Road to Hallelujah
Feb 23 2016
David Frye was the last occupier of the Malheur Refuge. On the final morning of the standoff in Oregon,
there were four hold outs left. Three surrendered to the FBI early. David remained behind. He rambled
on, at times incoherently, mad, frenetic, suicidal. He made insane demands. He argued biblical texts
with a TV evangelist’s son. He smoked cigarettes. I listened that morning, along with thousands of
others, to him talk through a live-stream on YouTube.
Something happened as I listened. When I had thought about those misguided clowns in Oregon, it was
to deride them, to mock and joke and laugh. They imagined themselves heroes, warriors, 21st century
minute men freedom fighters on the front lines of the struggle for liberty. Professional soldiering was
my trade before I laid down my rifle and picked up a keyboard. I knew warriors, and Senator, these
bozos were no Jack Kennedy.
But now… David Fry was going to kill himself. I knew it. Twitter knew it. The FBI knew it. The evangelist
and the state assemblywoman on the phone with him knew it. And thousands of us Americans watched,
in our new digital colosseum, with rapid hearts and baited breath for the tragic end to our reality show
political entertainment comedy. The bullet of hyperreal punditry in 140 electronic characters was about
to be fired from a real gun into the real flesh and blood head of a twenty-seven year-old from Ohio.
Wallace Stegner said that, “It should not be denied that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is
associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with
absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” David and I both made journeys west this winter.
And as I listened to this deranged man, the eerie similarities unnerved and disarmed me. We were the
same age. We both came from the Midwest. If he was going to kill himself, what did that mean for me?
On the morning I left St. Louis, condensation clung to the dresser I had loaded into the truck of my old
Marine buddy, arrived from Dallas the night before. The ground was soaked through with weeks of rain
from a hurricane wash out that, after it’s torrential start in the gulf, had meandered up the Mississippi
River to malinger over the grey St. Louis winter. But this morning, for the first time in days, the sun had
broken through for a brief respite. The air was damp, but not so cold. It was January 1st. New Year’s Day.
The beginning of something new.
I had popped an adderol for the long road trip ahead, and was jittery and anxious for things to come. I
was chasing clean, fresh, white snow powder west across I-90, searching out towering mountains like I
had seen on the Af-Pak border, and the wide open spaces of big sky country, Montana. I was chasing
dreams, chasing questions that I wished people still ask. I don’t mind when people ask if I killed anyone.
I’m scared of when people stop asking. I’m scared of not being unique, of being tiresome, and boring, of
being irrelevant. I was chasing questions of my own. How do I retain the experience of war, without it
turning into an anecdote? I was running away my tired old war stories, my memorized clichés.
I was running from my wife, and my mother. I was equally unable to deal with either of their reactions
to the inevitable dissolution of my marriage. I’m not sure either knew how to deal with me now, the
man I had become. The places I had been had amplified and ramped up those things inside me that
already made it nearly unbearable to be in my company. Already a confused, lonely, arrogant wanderer,
now I was injured, lethal, imagining myself a warrior, a marine infantry veteran of a lost war.
I ran to new experiences, but also the comfort of an old friend, a brother who grinded his teeth at night
in his sleep, and ripped huge hits off bongs and pipes to be able to focus enough to do homework.
Bearded, smiling, sarcastic, he had been my team leader in Afghanistan.
I don’t know what David was running from, or running to. Maybe there was a girl for him too. There
almost always is one, and if there isn’t one, we run from them all; the fierce, independent, beautiful,
liberated women of America.
What did he hope for, in what did he believe? Was it always going to end, laying in a cot, smoking a
cigarette, a gun pressed against his temple? Filled with rage and hope and despair from so many talking
heads who insisted that this country had been betrayed? How did our paths diverge so drastically, his
and mine, only to end up taking us to the same place, the Pacific Northwest, our apocalyptic,
eschatological hopes, expectations, desires and fears running together and apart again, straining to
break free from each other, hopelessly intertwined? Through the Youtube audio, I felt so incredibly
close to him, but the digital divide between us was vast and unbridgeable.
David and I were born again on that Tuesday September morning, in the first year of the new
millennium, in the burning jet fuel fire and ash that rained over lower Manhattan, when we were both in
junior high. I became a child of the new left, he the new right. The college professors and communists
were betrayed by those brown skinned people of the east, in whom they saw a new global proletariat
who might fight the evil, corrupt west. The right had a new enemy on which to focus their hate and
scorn. That’s how I find myself, a self-styled liberal intellectual dreamer, on combat patrols in Helmand
Province Afghanistan. And if those nineteen men hadn’t turned planes into missiles, I don’t think David
would have found himself in a gun standoff with federal agents. Only in the afterbirth of that holocaust
of human life could the paranoia and fear reach such a fever pitch.
I had to turn off the feed to walk to class. I trembled the whole way there, and checked my Twitter feed
on my phone incessantly. Two minutes later, two short minutes after I stopped listening, it was over,
with a cold and a broken hallelujah, rising from the lips of not just David, but the agents who surrounded
him. From their lips he drew a hallelujah. And like the song, in the shambles of the war I lost, and the
marriage I ruined, I wondered if I had learned anything from love, from the selfish ruinous love I had for
my wife, to the selfless sacrificial love I had for my fellow Marines, except how to shoot at those who
The farce, the joke, the absurdity of David Fry ended in triumph. He lives, on a new road now. The paths
on which he diverged from me, on that fate-filled September morning ended with Hallelujah. How does
my road end? I lost my war, but people thank me for my service. Troops are heroes after all, but we are
heroes without a victory to claim. I am still on my road, still looking for my victory. The bodies of friends
who were killed by roadside bombs, and children gunned down by American might from the sky litter
the path behind me. Why the fuck does he get a hallelujah, and I am dying in a west that is no longer
fertile enough for me to plant my broken dreams?
To be American in 2016 is to believe. To believe in spite of irony and sarcasm and falsehoods peddled on
every corner. To hope. To go west. And if you are humble enough, or perhaps arrogant enough, and
lucky enough, your road will end in Hallelujah.
I pointed my rifle at a man in white on a January morning four years ago. Like the journey I set off on
this January, I had an opportunity to become something radically new, self-righteous and sure, a killer
and soldier in America’s Army of the Lord. The man in white was a lamb offered to me, to be killed as
sacrifice. I didn’t pull the trigger then. I rejected that end to the road I’ve traveled since 9/11. I’m still in
search of my victory, and I still believe there is a hallelujah, somewhere, waiting for me.
©Brainbust Media Group, LLC 2016