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Joining the Workforce

By Jason Davis

One morning last June, I received a phone call from Vondran. I couldn’t answer, but in the voicemail, he was frantic and shaken.

“Dude,” he asked, “what… what the hell happened to Vance?”

It had been my second week on the job in the new career, and in an environment where my past was virtually unknown. It seemed like a fresh start, that I could finally be someone other than what I had been. And so I continued working, determined to show that I was a dedicated worker. But I couldn’t think straight. The tone in his voice worried me, and it tugged at my wavering concentration.

A few minutes later, I stepped out of the office and called him back, remembering the old team and the old days.

For as long as I’d known him, Vondran had been the witty one, the snarky sham-shielder that could brighten the somberest of moods. But in that moment, on the phone, he was restless and scared. His voice quivered and I could feel in it the too-familiar pang of denial and despair.

“Hey—hey man,” he stuttered. “Have you seen Vance’s Facebook page? Did something happen?”

When I returned to my desk, I logged into Facebook and stalked Vance’s wall. Several dozen friends and family had left condolences and well wishings for his family, and my heart sank. It sank to the floor with the weight and authority of a grenade tossed into a bunker, spinning and tumbling and waiting and–

Vance hadn’t seemed well. He was one of those lovable dramatic types who too often expressed vague but painful, emotional, rhetorical clichés often expressed on Facebook by teenaged girls. He was frustrated, hurt, and tired of all the usual ex-wife bullshit, and I wondered if his support network, my support network, our brothers—had I—had we failed him?

I knew Jason Jermi Vance as SGT Vance, one of the first NCO’s I met in the real Army. He was goofy, most of the time broken down, but always loved and respected by all who knew him. My last memory of him, we were racing in an abandoned and unfinished business tract off Exit 1 near the Tennessee and Kentucky border at Interstate 24. It was private land, but the gates were open and we wanted a place to drive like we were back in Mosul. Dex and Wiley and Stupid Kory and Mac and Ray had joined us.

Vance was driving a third-generation Eclipse with a V6 and automatic; Ray had a new V6 Tiburon; Stupid Kory had an F-150; Wiley had an early 90’s Corvette, and Dex had a Celica GT-S. Good ole Wiley crashed into the fence at the end of his run, scratching the shit out of his hood. We told the dumb bastard to brake, and that’s why we stayed off public roads. Ray’s Tiburon, even with the V6 and better 6-speed transmission, failed to pull on my Prelude, and Dex, with his GT-S and 6-speed, proved quickest at the end of the day. But Vance, that bastard’s Eclipse was slow, and we never let him hear the end of it.

A few months later, when Vance medically retired, he blew his severance pay on a yellow Lancer Evolution with pink graphics. He swore it came that way from the dealership, proud that he finally had the car to blow us all away, but we just laughed. That was our Vance, that dumb big-eared fucker, and we loved him anyway.

In the years that followed, through girl problems and custody battles, Vance drove his yellow and pink Evo through Tennessee and Kentucky and Louisiana, back and forth between home and family, visiting his children and family and friends. I didn’t talk to him as often as I should, though I was trying to raise my own family while finishing school in California. But through all the Facebook drama, Vance endured and persisted like a professional soldier. He was the supreme optimist: No matter how bad his status updates became, they always ended with a promise to fight.

(SGT) Jason Jermi Vance died on 27 June 2011 in a head-on collision. I never did get the details, and since it was my second week of work, I was afraid to ask for time off to attend his memorial, held a few days later.

“You know, Vance was to me what Brian was to you,” Vondran later told me, referring to my team leader, SGT Brian Colby, who took his own life a year previous.

I nodded, thinking that some unspeakable force was slowly having its way with my brothers. And I remembered telling Baz in a hotel room the night before Brian’s memorial how I felt like I didn’t think Brian’s death was going to be the last.

That morning at work, I contemplated walking out of the office. For three hours, I couldn’t concentrate on my work; I couldn’t think of anything but trying to hold in my emotions, but feeling them slip out of my hands like running water. I didn’t know Vance like Vondran did, but he was still my brother, a man I fought with and walked with, humping rucksacks in the suck. In war, it doesn’t matter what each person carried; what matters is what they shared, and SGT Vance was among the best at taking care of his soldiers, of any soldier, brother, or friend.

I couldn’t leave work that morning. I felt like I couldn’t just walk into the new boss’ office and tell him that I was weak, that I had PTSD, or that because of it, that I was in and out of constant depression and mood swings triggered by flashbacks and sounds and smells. I couldn’t leave work that morning, so I walked into the restroom and splashed water onto my face and eyes, and grieved silently at my cubicle, alone in an office of buzzing lights and a cursor blinking emptily on a blank Word document on my desktop.

Jason Davis served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, including two combat deployments to Iraq. After his military obligation, Jason used the Post-9/11 GI Bill and received a BA in Literary Journalism at the University of California, Irvine. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two kids, and works as an automotive journalist and photographer for the Motor Trend Auto Group

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