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Which is most difficult: Waiting for war, fighting in it...or making sense of the aftermath?
These are among the issues that Marine Reservist Dario DiBattista Jr. grapples with in his memoir Go Now, You Are Forgiven. Currently a graduate student in the Advanced Academic Programs' writing program, DiBattista, 26, served two combat tours in Iraq before coming home, he says, to a life of "discord." Eventually he began to find catharsis by blogging about his experiences—work that gained him notice in The New York Times and an interview on Connecticut Public Radio.
DiBattista's story extends beyond the battlefield. Inhis memoir, for which he is currently seeking a publisher, he writes movingly about the pain of living in "constant flux"—as a college student (at Central Connecticut State University), waiter, and Reservist "on standby for war." In the end, he says, "Go Now, You Are Forgiven is about accepting responsibility for one's life, no matter how the problems came to be, and moving forward confidently and self-forgiven."■
By Dario DiBattista Jr.
Words and weapons have been my tools of survival over the last eight years. Under Middle Eastern moons, I holstered a pistol and pens to my body. Along the serpentine Euphrates River, I brandished a machine gun and pocketed my notepad. In my enemies' homes, I cleaned rifles and revised my writing.
After war and putting away my tools, I did not know how to protect myself anymore. I did not know how to digest my combat time and understand the world. I could not shed the skin of the past until I could make sense of it. I stopped fighting and drafting for a time and the world became evermore convoluted.
Then, thank God, the words came again.
At first I was a madman. I didn't know what I wrote or why. I took my journals and my poems and began to compose. I began to create. I began to clarify. Eventually, I wriggled off my Marine camouflage for good. After years--that felt like days--away from my rifle and Iraq; after years of drinking and depression; like a good story, I pasted it all together. And, I grew.
I decided to go to college, and study my chosen craft. I had a book--now, I needed to learn how to actually write well.
There is a saying about education in the Marines: "Steel sharpens steel." Thanks to the tutelage of former Hopkins professor Mary Collins, and the other instructors of the Central Connecticut State University Creative Writing Department, I have learned, "Words sharpen everything." I am learning how to shape letters into blades.
I have a story to tell. My story reflects the failures of our nation; the highs and lows of humanity; the gift of freedom and the woes of enforcing it. It reflects the challenges that face us all: growth, love, and conflict. Professor Collins has taught me: "This is the power and duty of all good creative nonfiction: it can provide lessons for better lives and a better world."
Here, at Johns Hopkins University, I am learning how to tell my story better than I ever imagined. I am learning how to wield words like a sword.