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The Anger Behind My Blood-Red Sand Goggles

New America Media, Commentary, J. Pilgrim Posted: Nov 18, 2009

Editors Note: A Navy corpsman remembers the rage he brought home from Iraq and the abusive relationship that followed. J. Pilgrim (a pseudonym) wrote this narrative for the Veterans Workshop, a New America Media writing project for combat veterans.


A simple phone call unanswered. Arriving one minute late. A perceived lack of attention. A normal boyfriend would have paid no mind to these occurrences. They happen. But at the time, I wasnt normal.

To say that I got angry would not capture the intensity of the emotion. I would explode, reacting 100 times disproportionate toward the wrong that was committed against me. In my blind rage, there was no reason, no talking things through; peacemaking was inexistent. I didnt simply shout. I would yell until breathless, until my neck became uncomfortably stiff, quivering from exhaustion.

Some of my worst anger outbreaks took place while shed be driving.

Slow down.

Im not going that fast.

I said slow down.

Tick, tick, tick.

What are we getting on the freeway for? I said were going to the pizzeria on the corner.

Baby, I just wanted to stop by downtown first to see the Christmas decorations.

Tick, tick, tick.

Another explosion triggered by something hidden, something inside of me. My reaction was always violent a red-hot blur of profanities, finger pointing, screaming my soul out just inches away from her ear. She would keep on driving. Eyes on the road, her delicate little fingers wrapped firmly around the steering wheel, as the verbal bombardment continued.

I lost count of how many times this took place. No reason, no talking things through, no peacemaking. I was sick. I wish now that I could hold out my heart in front of her.

I apologize, Id say.

It wasnt you who drove the sandbag-reinforced Humvee through terrifying roads. You never left me exposed to sniper fire, or forced me to observe destruction. You simply drove a little too fast. You only wanted to see the Christmas lights downtown before having a pizza.

While we dated, I knew that she genuinely cared for me, loved me. After nearly a year and a half, a difficult self-assessment revealed that I had not changed for the better. I broke it off, in fear of turning into an uglier monster, capable of more than verbal abuse. I did not want to see how far I could go.

Years later, times healing properties coupled with strong desire to change have allowed me to let that part go. That part of me that would fan flames and remain hateful for days over nothing. I can reason things through now. Remembering those ugly, angry episodes, Im ashamed of the abuse that she endured.

How come I never sought counseling? I ask myself.

Given the chance, I would explain my behavior to her along these lines:

The guy who did that to you wasnt really me. Its not in my nature to do things like that. It was a version of me that observed his world through blood-red sand goggles, a freak that woke up angry at the world.

The author deployed to Iraq with U.S. Marines from March to July 2003. He now lives in Northern California.

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