He is nineteen years old and takes a swig from the near empty bottle of Johnny Walker red. It makes him gag. It tastes like wood and smoke and something he thinks should be called peat.
He doesn’t know what peat is, to him it’s an idea. Reminds him of wet mud and grass. Something in Scotland.
The scotch has been a chore to drink.
Being nineteen years old he had to have someone else buy it for him and now he feels obligated to drink it.
And he drank it until his mouth sweats and the world spins.
He is pretty sure he’s about to vomit.
The laughter from the small party still going on behind him seems to be aimed at him.
He has a name, but it stopped mattering a year ago. Since then he has been called private, or soldier, or some hurtful nickname given to him by the E-4’s in his unit. The nickname changes so often he isn’t even sure they are even talking to him sometimes.
He is called tubby when he falls out of runs, Fat Superman because he wears glasses, white boy, trailer trash, bookworm because he always has a book in the cargo pocket of his BDU pants.
Mostly he is Hey You.
To be fair Hey You doesn’t really care. He has gotten over it. He is a nobody in the machine that is the U.S. Army. A small easily replaced cog that does mindless chores, chores that wet the ground with blood sweat and tears to aid whatever the Army has coming next.
He is one of a million Hey Yous. Replaced every year with thousands of the same. His name only becomes valid on a letter to his parents if he dies defending the flag or constitution or hole in the ground he dug just the day before.
He is told he has the second most dangerous job in the military.
Not special forces, or helicopter pilot, no his job, 88M, truck driver, is right behind the infantry in mortality expectations.
Improvised explosive devices, not bullets, are his enemy, if they don’t kill you they will take an eye, or a limb, or your cock.
Hey You, leans against a tree willing himself not to throw up.
There are four soldiers left at this little Friday night gathering, he and three others.
Most drank beer. There are many bottles laying around. It is the same every Friday and Saturday night. They get left there until morning, then soldiers on extra duty, soldiers who fucked up somehow, come and gather them up.
There is a female soldier named Janice still out tonight.
She likes to drink.
Everyone is nice to her.
“Hey, Janice you want another beer?” It sounds like Specialist Toby. A skinny mechanic, who is always smoking and keeps his butts so he can roll the tobacco when he’s broke.
“Nah I am going to bed.”
“Alone?” sounds like the fat black dude everyone calls Spunk. He’s a private also, but it’s like being black puts him on a different tier. That, or he is better able to handle military life, or doesn’t get lonely, or has some other kind of magic Hey You doesn’t know about.
“Yah, alone Spunk!” she laughs and Hey You wonders if she would laugh at him if he asked the same question, or slap him, or tell him off, or report him to HQ.
“Come on Janice, I will walk you back to your room.”
Hey You pictures Toby putting his arm around her and walking off toward B building.
The lower enlisted ladies always got called by their first name. Everyone is nice to them. Trying to butter them up. Do their work for them. Go to lunch with them., but there seems to be a price for them to pay at some point. The talk is always about how long until they end up pregnant In the special uniform and no longer having to do PT.
Seems the prettier ones are a safe bet for sooner rather than later.
The dizziness passes as does the fear he will have to taste the scotch on the way up also.
Hey You turns around and finds he is the last one out.
The Bench in front building C is loaded with beer bottles and the cherry from Toby’s cigarette is still smoldering.
So the party is over and he is drunk and he doesn’t want to go back to his twin bed in the two-man dorm and listen to his roommate snore.
Loneliness hits him in the gut.
A helicopter roars overhead in blackout mode. He thinks he can spot the soft red lights in the cockpit.
Then the pop pop pop of a night fire range from a few miles away.
Across the yard separating the transportation unit from the famous 327 infantry battalion some soldiers laugh. They are loud and he has half a bottle of Walker left. He thinks maybe he can share.
He imagines the infantry smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and arguing about whatever it is grunts argue about.
He’s nineteen, drunk off cheap scotch, and still wearing the woodland-pattern BDU bottoms and his brown work t-shirt, and canvas-topped-jungle-combat boots. His t-shirt is stained with salt from sweat and his face is greasy from breaking down tires all day.
And he wants to be a part of something.
So he goes toward the laughter.
He steps into the circle of yellow light streaming from a security lamp and five soldiers, wearing sweaty PT shorts and shirt, stop talking and stare.
Angry voices hit him all at once.
“What the fuck do you want pogue?”
“You out of uniform private? Where’s your headgear?”
“Who knows this motherfucking REMF?”
He has inadvertently entered a den of noncommissioned officers fresh from a night road march.
He takes a nervous sip from his scotch and coughs as it goes down the wrong pipe and reaches out to offer out his bottle.
An infantry sergeant with bulging shoulders rips the bottle from the private’s hand and upends it onto the ground The scotch pours out and seeps through the canvas top of Hey You’s boots soaking into his wool socks. The sergeant tosses the bottle against the wall where it shatters.
A huge hand clamps down hard around Hey You’s fleshy bicep and he is marched toward the 129 support battalion HQ.
Next Saturday morning he is out with other disciplined soldiers picking up beer bottles his party certainly over.