It was already late after pulling a double shift at the factory, 16 hours is too long to work with just a few hours of restless sleep. I haven’t slept well at all over the past 8 months. In December I had returned home from a long and wearing combat tour in Afghanistan. The tour did not consist of extremely brutal combat as some had seen but more than your average veteran from that theater of war. The stress of the tour was compounded by the fact that my wife, ex-wife, had abandoned the household and left me to raise our children on my own. I had considered making an argument with the military to stay home, but feared that doing so could cause lifelong problems or at the minimum I might be labeled as yellow. Though the divorce was much harder on the children than me, I felt a sense of patriotism that drove me to the decision to go on this tour, a month after the divorce.
Even though I knew my children were in being taken care of by my parents, I always worried about them feeling additional abandonment with my call to duty. With this ever persistent thought, I was never able to rest well on the spine damaging U.S. Army cot I was issued to sleep on in my rustic looking C-hut or hooch as we called it. Night after night the joint pain moved through my back as if the army had also issued me a ball bearing assigned to run up and down my spine cracking into cartilage and bruising bone. Rest was further complicated by the random and frequent sound of sirens and the all too familiar big voice, “Amber Alert, Amber Alert, Amber Alert!” As I rolled off the cot planting my feet on the ground and rising up the sound of my cracking back drowned out the siren and the familiar voice. Since I slept in my DCU pants and dirty brown shirt I quickly dawned my boots and body armor, grabbed my M-16 and 9mm and headed to my assigned bunker. The trip to the bunker was always exciting as you would look to the sky to see whether it was mortars or rockets. Rockets were relatively easy to spot coming through the air and lacked the ominous whistle and mysterious unknown target of mortars. Day after day, night after night, the routine very rarely changed and energy seemed to continually escape me.
When I returned home, I thought for sure things would be different. I had become dedicated to closing the gap in the distant relationship that had developed with my kids. However, that never seemed to happen. I began working at the diesel engine plant by the airport. The pay wasn’t enough to make ends meet but with all the overtime I was usually able to scrape by. My parents continued to help with the children as I worked day shift and managed to pull doubles 3 to 4 days a week. I had been picking up as much overtime as possible in hopes that I would be able to make up for missed time with my kids by giving them the best Christmas ever.
Tonight was my fourth double in a row and the hours were taking a heavy toll on me. The endless nights of restless sleep were not helping either. It was a 30 minute drive home and seemed longer with every double and the short turn around. I left for home and in a matter of minutes I was on the interstate heading north. As I drove with heavy eye lids I counted the mile markers to my exit, exit 123. In a slight haze I could remember counting the markers, 112, 113, 114, 115, 115, 115. As I continued in anticipation of 116, the lights of the police car behind me shocked my tired eyes wide. I eased to the side of the road and put my raggedy old Ford Windstar in park and waited for the cop to approach. Time lagged as I wondered what I had done to be pulled over, swerving, speeding, I wasn’t sure and really didn’t care, I was ready to sign the ticket and get home.
“Pow, Pow, Pow!!” Shots shattered my back glass, two bullets whizzed by as they tore through the passenger’s seat while the third felt like it clipped my right ear and continued through the front wind shield. With no more than a seconds pause, I slammed the van into gear chirped the front wheels and accelerated up the interstate as fast as the van would go. I no longer counted mile markers instead I focused one eye on the road and the other on the speedometer, 50, 60, 70 then 80 miles per hour. Once I reached a speed I thought might put enough distance between me and the crazy cop that just shot at me, I checked the rearview mirror to confirm the psycho was in pursuit. Through the shattered back window I saw the lights of the pursuing maniac cop and couldn’t help but think what initiated this act, this unprovoked spraying of bullets.
This wasn’t the first time I had shots fired at me, but it was the first time I had been shot at and didn’t understand why. Not knowing what to do, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. When the operator answered I began to explain what was happening and surprisingly did so in the most calm and collective voice that would make the most salted combat vet proud. My demeanor was too calm, the operator began a barrage of words describing the negligence in making a prank call to 911. As quickly as the call began it ended with the operator hanging up.
I thought to myself how could this be happening! Just as the thought entered my mind it exited with my back cracking and an ache at the base of my skull that felt like that army issued ball bearing in my spine was trying to impale itself in my brain stem. That’s when I realized the pursuing police cruiser had caught up with the bumper of my van and slammed into it so hard the van was now making a screaming noise as if it really had feelings of pain.As I checked the rear view mirror again the road raged officer was maintaining a consistent car lengths distance behind me and oddly enough had no damage to the front of the patrol car. I was a huge movie lover and referred to my movie experience as a last resort to find resolution to this intensifying situation. “Top Gun with a twist,” I thought! I’ll gradually slow down and then slam it in reverse and ram the cruiser with the back of the van. The van had slowed anyway after he initially rammed me, 40, 30, 20, and then 10. Here it goes, reverse, chirp and accelerate! The van quickly moved backwards and the front of the cruiser began to crimple as the rear van doors pushed inward towards the rear seat. The van died as the pain in my back immediately intensified. As the siren faded I heard the voice of the police officer asking “are you ok?” As I looked towards the right hand side of the road I notice nothing else but mile marker 115. I had eased to the side of the road and fell asleep and engaged in a very exciting dream, only to awaken to the reality that I was going to be held responsible for the damage to the officer’s patrol car.