I wake up, and my chest still hurts. In point of fact, I can barely breathe. It doesn't really compare to the pain I was in yesterday, though… I mean before they stuck that needle in my back and sucked out two liters of fluid. I think the lesson to be learned here is that pneumonia is no fun at all. Add to that that I've had it for nearly two solid months and you'll have a complete picture. Actually… add to that that I was first diagnosed during my second week in Air Force Basic training and then you'll have a complete picture.
I wake up and I'm in Biloxi Mississippi. My technical training was delayed almost of month because of illness, and I wake up in this cold hospital room and turn on the TV.
The previous occupant of my current room was a bit of a news addict, so I'm not surprised when the CNN logo appears prominently on the screen. What does surprise me is the caption at the bottom of the screen, while the ugliest man I can ever remember seeing is being interviewed about what he thinks the impact of this incident will have on his town.
The man has a mullet and a splattering of facial hair. He's missing some of his more important teeth, and he's wearing a green baseball hat which proudly proclaims his love for John Deer. The caption reads: Fort Ashby, WV. And it's not his town; it's mine.
Fort Ashby is the only fort still standing of the forty that General George Washington was commissioned to build during the French and Indian War. Today it is a town of a little over a thousand people and one stoplight. In point of fact, I remember when we had a four-way caution light. I remember how big a deal it was for us to get a traffic light. I remember when they paved the road in front of my house. What I can't remember, is anything significant ever happening in my town… until now, that is.
The next image on the screen in front of me is of Lynndie England holding an Iraqi detainee on a leash. What's interesting is that while a lot of people seeing that image for the first time were shocked or horrified, I can only remember thinking: I know her. I think that there is a part of us that reaches out to celebrity, for better or worse. We all in some way long to be connected to something bigger than ourselves, and the TV is the perfect outlet.
I've known Lynndie since grade school, but I never knew her. I remember the first time I ever noticed her. I think it was in second or third grade. I remember asking a friend of mine if that kid "over there" was a boy or a girl. I only remember it because I had to ask the same question again a few years later.
There are certain memories in your life that make you feel guilty. How could I have been in class with this girl for that many years and not know something like that? And the sad thing is that I'm not the only one. Of this I'm certain, because I had to answer the same question for one of my class mates later on.
For me, Lynndie was just one of those people in our class photo who's name I had a hard time remembering. And it's always been that way; there are people in your life that exist only on the fringes of your attention. You don't even care what happens to them. Lynndie was invisible to me.
I have to go to the senior prom before I can find another memory of her. By that time she'd already been to basic training, things were going on in her life. Her life was being shaped and none of us bothered to notice. It's not even a real memory… I had to get the year book to find out what she was even wearing, this very sensible dark blue gown… she looked pretty. I don't know the guy she's with, maybe it's her husband. I didn't even know she was married until CNN told me.
When I see all this on the news, I can't be angry with her. I'm not shocked that someone from my town would do things like this. I don't care about cover-ups and unlawful orders. All I feel is my own guilt. How can you ignore someone for twenty years?
Maybe she didn't need me. Maybe she was fine without a huge circle of friends. Maybe nothing could have changed what happened. But maybe she never felt like she was worth enough to be friends with the rest of us. Maybe we cut her off and she never had a choice. Maybe the only place she found any acceptance was in the army. Maybe that's where all this came from.
I should have done something back when I noticed you in grade school. It might not have made any difference, but I should have reached out anyway. It's too late now, and I'm sorry Lynndie.