The smell, a mix of dirty water and rotting human waste, permanently stained the walls of my brain.
I didn’t have much contact with those not serving in the Marine Corps while on my deployment, but one person who remains in my memory is the man from the honey truck. The honey truck was the name given to the large truck that showed up a few times a week, in order to pump the waste out of the porta-potties, since running water wasn’t available on our outpost in Afghanistan.
Each time the man arrived, I would have to pat him down and question him. He was a small, gay man. He tried countless times to talk to me, winking at me, always asking whether we could “hang out” and “have fun together.” His constant attempts to flirt with me wore me down and soured my feelings toward him. I truly dreaded seeing him show up each day. I therefore paid him as little attention as I could and just tried to get my job done, so that he could start his.
I’ve never had a weak stomach, but unless you’ve seen the remains of deployment food being pumped through a clear pipe, you wouldn’t understand how hard it was to be around him while he completed his work. I would have to stand nearby and watch him until he had finished, then escort him off base. The job was inherently filthy, but the lack of a uniform or proper equipment made the task even worse. Shit would get everywhere, inside his clothes, on his arms, covering the ground, and then he would spray it down with a pressure washer. The smell, a mix of dirty water and rotting human waste, permanently stained the walls of my brain.
I remember wondering how someone could wake up in the morning and have the strength to get out of bed knowing, full well what his day would be like. I thought that I was mentally strong, yet, as I watched this man each day, my respect and admiration for him grew. I was in awe of his ability to withstand such misery.
I never got his name or learned any details about his life, but I tried to imagine the circumstances that had driven him to persist in this line of work. Surely there had to be better jobs out there. Did he have a family? Did the job pay well? How did he even start in this line of work?
I learned many things from this man, who remained a mystery to me. His example taught me to humble myself in all situations and not to judge people based on their line of work. Often when life has me feeling overwhelmed, or when malaise sets in, I think back to that Afghan man and remind myself just what humans are capable of living through. This, in turn, allows me to stand tall in face of life’s struggles, knowing full well it could be far worse. My life may not be as sweet as honey, but it will never be as unsavory as the honey truck.
Edward Rutherford served in the Marine Corps from 2011-2015. At UCSB he is a junior majoring in sociology.
This Voice was originally submitted in 2019, and the link was re-posted in 2021.