“What was it like there?” I asked. I immediately regretted asking the question. Geez, how do you think it was? He spent two tours in a war zone. I had seen the photos. The news coverage. The young men nervously going from house to house. The photos in the paper of the boys that hadn’t and wouldn’t come back. “The first tour was the worst one,” he said, his eyes looking towards the right. He wasn’t directing his attention to the people standing on the dance floor. The girls standing there with their awkwardly tight blue jeans. He was looking at nothing. He was looking at a moment. He was looking at multiple moments. Jesus, I had brought the poor guy back. I had brought him back to the place that would always be with him. The place that no matter how hard he tried to forget he never would. What do you say? You say nothing. Shit, I thought.
The closest I’ve ever been to anything remotely close to the horror of a war zone occurred this summer. My brother and I were driving outside of Kaplan when we saw what appeared to be a huge amount of smoke fill the air. “You see that?” he asked. It wasn’t smoke. It was a cloud of water shooting into the air. It’s a wreck, I thought. We drove a little further and we both noticed a vehicle about thirty feet off the road. It looked like it had flipped a few times. Without thinking twice, surprisingly, I ran towards the vehicle. “Help!” I heard a kid say. His face pressed again the backseat window.” “We’ve been in a wreck!” The first thought that came to my mind was What am I about to see? What’s waiting for me inside of this thing? I had seen a few bad wrecks before. When I was a kid my Dad was driving me to school when we passed by a car that had the entire hood smashed in. There was a lady with her head resting on the steering wheel. Her hands covering her face. “She’s just knocked out. She’s asleep,” he said. I believed him, thankfully.
When I opened the door I saw two little girls. They couldn’t have been older than six. Their lips busted and bleeding. The awful sound of their cries. Their little arms reaching out towards me. They clung to me so tight. “You’ll be ok, baby.” Funny the things you will say in a situation like that. But you see, here’s the difference. I wasn’t being shot at. I wasn’t worried about the life of the other men that were helping these kids get out of this vehicle. That’s the goddamned difference. We will never know what those boys went through. The only way to know is to have been there. I want you to think about that for a moment. We all have a circle of good friends. Friends that we love as if they were our own flesh and blood. I want you to picture being there with them. I want you to picture carrying one of them over your shoulder. Calling for their mother as they take their last breath.
We were on a bus heading to North Vermillion. He was sitting in the seat across from me. “You think we will finally win one?” he said laughing. We must have been about fifteen years old. We played on the J.V. football team together. At least someone at this school doesn’t take this shit so seriously, I thought. “Yeah, I guess I’m just holding out for the letterman jacket,” I said with an awkward laugh. He turned to his left and looked out the window.”What are you gonna do after school, Rod?” he asked. “In a perfect world, I’d be the next James Dean. What about you?” “I’m gonna be a Marine,” he said. “I’m gonna be a fucking Marine.”