Hero of War (Part 25)

I spend the car ride home gazing out the window at the world I’d left behind. Despite the year-long absence, not much had changed. The highway is just as crammed with colorful cars. The trees are the same shades of emerald green. The buildings still stand their monochromatic vigil, windows staring blinding at the rest of the world.

The only thing that has changed is me. I no longer belong to this world of colors and peace. I belong to the world of darkness saturated with fear and death. My eyes keep searching for the enemy in the shadows of walls and passing vehicles. My heart pounds to the rhythm of gunshots.

Nothing feels real. I feel as though I will wake up and find myself back at base camp.

As my father helps me out of the car, I imagine him as a nurse, preparing me to return to battle. I imagine my fellow troop members waiting for me on the other side of the door, with Sergeant Peters in front, barking departure orders.

Instead my mother greets me, collapsing into my arms like a ragdoll. I have to shift all my weight to my good leg to keep from falling backwards off the porch.

The house smells of chicken and bread. She had baked 3 different loaves of bread– on banana, one sweet Hawaiian, and one regular– and had prepared a large plate of fried chicken with steamed vegetables on the side.

Throughout the entire meal I keep Sophie’s letter on my lap though I’d left Lloyd’s alongside my luggage in the entryway. The envelope has become frayed at the edges, looking more disheveled than my old jeans with the holes everywhere.

I feel so out of place in the posh, comfortable setting. The regular clothing feels too light and loose compared to my combat uniform. I almost miss of weight of my pack on my back.

My parents avoid talking about the war or me in any way. Their conversational topics remain limited to entertainment and politics and, despite my best efforts, I don’t have much to contribute on either front. I know it’s rather cruel of me to stay silent when they keeping trying desperately to include me but I have no desire to be in the room.

There is only one place I want to be.

Later that night, I leave the house with Sophie’s letter in my hand. My father is seated on the couch. He calls out to me but I ignore him, walking out the front door without a word. I leave it open, knowing he will follow me.

After all, the last time I walked out in the middle of the night, I almost didn’t come back.

I can feel his eyes following me as I start down the street towards Sophie’s house. The silence in his hesitation tells me he doesn’t know whether he should follow or stay behind.

I press on regardless. The wet grass tickles my ankle and the rough surface of the concrete chills the sole of my foot, reminding me that I forgot to put on shoes.

I don’t bother going back for them. I refuse to delay this any further.

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