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an unlikely soldier

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an unlikely soldier

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I received an interesting email this morning from one of my roommates from college: someone we both knew in school died in Iraq three days ago.


Jake was barely even an acquaintance - I hadn't thought about him in years - and his death doesn't really affect my life in any way.  I would never have found out he had died if Marilyn had not told me.  However, he was a person, and he deserves at least a little bit of thought before I move on.

Jake, when I knew him, wore glasses, toe socks and a Jesus beard.   He kept his hair long and hung around with the guy on campus who liked to wear ankle length skirts (ah, Amos, and where are you now?).  He was a soft-spoken freak, and as far as I knew, completely laid back.  I didn't know him well enough to know much about his passions or gifts, but we had plenty of friends in common though music and theatre.  With a slight shift in the shape of the world, he and I could have been friends.

The reason my ex-roomie emailed me is because she found the news of Jake's death unsettling.  I don't believe she knew him any better than I, but her reaction still makes sense to me: while my world isn't particularly shaken, I do share the sentiment.

How the heck does someone like Jacob Palmatier end up dying in Iraq?  I don't like the idea that there's anyone dying in Iraq[0], but I've known a few soldiers who wanted to be military men.  I find that pretty alien, but I can accept that there are some people who end up in the war zone because they want to be there; although I don't want them to die while in that war zone, if that happens, it doesn't strike up a cognitive dissonance in me.

This does.  Even though we were not close at all, Jake struck me the same way a lot of people my age do: as being the kind of guy who would have to be drafted before he would serve - and who might just have taken to his heels and made a run for the northern border.  I can't imagine Jake in uniform (or with his hair cut short, which they must have made him do - oh, strange strange visuals!).  I can't imagine Jake in the desert.  I can't imagine Jake dead this way at all.  Even though according to the report it was a random explosion rather than some kind of attack, I just can't wrap my head around his even being there.  If he was going to die violently as a young man... no.  I can't even imagine that.  I just made up in my head a couple of other ways he could have found violent death, but I can't paste his calm expression into any of those fantastic scenarios.  Then again, I can't seem to paste it into an image of what actually happened, either.  These are the real circumstances of the end of his life, and I can't connect them with what I remember of him at all. According to the report from the AP wire that I linked to above, his family felt the same way about his decision to go into military service, so if I read him wrong because I did not have enough information, I certainly was in good company.

Clearly, he found it within himself  to exist outside the bounds of my imagination, and those of his loved ones.  In some circumstances, I would see that as a good thing.  I don't now, as he freed himself in the direction of his death; to see that as a positive, I would have to know that he died doing something that made him feel happy or content or in some way right, and I'm not prepared to assume that.  I don't know why he was there or how he felt about it.  I don't understand at all.

What I ended up telling my old roommate is this: I would never have guessed that Jake would go into the army, but it's been years since I saw him, we were only ever casual acquaintances, and if I've learned anything in my whole life about people, it's that even those you know best can surprise the ever-lovin' shit out of you.   That's all the answer I've got.


[0]  I don't really understand why the hell this war is still going on, or really why it happened at all beyond a basic level.  Yes, that's likely due to my ignorance; I'm ignorant about the war by design - the knowledge I couldn't escape makes me itch, because I can't do anything about it.  I'm not passionate enough about the issue to try what I see as tilting at windmills; instead, all it does is leave me feeling downtrodden by the world and its horrors.
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