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CNF: Stories I Don’t Know How to Tell

by Nick Ackerson

 

  • I did not like Christian, but it still made me sad when he did not come home from Afghanistan.
  • When I was transitioning back into the civilian world, a retired green beret with salt and pepper in his beard gave me a piece of advice, “you were asked to be willing to die for your friends, family, and country. Now you’re going to have to live for them. That’s going to be much harder.”
  • Twice in my life I have walked so far—for so long—with so much weight on my back, that when I took off my boots, all the skin on the soles of my feet separated from my body and remained in the bottom of my footwear.
  • One time I jumped out of an airplane into a lightning storm.
  • One time I jumped out of an airplane wearing an experimental parachute.
  • One time I jumped out of an airplane wearing an experimental parachute, and some one in my chalk fell to their death.
  • I scoff when I hear people use the word “warrior” as if it’s supposed to be empowering. Warriors are so tired they know if they die, at least it’s over.
  • Mike took too many pills.
  • When Jon was in Iraq, his fiancé broke off their engagement in the same week his platoon lost two soldiers.
  • One time I lent someone forty dollars, and the next morning it was announced he had killed himself later that night.
  • I have tinnitus.
  • Every one in the army keeps an unofficial list in their head called, “Of Course It Would Be a Tragedy if Any One in Our Platoon Died — But it Would be Less of a Tragedy if it was this Person.”
  • I have been on a plane to go to war four times, and every time they turned the plane around.
  • I have sleep apnea.
  • Technically the plane only turned around twice. Two times it never left the ground at all. I don’t tell this version of the story because the look on a civilian’s face when they hear the nuanced version of an Army story is infuriating.
  • One time a girl at my college told me, “I asked around about you, and your friends say you’ve never killed any one. Now that I know you’re one of the good vets I’m willing to talk to you.” So I lied and said that I had.
  • In the six and a half years I was in the Army, thirteen men in my unit killed themselves.
  • When I was transitioning back into the civilian world, a retired green beret with salt and pepper in his beard gave me a piece of advice, “you were asked to be willing to die for your friends, family, and country. Now you’re going to have to live for them. That’s going to be much harder.” He was right.

 

Nick Ackerson is writer and comedian based in Chicago. He served in the Army from 2009 to 2015. He sent the first four years of his career jumping out of airplanes as a paratrooper. His final two years in the military were spend doing other, less impressive things.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Stories I Don’t Know How to Tell”?

The original “Stories I Don’t Know How to Tell” list was exactly that—a list of events from my time in the Army that didn’t feel like full stories to me. I wrote this list as part of a brainstorming session for a storytelling class I took in my final semester at college. These were all things that were on my mind — but I didn’t know how to present them as stories with a beginning, middle, and end. They were just occurrences — the only thing they had in common was that I didn’t know how to talk about them. This turned out to be the unifying theme.

I’ve read this piece aloud to a few audiences. Eventually the point of the list stopped being “can I make these stories make sense to the audience?” And became, “can this piece help the audience understand why it’s confusing for me to tell these stories?” There are two moments that stick out to me from these readings. Every time I read the line, “I have tinnitus,” the audience laughed. It’s a quick succinct sentence, and it is also has considerably lower stakes than the items on the list in the front of it. When I would read the line, “Every one in the army keeps an unofficial list in their head called, “Of Course It Would Be a Tragedy if Any One in Our Platoon Died — But it Would be Less of a Tragedy if it was this Person.” There would be chuckling and elbow nudging. You can’t escape it. Every group of people has some one who is a pain in the neck—even groups of people who are in life or death situations.

News

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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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