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Boudreau on interrogating the story

Former Marine Tyler Boudreau writes about recovering from the psychic wounds of combat:

They say war is hell, but I say it’s the foyer to hell. I say that a lot. I say coming home is hell, and hell ain’t go no coordinates. You can’t find it on the charts, because there are no charts. Hell is no place at all, so when you’re there, you’re nowhere–you’re lost. The narrative, that’s your chart, your own story. There are guys who come home from war and live fifty years without a narrative, fifty years lost. They don’t know their own story, never have, and never will. But they’re moving amidst the text everyday and every long night without even realizing it. They’re out there beyond the wire, trudging through the sentences, tangled in the verbs, suffocating on the adjectives, wrecked by the names.

They live inside the narrative like a cell and their only escape is to understand its dimensions. Once you get it, maybe you can start tearing down the walls. Every soldier’s mind is different. There is no single code to break. It’s ever-changing. I don’t have a recipe, but there’s one thing I do know and that is the power of the narrative. Put the story together. Understand the story. Ask questions of the story; make it answer you. Make it. You don’t take no for an answer. You find the answer. You keep building that narrative until the answer comes around. That’s the low road out of hell. (Packing Inferno, 148)

So the wounds, psychic and otherwise, turn the world into a chartless place — everything stable is torn, all the patterns break. To live in the chartless land is to pay endlessly for the past; or to freeze everything in order to keep from feeling the heat of it all again. But putting the story of experience back together, drawing out the patterns — this is a way of making a chart for the torn and broken one, for oneself. And as you get to know the story, some of its powers diminish and some of its elements can be beaten back or caste away. Knowing the story well enough, you will see it cough out its secrets one by one. These secrets are not the keys to Disneyland, but they are keys.

In reading around in the book, I gather that the story is not only one’s own experience, but also the broad patterns of one’s society. For him, as a combat Marine in Iraq, the contradictions (win hearts and minds; kill in combat or out of fear) handed to him by his countrymen as a mission shape the personal story. His story lives within the webbing of his country’s story. The story he must interrogate is both his and his country’s. Hence the link to yesterday’s note:

…being educated might be this: … Being able to make an informed decision about the story your culture likes to tell.

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