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Guest Post: You Think You Know Pain?

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.)

Just the other night, I sat in a casino bar far from the Las Vegas strip waiting for a friend. The friend was in town for a job interview and he chose this particular casino and this particular bar to meet. I managed to beat him there from class. As I sat there, beer foaming from the tap and five dollars draining away to video blackjack, a young man and his friends approached my position at the bar.

“Bud Light,” he called out to the bartender who wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and slapped a twenty down on the bar.

I looked over to my left and said, “How’s it going?”

With a few words, this young man’s world opened up to me. From a combination of alcohol and excitement, I suddenly became this guy’s best friend. He slapped a hand around my shoulder, which startled me before I realized his state. After collecting myself I asked him what he was doing in the great city of Las Vegas.

My new best friend Jason is a soldier. Our country’s finest. As my father always taught me, I immediately thanked him for his service. “You’re a good man,” I said. “I thank you for all you do.”

There was a pause.

“You military?” he asked.

“No,” I shrugged. “My father was. My brothers are. But not me.”

Without pause came the response I’ve heard more than once. “What the fuck’s wrong with you?” he asked. “Too good or too scared?”

He laughed. It was only a slight variation on a classic. He then turned to another man with him with tattoos up his right arm and said, “Look as this pussy. Daddy did all the fighting for him!”

They laughed some more. A few others joined in. I could feel my face flush. But humiliation wasn’t enough. He leaned in, an arm tight on my shoulder and said, “Do you have any idea how many buddies have taken IED’s so you can sit here and drink a beer?” More mocking ensued.

It was in this moment between a question and an answer that I became stuck. Admittedly, I probably stared directly ahead for a full minute before my response. As a man, I was just called a coward, all that I am insulted. Part of me wanted to compare scars and deeds.

“You think you know pain, bitch?” I wanted to say it. I wanted to measure experiences and compare who’s seen and done more. Which of us experienced more?  

Along that vein, part of me drifted to a hospital bed over a decade ago. My bed. If I’m being completely honest, it was part of me still trying to justify that I’ve suffer more than that jerk ever has. But the memory wasn’t about me, but of a child dying. Not from war wounds but of bone cancer. They couldn’t operate because it was everywhere. If you know nothing of bone cancer, understand that agony doesn’t do the experience justice. The God damned thing is so painful, these poor kids suffering from it are are in so much pain that morphine does nothing. It’s such agony that a child dying from it will scream, night and day. They scream till they’re hoarse. They screams till they pass out from exhaustion.

I can still hear him. A choking cough between waking and exhaustion, down the hall. Staring up at the ceiling. Thinking I could be him. Thanking a merciful God (and yes I see the irony in that statement) that I wasn’t.

Back in the casino bar, I took a twenty from my wallet. It’s all I had. I smiled at my new friend. “The next round’s on me.” I slid it over and got up. I hadn’t suffered. I’m not sure my new friend had either. But something other than that kid down the hall stuck in my head. For every day that he was there, so was his mother, watching. Listening. Helpless.

That’s pain.

eight comments

Ahh…youthful arrogance and liquor. What a delightful combination.

Michael C.: I’ve read that fobbits are more likely to abuse people like this than those who have actually seen the elephant. What have you observed?

I would generally concur with that assessment. But that doesn’t mean all “fobbits” in general, but the highly vocal minority that would do something like this in the first place.

It also doesn’t have to be fobbits, just people who don’t see a lot of action. They still want to tell stories, but they don’t have nearly as many to tell.

Great story Matt.

I’d also have to connect this to our the “Have you been there?” Argument we wrote about.


I’ve told Matt a couple of times, but this is my favorite piece he has written for us. It captures so many complicated emotions in a relatively few amount of words. Very evocative.

Really excellent.

Thanks. My simple point, with no disrespect to any of our service members, is that no one has a monopoly on suffering. Except Job. That poor bastard.

Nice entry, rather powerful, in a low-key note. As an aside, let’s just say that those drunken young men do not come out as very impressive; juvenile and immature, bullying a stranger (that’s what it was, really, complete with “friendly” physical contact to assert domination) to posture among themselves,…
In hindsight, and judging from what is written, with a different, less self-effaced, reaction from the writer, it might well have ended up in a bonding through some kind of physical assault, from joyful bitch-slapping of the “pussy” to more serious violence.
Draftees armies certainly weren’t (aren’t) made of fundamentally different human material, but, still, this is yet an another smallish bit of trivia about the disconnect between the “citizen-soldiers” of not-so-long ago and the self-styled “warriors”, “warfighters”,… of today.
The former having fought mainly in high(er) intensity conflicts against vastly more capable forces, the later having mostly done occupation duties, incidentally. Not that being shred to bits by IEDs isn’t being shred to bits – but the “warrior” fad is weird, if you look at it; did soldiers fighting in, say, Korea, refer to themselves as “warrior”?

I wonder how many of these fine upstanding men will end up as LEO?

I was thinking about this post some more. It seems like the inverse of the “everyone is a hero” discussion you mentioned once. These guys weren’t calling themselves heroes though, they were focusing on the pain aspect. And you rightly just said, no one has a monopoly on pain. And no one has a monopoly on service to the nation either.

And Kevin, the “warrior-ization” of our military is a strange reaction to the anti-war protests of Vietnam. I even think most soldiers treat it ironically; the people calling our soldiers warriors are generals, politicians and the people back home who aren’t on the frontlines.

Very cool of you to show him respect throughout the entire interaction even though his behavior didn’t warrant it.