It was the first time that I had ever hated the sound of my own name. "Tommy, you're up," the coach had yelled down from the entrance of the dugout. I was sitting on the end of the bench next to my ... [+]
With a pounding heart Brian rose up in bed, drenched in sweat like a drowning man gasping for air. Surrounded by darkness and immersed in memories, these nightmare images floated through his mind like bubbles that refused to pop. He remembered every detail of the past but saw nothing in the present or even a glimpse of the future. As his breathing began to slow, a strong belch erupted, leaving his chest burning as the previous nights spirits were expelled from his body. Even they had been unable to exercise the demons. Had it been, vodka, scotch, whiskey? Who knew? It was hard to discern once your mouth turned numb. Too bad it stopped there.
The soaked sheets clung to him like a shroud. He kicked off the layers blanketing him. The spinning fan above combined with the moisture on his skin and sent chills throughout his body instantly. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and used his outstretched arms to support his weight. His mouth, slightly open, attempted to suppress a yawn, while his eyes blinked wildly in the hopes of focusing in on something. His hands groped through the thick blackness. They searched through the covers and the end of the bed for a shirt, a robe, or anything before finally locating the course material of his old Army fatigues near the edge. He slid it through his fingertips, feeling the rough material and imaging the camouflaged pattern; it was meant to be worn over a green tee and not close to the skin. In contrast, the buttons were smooth and slick. He followed their trail up the middle and then branched off at the left lapel pocket. The stitching above had become frayed over time as little pieces stuck out at random angles, much like the hairs on the back of his neck were now doing. He knew exactly what word was spelled out on that spot: BARNES. It had been a proud moment the first time he read his last name on the uniform. He and his bunkmate, Frank, had taken turns with a camera photographing each other in uniform. Brian had sent them to friends and family. He wanted everyone to know that he had followed in the family tradition and finally made it. That he had accomplished something and that they should be proud. His finger traced the outline, or at least where his mind imagined it would be, of each letter in his name. A little smile broke over his face remembering how random strangers would stop him on the street and thank him for his service. It had been a strange feeling. A combination of pride and community.
His hands continued their search of the object making their way up to the collar and back down over the left shoulder. He knew which patch was stitched on this sleeve. An acrid flavor developed in his mouth. Keenly aware of this sense, he swallowed the sour taste as his jaw tensed. The insignia was backwards but then so was everything it stood for. He felt the 13 different ridges, knowing each alternating color and imagined the blue rectangle decorated with its spangle of stars. Once held in such esteem and honor, the badge now represented anger and betrayal. His right hand cupped the symbol, gripping it hard and crumpling the shirt while his other hand pulled the left sleeve in the opposite direction with all the force he could muster. Frustration took over as the material held together and refused to be torn apart. Finally, in disgust, he hurled into the void. A moment of silence was followed by the crash of a lamp mixing with the thud of a thick glass bottle hitting the hardwood. It rolled over the floorboard to what sounded like under the bed.
Slightly nauseated, Brian got up in the hopes of finding the bathroom. Not allowing enough room for the dresser that he knew was somewhere along the nearest wall, he stubbed his toe hard at the base of it and then promptly nailed his shin. His fists lashed out at the air before finally making contact with something solid. The pain was instant and the sound intense. Tears streamed down from his broken sockets. He sat down hard on the unforgiving floor and rocked back and forth cradling his right hand. The stream turned into a flood of emotions as he began to cry out in pain, cursing his Creator, a certain Major, and a random dictator. All of whom he felt played a role in sacrificing him, each with their own cause. He was a casualty of the truth.
Suddenly, the sound of a kid outside the house broke his concentration. His head quickly twisted at different angles zeroing in on the child’s position and voice. Could it be? Was it Daniel? Had they come back? His wife and son had abandoned him three weeks ago. Not unlike the time his own mother had taken him and separated from his father. Another family tradition. Brian struggled to get to his feet. With his leg still throbbing and his fingers swollen, he marched towards the window relying on the map in his mind. His toes brushed the baseboard at the bottom of the wall and his hands groped for the curtain. They clenched the soft lightweight fabric. The voice, one story below, turned faint and seemed to be drifting away. Struggling to find the part in the drapes he managed to find the blinds. Brian yanked hard on the cord and it rose. He felt the suns warmth instantly. He banged on the glass. “Daniel! Becky! Is that you? I’m up here!” he cried out. Desperate to open the window, he punched out the pane. The sound of the breaking glass cut through his ears newly sharpened senses. Putting his face in the opening he yelled out, “I’m here, wait. Come back please! Is anyone there?”
Nothing from below, just a cool breeze touched by the scent of an autumn day. Brian turned his head, hoping to pick up any sound but only heard his own breathing. It seemed to be an empty street below. Abandoned again.
He sat back down with a thud. Still alone, he didn’t understand. In their unit there had always been the motto, “no man left behind”. So where was everybody? All those people that had thanked him for his service. His own family. Where?
A warm steady flow of liquid oozed from his fingertips and ran down his hand and arm as he lifted it up. It was a familiar metallic odor, one that had been a constant on the battlefield. He rolled over and crawled towards the closet, leaving the warmth of the sun and re-entering the cold shadows. As the unforgiving floor made his knees ache, he left a trail of blood in his wake. His head found the door before his hand. He reached up and turned the metal doorknob. On the floor, behind a pair of boots and dress shoes, near the back, was an old cardboard box. Inside of it, he felt the smooth finish of a walnut case and removed it. He rolled over and propped himself up with his back against the wall. The case had been his fathers. Not the only thing that he had passed down to him, but like the rest, it caused destruction. The man had been an alcoholic Army Captain who had shot himself over ten years ago with only a note that read Sorry. But Brian was different from his old man. He wasn’t capable of writing out a note. At least not one that would be legible.
The hinges were tight as he lifted the top. He pictured the entire ceremony in his mind. His hands snuggly fitted into his dress white gloves. The red felt lining with an L shaped cutout. The pearl handle and chrome finish. The metal taste in his mouth. Followed by complete blackness. Just another family tradition.