AfghaniStan Diego

Chapter3; The Portal to Hell Opens and Reveals an 8th Layer

I was lying across two uncomfortable seats in the TERMINAL. No matter which way I turned the metal frames of each seat dug into my ribs and back. I thought of all of the stories I had read of the ridiculous horrors refugees suffered to free themselves from tyranny: Afghan’s fleeing their country inside of petroleum tankers, Jews hiding in the sewer to avoid concentration camps, Romanians living in trees for weeks. In my little TERMINAL world I was one of them. I was living in a God-forsaken shithole, where the temperature was always just a little too cold, where there was no comfortable position whatsoever (how is that even possible), and where somehow the news just kept getting worse. I was hungry and in desperate need of a shower, yet could not leave for fear that I would miss the smallest of opportunities, the passing of the eye of the shit storm.

I concentrated on the most random things to take my mind off of the situation. I meditated on the word “TERMINAL” much like Persig obsessed over the word “Quality”.

TERMINAL
–adjective
1. Situated at or forming the end or extremity of something.
2. Occurring at or forming the end of a series, succession, or the like; closing; concluding.
3. Pertaining to or lasting for a term or definite period; occurring at fixed terms or in every term.
4. Pertaining to or placed at a boundary, as a landmark.
5. Occurring at or causing the end of life.
6. Informal. Utterly beyond hope, rescue, or saving.

–noun
7. A TERMINAL part of a structure; end or extremity.
8. A station on the line of a public carrier, as in a city center or at an airport, where passengers embark or disembark and where freight is received or discharged.
________________________________________
Origin:
1480–90; late ME < L terminālis, equiv. to termin(us) end, limit + It was obvious from studying the WORD that I had about a 50% chance of surviving the situation with my brain intact. My TERMINAL could have simply been a means to a new beginning, a prelude, and the end of a horrible extremity. It could pertain to a definite period (*this cannot go on forever*), a misery that would eventually end. My TERMINAL very well could be the boundary between me and a very happy reunion with my wife, children and parents. For whatever reason visuals of the other two TERMINALs lingered in my head along with the sickening feeling that my visit to this TERMINAL would bring forth the end of my life, and that no amount of optimism could restore a situation so far beyond hope, rescue, or saving. Somewhere along the line of deep thought, I collapsed on the freezing concrete floor and fell asleep.

I was awake, or at least conscious. I could hear people talking and feel the arctic air blasting out of the vent above me but for some strange reason I could not see. I reached up to my eyes to try to pry my eyelids open. They felt as if they had been Gorilla-Glued together. I spent a few minutes digging the sleepy out before I could finally force my eyes open, ripping out several eyelashes in the process. It was 10:00 AM. The newest group of TERMINAL employees had arrived, and one of them informed me that they had failed in attempting to fix the back hatch of my plane. The good news however, was that H.W was leaving this shit hole, so when a plane became available, I would be one of the first people on it. She told me to hang around because we would be re-palletizing our bags soon. I got up, stretched, walked to the restroom, lathered up my hands and face with soap and scrubbed away. I stepped out feeling surprisingly clean and refreshed. I walked around for a little bit to lube up my legs and back, as they had become quite stiff from my little nap. I noticed a pot of fresh coffee and a few half-stale bear claws. I gobbled a couple of them down, and sipped on my coffee/oil concoction while simultaneously heating my hands through the Styrofoam. Shortly afterward another Airman walked into the terminal and told us to go to the baggage area and move our bags over from one pallet to another. We all did so in a slow, deliberate fashion. A few of us hung around outside for a short period of time just to get a change of scenery. After about 30 minutes, we were cold enough to return to our front row seats to the play “Hell Unfolding”. A woman with a high pitched voice called for our attention over the intercom and casually informed us that our flight would be leaving at 17:00. It was 12:00.

I decided I would once again take advantage of the USO’s amenities across the street. I chatted with my wife for s short while via GChat, and inhaled 3 mini-bags of popcorn. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” was playing on the big screen, and since I had seen it before I figured it would be a great time to catch up on much needed rest. Yup, you know what is coming … brace for impact.

I woke up at 14:30 with a crick in my neck. I stood up, looked around, and immediately wondered why the 100 or so people that littered the couches and reclining chairs before I fell asleep had dwindled down to a mere 20. I felt a bit nervous as I walked across the street to the terminal. The feeling I felt then was sickening at best. I think it may be best explained by likening it the feeling you get when you become detached from your mother or father at the grocery store when you are very young; pure, sweat-inducing panic. As I turned the corner to enter the TERMINAL I came face to face with a horrible sight I recently thought I would never see; emptiness. Rush Limbaugh’s conscious wasn’t as empty as this. Britney Spears’ life had more content. All of my partners in hell were gone. All of their things were gone with them. At that moment a woman walked up to me briskly with a sobering look on her face and asked, “Are you Kramer”? “Yes”, I replied. She then informed me that the plane had arrived very early and literally left the runway 5 minutes earlier. She told me that had been looking for me for about 45 minutes, and that they had even sent someone over to the USO. I suppose there is no point in discussing the shitty job that person did in attempting to find me. She looked at me with pity and told me that all of my bags were on the plane, and that I would have to wait until tomorrow morning to catch a flight in hope of reuniting myself with them. I can only imagine the expression she saw. At that moment I was tearing up from the purest breed of rage. I had difficulty hearing anything over the sound of my own heart beating at a ridiculous pace. My throat hurt, my head hurt, and I thought my eyes were going to pop out. It had been a while since I had been dealt such a devastating emotional blow. She saw a horrific potential in me (where is the nearest clock-tower???) and quickly decided to sit down next to the seat I had taken at some point of time during her speech (by this point I was doing things before I realized I was doing them) and told me “not to worry” and that “these things happen all the time”. After a few seconds of silence she said “Your bags will be there when you land. Why don’t you just try to get some rest and be sure to be here by 07:00 tomorrow morning.”

I decided to walk around the base for a little while in an attempt to calm myself down and to analyze my situation rationally. I eventually decided that it would be wisest to sit down, have a huge meal, shower, and catch up on my sleep. I couldn’t help but to be conscious of the fact that I was freezing. The high temperature was only 27 degrees and all I had on was a t-shirt covered by a light-weight fleece jacket, and a 5-point cover (all Army issued). After eating I made my way over to the PX to buy some toiletries, black knit cap that said “Bagram” across the front, a towel, some sandals, underwear and some new under-shirts. I opted out of purchasing a new razor and shaving cream strictly to save money. The undershirts were long sleeved and extremely thick, a godsend. I also decided to buy an Afghani scarf to tuck into my fleece jacket in an attempt to warm my neck and face. I couldn’t resist purchasing a very cute one-piece wool dress for Ra. I realized as long as I kept thinking about her and the kids my TERMINAL would simply be a landmark, a means to a better future.

I shuffled over to the nearest shower and lost myself in it. I was like a redneck at a monster truck show, experiencing the very essence of Heaven itself. Andy Dufresne didn’t shower like that after escaping Shawshank. It was unbelievable. I am ashamed to admit that it very well may be years before Afghans have access to hot water again after my little excursion. I felt relaxed and at ease. I made my way back over to the R&R tent and smiled each time I encountered a puzzled face, or the statement “you are still here”? I examined my comically soiled short sleeve undershirt, and decided I would once again make light of the situation. It took a while but I eventually found a black permanent marker and carefully stenciled “Bagram R&R Flight Cancellation Count: VI”. I spent a few minutes parading around while wearing it and was instantaneously the talk of the tent. Eventually I settled in the corner of the tent, opposite of the Sun’s blow dryer, and immediately fell into the deepest of sleep.

Tuesday, 18 December (06:00 AM)

It was 0530. My watch had been chirping at me for 30 minutes. I shuffled through the ice over to the DFAC, and grabbed a quick wholesome breakfast. I decided to double up on my long sleeve undershirt while waiting for the bus. In a moments time I would be back within ITS walls and boundaries and I would not be ill-prepared.

I walked in and was immediately approached by an employee who smiled and asked if I was finally ready to go home. She informed me that the plane was parked right outside, and that I would soon be leaving Bagram to rejoin my luggage. I spent the majority of the morning soaking in the deafening sounds and beautiful sights of Prowlers taking off and wondering why again I did not pursue a commission as a Navy Flight Officer. I decided in the event of another flight cancellation that I would ask the front desk for a black sharpie, lift up my fleece jacket and etch another “I” on my R&R cancellation shirt right in their presence. Perhaps because I was looking forward to it, the opportunity never arose. 4 Hours later I was in the air, flying out of Afghanistan.

The flight was long, and dark, and we all had to wear a heavy Kevlar helmet, and our 70 pound IBA’s which only go midway down our backs. Several planes had been peppered by .762 caliber firearms in the past few months during the process of taking off and landing. The armor was not an option. The reprieve I felt from moving forward in my journey did go a long way in masking all pains or discomforts, but I challenge you to sit perfectly upright for 5 hours with 70 pounds on your shoulders using a back support that only extends down to the middle of your back. The 130 or so people on the plane were squirming, and readjusting, and moaning, and moving, and doing anything else they could to keep their minds of their misery. I certainly felt it to. My back had tightened up so bad that I actually feared standing up when we arrived. Still, I am fairly certain the smile never left my face throughout the entire flight. I had won a major victory. Clark Griswald may be getting his bonus after all.

Wednesday, 19 December (01:00 AM)

We landed at Ali Al Salim in Kuwait. We spent 30 minutes on the ground waiting for the buses to come and pick us up. Eventually they arrived and we were instructed to board them. They drove us to the central R&R processing center and let us out. We were herded like cattle from one station to the next. It was 02:00 AM. After receiving our tent assignments and a short orientation, we were told to go to the baggage area to pick up our luggage. I could hardly wait to pick up my bags. I had already identified that minor inconvenience as the last major hurdle between me and my family. As we walked from the briefing tent to the baggage area I was made aware of just how freaking cold Kuwait could get. It was 27 degrees with a brisk 25mph headwind. Sand was blowing everywhere. Here I was at sea-level freezing my ass of when only a couple of weeks ago I was relaxing comfortably at 6000ft altitude in Kabul.

As I arrived at the baggage area I found the nearest employee and explained my situation. He pointed to where my bags were and I was on my way. As I approached the area I noticed there were about 10 “orphaned” bags sitting off by themselves in a corner. At about that time I noticed that none of these bags belonged to me. Again panic, fear, anger, anxiety, and more panic swept over me. I quickly realized that this last hurdle may in fact have been the most damning of them all. I walked as fast as I could through the freezing wind to the person I had spoken with earlier. He told me to go check with the lost baggage representative in tent #2. I was supposed to be attending another brief at that moment, but suffice to say I didn’t really give a shit. The lost baggage representative looked overwhelmed and overworked. It was immediately clear that this was a very common occurrence and even more clear that those who had lost their bags rarely found them. He walked around the tent with me to show me all of the possible places they could be. They may have been brought here, taken to them, stored in this connex, turned into these people. There were literally like 7 places where I may or may not have found my bags, my belongings, my families’ Christmas. I was already appalled at how unorganized things were.

We spent a good 30 minutes wandering around the freezing camp looking for my stuff. He told me to come back and talk to the morning shift representative as it was possible that he handled them himself. Saying he was less than convincing when he spoke would be the understatement of a lifetime. I knew then and there that I had probably lost everything for good. I could waste away 60 pages of writing attempting to explain or illustrate my feelings and thought process at the time. It wouldn’t make a difference. There is no explaining the HATRED that I felt at that moment. I looked down and saw Lucifer cowering at my feet.

I blew off the final briefing all together and decided to walk frantically around base searching for my things. How the fuck could they have been lost on a flight with no layover? They didn’t just fucking vanish. I was seeing black. The wind ripped through everything I wore and caused my eyes to water, which caused me to get even more pissed which cause my eyes to water more. I stopped and wrapped the scarf around my face and donned my Bagram knit cap. I hadn’t shaved in about 4 days and was breaking at least 5 uniform regulations. I dared anybody, anybody to correct me on the matter. I must have walked around for a good hour looking my hardest through teary eyes in every nook and cranny I could find. I had difficulty walking due to the fact that my legs were shivering so violently. I walked into a trailer we were all supposed to stop at before retiring for the morning. Their only purpose was to process you travel packet, and make sure that everything was correct so that SATO would issue the airline ticket you needed. They asked me if I wanted to fly out Thursday night. I suppose any bit of human interaction would have catapulted me into a rage. I snapped back with spite and told him I was not plying out until their two-bit, piece of shit operation located my bags. He looked confused more than anything and told me I had to select a date. I told him to pick Thursday, and that I would show up or not show up as I saw fit. He starred at me with a peculiar expression as I walked out the door. Right as the door was closing I swore I heard younger Army kid say “wah, I don’t wanna go home”. I stood there for a second, opened the door and looked at him to see if I could concur that I had in fact heard that. He just stared at me and I said, “Sorry what was that”? He looked at me with a smile and said “oh nothing”.

Another 30 minutes of walking around watery-eyed, out of uniform, and looking for a confrontation. At some point of time I decided I would walk around and look for my little jester friend. I circled the base many times over imagining what I would do. I was very aware of the consequences of such an action; jail time, and loss of rank, pay and vacation. I really didn’t care. I wanted to get very personal with him in the worst way. I wouldn’t use my gun, or a knife. I figured I would confront him and just go absol-fucking-lutely ape-shit before he even knew what was happening. I imagine choking him with my bare hands. I imagined gouging his eyes, and breaking every bone in his face. I could practically hear the screams, and cracks. I was ready and more than willing to bridge the gap from my former sane self to a new and improved sociopath. His mangled corpse was the only thing that could rid me of the emotions that were slowly destroying my insides. Talk is talk, I get that. Lord knows there are plenty of military talkers; war heroes, former all-state boxes, etc. In a world where everyone is a bonafide bad ass, and where every male swings a 9 incher, I was the person that needed to be feared. I was a wolf in wolfs’ clothing. Had I run into him again, I would have gone out of my way to kill him in the most painful and deliberate way I could. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

I sat in a corner, with my back up against the concrete slab. My face had ice on it from the tears flowing down my cheeks. I was coming down from my fit. I suppose it was only natural. There was no way my body could endure such an adrenalin spike for an extended period of time. In returning to my pseudo-normal self I realized just how close I was to doing something that could have ruined me and my life as I knew it. I thought of my kids visiting me in prison, of my wife moving on with another man, of my parents crying in court, and most importantly, I thought about reaching a mental state that I had thought was entirely unreachable by a rational person. Until that moment I had never really understood serial killers or their hanus crimes. I sat and cried. I cried because I knew deep down inside I was more than capable of doing something that scared the shit out of me.

It may be hard for some to understand the reasoning behind the level of anger/anguish that I was feeling. Let me attempt to rationalize the irrational. First and foremost was the thought of my kids going without Christmas. I had spent months planning what I would buy and make them. It took me well over a month to make one of Jades gifts, a jingle truck filled with over 150 miniature letters explaining why I love her. I had cut out and hand written one for every month of her life through the age of 18 … and it was now gone. To me, it was as if as piece of her was gone. It meant so much to me to give that to her. And now it and all my other gifts were gone. Chunk’s camouflage teddy bear was gone. Throughout my life I had bought my mom a pair of house shoes once every other Christmas. I had an Afghani pair made especially for her. They were gone. I would never see Ra don the outfits I bought for her. The items I bought for my nephews and nieces and sisters, and father, also gone. Jewelry, clothing, and wood carvings, all of high sentimental value were lost. That incident left a scar on me deep enough to for me to justify saving this draft about 20 times in the last hour for fear of losing all my work (2 Months later). Yeah, it was that bad.

Aside from thinking of Christmas, I also had to deal with the fact that over 50% of the world as I knew it was also gone. We have very little space to store anything in theatre or on a ship so we live literally out of a couple of sea-bags. Well all at once, I lost shoes, clothes, toiletries, military issue cold weather gear, boots, an IPOD, a nice backpack, a gyro ball, books, hats, a ton of DVD’s and CD’s and countless other items. Essentially half of the content that made up my temporary home had all vanished. Wilson fell off the raft and was slowly floating away and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

What to do what to do? I figured I could call Ra, and simply hope her voice would bring me back over to the light side of the force, or I could try to get some sleep. I gave Ra a shot. I called her from a TERMINAL phone and had a hell of a time hiding my emotion. Eventually I confided to her that I was scared of my present mental state. She kept asking me if I had already turned my gun in. I distinctly remember something I said in an attempt to calm her down that, in hindsight probably made things much worse. After she asked about my gun I coolly informed her that “I had no intentions of harming myself, and that I did not intend to use my gun to harm those that needed to be harmed, as shooting them would not be personal enough”. The weird thing is that was entirely honest. It was in no way contrived. I believe Ra sensed the state I was in, and honestly I do not think she knew how to react. After I said that, those words echoed through my head, each repetition amplified over the last. I cannot recall the remaining conversation. I don’t know what Ra said afterwards or if she was crying when she said it. I could only hear those words echoing through my head. I had to try to sleep.

I walked to my tent and opened the door. Pitch black, and freezing. I used my watch lamp to determine which racks were occupied. I found a top bunk empty and threw my stuff, (my laptop bag and a small plastic bag) up on top. I climbed up and lay down. There was no pillow, and no sheets or blanket. It only took about 20 minutes before I had to resort to using the mattress as a blanket, lying directly on a sharp, cold grid of springs. I sang to myself “Sleep will not come, to this tired body now. Peace did not come to this lonely heart”. Luckily daylight was only a couple of hours away.

As unbearably hot as my tenure was in Bagram, my stay in Kuwait was equally miserable as its polar opposite (+5 for cunning use of the word “polar”). I again found reprieve in a hot shower. I got to the tent early and asked my friends for information since I had no idea what was put out while I frantically searched the base the night before. I found out I needed to take care of a couple of items, before my out-processing began.

I had every intention of describing the specifics of out-processing when I sat down to write this installment of my saga a few hours ago. Truth is I am emotionally drained now from reliving all of this shit. Out-processing was exactly how one would expect the military to handle it. We were herded around all day like cattle from one location to another. We weren’t people but jobs and numbers. Go here, pack, unpack, walk over there, sign this, next, tent 3, inspection, customs, wait, eat, go here, talk to them, etc. Now that I think about it, it was very similar to my very first military experience; in-processing. I did find time to talk to the morning shift baggage rep, and of course he had no idea what happened to my stuff. He had me fill out a lost baggage report, which they apparently filed away and never looked at again (chapter 4 will discuss this). In between getting branded and neutered, (what else happens to cows before they are killed?) I searched hopelessly for my lost bags. At 20:00 I gave up hope and boarded a bus to head to Kuwait’s civilian airport.

The bus ride was interesting. We were in a cluster of 10-15 expensive, chartered buses. The lights were out, the window curtains were closed, and we were instructed not to peek out no matter what the circumstance.
It kind of reminded me of Ann Frank’s family hiding from Nazi’s. Everyone was very silent. About an hour into the trip we pulled into a guarded area at the airport and the busses came to a stop. We were told to mill around in the sand and use the port-o-johns until our plane was ready for boarding. That took about 45 minutes. Once I stepped foot on the massive 400-seater I was more than ready to close my eyes, and rid myself of the memories of the last 24 hours. It was either that or watch “Ghost Town” for the 126th time in the last 6 months.

Thursday, 20 December (time unknown)

The flight from Kuwait to Germany went by fairly quickly for me since I spent just about every minute either sleeping or eating. As we began our approach to Germany I peeked out the window to see the earth covered in a white sheet. We were lowering very quickly and I couldn’t even see the airport much less the runway. As we got within 50 feet from the Earth I quickly realized that we were landing on an unsalted/unplowed runway. We touched down and within 30 seconds came to a complete halt. That was the first and hopefully last time I land in 6 inches of snow. The flight crew was very nonchalant about the whole situation. I suppose that was just how things were done there.

I exited through the back door of the jet, and walked about 200 yards through moderate snow to board the airport shuttle. It took us around the corner to a TERMINAL and gift shop area. I spent some time snapping photos of the snow as it fell nearly horizontally. After a while I decided I would check out the gift shop. There were a few items there that I was interested in, however everything was ridiculously expensive. A small stuffed animal that would normally be 7 dollars anywhere in the states cost 30 there. I ended up spending a little over 100 dollars on stocking stuffers. Still, it made me feel a little better to attempt to salvage my families’ Christmas. I was getting closer to them, and I wanted to arrive in San Diego without the anger and stress that had plagued me for the last week.

After milling around in Germany for an hour we were herded back onto the shuttle and driven over to our plane. Each person seemed to go out of their way to prolong boarding the plane. Some walked slowly up the stairs, some walked around in the snow, and others just fought their way to the back of the line. We all wanted to go home, but very few of us were excited about the 12 hour flight that lay ahead.
The flight was almost entirely uneventful sans a couple of spells of turbulence. Again I did my best to force myself to sleep, only waking to devour the surprisingly delicious in-flight meals. Eventually I could sleep no longer and I was faced with a dilemma. The Dark Knight was showing on no less than 8 screens within my view, and I needed to do my very best to avoid watching it as I had promised Ra that we would see it together for the first time when I got to San Diego. For a while I stared at the flight information screen (-71 F really???). I quickly bored myself with that and whipped out my new IPOD to watch Donnie Darko. By the time it was over, the Dark Knight was as well. We were a few hours away from Atlanta, and I just wanted the time to pass. Again, I forced myself to sleep.

We landed in Atlanta early Thursday morning. My mind and body felt like it was Friday. Everyone on the plane made a mad dash to get out, collect their stuff and make their way to their connecting flights. I had a hefty advantage in that I did not have to wait to pick up luggage since everything I owned was carry-on. People in the Airport were marveling and beaming with pride as they watched 300 of their countries’ finest filling into airport. Everyone looked so clean and professional, all ready to reunite with their families looking their very best. Then there was me. I was still out of uniform, with my scarf tucked into my jacket, I had two separate boots on, and I hadn’t shaved in about 5 days. I looked like crap. The funny thing was that civilians and military members alike apparently thought I was some sort of Navy Seal or Spec-Ops guy. Nobody said a damn thing to me. Even funnier than that, a warrant officer jumped down the throat of some young Army kid because he was “a week overdue for a haircut”. I was standing right next to him when it occurred. The kid looked at me and then looked back at the warrant and said “yes sir”.

I was one of the first 30 persons processed. As I made my way through yet another security screening the agent looked me over and commented on my appearance by quipping “long flight?” or some such remark. I suppose she saw that I had been through hell. She let me through the checkpoint with a 20oz soda, and many toiletries that were much larger than the allotted limit.

I made my way to my newest TERMINAL, pausing to read the signs overhead. Atlanta to San Diego… this is where I must fight to clear my next hurdle. My connecting flight was not scheduled until the early afternoon. I spoke to a desk worker about swapping tickets for an earlier flight but there was room for standbys only. I signed up and made me way to an internet station. I had to pay 5 bucks for the service but did so happily since I had not had access to internet service faster than dial-up for a very long time. I spoke with some friends, and informed Ra via Gchat that I was finally in the states. For some reason my T-Mobile phone would not pick up a signal, so I could not call her or anyone else.

About 30 minutes passed before the call was made to begin boarding the plane. I kept my eye on the electronic boarding prompter. I was 7th on the standby list and the flight was full. After about 20 minutes of boarding there was no one around but the standbys. I walked up to a young continental employee at the information desk and asked if the standbys could board yet. She looked at me, paused, glanced at my name-tape, and asked if I was going home. I told her that I was. Next thing I knew I was boarding the plane as the only standby.

I sat next to a couple of elderly gentlemen who insisted on discussing anything and everything about the military and the war. They wanted to know what I did, and told me about their neighbors and sons. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was sick of it all, and that we were technically losing the war. I found out that it was virtually impossible to tell somebody that you are not at liberty to discuss what you do without sounding like a complete James Bond hack-wannabe. I felt a bit uncomfortable from all the “thank you for servings” so I picked up the latest and greatest edition of Skymall and read. Soon enough I would be home.

As we approached San Diego I peered out the window to see that the mountains were covered in snow. I knew we were very close to San Diego because we were dropping altitude very quickly. I must have missed a hell of a snow storm. I spent the final 30 minutes of our flight staring out the window, attempting to identify features I was familiar with. I saw a mountain pop up that looked very familiar. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that it was Mt. Miguel, my mountain biking Mecca that had burnt down a year or so earlier during the wild fires. A couple of minutes later we flew over Petco Park and began to line-up for landing.

Once I was on the ground I walked as fast as humanly possible to get out of the Airport. I think I may have beaten everyone on my flight. I flagged down a Taxi and jumped in. We drove a short two minutes down the road and came to a stop next to my house. I paid him and stepped out of the cab and grabbed my two, pathetically small bags. I paused to reflect and absorb the beautiful sight of my home. Ra swung the front door open and began to walk toward me with a smile.

Thursday, 20 December (12:30 Pacific Time)

It was finally over. I was finally home.

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