My neighborhood is a memory. I’ve been gone so long I can’t remember what’s real and what’s invented. It doesn’t matter much, I’m in a very Forrest Gump state of mind, fighting a war most question, and all at once honored with my place in life — to lead 55 young infantry Marines in the experience, the adventure, and the hardship of this desert campaign. Just as a doctor doesn’t question our wobbly gun control as a gunshot victim lies beneath his scalpel, a Marine cannot lay down his rifle to question the merits of war while he’s getting shot at. To that end, the Marine “grunt” maintains a unique political agnosticism. We have to in order to do the kinds of grizzly things that are required of us. The Marine Corps infantry is tribal. Violent. Pure. As we train and fight, we fast become our own neighborhood. But when home is so far gone, and you are surrounded by so much uncertainty, so much violence, and so much boredom for so long, you go home every day. You have to. And you go home in great detail. This ensures your memories aren’t so easily lost along with other things that are so readily lost by men in wars. Details anchor a memory from drifting into infinity. Like the sound of your grandfather's voice. The smell of his cologne. These things pass with time. you get frustrated when you can no longer remember the details. Details are fleeting. You have to hold them tightly. All that is left of my neighborhood are beautiful details. I replay them religiously in beautiful kaleidoscope dreams to ensure they aren't lost to time. I've learned in a place that's so far adrift, a neighborhood memory is all the anchor I need. La Jolla is my anchor.
I've been asked many times by the men I've met here to explain America. The children especially stand back, fascinated as my patrols pass: so many young men of so many colors, such diversity, all with common uniform, posture, discipline, and mission. We are all they know of America. It's difficult to explain the concept of "America" when asked. Jefferson called it an "idea." Franklin, "our great experiment." One of my immigrant Marines calls it what his parents always told him it was, "hope." Trying to explain a country as an "idea" a "concept", "hope," or an "experiment" is challenging. Especially when this "concept" is waging a war among them. When they see me searching for an answer, they'll usually shift their question to: "tell me about your home." I relax. This is when I tell them about my neighborhood memory. This is when I tell them about my La Jolla. I tell them what I remember. I remember narrow streets lined with small, colorful cottages by my family's homes on Sea Lane and Rosemont. There's nothing quite like the smell of sea water spray after a wave breaks on the beach-weathered stone by our old Rosemont home. There are palm-lined roads and perfectly manicured lawns of the most blinding green. My town sits on the world's edge, nestled between the sea and a mountain. On the mountain are palaces. From the top of this mountain you can see into tomorrow. My home is known as a jewel by my city because, I think, when the sun sets it sparkles. Waves are born thousands of miles away and end their journey with a spectacular crash of blue and white. Brave men ride boards into the sea and use the waves' force to carry them back to the shore. A few kilometers from my parents' cottage are restaurants that serve cuisine prepared by some of the world's finest chefs. There is one street in the heart of it all that gets decorated with scarlet and green during Christmastime. It's best to walk down this street with a coffee or tea, making your way past all the small stores, greeting old friends you meet along the way. I remember never locking my front door and sunsets that inspired me to take chances and seek adventure in my life. I remember that in the morning a great cooling fog rolls in from the west and blankets the village and that by midday the sun burns away the mist, leaving in its place a splendid warmth. I remember falling in love with a beautiful girl from Cardiff-by-the-Sea. I remember holding her hand and missing her before I even left. I mostly remember the details. Precise smells and sights. Smiles and waves from familiar friends. I remember feeling a great sense of security, something I haven't felt for some time now. I remember also feeling happy. And only now do I realize something I never felt while I was back home: lucky.
"Your home sounds like it was born in a beautiful dream," I was told by a sheik from Sakat Village, just northwest of Baghdad. "I hope your children one day have such memories," I replied. "God willing," he sighed. "Until then, our dream comes with death." I stared at him. What do you say to that? Nothing. You can't. All you can do is realize that the world is, by and large, a pretty rough place, riddled with poverty and disease, hunger and war. And then there is my home. My La Jolla. A memory that keeps my eyes forward at a time when you wish your eyes were closed. I wish everyone could be so lucky— to have a seaside memory such as mine.