When Steve arrived in our three man room at Fort Stewart, he was both the youngest, and the man with the least time in service. I was the oldest, and highest ranking, and I also had the shortest contract, that being two years. I wasn’t really in the Army with a two year contract, I was just passing through. Or at least that was what the lifers said about me.
But Steve was serious. At eighteen, he had just gotten out of high school, and he wanted to be a medic, and one day, a real doctor. Ironically, and coincidentally, the third man in the room, Bob, was from Chicago too, but he was the company armorer. One roommate facilitated making holes in people and the other patched them.
Steve was a chronic over sleeper, and he slept hard. This was a never-ending problem, but Bob and I were on it. One Sunday morning Bob went outside the room, pounded on the door, and Steve woke up. “Oh god Steve, we’re late for PT!” I shouted and he scrambled to get ready. Steve bolted out of the door with his running shorts on and Bob came back in, laughing. Steve made it all the way to the exercise ground before he realized he had been had.
Then there was the morning we ran his clock up an hour, set the alarm, and Steve made it to work an hour early. Steve came in drunk one night, put on his uniform and got ready to go, because he only had a couple of hours before he went in. He was going to take a nap before he went in, but someone tied his boot laces together and he wound up with a black eye from falling off his bunk. Bob blamed me, unjustly, but as the company prankster, it came with the territory.
They shipped Steve down to Haiti for a week, and for all we knew, it was a beach vacation. We could not have been more wrong. Steve came back a different man. Sure, his occupation might involve bullet wounds and drama, but he never expected to be tossed into an environment where sickness and lack of medical care were killing people every day. The smell, he told us, was overpowering, and prevalent. People of all ages lined up for treatment for every illness imaginable. Steve was nineteen by that time, but he aged more in that week than in his entire life.
Steve was a teenager, a very young man, and the artist formerly known as Prince was his hero. Someone offer to let Steve drive a motorcycle, and Steve, had never been on one before, vamped his way through it, sure, I’ve ridden a lot. He wound up with the worse case of road rash you had ever seen. We mocked him without mercy, singing “Purple Pain” all the while.
Steve got orders to go to Korea, and that was that. He still owed a ton of money on his sound system, and had never done the math on how much the interest would cost him, so he wound up paying about a thousand bucks for a five hundred dollar system he couldn’t take overseas with him anyway. But that was Steve.
We drank hard the night before he left, and he told me I was his first white friend, and he would remember the books I loaned him, and how I had always, in my own weird way, looked out after him.
The day he shipped off I remember him getting on the bus, and waving goodbye.