Click goes the door and I immediately clench my shaky fists. I hold my breath as the door opens and I see her face. My caretaker, I guess, she brings me groceries and anything else I might need.
“Morning Mr. P! Happy New year! 2021 is gonna be great I just know it!” she says as she drops my groceries on the table.
“Ah…Happy New year.” its a new year already?
“I got what you asked for! This should last the whole month. AND, I got you ya favorite ice cream since it is a new year.”
“Thanks Lil, you really didn’t have too”
“No problemmm, I wanted too!” Lily says with a smile. “Will you be able to put these things away, I’m kinda running late for–”
“Oh go ahead,” I interjected. “I got it, I may look old but I got it.”
“Alright Mr. P.” she opens the door. “Call me if you need anything?”
“Yeah.” I respond as she's about to close the door, she opens it again.
“Oh, almost forgot– You’re a hero Mr. P.” she says with a sloppy salute.
I smile a grateful smile as I return the salute.
A hero huh… I don’t feel like one. And I don’t think I ever will.
I stare out the windows and I catch a glimpse of my eyes. I see the smiles of the children walking out with smiles, I pray they will never have to know the pain of war.
My eyes begins to focus on the window and that's when I catch my blank expression, the growing beard and… my chain.
You must be wondering how I got this way, well I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer. One second your strong and believe the world is worth fighting for while keeping your mind is sane. You pull on your uniform… kiss your crying wife…and you take off with the fate that you will return home.
Then you step on the battle field.
And all that changes.
I walk with a limp now, my hips aren’t all that good anymore so I was given a wheel chair. But…I don’t use it much. I guess I enjoy the pain. It reminds me that there are soldiers suffering worse. It tells me I survived.
I walk up to my door. My shaking hands are no good, so these days I check my door 10 times a day, every time I walk by I glance at it, some days I walk over to it and open it then I quickly lock it. The click reminds me I am safe in these walls. It tells me that no one will hurt me here.
It tells me…I am a coward.
I never leave this little house. I’m afraid of stepping out into the world I fought for. Imagine that? Being the few to survive and you are afraid of leaving the house. I’m a coward, I know. But I’m afraid.
They tell me I’m a hero, but I don’t feel like one.
I didn’t feel like a hero when I went under the harsh trainings of the wild. No, I felt like a soldier. I didn’t feel like a hero when I felt the weight of my gun hanging on my fingers as I put in my metal bullets, no. I didn’t feel like a hero when my bestfriend pushed me off a grenade, risking his life for me. No.
And lastly, I didn’t feel like a hero when I shot him, another soldier, who had the same dream but stood on the other side. I didn’t feel like a hero when I shot many others who also had family to return too. No, I planted bombs just for them with a kiss… it was kill or be killed. Survive or die.
I didn’t feel like a hero when I watched my brothers die right in my arms.
I didn’t feel like a hero when I came home to my wife with another man. Kids. A family. Did I have the right to blame her? I would never know. I spent my nights dreaming of her…dreaming of how it would feel to hold her in my arms. While she cried and found comfort with another man.
I returned to nothing. All that time I was dreaming of home…yet when I returned I found it was burned to the ground. These are the times where I regret the army, where I regret leaving. Maybe I could have had a life, a wife, a family.
That's what people do not understand, you see us as heroes, soldiers returning home from the long war. But we are scarred and most times we have nothing, nothing to return back too. When we return we sometimes find what was keeping us alive, what made us keep fighting…is gone.
I don’t leave the house because every time I do, I hear the bombings under my feet. I feel the fear, I smell the blood and dirt. I see the smokes of the grenades and I see the ticking c-4 on the ruins of buildings stained with blood. I see the bodies of the fallen soldiers. And when I look at my hands I don’t see a gold metal of honor…no. I see blood. Just blood.
The fallen soldiers we couldn’t save them all… we could not bring back every body. Therefore they don’t get a proper funeral, when I go to their grave stone I am oddly aware that there is no body below. Just a stone printed with a name. I am aware that their bodies are back on the battle field covered in rubble with missing body parts. Some disintegrated.
So I light my own candles, and I write down every name I remember. I write down some of the stories they told me in such short amount of time. Most stories are about their wife, or children…or parents. I make it my duty to write these stories down and send it to their mourning families. Sometimes they come visit me trying to pry a little more of them out of me, something I can’t give them.
I don’t tell them how they die…but I tell them their last words. Some I make up, knowing some of the soldiers regret not being able to say good bye.
Some days, I spend the days crying. In the nights I try squeezing my mind dry trying to remember any little detail of the soldiers that died. When I can’t, I curse my old brain and call out to God, asking him to give me anything. Some days he answers me…some days he doesn’t.
My wife tries to visit me. She looks as beautiful as she did on our wedding days. Most days she sits and stares at me…in awe. As if I’m a ghost. Other days she sobs on my chest. Muttering…
“I thought you were dead… I thought you were dead.”
I get urges to hug her, to kiss her and tell her, I’m not. I’m right here. But then I remember…
She has a husband.
So finally with a broken heart I tell her.
“I love you. I always have and I always will. But…you have a husband now.” a tear dropped from eyes as I tried to blink them away.
“I know…I know you wouldn’t have married him if you didn’t believe I wanted you to be happy. To have a family. So go, go live your life. You have kids, a husband. Everything you ever wanted.” with a broken smile I say my last words.
“Don’t come back. Don’t return back here with regret in your eyes. I’d rather you not come at all, Its not right to your family…so go.”
I remember the kiss she left on my cheek that day and how she tried to mutter her I love you between tears.
“Go.” I whispered. And she did.
But returned the next day with her kids. One girl and one boy. Hayden and Willow.
“This is your God Father. The love of my life.”
These kids visit me every month, week or so. They have become incredible assets to my life. They listen to some of my war stories. Hayden is especially interested in the war…so I try to change the topic or add some gruesome details to scare him off but his ideals are strong.
I wish he didn’t look up to me as he did.
Willow is interested in romance and would die of giggles when I would tell her how I confessed my love for her mother. Every day I reveal more of how my feelings bloomed for her. When I tell these stories I feel my sad feelings of anger and regret die down for their mother. Marlee.
When I find Willow in awe of my stories I end my tales by reminding her that these days are gone. They have ended. Willow in return says–
“Love is never gone nor will it ever end, Mr. P.”
I smile and in response I tell her “Yes, but our story has.”
Marlee’s husband never visits me but he does try to show his head in every once in awhile, I guess he feels left out. Or a desperation to get to know me since the rest of his family has.
He arrives with pride but with a sip of beer he eventually spills out his heart. Telling me how my return broke his marriage, he tells me Marlee cries daily. If not daily then nightly. He reveals his jealousy of his kids admiration for me.
To this I understand. But I smile and tell him–
“You have everything I ever wanted but…I don’t want what you have. Despite what you may think of me, believe me I am aware Marlee is your wife now…So the only thing I will say is… be there for her. I love your kids but you are their father, if you wish for them to stop coming here then do just that. You’re crying to me as if all this is my fault yet you’re the man of the house. Take control and do better.”
With a huff he walked out of my house and returned the next month with the same pride on his face. To that I smile, knowing all he wants is advice.
Most days I spend alone. Watching the people walk by with a smile. In my own way I see them grow up. During these days a question pops into my head…
Would you do it all again?
I always respond with I don’t know. Because I don’t. Some days I wish for things that will never come, and other days I dream of the good things I learned through my experience…so I don’t know. I don’t think I ever will.
Days go by and I don’t know what day it is. If I hadn’t gone to the war maybe I would have. Maybe I would have a family. Maybe I wouldn’t be paranoid of my life now. Maybe the traumas of war wouldn’t haunt me.
But if I didn’t go maybe we would have lost so many more soldiers. Maybe innocent lives would still be killed. Maybe…
“Morning Mr. P! Happy new year! 2022 is gonna be awesome I just know it!”
“Ah… Happy…new year?” I say back. Didn’t this day happen just a few days ago?
“Here’s your weekly groceries! And guess what? I bought your favorite ice cream, yup, Butter pecan”
“Thank you Lily you really didn’t have too” I say back.
“I wanted too Mr. P! I’m gonna leave early, can you put these back?”
“Oh yeah don’t worry, I got it.”
She smiles widely, “Great!” she says as she walks towards the door. “Oh! Almost forgot, you’re forever a hero Mr. P!”
I smile and once again I return the sloppy salute. After she leaves I walk over to the door and lock it twice with my shaky fingers, breathing deeply.
I am no hero. Just a coward.