Welcome To Arlington, Sergeant Gallegos

Rachel Larue

The light of the sun blinds me, my ears are ringing, and I’m lying on the ground. My eyes begin to focus, the ringing fades, and I see a hand reach out for me and I grasp it. It pulls me up to my feet.

“Welcome to Arlington, Sergeant Gallegos,” he says. He’s wearing an olive drab Army uniform with Master Sergeant rank on his sleeve.

“Uh…Arlington Master Sergeant?” I respond. I swivel my head about, noticing the rows upon rows of symmetrical white headstones.

“Yes, in case you haven’t figured it out—you’re dead,” he says sharply. “By the way, we don’t use rank anymore in the afterlife. I’m Sam,” he says, reaching out and shaking my hand.

“Tony,” I smile. “Dead? Huh? How did I die?”

“In the most glorious of all ways—combat,” he laughs.

“What? I don’t remember getting into a firefight recently.”

“What’s your last memory?”

“Well…I had just stepped off of a Stryker and walked a couple blocks toward our objective and…”

“BOOM!” he bellows. “I-E-fucking-D, motherfucker! And now you’re here with the rest of us KIAs.”

“Fucking A. But my body feels fine.” I begin to check myself out, looking for any injuries and notice that I’m still wearing my uniform and body armor.

“Well, this is the afterlife; of course your body is fine,” he laughs.

“Did any of my men get killed, too?”

“No, you’re the only one who bit it. Sherman and Tran got hurt, but not too bad. Don’t worry, they’re fine.”

“Damn…well at least there’s that,” I sigh.

“Now see over there?” Sam points to a funeral procession. “Your earthly body is right there…or what’s left of it, anyway. It ain’t a pretty sight.”

“That’s my funeral?” I see a group of people, some in black, others in Army Class-A uniforms in front of a casket with an American flag draped over it.

“Yes,” he responds.

I run toward it and see a bunch of familiar faces: my wife, two daughters, mama, friends, and a few men from my unit.

“My god, dear god…my love! My love! Sweet Pea and Cookie! Mama! Mama!” I try to grab ahold of my wife, but I pass through her. I attempt the same with my mama and pass through again. I fall to my knees and begin to cry. “They can’t see me, can they?”

Sam puts his hand on my shoulder. “Roger.”

Cookie, my youngest at age seven, sits on my mama’s lap, crying into her chest. My mama’s holding her close, releasing a storm of tears. My eleven-year-old, Sweet Pea, sits next to my wife, holding her hand tightly, head on her shoulder. My wife’s attempting to hold her composure, yet some tears overpower her and pour down her face.

“Ready, aim, fire,” orders a staff sergeant to the seven soldiers of the rifle party. The first volley is fired.

“Ready, aim, fire.”

“Ready, aim, fire.”

“Present arms,” every man in uniform salutes. “Taps” begins to play.

The casket party folds the flag into a triangle. One of the men walks it over to my family, takes a knee, and presents it to my wife.

“Ma’am, this flag is presented to you on behalf of a grateful nation for the honorable and faithful service displayed by your husband, Sergeant First Class Antonio Gallegos,” he says to her, then stands at attention and salutes her.

The cemetery workers finish shoveling dirt over my grave. My headstone looms.

Antonio Leonard
US Army
Apr 20 1977
May 4 2009
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Iraqi Freedom

My wife, mama, and daughters are alone. I stand right next to them, placing my hands on my loves’ shoulders. Even if I couldn’t feel the warmth of her skin nor she mine, I still felt connected to her. My wife hugs my headstone, caressing the engraving of my name, and giving it a kiss on top.

My dearest Carrie…the love of my life…I’m sorry…

My daughters are on their knees. “Papa, papa…we love you. We love you. Don’t go, don’t go.”

Sweet Pea and Cookie…you two are my light…I wish I didn’t have to…

My mama stands there, running her fingers through my daughters’ hair. “You were my angel, my most precious possession, my gift from God. I’ll miss you, mi niño.”

Mama…you taught me how to be a good man…I love you…

I watch them in silence, wishing I could feel their tender embrace once more. Wishing that I had more time with them. Wishing I wasn’t dead.

They begin to leave and I follow.

“Sorry Tony, but you can’t go with them,” Sam says gently.

“Like hell I can’t.” I begin to sprint after them, yet as fast as I move my feet, I make no progress. I’m running in place as they are getting further and further away from me. “Damn it! What is this?”

“You’re dead, Tony,” Sam reminds me. “You may no longer go among the living. That’s not your place anymore. This is the afterlife and I’m here to help you on this journey.”

I give up running, watching my kin until they disappear. Goodbye my life. I wipe the tears from my face, turn around, and face my fate. “So now what?”

“Follow me,” he says, and we begin walking deeper into Arlington through a forest of headstones.

“So you said, us KIAs…that means you were killed in action also?” I ask.


“What war?”


“Holy shit. What was that like?”

“I couldn’t really tell you. I was shot in the forehead jumping out of a Huey on my first mission,” he says with a smirk.

“But you have Master Sergeant rank on. So you had to been in the Army a while.”

“Oh yeah, seventeen long years. I was also in the Korean War. Made it through a whole year’s deployment in that frozen hellhole without a scratch. Then did the whole peacetime Army thing. Those were some wild times, I’ll tell you what. The first couple of months I was in Vietnam, I was doing a damn staff job. So I didn’t leave the wire much. I was waiting for a First Sergeant slot. Then finally got one. I was supposed to take over a company in a few days. So I decided to shadow one of the company’s First Sergeants on a few missions so I knew what shit to expect. Right as we landed on a hot DZ…BAM…bullet right through my fucking skull. Pretty funny, huh?”

I shake my head. “What’s funny about it?”

“Surviving one long bloody suckfest unscathed, just to be snuffed out quickly in the next one. It’s almost poetic.”

“You can only press your luck so many times, I guess. God knows I have. This last one was…”—I pause and count in my head—“my eighth deployment. Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have reenlisted.”

“Well, you did.”

“Yeah, well, I did have a family to support. Plus, the goddamn economy sucks right now. Those reenlistment bonuses were insanely good.”

“Hey, bud, look at the bright side, at least they’ll get your life insurance money now,” Sam remarks.

“Yeah, that’ll hold them over for a good while. But if you want to know the truth, I just fucking loved the job. Even if it sucked at times, I just loved training my men and going to war.”

“So did I, Tony,” Sam pats me on the shoulder.

“Did you leave a family behind, too?”

“Yeah, an ex-wife and a son. She and I were divorced before I even went to Nam, yet she cried hysterically when she found out about my death. She’s still alive and kickin’. Good woman she is. Pretty as a sunset and sweet as honey. My damn foul temper while drinkin’ chased her away.”

“What about your son?”

“He’s a high school teacher somewhere in California. Has a nice family of his own. He was too young to really know who I was.”

“That’s rough, Sam.”

“That’s life and death, brother. The world will keep spinning without either of us. I’ve been dead longer than I was alive. Whatever impact we were meant to leave on the world is done and now we must be spectators to it all.”

Stone stairs leading up to the sky appear over the grass.

“This leads to heaven?”

“Nah…you wouldn’t want to go there right now anyways. Its kind of lame without your family. I’m taking you somewhere way cooler,” he winks.

“Where is that?”

“Valhalla. You ready?” He grins.

“Hell, yeah!”

~Raul Felix

Read: Oh Well, We’re Off To War Again
Read: Eager To Pop My Cherry On The Battlefield
Read: Four Years Of Hell: College V. The Army

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3 Hard Lessons About Life I Learned While Writing Online

Thought Catalog Featured Writers Page Mid-2014.

Thought Catalog Featured Writers Page Mid-2014.

Freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. By utilizing your First Amendment rights, you may run the risk of upsetting some overly sensitive people. Such people may even seek to strike back at you, hoping to bully you into conforming. Such is the nature of writing. Ever since I’ve embarked on the writing path, I’ve experienced a few hard lessons on how my real life can be affected by the crazy shit I write.

1. Never Tell Your Coworkers That You’re A Writer

In mid-2013, I was working as a bouncer at a restaurant/bar in Huntington Beach, CA. It was a corporate establishment that made the big bucks because of its prime location overlooking the beach, decent Mexican food, and practices of hiring masses of young, hot chicks with sexy bodies. I had the goal of becoming a bartender, but since I had no experience in the restaurant industry other than working at Taco Bell in high school, I saw being a bouncer as a stepping stone.

This was quite exciting for me since this would be the first time I ever got to work with an overabundance of attractive females. My previous means of employment—the Army and security contracting—had left much to be desired on that front. I had also read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica which seared into my mind images of a work environment where people hustled and partied hard while having cool personalities, crazy life stories, and forging friendships.

I had also been writing my blog, RaulFelix.com, for a little over a year at that point. It included such wonderfully crass articles as “I’d Pee In Her Butt,” “Politically Incorrect and Loving It,” “The Pick-Up Follies: The Gimp,” and “Where Are My Whores?” Having been accustomed to the fucked up sense of humor my military and security contracting buddies possessed, I was naively unaware how my writing would tarnish my reputation at work as I gave my coworkers my business card to promote myself.


While my male coworkers loved my writing, many of the female cohorts began to gossip among themselves. Sleazy-E, my best friend who also worked there, fed me intel that the girls were turning against me and complaining to the management about my misogynistic writing. They also thought I was creepy as fuck.

This realization came to fruition one night when I went to party there with my Ranger buddy, Dirty Dick. A lot of the waitresses were drinking and hanging amongst themselves. I tried to talk to them and introduce them to Dirty Dick, yet they were standoffish and barely acknowledged us.

“These chicks look like they fucking hate you,” Dirty Dick said.

“I think they do,” I smirked.

Over the next couple of weeks I went from having four or five shifts a week to being given just one. Knowing my days there were numbered, I got myself a new bouncer gig at a bar down the street. I was eventually laid off as part of the post-summer cutbacks, but I knew the truth. Later on, Sleazy-E (who was now training to be a manager) told me that one of the managers requested that I not return there again. It was just a bouncer job, so the loss was negligible. The lesson learned was priceless: Never tell any of my coworkers about my writing career.

2. Chicks Either Love Or Hate Me On Tinder

I was initially opposed to online dating because I felt that it favored women over men. Bitches got bombarded with messages and dick pics, while we dudes had to make ourselves interesting while resisting the urge to send a picture of our dick. Surprised by the success my knuckle-dragging buddies were having, I decided to give Tinder a shot. I soon realized how this medium favored two of my natural talents: the ability to write a short, witty, and hilarious profile and selecting pictures of myself that highlighted my best qualities and minimizing my goofier ones.


I soon developed a standard operating procedure of just liking girls who weren’t ugly or fat. Rarely looking beyond their first or maybe second photo. Once they matched me back was when the real fun began. At times, after a thorough inspection of their profile I would realize that I accidentally swiped right to an ugly chick or a fatty, so I would correct the deficiency by simply unmatching them immediately. Then, using info gathered by her pictures and profile, I would initiate a conversation. About one in five girls would respond.

After some witty banter, chicks usually would ask, “Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write about?” That’s when I would copy and paste my five pre-selected pieces that show me at my best: my feelings on my military service, my ability to love tenderly, my Mexican-American family values, the lessons I’ve learned from womanizing, and my dominant, animalistic, lustful side.

Some chicks would say they’ll read it later but not really get around to it. These ones would usually fizzle out.

Some chicks would read one or two pieces, be slightly curious to know more about me, and meet for a drink because at least I wasn’t boring.

Some will really like what they read, then go to my site and randomly click around and commence to binge-read. Loving what they read, thinking it was insightful and raw, they tell me they’d love to get a drink.

Some will start impressed, then dig deeper and find some of my more risqué pieces. She would then morph into Feminazilla, laying waste to the Tokyo that is my writing. They’d spit scathing remarks about how men like me perpetuate the patriarchy and impose the Madonna/whore double standard. Then they’ll speculate on my broken relationship with my mother, insisting that I truly hate women and have enough psychological baggage to keep a seasoned psychiatrist engaged. It’s a shame that such a classically handsome man could spew such filth. Also, I must have a small dick. *Unmatch

It’s all for the best, really… let the chicks who don’t dig me filter themselves out, I don’t give a fuck. I’ve met some pretty great ones who do dig my style.

3. People May Recognize You In Real Life And Won’t Like You

“Are you Raul Felix?” a beautifully tattooed chick with purple hair asks.

“Yeah,” I say as I am cleaning glasses while working as a bar-back at a bar in Ithaca, New York.

“The writer?”


“You wrote that article about stinky pussies!”

“Yeah,” I laugh, “but did you bother to read the rest of it?”

“No, I just remember the stinky pussy part,” she replies.

I smirk and shake my head as I continue on about my duties.

“Can I take a picture with you?”

“Sure!” I give a shit-eating grin to the camera.

I receive a text message from the owner of the establishment, “DirtBagJim,” a few days later:

“Raul, I have received numerous complaints that you have written articles online that are offensive to women. Some customers and employees have shown concern. I can no longer offer you employment.”

Raul: “Huh…because I have treated every single employee I work with respectfully. Also, I’m am an experienced bouncer, bar-back, and bartender. I’m hard-working, have customer-service skills, and I have muscles—I’m a perfect bartender.”

DirtbagJim: “While I agree to that, we just have a huge LGBT community and we can’t risk someone like you working here. I’ll give you a reference if you wish.”

Raul: “I never promoted my writing nor did I hit on any of my coworkers, but I guess that’s the price you pay for being a man who tells it how it is.”

The main reason I call the owner DirtBagJim is because he was supposed to give me three bartending shifts per week. It was only to lure me away from my low-paying, yet educational, fun, and consistent bartending job at a vegan restaurant. Instead, he opted to give me two bar-back shifts in a one-month period under the guise of me learning his set-up, promising to give me bartending shifts when the students showed up. I’m a straightforward man who works for a living, so it really pisses me off when motherfuckers jerk me around.

After getting fired, I posted a status update on Facebook of what had occurred. I got a lot of encouragement from my friends, family, and fans. My boys at Article 15 Clothing were more than keen to launch a social media nuke on the establishment and tarnish their reputation for firing a combat veteran for exercising his First Amendment rights. While grateful, I decided it wasn’t worth dropping a $200,000 missile on a $100 tent. I opted to carpet-bomb my resume all over town. Two days later, I had a new bartending gig at a pizza restaurant in Collegetown with an awesome cast of coworkers.

I went back into that bar on a Saturday night a couple of weeks later since I know he is always there on busy nights overseeing things.

I walk up to DirtBagJim. “You still owe me for 10 hours’ worth of work.”

“It’s really busy, come back Tues—”

“—no, you’re unreliable. I want my money now,” I sternly say to him, crossing my arms.

He pulls out his phone and types out a text message.

I wait, staring him down. The bar staff looks at us nervously. Then a cute little thing in an elegant black dress with a sweet smile appears with a check for $50 and hands it to me.

I look at DirtBagJim and reach out for his hand and shake it.

“You have been honest for the first time in your life,” I say into his ear and walk out.

While trying to keep my business and artistic sides separate can be a hassle, it’s worth it. I’ve made connections with some great people. Have had dudes I went to combat with reach out to me and tell me they love what I write. I’ve had my real-life friends, family, and fans be my biggest supporters and help me out. I’ll keep at it cause I’m a scrappy motherfucker. Freedom of expression has a price; I’m willing to pay it.

~Raul Felix

Read: 3 Proactive Steps To Becoming A Writer
Read: A Few Maxims On Writing
Read: 3 Life Lessons An Old Man Called “Wild Bill” Taught Me

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