Lieutenant Smarmy was full of glaring contradicts.
His impish and righteous nature somehow symbiotically working together.
So, it wasn’t surprising when my fellow officer deceptively gave me a klonopin pill to calm my nerves before a jump. A pill which I gobbled up with many thanks after believing he had given me some knock-off brand Dramamine for my inevitable motion sickness.
Exaggerated versions of breathing exercises and vigorous rubbing of temples were telltale signs to Lieutenant Smarmy that I was more than just a tad bit nervous, so he quietly nudged my elbow and handed me the pill.
We were hiding in our normal spot in the back of the formation while soldiers listened attentively to Captain Big Head, who was giving a safety briefing before our week-long training exercise- an exercise that began with a jump onto a farm in Mississippi- a jump that was out of a C130 in full battle rattle- full battle rattle that was twice my weight.
“I don’t know what you’re so nervous about,” Lieutenant Smarmy said with a raised eyebrow. “I’m a black man about to jump into a farm in Mississippi. If I get stuck in a tree on the way down, I’ve already done half the job for them.”
“I’m a black man about to jump into a farm in Mississippi. If I get stuck in a tree on the way down, I’ve already done half the job for them.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the biting humor in his comment. Getting your chute hooked on a tree branch while landing wasn’t all too common, but it did happen; especially when winds randomly change directions, like they were today.
“The captain said there’s going to be farm equipment still out on the field. I don’t really relish the idea of slamming my knees and or face into a tractor,” I whispered to Lieutenant Smarmy out of the side of my mouth. “And he said there are gators in the river too. Capt said ‘be on the lookout for gators when you’re coming down’. What the flying shit balls am I supposed to do if I see a gator while landing? Or while trying to unhook my chute? Or during the mile ruck to our rally point?”
“What the flying shit balls am I supposed to do if I see a gator while landing?”
I cleared my throat, realizing my volume was steadily rising as I became more anxious.
“Jesus, how would you handle actually being shot at during a jump? If anything, the gators will be good practice for you,” Lieutenant Smarmy said in his naturally low, raspy voice.
I shook my head back and forth in annoyance, there was a ridiculously simple solution to that problem in combat. “I would shoot back.” Lieutenant Smarmy shrugged in response. “But I’m pretty sure the boss isn’t going to be cool with us popping off a few shots at the local gator population,” I argued.
Lieutenant Smarmy pulled out a can of tobacco from the perfectly-sized pocket by his ankle and packed a tight wad into his lower lip. “It’s not the gators I’m worried about, it’s the dogs,” he said, now with a lisp. “I hate dogs. And every farm has at least one. I can avoid a gator, but a dog will come charging after you while you’re still in the air. That’s why I’m bringing meat with me, so I can throw it as far as I can when those fuckers come chasing me.”
“It’s not the gators I’m worried about, it’s the dogs. I hate dogs. And every farm has at least one.”
Lieutenant Smarmy pulled out a packet of beef jerky from the cargo pocket on his thigh to show he wasn’t kidding. A few soldiers in the back of the formation who were eavesdropping on the conversation gave us a worried sidelong glance. Lieutenant Smarmy flicked his wrist, signaling for the soldiers to turn back around.
It took about fifteen minutes after swallowing the pill Lieutenant Smarmy gave me to stop feeling nervous about the jump; and while floating over the sea of green speckled with grey and red dots, I felt no emotions at all.
Holding onto the taught, rough webbing of my risers, the weight of my rucksack and M4 mercifully relieved by my open canopy, my soul felt like a hollowed-out pumpkin, detached and bland.
I drifted slowly towards the earth, watching my platoon sergeant, Sergeant Gargantuan, scream towards the ground like a lawn dart, the way he always did whenever we jumped.
Weighing a quarter of my platoon sergeant’s weight and caught in a hot air pocket, I lingered in the air, high above the open fields and some random farm equipment and a couple of barns. Apparently, my parachute felt no sense of purpose or urgency, allowing me to peacefully drift across the sky, watching the nearby Mississippi River through glassy eyes. If one of those dark spots on the ground was a gator, I didn’t care, I didn’t care about anything at all.