The abyss. A dark, cold, black chill ran up my spine as I watched, as I stared into the depths. His uniform, that familiar striped pattern that had wrapped me up in a hug almost every single time he got back from work. Every day. Not for the next 270. Not for the next nine months. 

I have become more familiar with the abyss than of solid ground, I have lived my life on the outskirts of reality, where the rules that most people get to play with don’t exist. Life is dictated by the darkest evil humans have been able to conjure: war. I had to learn to accept the war, and accept that it was just part of my life, that it was my dad’s job. It’s a strange reality, one that I am still molting out of, like a snake changing skins.

I remember being 8 or 9, standing in Sunday school one morning. We were singing, and the song was about laying down our weapons, mean words, ect. and accepting peace. That’s when I realized it, I don’t really know what that means. Supposedly, I was supposed to feel it in God, but I never felt any change, I’m not sure I get it even now. How anyone feel peace in the midst of so much turmoil? 

And so I watched. I watched my hero walk away. The man who taught me to be strong, and in the event that there is someone preying on the innocent, he taught me to be dangerous. He taught me character, that the most valuable thing to a man was his faith, his family, his country, his honor and reputation. I watched my guide walk away towards the valley of death.

They didn’t know I knew. From the moment I learned the location, and name of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, I had researched. I had checked every website, watched video, looked at photographs, and learned everything I could about the Taliban and the area. I did this because I was upset that I couldn’t be there too. I wanted to be where he was, because he was my leader, and I was his follower, to the gates of hell and back.

He came back. Unharmed, and looking the same, but I learned he was different. There was an anger that had been unlocked, a beast let out of his cage. We ignored it. We told ourselves it was just his job, it was just extra stressful right now. The truth is, we all knew something was wrong, we just didn’t know what that was. 

His breakdown nearly killed me. Maybe not literally, but that is what it felt like. My leader was gone. I was alone, no direction, no purpose, nothing to loose, and angry. Angry isn’t a strong enough word… enraged. All I wanted was for the entire world to burn. Something in me snapped like it did in him, and we both found ourselves in our own predicaments. Mine happened tobe living at a friends house, his living at a hospital. 

Two years later, and I have my leader again. He came back around 6 months after the breakdown. My mom, my dad, and I all sat by the fire place, and he talked. “I abandoned you, I left you out on the battlefield, bleeding, and alone.” He said. “Never again. I will always be there, if there is a breath in my lungs, I will be there. I will run out, I will take it. I will take the bullets aimed at you, and I will drag you out.” I wear a chain he gave me that day. It has left my neck only two or three times since then. It is a symbol. It is the embodiment of the strength we share. Never will we let each other fall. Never. Try to break our chain, and you will fail, it’s been melted in the fire of hell, and repaired by God himself. 

I have my leader back. That man has returned, and the beast has been caged. This hike is a symbol, a symbol of that bond. To the gates of hell Dad.

So here I sit, dangling my feet over another abyss. This time it’s different though. This time we leave to heal, not to kill. This time he leads, and I get to follow. This time the pain will be one of love, instead of one of hate. Now I get the chance to learn about the ground, I get to learn the value of peace, I get to learn what God wants of me, and maybe why I had to go through so much of the abyss. But for now, I’ll just sit, and look down into the deep. 

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