So here I am, back home. This is the place I dream about when things get tough in my real world. I live twelve hundred miles away from home, but you know what they say; home is where the heart is.

That’s what this place is to me. It’s my heart. It’s my soul. Every life lesson that was worth learning was taught right here. All the other shit I learned when I left and joined the military were previous values contorted by the sad and despotic world that isn’t home.

I learned compassion here. I remember when my grandfather died, seeing my father, a rock of a man, in tears at the dining table. I had never felt any emotion when a family member passed. However, I felt my father’s grief. I was not affectionate at that particular age, but I put my hand on my dad’s arm, and he gave me the biggest hug he had ever given me, without any hesitation.

I learned patience here. There was no single event that taught me, but with so little to do in a small town, I learned how to wait for good things to happen. I read a lot of books and played a lot of video games until it was baseball season, which was the best of the good things.

I learned that life is what it is. Every baseball season, I’d never make the All-Star team. That roster was reserved only for the sons of the coaches, but my parents worked too hard to coach, and I respected that. When I was 11, I had a 1.000 batting average, a solo triple play, and seven home runs. I even sent a line drive down the school bully’s gullet, and he never messed with me again. I got a double on that hit. Even then, I was passed over for All-Star, but I didn’t play for that. I loved what I did, and didn’t care about recognition. It wasn’t fair my season ended early, but it was what it was.

I learned about love here. My first real girlfriend, Paula, was a piece of work. Everyone warned me about her. She would just use me. She’d lie to me. The relationship would be one-sided, and I’d make all the compromises. She proved them all wrong. She actually asked me out after someone told her I thought she was cute. I never said such a thing, but I did think that. She had shoulder-length, jet-black hair that hated the humidity, but she made it work. Her eyes were such a dark brown, they almost matched her hair. I’ve always been a sucker for brown eyes. She had the cutest nose, and a smile that could warm the coldest room. Most of all, she was smart; much smarter than she cared to display or admit. She was the first girl I was able to connect with intellectually, and it was the reason I actually fell for her. We broke up because my friends were jealous of our relationship, and they gaslighted both of us until we couldn’t handle it anymore. It wasn’t true love, but it was indeed a glimpse of the future.

The last thing she ever said to me was, “You have the most gorgeous eyes that I’ll probably ever see.” I wonder if that’s still true?

I learned what true friends are here. I had so many friends here, but few I truly respected. A lot of my old friends started making one mistake after another as we grew up, and as much as I tried to help them, they had no respect for themselves. Thus, I’m no longer in contact with 95% of the people I grew up with. Those I still talk to, like Chris, Michal, and John, are basically family. I love them. Fifteen years away from home, and they are still there for me, and I, them. They’re even listed as family members on my Facebook feed.

I learned accountability here. I knew a lot of people that made mistakes. It was a small town, so those old enough to drink, often did. When they got themselves in trouble, the courts knew, just by the last name, whose parents to call! When we screwed up, it was on us.

I learned respect here. Folks worked their fingers to the bone until the day of the funeral. They worked for their families. They stuck to their guns, because between work and sleep, their guns were all they had. I admired that about these people. Right or wrong, their conviction demanded respect. Even moreso, when they were wrong, they admitted it, which was even more inspiring to me.

Finally, I learned that brotherhood isn’t bound by blood. I was part of a very unusual group. We played Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and had every video game system as they were released. We’d spend weekends gaming. This made us unique, so we stuck together. One was a star athlete. One was the son in a powerful family. I was a giant that nobody wanted to piss off. We came from all walks of life, and people didn’t mess with us. Sadly, our interests matured and we drifted, but it was a valuable lesson.

Joining the military and leaving this town, my values started to deteriorate. I had very little compassion, as watching my enemies die brought me satisfaction. My patience began to wear thin, as all I wanted to do after coming home from deployment was just get deployed again.

Life still is what it is, but life sucks now. I still miss the ones that got away. Every day, brothers take their own lives. I’ve ruined two marriages. Everyone I loved kept going away, and I lost respect for them. Most of the people called friends after I joined are ghosts now, with one or two exceptions.

The only values that survived were accountability and brotherhood. Too bad I don’t have enough people around me to be a part of a brotherhood.

They say certain kinds of trauma are caused by the warping of values. Perhaps if I didn’t learn to be compassionate or accountable when I was young, I wouldn’t have PTSD now. Sure, I’d have other problems, but I doubt they’d have done as much damage as this.

Being here helps me remember how I grew up. It’s home.


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