A Novel Commentary #2: The Forever Sleep

Updated: Oct 31

In 2007, I was stationed in Fort Gordon, GA as a 20-year-old private first class. A Staff Sergeant named Tony found me during the day and asked if I wanted to go to Atlanta with a tour group and see the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial site where he was buried. There was a flame signifying freedom that was forever burning in between his grave and Coretta Scott King. We saw Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached and explore the local culture and see things in person that I only got to read about.

Along with that pursuit of culture, I had a copy of the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and read one short story before I went to bed. Like most other things in my life, I was inspired by the Simpsons. Homer reenacted the text of the poem, and it introduced me into his greater body of work.

I joined the Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre as the spotlight guy. There was a play called Meshuggah-Nuns, about wacky nuns on a wayward cruise. I got to work the show, get a free meal, and experience more culture. I got to feel that there is something more than just partying and trying to meet pretty girls and there is a nugget of self-expression trying to get out there. Life could be more than bragging about your hangover.

I went home on leave, and my parents took me to the Indianapolis Art Museum. I had never been to such a place before. I remember looking at beautiful paintings and feeling a sense of love for the work that was in front of me and for the environment that promoted art and expression and individual thinking and countercultural ideas. Not even necessarily that I bought into those ideas, but that those ideas exist and can exist without fear of rapprochement? That's where Art Museum was for me. That contrasted with my time in uniform up to that date, where individuality was a dirty word. But at the same time, in the military, the protection of the freedom of speech was a gospel all by itself. The military serves to protect that concept, but it does not embrace that concept for its own culture. It looks at that concept with reverence as an ideal to uphold for others, not for the common soldier. It makes sense, because the common soldier must fit into a mold, and common soldier's purpose is to do as they're told and do it quickly. But at the Indianapolis Art Museum, I got to see the ideals that we were protecting. I got to see a world that I only dreamed about as a kid in the trailer park. I got to see people doing what they want, saying what they want, and as a soldier I was made to believe there's nothing higher than the ability to speak forth your thoughts into existence unfettered. I couldn't verbalize it at the time, I was all of 20. So, I turned to my mother, and I simply said thank you for bringing me here.

I took that broadening of my horizon back to Fort Gordon. There was this little place on post called the Huddle House, and it was a little greasy spoon diner, like a Waffle House. It's almost beat for beat the same thing, just a different name. So often I would walk down there for my barracks. I just sat in the Huddle house and wrote in my notebook. That was where I wrote the first draft of 'The Forever Sleep.'

The character of Scott G Douglas was acerbic and gruff and rough around the edges. He reflected my feelings on conformity against individuality in the military at the time. I was feeling out of context and alone in the sea of people doing a different thing. In the opening of the book, Scott G Douglas is walking around checking stasis tanks, surrounded by people. They are plugged into this whole other world that he couldn't access, and I felt the same. I wanted to be an artist, but I was a soldier. While the two can overlap, there's a lot of friction there.

There is a longing in Scott's journals throughout the piece because he misses that sense of community. At the time, while I was a part of something, I was so recently pulled out of my initial community. I left the trailer park for the army, and I, much like Scott, went on a path by myself, while everyone back home were plugged into this whole other world. Going on leave to see my family was always like crossing between two parallel dimensions, where the cultures are so vastly different.

In the Forever Sleep, Scott would link up with his friends once a year and play beer pong and listen to Led Zeppelin. At Fort Gordon, while I had friends, what I was longing for was family. Scott's longs for community and doesn’t feel like he clicks with the community. There's a symbol of the status quo in the character of his therapist Shelby. She's supposed to be someone he talks to, and he just berates her. But at the end of the story, he falls in love with her. The berating was a mask to cover his real feelings of isolation and longing to belong. Because for me, in that story she symbolized my resenting the status quo. I was felt very much alone a lot of the time, but also it was the most successful I had ever been. It's hard not to secretly love the thing that makes you a success and gives you status in the world. In the end, he marries Shelby. I think a lot of that is me not liking the conformity of the Army in those early first couple years but finding peace with it. If I could have some semblance of control, I could have some feeling of agency and ownership over the experience. That's what marrying Shelby meant; loving the Army on my own terms. Because at the end of the story, Scott has changed the status quo to a point where he can function with it symbiotically. He changed the status quo to fit him so he could be a part of it. Because that's what the end message of it was; the desire to be a part of it.

Read the free eBook here:

Literature For Warriors

Listen to the audio book:

The Forever Sleep (Audio)

Buy the Paperback: Amazon.com

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1. The Derwin Lester Show

Second Breakfast: A Fobbit's Tale

Some men go to war to see combat. Some don't.

Second Breakfast: A Fobbit's Tale

A mini-doc about a deployment to Iraq in 2009.

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The Derwin Lester Show on Spotify

2. In Production:

Late To Formation Part 5. A friend of mine gave me a great idea for a cover, and its going to look fantastic. It'll be my shadowbox with all my awards. The blog version is going to be finished first, followed by the audio version and then the paperback. I'm building the paperback as I go, but the biggest difference will be that it'll have way more pictures. If anyone will love this, it'll be me when I'm 70. I also have two podcast interviews lined up with creative friends of mine.

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Last Holiday, with Sherrel McLafferty

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