I guess I slept on my shoulder wrong last night. It's been bothering me all day. Well, at least most of the day.
But then again, I could be wrong.
I was in the first relief unit into Baghdad. The first troops hit, boots on the ground, on March 20, 2003. My squad had already been mobilized at that point, all our equipment was set up, and we got on the plane on July 3, en route to Baghdad. Between holidays, brainless bureaucracy, and flying into war zones, we eventually ended up in Iraq on the night of 8 July.
We were Security Forces, the infantry of the Air Force. Our purpose was to guard the military side of the flightline of Baghdad International Airport; we were armed troops, but we were also surrounded by a large, comforting womb of Army forces. We never took any direct fire - the only bullet that came through our camp (that we knew about) was when somebody, after responding to a report of gunfire, didn't clear his weapon before coming back to camp. He walked into a bunker, put down his rifle a little too abruptly, and fired a round through an innocent case of water bottles.
We did have hostile fire to deal with, though. We were located right off of the flight line - rockets and missiles were being fired at our planes all the time, mortar rounds landed all around the camp, shells would fire off over our heads all day and all night.
I started to block it out. In direct violation of Darwin's laws, I learned to sleep through things blowing up around me. It's still true - I sleep through loud noises that bring my wife sitting straight upright in the bed, like a car crash directly in front of the house that left a Geo Tracker upside down in my yard.
We eventually got back to the states, I volunteered for the Kerry campaign (you see where that got us), and eventually, on the day that John Kerry conceded the election to George W. Bush, I filed my retirement papers.
After shopping around a little, I made a conscious decision to avoid any job where I might eventually have to shoot someone; this meant I was stuck with essentially entry-level positions, but I could live with that. It's a much lower-stress job, I'm not in charge of anybody, I do my work and everybody's happy.
I'm a fairly private person, but that's only because I get bored with the minor, petty problems of the majority of people. But overall, I think I'm a pretty cheerful guy.
Just this week, when people would ask me what I was doing for the Fourth of July, I've been telling them that I'd be curled up under the bed peeing myself as the fireworks went off. Then we'd all laugh, and I'd explain that, even though I knew people who had problems with explosions, I wasn't one of them.
Meanwhile, my body was telling me what my brain was too stupid to see.
We're in New Mexico, where fireworks are sold by people smoking cigarettes in flammable tents, because that's the American way.
I was watching TV tonight, and during a commercial, I got up to get the Trophy Wife some ice water. Halfway down the hall, my foot cramped up. I don't know why - I guess I was sitting too long in one position. But between that and my shoulder, I ended up limping back into the room like a bad Igor parody.
I think I made some stupid joke at that point, about how I wish I was under enough stress to justify all this. The Trophy Wife took that moment to tell me that I was always irritable on the Fourth of July. And on New Year's Eve. Any time fireworks were shot off.
I like to think I'm a fairly introspective guy. I've got a pretty good handle on my emotions and how I react to other people.
My shoulders are so tight you could bounce a quarter off them. My head feels roughly like I've got a clamp attached to my temples. And I've got tension forcing my muscles to seize up at random moments.
The Trophy Wife tells me that it's like this every year; I've just been blocking it out. I've been telling myself that I'm in my forties, and this is what I can expect as I'm growing older.
Outside the house, another bright red explosion has just lit up the sky, along with a loud crack. It startled me and I misspelled the word "older." Twice.
I'm in good shape. I don't even want to imagine what they're going through at the VA Hospital tonight.
And tomorrow night is the Fourth.