Hail the Hesitant Hero

Robert Acosta joined the Army looking for a life. Thanks to an ambush in Iraq, he found it

He looks at Alvarado, who's dressed as the Phantom of the Opera. "I need to chill, man," he says. "Want to get good vibes tonight—get a good aura."

Acosta, Alvarado, Restrepo and a friend visit the Swingin' Door in costume. Unlike their last visit, no one is here tonight save for a couple of regulars and two Marines. Pool is free in honor of Halloween, so Acosta and friends have the tables to themselves.

But soon a short, stocky, redheaded Marine challenges Acosta to a game. After a while, it's apparent something is up. He keeps taunting Acosta's mistakes. When it's his turn, the Marine delays the game for five-minute chunks by taking cell-phone calls. When Acosta complains, the Marine ignores him.

Alvarado glowers. Restrepo makes small talk with the buxom bartender, who just threw away the redhead's drink because he's "an asshole." Acosta tries to keep a positive face, complimenting the Marine on his shots even while trouncing him.

But even Acosta tires of the Marine. He goes outside with Alvarado and Restrepo for some smokes. The redhead soon joins them.

"Hey, I have to admit something," the redhead slurs to Acosta. "When you walked into the bar and we saw you with that long hair, we were ready to kick your ass. We thought that claw was a fake."

Acosta doesn't miss a beat. "Why didn't you?"

The redhead doesn't respond. Instead, he goes on a long diatribe about Acosta's heroism and lectures Alvarado and Restrepo about how they can never understand Iraq because "you weren't there."

"I salute you, Robert," the Marine continues. "You gave your arm for a good cause."

"I respect your opinion, man," Acosta responds, "but I don't agree with you."

The Marine's glazed eyes sharpen. "You can't believe that, man! You were there! You were there!"

"I was there," Acosta says. "I lost my hand after a grenade blew up in my Humvee. You want to see my scars? You want to see my stump?"

The Marine refuses.

An argument ensues between the redhead and Restrepo for the next 20 minutes. When Acosta tries to visit the restroom to take a piss, the Marine follows him.

"You know what it is, man?" he yells at Acosta. "I fucking hate you. You're fucking Army. And you know the truth but you do this shit."

Now Acosta sounds tired. "I respect your opinion, man, but I don't agree with it."

The drive back is silent. Acosta drops Restrepo off at her house. When he returns to his Trail Blazer, he immediately strips off his shirt and prosthetic, angrily shoving the latter into the back seat.

"Fuck this!" Acosta yells as he speeds through the dark streets of northern Santa Ana toward home. He dabs at his eyes. "I don't need this; I don't want to do this. I just don't want this anymore! There is no reason why I should do this—I should just drop it all and move on with my life. Relax."

Acosta drives past the Swingin' Door. For a fleeting moment, he ponders storming into the bar and kicking Marine ass. But he keeps driving, finally arriving at his apartment.

"You know what upsets me the most? The guy. Not even what he said—what he doesn't know. The guy left Iraq in April of last year, when the Iraqis still loved us, when there was little danger. My platoon went in when they hated us. That jarhead goes back in January. Boy, will he ever get a rude awakening."

The moon shines off Acosta's Trail Blazer. Tomorrow, he's scheduled to appear on a Chicago-area radio show. He laughs, puts out his Camel and limps down the street toward sleep.

For more information on Operation Truth, visit their website, optruth.org.

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

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