Dear John

Jason Ryan Arment

One thing though that no one really accounts for until it happens to them is that letter. The infamous letter known simply as “Dear John.”

What’s different about the modern day, is now they tend to show up in e-mails and sneak into your social network profile inbox.

What a treat it is to get in from a patrol, completely exhausted, stop by the mess hall to find there is no food  as usual — go smoke a nasty Iraqi cigarette, wait in line at the Internet center for a little more than an hour and after it takes eight or so minutes for Facebook to load up, taking up about a little less than half your allotted time on the net, you find it.

When I found mine, tucked away in my Facebook inbox, it felt like someone booted me right in the chest. The girl I thought I was in love with decided after two months of my being in Iraq, that it was time to call it quits.

I still have that message in there. In fact, I just re-read it. Looking back I should have seen it coming.

Typical Marine story. Guy meets girl a couple of months before deployment, they’re crazy about each other, and things move fast. Before you know it, it’s time to head off to the desert with a bunch of your buddies and more guns than you know what to do with. Just a few months later I was reading my own personal tragedy.

The real beauty of a Dear John is that it doesn’t matter what it says. They all say the same thing:

You suck, you’re not good enough, I moved on and you’ll just have to deal with it. I’m still a good person though, for telling you. You can’t blame me because I’m back here and you’re over there. You decided to go over there, remember? This is your fault. Don’t worry though, there are dudes back here who are keeping me company, so it’s all good.

That’s what you think anyway, when you first read it.

You can’t wrap your head around how life didn’t stop for the person back home. They aren’t stuck in a place they don’t want to be. They aren’t living the hard life.

At the same time, you don’t understand that your life is frozen, that your long stay boils down to three outcomes: living, dying or losing your identity. All you feel is the hurt.

After I got mine, I cried some with a really cool guy I’m lucky to have had there- — the people you really need at times show up unexpectedly.

I had no idea what it was like to break down though, until I talked to my sergeant about it.

I tried talking, but I just couldn’t stop crying. Not for a million dollars. It was like coming up for air after a deep dive in the pool, a reaction as urgent as it was necessary.

That grief you have just rushes out all at once. The loss you feel seems so tremendous. The understanding that life goes on, that young love so rarely lasts, but that isn’t making any kind of impression on you at that point.

It does later though, and that’s what makes you who you are. Part of molding clay is the kneading, the squeezing and the reshaping. Part of growing as a person is the pain, the beautiful tragedies you encounter, realizing that the vast majority of people you will ever come in contact with will let you down.

It’s through the destruction of the self, of ideals and the slow rebuilding process that follows where people become who they are. Some people don’t rebuild though, some people are broken forever.

That’s what so few civilians understand: getting a Dear John, and how common the experience is in the military. It’s so foreign to everyone else. Why? Because it’s really hard to talk about.

With this column, I can say I tried. Hopefully people that read it can relate more to military types  be able to feel what they are saying, when they talk about pain. Maybe in that sharing, we can come together a little more as a people. Maybe then the hurt can fade away.