After a war, many troops still carry war with them. Each soldier has his or her own experience. My team members from Iraq carry their own experiences of war differently. War is a personal matter that few in society aware of. I am intrigued by finding love after war. What previous fragments of pre-war existence are gathered? What thorns of pride pierce the heart? What is hidden after war to a lover?
I found myself hiding from my war after my return from Iraq. Who needed to know about my deployment? Who really cared? I have had no wife, no partner, no lasting girlfriend since my return from Iraq. What did I have since Iraq? Fragments of unconditional love before the war and a hidden war in me that shows up in my efforts to live my new life in this thing called the “home front.”
I showed up at Newark International Airport just before Thanksgiving at 0100 hours and some Italian tourists were staring at me like some stale calzone from Ray’s Pizza. There were no USO ladies to greet me. I was not wearing the Alpha garrison uniform I saw in the old LIFE Magazine photos of troops returning from WWII in black and white photos. I had no kiss waiting for me. I was not even near Times Square.
It was cold and I was wearing dull military fatigues that came from the lowest level of Dante’s Ante-Purgatory. I seemed to be an excommunicate in my own country more than in Dante’s world of limbo. From the airport homecoming, I knew that home was far away! Shortly after my return from Iraq, I noticed things about me and I pursued help. So much for the Yellow Ribbon I saw on the television.
I received little help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I tried other veteran programs. The Give and Hour Program featured in Time magazine had therapists who did not know a damn thing about war. One of their therapists even wanted my insurance card, although the program was heavily advertised as free for returning troops.
Even faith-based programs were lacking. I showed a faith-based program social worker therapist a war-related newspaper article and she was frightened of me, making me feel cursed for volunteering for Iraq during the Surge. Ironically, she was part of some church-based counseling program near Wall Street.
I was open to help. I was invited to a few Veteran retreats. One retreat sponsored by some trauma guru author tried to charge me $300.00. I could sit by the Hudson River and meditate on my own and play the Apocalypse Now soundtrack without paying $300.00.
I finally got to attend a free retreat and I did the wrong thing by asking about romantic relationships after war. The retreat was at the posh Omega Institute, and an angry former monk/war veteran like me dismissed my question and seemed to need some serious help.
I went to public space veteran forums. These was one forum for vets and civilians at some ritzy church on 5th Avenue. Sure, I tried to find a girlfriend at those meetings. My sin was that I was acting like my church camp days at First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach; I came from a Charismatic Roman Catholic home and tried to be Southern Baptist because of the pretty Baptist girls of my youth. I was never outed for my sin of omission. Can i get a witness?
Unlike “church camp,” the sin of the veteran civilian forum involved becoming cracked open emotionally. Veterans, including myself, were enticed to discuss deployment and were even filmed being cracked open. I felt like an exotic poodle in the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Veterans were seen as a show. Veterans were not treated as warriors. One smooth talking facilitator acted as if he knew war, but he never served in one. All good! My fantasy of meeting a woman with empathy at the forum was an (un)lucky strike! I deserved it.
Actually, I was a bit scared to ask a woman out on a date. I was afraid that she would ask about my sleep issues and the GI issued knife I used to carry all the time in those days. I had enough! But, why pretend like you know how it’s like to come home to nothing?
Ultimately, I was on my own and I decided to hide from my war. Though I wanted to heal, I questioned these so-called healers of war. These roadblocks led me to the pursuit of that war movie myth: Find a good woman and forget the war!
I went on a mission. I had great loves before the war and it was time to pursue a great love after the war.
Before the war, I had been a friar monk and had come from a good family that fought well for their American dream in an unforgiving American economy. I studied at elite schools such as Norwich, Yale, and Columbia. I worked in a clinical position as a young supervisor. I served in the military twice as an elite ANGLICO Marine and Coast Guard Officer during the late 80’s and early 90’s, with two honorable discharges.
I had lived a robust life before the age of thirty. My life as a friar monk was to be the last chapters of my life. I was to serve God. And yet….
Before I took vows as a friar monk, I met my dream, Cecilia. The ramparts of my faithful heart fell when I first laid eyes on Cecilia and saw myself dancing a slow Bob Wills Texas Swing with her until eternity.
I wanted to be her “Hombre”! The Mexican rock group Maná has a song called “Eres mi religión” (“You Are My Religion”). For three years, Cecilia became my religion. I chased her and lost her several times, much like my faith in God.
I met Cecilia while I was an aspiring friar monk. I was willing to give up my calling. I was willing to let go of my visions of the friar black hood of mystery and white robe of purity, for Cecilia. I would easily give up carrying esoteric books by my side titled “The Compendium of Theology” and “Summa Contra Gentiles.”
I was dedicated to my path but I just wanted my flesh to rule my spirit. An ancient monk, St. Augustine, once asked God, “Make me chaste Lord, but not yet.” My new mantra became “not yet,” “not yet,” “not yet.” Not even the constructive discipline I learned as a military cadet at Norwich Military College of Vermont could not stop me from pondering the mantra “not yet.”
Providence has a way in existence. Cecilia’s unclear feelings eventually led me to discern that I did need to pursue the black hood and white robe, and the esoteric books. But I taped a photo of Cecilia in my worn leather breviary (prayer book). I always saw the cracks of that black small prayer book as the number of times I made love to Cecilia.
And so, this was my life before going to a war. In my burning desire for a woman, I returned to God because I discerned that a higher love waited for me. My new life was waiting for me with open arms. I became a friar monk and indeed I had to live my existence as a penis-less angel in a black hood/white robe until my ultimate earthly destiny: occupying a burial plot at the Dominican friars cemetery in Rosaryville near Ponchatoula, Louisiana. My legacy and soul guarded by those rugged oak trees on the grounds of the Rosaryville Dominican cemetery.
My life was more than aspirations for Ponchatoula. My life as a friar was joyful and provided great meaning. I did experience the contemplative life of prayer, service, and study with great contentment. As a friar, I lived my vows until I knew that I needed to leave the community because of some changes in American history.
Several years after 9/11, I left my hood and robe and searched for a black rifle. I decided to leave the friars and rejoin the military. Eventually, I deployed to Iraq. It was the Surge in Iraq and nobody was volunteering except for me. The Marines weren’t even meeting their quota. I was half the age of other troops in the war zone. I was still determined to serve my country one last time.
I then envisioned my return to the friars one day after my time in Iraq. I guess, so that I could return to being an astutely educated/trained penis-less religious friar. After my deployment to Iraq, I had to face the home front. I survived Iraq, but I felt a void and I truly did feel like an excommunicate in Dante’s Ante-Purgatory. But, I did not have a prayer in me like Dante’s Manfred of Sicily.
After Iraq, I was contacted by the friars to rejoin the Order: Fr Marty, Fr Alberto, Brother Herman, Father Caron, Fr. Emiliano, Fr. Orlando and others. They displayed great love for me by asking me to return to the Order. My brothers wanted me back, but I did not have it in me anymore. I did not have my calling. What was I going to tell them about Iraq? I hid the war from my first lover.
I could not picture myself sharing a meal with other friars and discussing the “Poetics” of Aristotle. I could not see myself taking orders from those whom I once loved. The truth: I had no love in my heart. But I wanted to love again.
I could see myself barking at people and not showing up empathy in the cloister. I could see myself not showing up to morning prayer and not truly being present to my beloved brothers. I could not find peace in the idea of singing the placid Psalms sung every morning in the friars chapel. The smell of incense left no ascending scent for me in those days of emptiness.
This is what happened to a monk who went to war. I could only picture myself as quiet and watching the other friars lead their lives of divine calling. I did not see such love and passion in my being.
I hid ideas of my sense of being from others. Who had I become after Iraq? I hid from a love that was offered to me countless times by the friars. Even in my infidelity by following her: the war, the friars offered me over and over again a special love not experienced by many. I hid from my brothers and did not even have words for them. The song in the Psalms died in my heart and I lost my prayer stall with the friars.
After Iraq, and giving up on the idea of returning to religious life, I found myself dating women and my penis miraculously reappeared. I guess it happened after I turned in my black hood, white robe and the esoteric books to the Superior of the monastic Priory!
My penis returned, PTL: Praise the Lord! It was a miracle!
With my new miracle better than water turned to wine, I met some incredible women during my post-Iraq life. I dated women who expressed that they liked the “Soldier Boy” in me. I inspired them to find that 60s calming Shirelles song in my persona. I was that soldier boy ready to protect them and win their hearts.
What was the competition? A fickle Wall Street guy who was just wanting a one night stand. Women offered themselves to me and yet I was lost in understanding their bodies. I could not understand their souls or minds. I could not understand my own soul, mind, body. I was not aware of their pleasures as I was lost in my displeasure with my life.
I tried so hard to be “Soldier Boy” to the women I dated in this target rich environment called New York City.
My adventures in dating were epic. Before the war, I dated a few former Ford models, women from all the “Sister Schools,” an Indian heiress, and others who were members of the Junior League. I had fun! And, they had fun!
Cecilia taught me many things in my chase to win her heart. I loved her so much that I could let her go many times. She did not love me, but we had fun. And I do not regret loving her. This would be one of the few experiences of romantic passion in my life.
After the war, my stats remained solid. I even dated an heiress to a global grocery store chain. And yet, I did not meet another Cecilia.
I did meet a pioneering tantra teacher who had written a well-known book about tantra. My new teacher was able to plant the seed of sensitivity in me. I was able to feel my body in tantra with my teacher. Tantra did not heal me but it taught me about the energy flow in my body. It also led me to understand that to experience a mutual flow of energy, I would have to find another woman with this open mind, heart and body.
My teacher was my teacher and I was sent off to find my partner. My teacher told me that it would be harder for me because of my war experience.
This is all true as I pursued dating in New York City. Tantra let me forgive myself because I was able to lessen the guilt about having romantic challenges after the war. Basically, my tantra teacher explained that my future partner will have to want to truly bring herself to me sexually, emotionally and spiritually.
I had the responsibility to be present in the same way to the lover in front of me. What a simple yet hard challenge! My war experience had kept me from fully being present.