head doctor” and diagnosed as being hyper cognizant, anxious, and aggressive, all in that order. He was asked to go see a therapist but refused because he wants to be a pilot someday, and “they don’t let you fly fucking planes if you’ve been to a fucking head doctor”. Jake gets angry when he says this, narrows his eyes and says. “Can’t be a fucking pilot anyhow, cause I’m god damn color blind”
Jake doesn’t know how to have a conversation anymore. He can’t seem to stop talking about things that have happened, gets angry when he realizes he has given away too much, and then angrier when he understands that he’s making people uncomfortable.
When we went to the prom together, Jake drove his moms fancy new car and made sure his tuxedo matched my dress. My high school boyfriend broke up with me three months prior, and I didn’t want to go to the dance. Jake got me the biggest corsage he could find, and when the last slow song came on he grabbed my hand and dragged me to the front of the whole school and waltzed with me just like we had at my 15th birthday party. Afterwards, we drove the car back to his parent’s farm, grabbed his dad’s truck, and in all our fancy gear went driving through the mud, Jake telling me jokes till I almost peed in my prom dress. Jake never turned away when I was sad, I couldn’t have loved him more.
Jake was stationed in Iraq for a year. He was 20 when he joined the army, a family tradition. I didn’t want him to go and, being 20 and in college, thought I knew everything. I didn’t say goodbye when he left and lost touch with him. My life continued and so did his. While stationed in the Middle East, Jake patrolled with his unit looking for explosives, and manned the machine gun that was mounted to the top of the patrol vehicle. He killed human beings before he was legally allowed to drown the pain in the U.S. His anxiety got so bad when he was stationed there that Jake developed full-blown alcoholism. He doesn’t drink in a bar and then go to meetings. Jake drinks while holding an M16. He has to drink if he goes out with people now because otherwise when he is in large crowds his eyes wont stop scanning and sometimes the sensation of being about to be killed makes him black out.
“I guess something in me broke” he says “Cause I just lose my fucking mind now. Every week like fucking clockwork I lose my fucking mind”
The other boys in Jake’s unit don’t blink an eye, they know him as Private Lewis and when Jake has his mental breakdowns they leave him alone in a room to scream and claw at himself till he gets too tired and falls asleep. If it takes too long they’ll wrestle him down and drink whisky with him till he passes out. Jake has also developed an alter ego, a personality that takes over when the pressure, anxiety, and horror of his daily life become too much and he can no longer just be. Jake doesn’t remember becoming this other person, but knows it happens more and more often. He won’t take medication because “there ain’t no shit beer can’t cure”.
Jake plans to leave the army in three years, and go to college. If he could, he would become a pilot, although on his scholarly days he dreams of a PhD. I smile when he says this, seeing a glimpse of the brilliant, sweet, blonde boy that was my friend, my protector, and my ally. Then, those dark eyes narrow as he swigs the last of his drink
“Some days though, I think I could just fucking kill people for the rest of my life”.