When I took a job as a commander’s driver, my First Sergeant asked me “do you know what your job is?”

I said “drive him around?” and he said “most of the time, but what’s your job if the balloon goes up?”

I said, “drive him around, but more carefully?”

He said, “no, it’s put him under the truck and fight.”

So, okay. Fine.

I shared that conversation with someone years later, and they said “you told me about that guy you drove around before. You hated him. He fired you for smiling too much.”

I said, “well, I knew had to make myself love him. How else do you accept the idea of getting shot for someone?”

It’s pretty weird to think about it now, many many years later.

I had enlisted because a few things in my life had eaten enough of me away that there was nothing to put the brakes on my curiosity. They nearly kicked me out anyhow, not for being insubordinate or bad at soldiering, but because my very literal take on our law of land warfare training precluded sounding off to baby-killing cadences, which caused the chaplain to suggest I was a covert conscientious objector. I don’t think I have many friends today who would cope well with the prospect of trying to convince your super-irritated commanding officer that no, there’s really not enough left of you to object to killing someone in cold blood, just not children or non-combatants.

Similarly, there was still not much left β€”Β even less than when I enlisted β€” when I volunteered for airborne school. A friend back home asked why on Earth I’d do that — hadn’t this whole thing just been a scam to get college money? — and I said “because fuck it is why.”

Toward the end of my enlistment, I had a good friend who’d hang out with me at the barracks picnic table and we played a little game together:

As other soldiers walked by, we’d bucket them:

  • Captain America
  • Lost Boy
  • Sociopath

I forget our count, but we can leave it at “the first and last categories did 15 or 20 percent of the work between them, and everyone else was there in the middle.” That was me and Aaron. He had entered a Lost Boy and figured out how to impersonate a Captain America. I had entered a Lost Boy and … sort of stayed that way.

I remember standing on a parade ground, and the commanding general telling us all to gather around his platform. He yelled into a megaphone that he was surrounded by people who had it in their power to end civilizations and destroy nations in a day, and a roar went up. Captain Americas who saw no problem with that particular power resting with them, sociopaths who sensed an opportunity to do their thing at scale, and all of us Lost Boys who were just happy to have something to belong to.

When Ben was young — maybe six or seven — he asked me about what it had been like to be a knight. I told him that’s not quite what it was, and that it was never anything he should want to be.

It’s hard to remember being so close to that edge, and it is a huge relief that he seems to have listened to me.