The first time I met him he attempted to threaten me, but I paid no mind, I knew it was the bark of a dog with dull teeth. You could sense his true character from a distance, he didn’t even have to say anything and you could tell he wasn’t a fighter. He wanted to try to scare me, the tough new kid from New York, to impress his even less threatening friends. I knew if I raised my fist and punched him directly in the nose it would shut him up for good, but I let it go because I needed friends in this new town, and I knew I could sway him easily to be a part of my crew.
He was a decent looking kid, he was about 5’ 10” 175lbs muscular, bluish green eyes, half Italian, half Irish. He was the type of kid who thought he looked better than he did; you know that cocky New Jersey Italian macho type. Pete was always able to find a girl to keep him company. The girls he chose always seemed to be able to screw him over someway or another. He was what we would like to refer to as pussy whipped. His nickname was Peter rabbit as a kid because he had really buckteeth like a rabbit; he was tormented by that nickname when he was younger. I heard that the kids used to start tormenting him as soon as he got to school to the minute he left.
When we talk about Pete’s brain it’s another matter all together, he was a bit of a blockhead. He was really good at pointless things that he would never use like algebra, but when it came to common sense stuff, he was always way off. He would get lost in his own neighborhood on a regular basis, I would always say to him” you do know we are only a few blocks from your house”, he would always reply with a quick” fuck you man you know I don’t know shit about directions”. Pete would walk in circles looking for his house and I would just laugh and let him do his panicky wandering, it was a dick move on my part, but what do you expect from a teenager. I remember thinking to myself ” Pete’s gonna have major fucking problems when he grows up”.
Red flag number two was when he started to think of himself as a “gangster” and with all the images of thugs on TV in the mid 90ies, he fell for that bullshit mighty quick. I guess its because he came from a poor suburban family, and since he couldn’t relate to the rich wasps that dominated that area, he needed to find something or someone he could try and relate to. The rappers were always talking about, how hard they had it, and how they would escape from the shitty life they had by whatever means necessary. He had no guidance from his parents, they were too busy drinking and trying to pay bills. So the drug dealing hip-hop star became his hero, parents, and his role model. He believed what was on those rap cd’s was a path to a better life.
Selling drugs, wearing stupid looking clothes that didn’t fit and speaking with a fake New York accent was his new artificially created character, it was a contemptible sight. Anyone who bothered to look could see right through it. He was the type of sad guy that would brag he had drugs people at school to show off, which always got him in trouble; He started fights with smaller kids just so he could beat them up; He never went to school, instead he hung out in front of his house acting like a thug. To most people who saw him act like this, laughed and cringed, because his pathetic attempt to emulate a gangster was clownish. He needed and he sought attention by any means necessary, even if it meant time in Juvenile detention, which he did time in, at the age of fifteen, for spitting on a cop.
Pete succeeded at drawing attention to himself at a young age. He became a petty drug-dealing thug. At this point I was long out of the shit show that was his life. The few people he hung around with were just as entranced with this sort of lifestyle than he was, but he managed to be the ringleader, somehow. His group of friends would sit around and drink until inebriated daily. They would just waste away and fall deeper into their bullshit delusional thinking.
Pete wasn’t a bad guy, just really confused and ignorant, his parents never paid any attention to him, but the cops didn’t care about Pete’s excuse when they arrested him with cocaine in Newark. The judge didn’t want to hear his cries when it was his forth time in court for possession. So at the age of eighteen he went to Rahway prison for a year, which is hell on earth.
Rahway was the place where all the criminals from Newark and surrounding ghettos went to shank and rape one another, you couldn’t find a worse place to go to prison in the northeast in the nineties. Newark was a drug infested port city of the worst kind, and the criminals from Newark were more like animals then men. He would frequently travel from his wasp town in Chatham, to Newark, to pick up drugs, so instead of going to a nice little preppy boy jail they sent him to hardcore prison.
Pete’s stay in prison changed him greatly, and not for the better. We never knew what happened to him when he was in there, but it must have been terrible. When he came out he had the shakes and he couldn’t look anyone in the eye anymore. The worst part about the whole scenario was when he was in prison his girl had their first child. The couple was no more than nineteen years of age.
So what does one do when they are ignorant, poor, have a criminal record and have a family they have to support? One, they either work at some shitty fast food joint for seven bucks an hour, two, they go back to selling drugs or, three, they join the Military.
Pete opted for a career in the Army, which required the most time away from his new family. Only the Army hands a machine gun to a man who can barely read, has no sense of direction and thinks he’s a gangster. It still scares me to this day thinking of him with that machine gun. These are the types of men you see in the service, the lost and hopeless. The way the people from his town saw his situation was that its probably better if he just got shot in the head by a terrorist in some foreign country, then kick some dirt over him and forget he ever existed.
So Pete made it through basic training and his advanced individual training, which just means they trained him how to shoot and kill with a bunch of different weapons. Pete surprisingly turned out to be a really good shot, so they also put him through sniper school, which boosted his confidence.
A sniper gets the opportunity to take out the enemy from a distance with a high-powered rifle. It was just the job for someone who didn’t want to fight up close and personal. Pete made it through sniper school with flying colors; he had a knack for hitting moving targets at a distance. With a single clip he could hit all the targets dead on, no one else in his platoon came even close to his skill. He started to feel a great sense of belonging with his fellow troops. This was the first time a part of society respected his position and didn’t want to lock him up. Pete thought to himself “ when I get out people will finally give me a little respect”.
When Pete finished his training at the age of 20, he was put on a ship and sent to Afghanistan to fight the people who wanted to take our freedom, or so he was told.
Pete sat on a small hill by an enemy camp for three days without moving from fear of being seen by the enemy. He was drenched with sweat and his pants were covered in Urine, it was common practice to just piss your pants instead of getting up and risking getting seen. His spotter, Ray had already passed out on him twice while looking for the enemy camps captain. “Wake the fuck up,” mumbled Pete to his sleeping friend, “ we aren’t here for fucking around, lets shoot this mother fucker in the head and get the fuck outta here before they see us”. “ What the fuck are we doing here man, these people never did anything to us” said ray. “Who gives a fuck, I want to get my first set of kills and get the fuck back to base, I’m not going back to camp without completing my mission “said Pete. “ Do you really think anybody gives a fuck about us or what we are doing out here man? Its like we are in a fucked up video game staring down the ends of our rifles” said ray.” This is a real life game, with real life blood and I wanna see some fucking brains splatter on the fucking sand before I get up and run back to base, so shut the fuck up and keep looking for a good time to shoot” said Pete.
The snipers lay 10 miles away from the safety of their camp, so they had to be really quick and precise about the shot and then rush back to camp. They sat about half a mile from the enemy’s camp in some brush, wearing a ghillie suit to hide their presence. They wanted to shoot the captain in hopes that it would make the camp of around 50 men to just go home. Having your captains brains blown out from a distance is about as demoralizing as it gets, and the round that comes out of this rifle can take a head clear off if it strikes at the right angle. So they sat there until the enemy started to relax. The captain settled in around his dilapidated pickup truck. The night started to creep up on them, which was good because they would have more cover as they ran back to camp.
“Wait for him to go into his truck and sit down, then call the shot, if he sits in the truck they won’t hear him hit the fucking floor” says Pete. “ I don’t know man, I’m really tired lets go back, I don’t think I can run all the way back to camp” said ray. “Stop being a pussy, I’m getting a fucking kill now, I don’t give a fuck if I die! I want to take someone’s fucking head off,” said Pete. “You need to relax, you’re gonna miss if you get all crazy and shit, then we’re both fucking dead” said ray. “Fuck it, I’m shooting, I can’t wait anymore” said Pete.
A low whizzing cracking sound went through the air, the first shot went through the arm of the captain. Another whizzing cracking sound went through the air and took the head off of the captain. Pete was thrilled at his shot but it was soon taken over by immense fear. The captains had body tilted forward and pushed on the horn in his truck. The loud sound sent shivers down the soldier’s backs, they knew they were fucked if they didn’t move fast, really fucking fast. They wanted surprise to be on their side, but they never expected the body to slam down on the car horn. The two soldiers ran into the dark, forgetting half of their equipment. They grabbed their rifles and ran as fast as they could, which wasn’t fast enough. They were both wasted tired and sitting for three days waiting to take the shot made their legs numb. Pete fell straight down the hill and dropped his sniper rifle, which is a huge fucking no no. Ray ran down the hill to help Pete, and as he made it down to him the horn stopped blowing. “Fuck” they thought to themselves, “we got to get the fuck out of here, they know we’re here”. Anxiety set in on two amateur snipers and they couldn’t get their bearings as to where to run. Pete turned right back into the lost kid who used to walk in circles, tears started to form in his eyes, and the thoughts of his family and mistakes went through his head like the bullet went though the captains, a huge sudden explosion of fear and anxiety hit him. He thought of all the stupid shit he did, he thought of not being there for his child, he thought of his time in jail, all these things became so overwhelming to Pete that he forgot all his training on what to do when these sorts of situations came up. Pete and Ray sprung to their feet and started running out into the desert. They had no clue if they were going in the right direction; they just knew they had to move. In a distance they heard shots, they thought to themselves, “what the fuck are they firing at”. Pete looked down and remembered he dropped his rifle; he only had a side arm and his ka-bar. He did not want to have to fight in close combat, the very thought of sticking his ka-bar in the gut of his enemy made him squeamish. Both soldiers were burnt tired and the thought of running 10 miles back to camp seemed impossible. They didn’t even know if they were running in the right direction. They turned around a small hill in hopes to remember where they were and as they turned a bullet flew through Ray’s chest, the large crackling sound followed shortly afterwards.
“Holy fucking shit, holy fucking shit” Pete mumbled to himself as he shit down his leg, and the fear ran down his spine. “ There must be a sniper carrying a big fucking rifle,” he thought.
Pete dropped to the ground in fear of getting shot. Pete looked over at Ray, he was split in half at the waist, and Ray’s guts lay spread out all over the floor like a haphazardly placed garden hose. The smell of blood, shit and sulfur was in the air. Pete was covered in Ray’s blood, which made him panic. This was the first time he realized that being violent wasn’t thuggish, funny, cool, or any other of the things he thought. He made it through prison without learning this, which was amazing. It took until he was lying on the ground covered in his friend’s guts and his own piss and shit to realize he had been suckered. He was suckered by the lies of the rapper thugs, he was suckered by the drug dealers who used to tell him he could get rich selling, he was suckered by his girlfriend who told him she was on the pill and last but not least he was suckered by the Army recruiter who told him he would get a college degree. In reality what Pete got was a fake character, imprisoned for selling drugs, a child with a girl he didn’t love, and now his life is at risk for shooting someone he didn’t even know. Pete laughed at himself. “What an idiot I am” he thought to himself. It took a lot of punishment for Pete to come to this realization.
Pete lay still on the ground for about twenty minutes. In the distance he heard helicopters and gunshots. He hoped that it was one of ours. A huge explosion went off by the enemy camp and Pete jumped to his feet and started running. “I’m saved,” he thought to himself. He was still in shock and was not thinking clearly, it was nearly dark now, and in a distance he saw a shadow of army soldier. Pete ran over to the soldier, who didn’t realize he was coming. The bombs in the distance were really loud and made everything really confusing for Pete. He ran up to the solider and placed his hand on his back and said, “We gotta get out of here”. Pete realized he made a big mistake this wasn’t an Army soldier. The Afghani man must have taken the coat from an American soldier. The Afghani man quickly turned and hit Pete in the face with the butt of his Ak-47 knocking Pete's two rabbit teeth right out of his mouth. In the panic the Afghani man mistakenly released the bullet clip from his Ak-47 and it fell on the floor. Pete took this opportunity to take out his Ka-bar. With much hesitation Pete ran up to the Afghani man and stuck the blade in his chest. Pete didn’t use enough force and the blade got caught in the man’s rib cage, which freaked Pete out. He left the blade in the mans chest and backed off. The panicked Afghani soldier took a hand grenade out of his pocket and pulled the pin in attempts to throw it at Pete. Pete looked around to try and run but he realized they were pretty much in a ditch, so if he ran shrapnel was gonna hit him anyway he went, so he dropped on the floor and took cover. The grenade went off right next to Pete's feet. The explosion took off both of his feet and blew out his eardrums. Shrapnel littered his back and blood poured from his wounds. Pete felt nothing, and in an instant he passed out.
From what Pete was told they found him shortly after and placed him on a helicopter and brought him quickly to base via helicopter. The surgeons at the base barely saved his life. The medics had to put tourniquets on both of his legs below the knee to stop him from bleeding out. They then sent him to a hospital at the main base where they removed his legs and the shrapnel from his back. We would like to think he was lucky to be alive, but he didn’t feel that way.
He was in that hospital bed for two months recovering. The whole time Pete was there he thought about the mistakes he made that brought him to this horrible existence. It would have been easier to blame the Afghani solider who tossed the grenade, but he couldn’t trick himself any longer. It was his fault; he was the one that took the wrong path that lead him to this hospital bed. He could only use his ignorance as a youth to comfort himself from the mistakes he made. His losses were overwhelming, “ how does one make the right choice from this point out” he thought to himself”.
Two years later I ran into Pete at a Dive bar in Lower Manhattan. I almost didn’t recognize him with his prosthetic legs on. His face looked worn out, puffy and swollen like a drug addicts. When he smiled you could see that he opted for two smaller front teeth, instead of the old Peter rabbit one’s he had. I was overwhelmed when I saw him; I felt a mixture of fear and excitement. I wasn’t sure how to approach him so I just screamed” PETE how the fuck are you”. He didn’t even respond so I screamed again. I wondered if he couldn’t hear me so I walked up to him and placed my hand on his back. Pete quickly jumped back like I was attacking him. He looked at me in the face like he had no clue who I was. He mumbled loudly “what the fuck, what the fuck, I will fucking kill you if you sneak up on me like that”. When he spoke it sounded like he lost his voice or something. I said to him” how are you man”. He shook his head and wrote on a piece of paper for a minute and passed it to me. “I can’t fucking hear my eardrums were blown out it” he wrote on the paper. I wrote back to him on the piece of paper” how are you doing”. Only after I passed the paper did I realize that was a stupid fucking question to ask. He smelled of stale alcohol and sweat, and he was yellow in the face and eyes like he was toxic from the inside out. He looked like he could die at any minute. When he looked at the paper he smirked at me and mumbled” fuck you, you know I don’t know shit about directions, I went down the wrong path and got lost years ago”.