I saw you there, crouched on the ground, cradling your knees in your arms. You in your long white robes, dirty at the hem from walking the sandy streets. You with your skinny long body, gaunt face and wispy black beard. You with your hands covering yours eyes, like if you couldn’t see, it wouldn’t be true, like somehow you would no longer be there in front of a line of machine guns just as they opened up without restraint on the two story sand-colored complex behind you. You shook. You peered through your hands, eyes hysteric wide, whites bulging. Your lips worked frantically back and forth as I imagine you prayed for your life, prayed for another day, prayed to see your children’s faces one more time, as the bullets impacted feet above your head, showering you with shattered pieces of mud brick walls. I saw you over the barrel of my M240G midsized machine gun as it made an empty click-click sound, as it malfunctioned in my hands and left me in a stupid panic. Me nineteen years old, me in my first gunfight, me with my trembling feet on the humvee’s metal grated floor. My fingers fumbling with belts of ammunition as I cleared and loaded over and over again, my face jerking involuntarily toward the back of my head, like shrinking away could stop the bullet I knew was coming out of the dark window above your head to smack me game over senseless.
It was that look in your eyes that briefly made me forget myself. It was the way you clasped at your face, like your hands would protect you from armor piercing 50 cal rounds, like they could stop you from being vaporized into pink mist. It was that wide-eyed animal fear that saved you. You looked like a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so magically, thirty-five Marines, all of them unhinged, pointed their guns in your direction and pretended like you didn’t exist, spraying thousands of rounds but letting you cower unharmed–just beneath the hail of bullets devastating the people in the building behind you.