In the Northern Pacific is a vast body of water that’s as misunderstood as its effects are far-reaching. On a recent October night the Gulf of Alaska was unleashing a torrential deluge of cold rain over the whole of Anchorage. On this night—everyone in South Central Alaska understood the mood of the ocean.
On this night, I was inside a local tavern, drinking beer with a man named Pat Gault.
It was the stormy season, the end of summer, and the tourists were long gone. So we were elbow to elbow with those who remain—the die-hards, hard-heads, lost souls, explorers, the insane, and everyone else who doesn’t fit in.
After finishing the first beer, the voices around us faded into a languid medley of after-work banter. When the second beer was gone, the bar noise turned into a soothing hum. It was on the third beer when Pat told me he killed a man, shot him in the pitch-black desert. Only then did the bar feel empty. Pat said just enough, as some things are better left unsaid, and then he quietly finished his beer.
Twenty-five years old and 7,000 miles away from home, Pat’s innocence ended when he pulled the trigger.
Some people are like mirrors, reflecting the truth you might already know but are unwilling to see. Not because they look at you a certain way or because they act like they know something you don’t—sometimes it’s because they don’t react at all. Some people listen, really listen, and without saying anything, you know they’re looking for clues. In every interaction, they’re trying to understand—you, your reality, their reality—and how it all fits together. Pat listens because at his core, the truth is all that matters to him.
The truth is Pat’s elusive Holy Grail.
After his third tour in Afghanistan he bought a VW camper van and headed to Central America. After crossing the Mexican border and traveling south for a few days, he thought about never going back home.
Pat Gault is among the most highly trained of all the military Special Forces. So specialized, most people have never even heard of what he does. He’s an Air Force Pararescueman, otherwise known as a PJ. Think Navy SEAL, but with a host of other hard earned skills, including being a paramedic. And because Pat is stationed in Alaska, he also possesses advanced rescue skills that are unique to the arctic environment.
Pat is among a cadre of men who jump out of airplanes into skies as dark as ink, sometimes to land in dangerous places.
And then? He would probably find his way back to the bar with friends, never mentioning everything he had experienced. Because to Pat, it’s part of the life he chose. Something he compartmentalizes and puts away.
What he does for a living isn’t like the military drama we see on TV. There’s an emotional effect and even an ambiguity of actions missing from each of those often fictionalized reenactments. You see, Pat Gault, not unlike many of his compatriots, is not really a patriot. He’s part of a misunderstood tribe of men, those who honor one another more than any government reigning over them.
Not surprisingly, the military is not all of who Pat is. He’s also a prolific writer. There have been mornings when I arrived at his home, only to find the disheveled leftovers of an all-night, creative bender. One morning I walked in and found his open laptop, an empty bottle of wine, and a 9mm resting on a messy stack of papers atop his tiny kitchen table. In some people, the truth burns so hot, they have no choice but to stay up all night trying to make sense of it all. If Pat could talk the way he writes, he might be on a theater stage, captivating people with emotive prose. In a past life, Pat Gault may have been a troubadour.
But in this life, he’s a warrior and a word slinger.
I hear beautiful women everywhere I go but I may not see them. I may not be able to spot them. I may hunt as a man would for an elusive mountain sheep but I am not a good or an accomplished hunter. I know, as any man should, how a beautiful mountain sheep, with full purity and confidence would appear. But I cannot find one. They should contrast the landscape but here, they do not. To my trained eye, they do not.
What else might I say? The poem, is over. Women are dying as the definition of “woman” may be. That is apparent, as us men may see, but, let me establish a reality: It was not the women who died first. It was us. It was the men. We were lost long before and we, as it seems, wandered for many years before we lost our passion for true beauty-the beauty that came from the true woman. We lost our passion. We now submit to over aggression and passionate women stay single. Passionate men have gone blind.
On that stormy night in October, I saw something in Pat’s eyes that said more than his words. Just like the Gulf of Alaska occasionally gives up its shipwrecks, Pat’s eyes told another story.
All I could do was observe and wonder… what more resides beyond the storm clouds.