Carl Bower

Woe to the Sheep

Justain is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, though the word veteran often seems like a misnomer. It implies that one left the war behind, as something that resides in the past. Sometimes the timeline curves, twists, crosses itself into loops and knots. It is not always clear what space one inhabits. One progression is clear. The young man who joined the Marines in the wake of 9/11 is not the same man who returned.

Woe to the Sheep is an outgrowth of a portrait of Justain for the series Private Fears. But you can only tell so much within a single frame.

In Justain’s singular framing, “I am a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. I have had an issue with self injury since combat and my divorce. I don’t know if my fear is that I’m afraid to love anyone again, or if I don’t know how to live without the pain.”

It is a window, complete unto itself, but I wanted to expand upon it. I went back to photograph Justain again, and he was kind enough to share his artwork, as well as photographs and documents which begin to tell a broader story. I do not tell the story, but provide some clues.

When you spend a little time with someone, things seep out, float to the surface. Sometimes it’s a story, it’s wrapped in language. Sometimes a subtle shift. You might miss it if you blink. Or if you’re listening to the thoughts in your own head and not theirs. That happens sometimes. But there are guideposts, if we pay attention.

It’s hard to talk about how things fall apart for some veterans without resorting to clichés. We’re steered toward these clichés because they give us a way to talk about something without actually describing it at all. Because our full comprehension of what we actively or passively support would make it difficult to sell such insanity in the first place. Also, because we don’t want to know.

So we will Defend Democracy, Support Our Troops, Honor Our Fallen Heroes, Thank Them for Their Service, reluctantly acknowledging the Battle on the Homefront when The War Comes Home. We will not show bone, nor burns, nor blood, nor blindness. We will observe a Moment of Silence for those who Paid the Ultimate Sacrifice, but we seldom acknowledge the ghosts who walk among us, caught between two worlds, never past the past, not quite present in the present.

Justain lost the woman he loved, but first, she lost Justain. Now in circles, loops, and swirls, Justain often feels he has nothing left to lose.