Narrative: Beyond The War Zone

Alex E. Limkin
4 min read
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Although it has been three years since my return from Iraq, I am not free of the shadows of war. The memories are insinuated into my life like falling leaves in an endless November, swirling about my feet, catching at my heels, crackling underfoot like small bones. I wake up in silence, a suggestion of desperation and exhaustion hanging in the air like the breath of a hunted animal. I blink to ward off the silence, listening for the sounds of destruction to startle me into wakefulness. But there is only the leaves rustling, swirling, like the edge of a poncho disturbed by rotor wash, revealing an arm, a leg.

In my bed I will myself to move my limbs. First the left leg. Then the right. Sit up. Take stock. Everything seems unbelievable. The still morning. The quiet bedroom. The existence of slippers. I am not convinced. I make my way to the bathroom as an experiment, holding my hand against the door jamb, shielding my eyes against the white light. The fact that I am taking place quivers in my mind like a prodded jelly.

There are no bandages. And yet I am exploded. Hanging my head beneath the shower, I feel the blood coursing within me. The image of health is deceptive: the bones and musculature; the lack of scars and stubs. Closing my eyes, I feel my organs slipping from slits in my body, slipping past my fingers like small skinned animals. In the midst of my blank terror I have thoughts of clogging the drain.

As a result of something that cannot be seen or touched, I choke on the unfolding day. After showering, I pour myself orange juice and crack two eggs into a glass. The eggs look curious at the bottom, staring back at me. Without thinking, I reach up to touch my chin, to make sure it is still there, not dangling by a bungee cord of tendons and tissue.

What I am learning from the mornings, and the days that follow the mornings, and the nights most of all, is that it is not possible to come home from war. With war comes the absence of home, the destruction of home, the absence of love, the destruction of love.

Like so many others, this war has left me with a wound that may never heal, a wound that I carry about me like an invisible world, spinning around me, choking me, suffocating me. From my strange orbit, I try to reach out to familiar things, but my movements are clumsy, as though my arms were not my own, but nubs. I reach out and people retreat. For my part, I can no longer see the world through their eyes, a predictable pattern of childhood, work, old age and death.

I have seen past the picnic grounds to the dark secrets of the woods beyond. Exposed flesh that has too often known the terror of impending death loses elasticity and grows brittle, develops cracks; mind flesh withdraws from the walls of its container. At times I feel I am on the verge of familiarity, of closing the gap, of regaining a natural buoyancy; then, just as quickly, I wither before a sudden frost. With war comes the disappointment in deception: the deception of humanity; the deception of hope; the deception of life; the deception of love.

Not giving up, I continue grasping at once familiar things, sweeping down on a pendulum with my arms outstretched—still searching, ever searching, for a way back home.


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Alex E. Limkin served 15 years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq from November 2004 to September 2005. While in Iraq, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He now practices immigration law.

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