I instantly have a desire not to piss Joe off. Not because I worry he will physically hurt me, but because I don’t want to be exposed for the guilty liberal, sheltered, naïve soul that I am. This is the type of guy who does not abide bullshit. In the middle of my questions, he asks me if I’m a counselor. I say no, why? He tells me it’s my questions. I’ve just asked what his biggest hopes are for his life – one of my standard lines of inquiry for attempting to get to the heart of things – and now, I feel foolish. But he does have an answer.
“What I hope for is always anything good. I love my family, I love my friends. As far as the future goes, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I live day to day.”
Joe fought in Iraq during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and comes from a long line of military family. He doesn’t say much about his experience over there, except that he “used to jump out of planes and shoot people,” and has seen his share of dead bodies. “It was in and out. We fuckin’ dropped bombs on them and I went in and cleaned up the mess.” He jokes that he quit high school to enlist because he’s “crazy,” and “was already fucked up anyway.” How, exactly? “I’m messed up in a good way. It’s just been my life.”
I create subtext for what he’s saying: don’t try to sympathize, don’t suppose what scars I carry. That subtext, if it exists, will not rise to the surface during our 30-minute conversation.
Joe isn’t into complaining. He doesn’t seem to want a chance to discuss any unfair deals life may have given him. He doesn’t appear to take anything too seriously. Except his father, who died a few months ago of something Joe calls “systemic lupus.” Here, his voice becomes a bit softer, his speech less hurried.
I want to believe Joe is as happy as he says he is. And I feel ignorant and presumptuous for my assumption he’s not. I am wondering whether maybe the joke’s on me – that I’ve got it all wrong, that taking nips from a flask during a hot afternoon, shunning AA, recalling the war or that many of your friends are dead, really isn’t all that bad, and that I’m the dumbass for thinking that it is.