by Eddie Dzialo
I am worried about the day my daughter will ask me if I’ve killed someone. No one has ever asked. Not even my closest friends who swam through Jameson with me when I first got home from my deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. She’ll ask around the time she’s old enough to be curious, but young enough to have no filter. Of course, then, I’ll tell her that I didn’t and that I love her. But some of that will be a lie, because I don’t know if I’ve ever killed anyone. Nothing about the type of combat being fought in Afghanistan is that definitive.
The Taliban wore the same clothes as the people we wanted to protect. Sometimes pregnant women were a means to hide explosives; dead dogs on the side of the road were packed with nails and ball bearings. Things weren’t as absolute as the Shoot/No Shoot drills that we’d rehearsed in training, and no one had promised that they would be.
During the first month I was in Afghanistan, we were in a firefight for four hours, and I never once saw a single person who had been shooting at us. We moved, they moved, and then at some point, they dropped their weapons and blended back into the huts. On another day, my buddy’s platoon—a kid from the south shore of Massachusetts—got attacked, and my platoon helped corner the attackers into a section of the city. We fired rockets, detonated walls with C4, had helicopters flying overhead, giving us additional viewpoints. But like the four-hour firefight that preceded it, the attackers eventually dropped their weapons, and they likely stood next to innocent civilians who were trying to get away from both sides.
Throughout all this, I never saw a dead body. When we were being attacked, I saw bullets kicking up dirt around Marines who were too brave to run away; I heard rockets and mortars landing, but I never saw if anyone had been impacted by the things we did. It would be easy for me to say that because I didn’t see anything then it didn’t happen. No one got hurt. They fought; they ran. But I’d been told that the people who were attacking us often took the dead with them before fleeing. Another friend of mine, from another platoon, went into a room after a firefight, and there had been fresh, ungodly amounts of blood on the walls and floor, but no weapons, clothes, or people.
Once, on the morning after we were attacked, a man approached my company. He’d been pushing a wheelbarrow, and in that wheelbarrow, was another man who was badly mangled, barely alive. The man told us that his friend had been mauled by a tractor and was asking for help. The only thing we could offer him were prayers. But was he telling the truth? Had he gotten hurt by a tractor or had it been from artillery rounds? Honestly, I don’t know.
It’s those situations that will make things difficult on the day when my daughter will inevitably ask me if I ever killed anyone overseas. When she’s young, I will tell her that I didn’t and that I love her. And when she’s older, I’ll probably tell her the same things that I’ve written here and that I still love her. As for me, I will likely leave this world not knowing if I ever took someone else’s life. Maybe then I’ll know for sure.
Eddie Dzialo is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.