It worked for Hemingway, so why not?
My regular job had taken me to a two-year assignment in The Bahamas. Ernest had written Old Man and the Sea while living on Bimini and I was in Nassau, but it was close enough for me. I had barely unpacked, the majority of my possessions on a ship somewhere between Houston and the Port of Nassau, but I decided it was time to stop “writing” and get down to business. I’d done a few short stories in different genres, mostly to gauge the reader’s reactions as I honed my craft. That turned out to be a distraction.
A book is a big thing, and I never realized just how big until the task lay ahead of me. I envisioned a length of about 60,000-80,000 words, and I had about half that in notes and partially finished stories. I really had no idea how to put it all together, but I knew where the story began, so I started there.
I set a word goal for myself – 1,000 words/week. I knew it would take a long time at that rate, but I’d been screwing around for six years already, so anything would be progress. It was tough to make my goal – I’d do it all on Saturday night, and sometimes I’d start the next week a few hundred words behind, but as I caught a rhythm I upped my goal to 2k. I never looked back, not even to spell check. By the time I’d been at it three months, I had a rough outline of twenty chapters. I knew where I wanted the book to go, and how I wanted to end it.
I mentioned in a previous post that writing the book hurt – a psychic pain of reliving some of the most horrible experiences of my life, of scars that were torn open again. The nightmares had returned with a vengeance, and I found myself preoccupied more often than not. I pushed through it, channeling that hurt into the story.
Somewhere along the line I figured out what the book was about. For the past six years I hadn’t had a clue.
My time in Iraq had changed me. I knew that without knowing how much, but it was coming out in the book. My notes reflected it once I put them in a logical order – I was reacting differently near the end of the tour than I did at the beginning. It was subtle at first, but the arrogant feeling of power morphed into resignation as I realized I didn’t have any, and never had.
I finished the manuscript just over six months to the day after I had begun it in earnest. I didn’t pick it up again for three weeks. During that time, the dreams went away. When I finally went back to do that first spell check, it felt like the whole thing might have been a work of fiction – someone else’s story.
My war was finally over.
Yancy Caruthers (1971- ) grew up in Alton, MO, and joined the Army Reserves at 17. He became a nurse, and worked in several areas until finding a passion in emergency medicine, which ultimately led to a job with an air ambulance company. He served in Iraq two different times, and retired from the Army as a Captain.
After this experience, he decided to leave the medical profession and pursue other endeavors. He has now lived on three continents, and is hoping to reside on at least three more. He currently lives with his family in Nassau, The Bahamas.
Author Links -
Publisher: Independent (CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing)
Release Date: eBook April 2014, paperback May 2014
Book Description: Northwest of Eden is the author's first person account of his experience during Operation Iraqi Freedom as second-in-command of an Army emergency department and leader of an air transport team. The varied cast of characters provides top-notch medical care to service members in harsh conditions, while wielding the darkest humor against each other just to stay sane. Most of the time they succeeded...
When it finally came time to roll the bad guy over and look at his back, we found the wound that should have killed him. A bullet had entered over his right shoulder blade, then taken an unexpected right turn and followed the surface of the bone. It had skipped out without entering his chest, but had taken a fist-sized chunk of meat along with it. The hole had been packed with a bandage roll, but it wasn’t bleeding or bubbling, so I shoved a fresh wad of gauze into it and we rolled him flat again.
I turned my attention to the room’s other occupant, a soldier who wore a dusty pale green uniform and wore the 4th Infantry patch on his shoulder.
“So what exactly happened to this guy?” I asked.
The soldier exhaled sharply, and acted a bit bothered that I had asked, but he relayed the story that two guys had been spotted trying to set a roadside bomb, but had fled once they realized they had been discovered. Troops had pursued, and had ultimately cornered the two bad guys in a tiny house in a cluster of tiny houses.
When cornered the insurgents had fired back at the patrol with AK-47s, which is generally a bad idea, but these two hadn’t read the insurgent manual. When friendlies returned fire (which isn’t very friendly if you think about it) the two gentlemen had taken off out the back door.
One of them now wore a blindfold, and lay paralyzed and sedated in our trauma room, having been shot three times by some fairly pissed-off infantry troops. When he awoke, he would not be allowed to see his surroundings, or get a feel for the layout of the hospital. Those caring for him would have nametags removed, as it was a favorite habit of insurgents to pass all sorts of information using a soldier’s name, or make various allegations.
It was different, not like treating a drunk driver or sex offender back home, but trying to give good care to a man who wanted me dead, and would be certain to try if the opportunity presented itself. It was a game changer. I started every IV with a pistol on my hip.
I looked back at the corporal. He stood about five four, a good six inches shorter than me, and a full foot less than the guy on the recruiting poster. His arms were thick, but he still wore medium sized armor. I thought mine was bad enough, but this guy had additional Kevlar panels that covered each side of his torso. The plates alone probably added twelve more pounds. His short rifle was slung to his chest, but his right hand stayed draped over the pistol grip, index finger straight and off the trigger, but close enough.
The conspicuous thirty round magazine protruding from the bottom was something my soldiers only carried in their pocket, assuming they remembered it at all, and only unloaded it once a month to keep the spring from going bad.
I wondered how much of this kid’s adult life had been spent in a war zone. If I had been a bartender, I would have asked him for an ID. He might have been nineteen or twenty. He had dark eyes and dark hair, with fair, flawless skin. I speculated about his heritage, as he was some amalgam of two or three different origins. His mouth turned up slightly at one corner, in a kind of a permanent smirk. I had worked long enough in a profession dominated by females to know what women find attractive, and this guy was it. Had he been six feet tall, he would have had a group of nurses following him around.
What I wouldn’t have called him, however, was vibrant. He moved his head very slowly and deliberately, and his eyes never left his prisoner. I wasn’t sure he had even blinked. He reminded me of a coiled snake.
I decided to try some obnoxious humor. “Somebody need to go back and teach some marksmanship. This guy is shot three times with only one hit center mass.”
I expected a half-hearted grin or part of a laugh. The soldier just kept staring at his charge. His look softened a little, and his reply was deferential.
“I don’t know what their problem was, sir,” he said, shrugging one shoulder. “I killed the other guy. They didn’t shoot him enough times, I guess.”
There it was. He wasn’t responding to my joke, he was actually trying to explain why my patient was still alive. Except for the words themselves, it was normal conversation, and flowed as smoothly as the answer I would have gotten if I had asked him whether or not he had eaten chow today.