The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #5: Jen Percy in Conversation with April Somdahl


On February 20, 2007, April Somdahl’s brother Sgt. Brian Rand shot himself near Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He had just returned from Iraq and was about to become a father.

Nearly everyday while Brian was deployed, April spoke with him over Yahoo chat.


Jen Percy: You mentioned that your brother Brian thought he was a vampire. Why?

April Somdahl: He kept getting shot at but he wouldn’t die. He thought he was immortal, like a vampire.

Percy: How did you respond to this?

Somdahl: I said, ‘Well you know, Brian, vampires are just a myth. It’s a made up story.’ And he said, ‘But if you think about it every made up story has some truth in it somewhere.’

Percy: Is this why he shot himself?

Somdahl: No. He said the Iraqi man he killed was following him. I told him to apologize to the man, and he told me that when he did, the Iraqi man said: “you need to come with me.”

Percy: When you talked over the internet with Brian, can you recall any of your conversations?

Somdahl: I’d always try to talk to Brian but he’d say, ‘April you know these guys need you more than I do.’ Then he’d put the other soldiers in front of the computer. One of the guys told me that all of the Iraqis looked like cockroaches to him. He said ‘Iraq is infested with a bunch of cockroaches and he couldn’t wait to kill them all.’  Most all of them had PTSD. Once I was talking to Brian and he told me there was a guy outside that needed my help. He said that there was this soldier outside who had been walking around in circles for hours in the sun. I told Brian to send his buddy Chris outside to ask the guy what he was doing. After a few minutes Chris came back and said, ‘Well, remember those people in the convoy that blew up earlier today? He said they blew up into billions of pieces and that he’s looking for them because he thinks he needs to collect a fragment of their body to take home and give to their family. He keeps yelling billions and billions.’ I told Chris to get him inside and sit him in front of the computer:

April: Hi, hey. How you doing? I’m out here in North Carolina.


April: What?

Soldier: Billions. I gotta find one.

April: Now that’s not very nice to pick up a piece of someone and give it back to their family is it? I think that would freak them out.

Soldier: No, no. They have to have a piece of them. I just need one little piece. It could be anything.

April: Those men are dead. You’re not going to bring them back. The families will have a funeral for them. If you bring a piece of their bodies back to their families you could hurt them. You don’t want to hurt them do you?



April: You going home soon?

Soldier: Billions of pieces! Billions of pieces! Billions! Billions!

April: Okay. There may be billions of pieces of them all over the earth but do you know those pieces will sink into the earth and they will form new soil or even fossils and they will become part of the world again. That was only their bodies–but their souls, they already passed onto heaven and they are probably looking down on you right now thinking how crazy you are. That was just there bodies that they left behind.

Soldier: Billions!

April: I’ll tell you what, when I die, you can take my body and throw it over my neighbor’s fence.

Solider: Really?

Jen Percy is an MFA student at the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program where she received an Iowa Arts Fellowship. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, ReDivider, The Indiana Review, The Literary Review, Brevity, PANK, Best Travel Writing 2010, and elsewhere. She has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Stanley Foundation, and was a 2009 Writer-in-Residence at the University of Iowa Museum of Art. More from this author →