My Psychotic Military Adventure
NOTHING THAT IS WORTH KNOWING CAN BE TAUGHT - Oscar Wilde
One cloud laid low above my head during my teen years, and no matter what I did it was always there. I just couldn’t shake off the sucker by any slick way of pretending, playing blind, thick skinned, or just running for the bliss of ignorance. Like with those Pavlov’s dogs, red square and blue circle would eventually become a purple ellipse and eat my stomach alive for an appetizer. This dreadful event awaiting for me in the tube of time was my future military obligation, a debt that by birth I owed to God, country, and the Yugoslav People’s Army: a cheerful name built on brainless patriotism, a contradictio in adjecto, a bad breath of times long gone and never forgotten (and this is not story of Johnny Rotten).
This is a story about plain despair, where nothing helped, or could possibly help; I was doomed to waste about year and a half of my prime to satisfy somebody’s mis-spelled idea of mea patria erat Barbaria. My positive nature pulled a mutiny against me, bargaining for an array of light on the black market of time, but in avail. I’d just got married when the last extension was exhausted, and it was time for me to go – plain and simple, there were no two ways about it. And so I went.
I did theorize about it for years, but in case you failed to notice, there is a certain difference between the theory and the ass biting life. A tiny difference, capable of swallowing half the human kind in that crevasse. So I cleaned my Hegelian slate of any absolute idealism, rolled my sleeves (not literally, literary), and went to work. I threw away the beret they gave me, was instantly noticed by fellow soldiers, some of them advised me against it, but my PR speech was short and to the point: it gives me a freaking headache. The black swan mechanism kicked in by default, they called me to report.
It was nothing new, those initial days of service were known for the last outbursts of humanity, before the sledge hammer of blind discipline flattens all those unique characters into sheet metal of orders obeyed. They didn’t take me too seriously, just aired their routine spiel, and considered the case closed. Well, they had to reopen it soon, and two days later - probably a record of its kind (I’ve never cross referenced the military archives) – I found myself in a bus heading to Split, the army headquarters for the region. By the way, R. D. Laing would’ve loved the name (The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness – this was part of my preps for the showdown at the corralled O.K.).
Split I knew, Eileen and I flew there before taking a ferry to the island of Hvar just the prior year. The next day a military psychiatrist examined me, scribbled something, and sent me back to the garrison. Whoah, that was fast! There was a colonel back in the barracks who was a reasonable man, forgot his name, experienced in throwing hot potatoes across the fence, and a week later I talked him into sending me back to Split. A word yo-yo came to mind.
This time I wasn’t the only one meaning business: they threw me straight into military asylum, locked me up with other soldiers of misfortune. I didn’t like it. I had to do something about it. Easier said than done, yet not impossible. I took the key from good doctor’s office, and waited until the midnight; sneaked in, looked around: the cabinet with his official wardrobe was locked, and I couldn’t go anywhere the way I was dressed. Thank God for that TV next door, blasting like a boombox in Bronx, helping me destroy the back of the cabinet – a path of least resistance – without being detected. A handsome young doctor, I was ready to bail out, when a problem revealed itself: the freaking asylum was on the second floor. I was crazy, sure, but not this crazy: preferred my legs in one piece. There was a wide enough window drain stretching across the building, and there was enough lights around – they keep these establishments well lit – for me to notice a hillside almost touching the left side wall.
Took me some time to close a young fella into selling me his spare clothes: ‘I don’t know, man, this sure sounds weird.’ Weird or not, twenty hours later I was resting at home. The colonel gave me four days, then the phone rang: either I come back by myself, or the MP will do that for me. Talking about simplicity of the choice. I kissed my wife and hit the road.
‘This is it, soldier, you are going to Split for the final verdict and for the last time. After that, you’ll have to choose between the prison or giving up.’ This guy was a master of simple dilemmas, I kind of liked the man. ‘What if they release me permanently?’ He couldn’t believe I said that, his mouth agape: ‘Nobody in his right mind will ever release you, you aren’t insane, you are just spoiled and persistent. And very gutsy, I give you that.’
I had a visit with the head cheese psychiatrist. ‘I’ve just spoken with Dr. Podjanin,’ he said, ‘and we agreed that you are one healthy young man, capable of serving his country.’ Dr. Rade Podjanin was my ace in the sleeve, a long time family friend, a colonel himself. Ooops! They sent me to the waiting room until my escort arrives. I spent some agonizing twenty minutes there, hovering above my destiny like an one-legged vulture, when suddenly they called me back in the office. This better be my ‘joker is wild’,’ I thought, ‘or I’m dead on arrival.’ General X called. You are free to go home.’