I tried to commit suicide after my first wartime deployment ended.
Set to go on watch, I loaded my .45 with a single bullet. Pulling the slide back, the round clicked into place with a heavy sigh. I felt the weight rising from my shoulders as I neared what I thought I wanted.
To be free. No more nightmares waking in cold sweats, dead bodies all around me. It was the kids most of all that got to me. Whenever we would canvass the area and find the kids, just as dead as the rest, my teeth clenched, I choked back the scream trying to get out and I turned back to a room of smiling soldiers who seem relieved to be alive, laughing and joking in the face of death. What was wrong with me that I didn’t? Couldn’t?
I put the gun into my mouth and closed my eyes. I locked my teeth around the barrel.
Then I heard a child crying outside my window; loud, shrill and perfectly pitiful. I put the gun down, disgusted with myself, and looked out the window. I could shoot myself right after I shut this kid up.
“Hey Kid, what are you doing on this side of the base. Housing’s that way.”
“I’m lost.” Blubbering followed.
Really? “Do you know where your mommy was when you lost her?” More crying. Not the right question. “Okay, do you know where you live on base?”
“What’s your address?”
“I don’t know. But I know what my house looks like.”
Not a big help since all military housing looked almost exactly the same. Okay, I had two hours before I was supposed to be on watch or dead, so I’d run the kid home and get back to my business.
“Okay kid, quit crying. We’re going to get you home. Where were you before you got here? Don’t be upset, just think. Take your time.” He’s was cute kid when he wasn’t bawling his eyes out. I gave him my handkerchief and he proceeded to clean himself up. After blowing his nose, he tried to hand back my handkerchief, I waved it off, suggesting he put it in his pocket.
I won’t need it where I’m going.
Looking more presentable, we set out. We got to the PX and walked around hoping someone would recognize the kid. After ten minutes, one of the store managers indicate d she knew Kyle. She checked the store records and gave me the address.
Kyle seemed happy and took my hand before running out the door. Despite the apparent closeness, it was nearly another half hour before we got to their home. The parents, Richard and Linda were as happy as Kyle was to see them. After the hugging and kissing, I noticed a load of boxes sitting on the porch and could see other boxes crowding the living room window.
“You folks look busy, so I’m going to jet, if that’s okay.”
Linda looked up from her son and hugged me. I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands so I just stood there. Military husbands ranged from civilized to crazed. Didn’t want a fight after doing such a good deed.
“No Sargent, we insist you sit and have a bit of food with us. It will only take a minute.” Richard’s smile was warm and friendly and I found myself agreeing without realizing it.
Linda was a great cook and had been slow cooking a roast most of the day. Everything was simple, rich and filling. Just like my mom used to make back in Kentucky. “So where are you folks moving to?”
Richard stood and began packing another box on the sofa. “Hawaii. That’s where I’m from. We are leaving the military after twenty years. My time’s up. Linda and I have been married for a decade and have never managed to make it back to the Big Island. It’ll be Kyle’s first time too.”
A lifer. A happy lifer at that. I guess I could understand. He had a lot to be happy about. I helped them pack until it was time to go on duty.
I always had tomorrow to blow my brains out.
The next morning I felt better, a lot better in fact, and thought I might go help Richard and Linda finish packing. I still had two years to go but seeing them escaping the life intact gave me hope for my own future.
I went back to the house but there was nothing there. House was empty, no cars in the garage, nothing. Had they shipped out last night? No way. There was still far too much packing to be done.
I ran to the PX and asked the cute manager about Kyle’s family. “It’s too bad, isn’t it? Been almost a year to the day now.”
“What’s too bad?”
“People really liked them. They were a great family.”
Okay, what did I miss? “What happened to them?”
“Master Sergeant Watkins and his family died in a plane crash on their way to the Big Island of Hawaii.”
“That’s not possible.” I saw them yesterday.
The young manager, Karen, her name badge said, went into the back office and came out with a small laminated square, with a family photo and an accompanying news article. The date of their death was yesterday, one year ago.
These were, in fact, the faces of the people I ate with, but I had never seen them before yesterday. I ran out of the PX and back to what was the Watkins’ residence. I looked into the window, I could see the marks on the floor where I sat. Everything was as I remembered it.
I tried the door handle and found it open. I looked around inside. The air was stuffy and thick with dust. My loud footfalls bounced off the walls.
I sat down. Did I dream it? How do you dream of people you don’t know? Have I cracked? No, people said they knew them, albeit a year ago. Ghosts? Angels? I don’t believe in either…
I sat quietly contemplating the universe and what I didn’t know about it.
I heard a truck pull up outside. A young soldier, his wife and a new baby followed in a mini-SUV. They converse with the driver before approaching me. “No, you’ve got the right place.” It was starting to rain.
“Do you need any help?”
“You’re really offering? My friends couldn’t make it. What do I owe you?” He was young, maybe twenty.
I smiled, the same smile Richard gave me, one without reservation. “Don’t worry about it. Just returning a favor…”
Paying it Forward © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved