Don’t ask, don’t tell, that infamous military policy: four words proposing faux equality. I wonder, is it funny or sad that as the earth erupts into blistering flames around me I think of these words? I may lay alone—concealed by sand and coated with warm blood—yet don’t ask, don’t tell lingers with me, my one and only thought. The faces of my family and friends have receded into the rear of my mind, my childhood home remains but an incomprehensible twinkle over my brain’s horizon. Everything is a blur save don’t ask, don’t tell.
The all-encompassing explosions are powerless to drive the don’ts from my overbearing thoughts. The same for the dying men, whose screams exist as a routine chime that bellows over the battlefield like a church bell, reminding my flock of what will surely befall the majority of us. Soon my cries will join the chorus, although before they do I remain, clinging to life with don’t ask, don’t tell imbued into my essence, an incurable poison infesting my intellect and all its withering embers.
I hear Captain Ashe call my name over the unyielding gunfire. I respond by gingerly lifting a trembling arm. His disturbed expression clarifies my terminal fate. He takes my hand in his and waits… waits for me to slip away into memory. Knowing time is fleeting I say what I wish I could have from day one: “I love you.”
The captain squeezes my fingers and replies: “Don’t ask, don’t tell, soldier.”
I smile. A joke yes, albeit a painfully poignant one. My disingenuous grin fades, for the pain has gotten too much to bare, unfastening any semblance of my renowned humor. A dull ache burns through my abdomen, blood swells among my teeth. My body quakes with overpowering spasms. I watch black smoke steal the skyline from view, unsympathetic smog implying a chilling omen from the battle beyond. I lose all feeling in my extremities and still those words course through me, bypassing everything—the reason for which I cannot comprehend: don’t, ask, don’t tell.
The captain motions for backup—this is it: the end.
“Will he be okay?” an ignorant soldier asks.
For one brief passing second I feel my humor return. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” I say through bloody phlegm.
The captain smirks, “Attaboy.”