“If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have gotten to me sooner.”
“She doesn’t even take it out on people when she’s having a bad day; that’s character.”
I have an appointment on Friday to have my hair cut and colored. It’s going to be a dramatic change, but I feel like that is what the summer is for. I also plan on getting my first – maybe my only – tattoo before returning to school.
My friend Christine and I traveled to used bookstores in Manasquan and Belmar. The one in Belmar featured a truly amazing woman working the register. Christine mentioned that I was a writer and the woman asked some follow-up questions. She told me about Belmar’s BookCon and asked me to e-mail her. It’d be one hell of an opportunity to network and market myself. The only issue is that she wants current releases, but my first novel came out three years ago, and my second has yet to find a home. I sent her an e-mail anyway, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that you always have to try. She said she’d let me know and I want to be optimistic, but I also want to have realistic expectations – boy, that would be a first.
I spent the holiday weekend with family in Pennsylvania. It was incredibly relaxing to disconnect from reality. The first day, Dad and I went into the tiny, one stoplight town for some bags of ice. We ended up purchasing delicious soft serve ice cream. We sat together and the back of the flatbed, watching some locals play softball. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect snapshot of small town life. Dad said he’d only ever ate ice cream in the bed of a truck with one other girl and it wasn’t even Mom. It was quite the moment until Dad made me feel like we were dating.
The parade was rained out, but I was still able to see fireworks between the trees and above the mountains surrounding my aunt’s farm. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat and watched fireworks. I loved hearing the soft, faded pops in the distance.
Weekly Writing Prompt #24: “An army private learns that he has to go back for a second tour.”
Cory had parked his battered pickup truck in an utterly deserted parking lot along the shore. He was surprised by how empty it was. It wasn’t too late, barely even dusk. The sky was a wonderful shade of orange and everyone was missing it. Cory had made a resolution to not miss anything upon returning home two years ago from a year’s deployment in Iraq. He’d walked off his job at a store selling auto parts in a dying town. He’d driven across the country with his best friend, sleeping on rooftops and somehow living those cliched adventures Hollywood constantly chronicles, and returned home smiling. He’d visited with family members he hadn’t seen in years and years, but had been kind and thoughtful enough to keep in touch while he served overseas. It had been a pleasant 730 days back on American soil, but Cory was restless. He was plagued with a persistent urge to move, to never be settled. Cory knew he could rest when he was dead, and so he would, but only then.
And that was why Cory had been relieved when he learned that he was going to Afghanistan for a second tour. He sat in his truck with the windows rolled down, listening to the waves crash against the shore. It was a soothing sound and it was constant. Cory reasoned it might be soothing because it was constant; very few things in life were that way. He was reflecting upon his reaction, trying to rationalize it, understand it as an outsider might try to understand it, as someone who had never served and could never possibly understand might try. Cory drained the can of cheap beer he’d been drinking. All this thinking, this extraneous use of one of the most important organs in his body, required hydration. He needed to stay hydrated because he needed to keep thinking, needed to figure out a way to explain this to her mother without her falling to the kitchen floor in convulsing sobs. Suddenly frustrated, Cory chucked the can out of the open window, then slammed his palms against the steering wheel, flattening them. He exhaled deeply.
Cory supposed he was fortunate there was only one woman in his life he had to consider, had to disappoint and devastate. He was too young to be married, too young for a lot of things, but not too young to die apparently. Cory didn’t believe that, but he was anticipating his mother’s arguments. His dad might have understood, could have possibly been an ally, but he had left some time ago, had walked out a long time ago. It wasn’t something Cory thought about much, so he was surprised he was thinking of that now. His mood shifted from frustrated to simply exhausted. Cory ran his cracked hands along his haggard face and kept breathing.
He cracked open another beer. The constant waves that Cory had found soothing so recently now irritated and annoyed him. He turned the key back in the ignition and switched on the radio to some mind-numbing soft rock station. He left it playing low as a background noise, as a distraction. He didn’t want to get stuck inside his own head, but he guessed he should have thought about that before he isolated himself in his old pickup truck that was so old the engine was embarrassingly loud. People could hear him coming from miles away. But then again, that made sense because Cory had never been talented at deception, had never been good at hiding things. When his commander told him he was going to be redeployed, he barely hid the smile on his face, could hardly contain his excitement. Cory was ready to go, ready to return. Cory knew that sounded strange, utterly inconceivable, but he had people over there, he left people over there.
The truth of the matter was that Cory had two families he would kill for, and be killed for. Both were small and close knit. They were equal that way, but the one at home was safe and would be okay. The other one, the one overseas, needed him. It was simple for Cory – they needed him and so he would go. Sure he was scared; hell, he was terrified, would be crazy not to be. But he wanted to go back. At home, he felt useless. There was a definite lack of adrenaline in his day to day routine, and he realized that being a soldier on active duty during wartime was like an addiction. Politicians vying for election would pontificate about the nobility and patriotism of sacrificing all for one’s country, and that was all well and good – Cory did not disagree – but war was bad. Horrible and horrendous things happened, but he would go back. He was returning without hesitation. He wouldn’t say it was because of something noble like patriotic duty, but he would argue that it was more than that. It was partly the addiction to adrenaline, partly the strong desire to stop feeling restless, and partly something else, something Cory was unable to explain.
Other soldiers would get it. Other soldiers would definitely get it. He remembered one mission, a snatch and grab gone awry, where a wounded soldier being transported on a gurney, most likely fatally wounded, had sat up and returned fire upon the enemy. Cory thought that was so cool, that a dying man’s last moments were spent doing his utmost to protect his brothers in arms. Cory wanted to be like that.
Things were bad over there. Enemy combatants were using American equipment to kill American soldiers. Now Cory didn’t have much of a mind for politics, would never willingly enter into a debate, and while some found that ironic or disappointing or whatever, Cory knew it wasn’t about that, about the politicians back home. It wasn’t about anyone back home, really, no matter what Hollywood or CNN tried to sell the American people. Soldiers kept fighting because of the guys to their left and because of the guys to their right. Brotherhood and loyalty called him back.
He thought about his buddy, John. They had just come back in from patrol. They all assumed they were safe, back on base. The atmosphere was relaxed and the squadron had gathered at a picnic table. John had just finished telling some hilarious and wildly exaggerated story from boot camp. He was drinking soda from one of those classic glass bottles, so with laughter surrounding him, John raised the bottle to wet his whistle so he could continue entertaining. That was John’s thing – never serious, always on. It eased the tension and though they claimed it was obnoxious and knew it was just John’s defense mechanism for the anomaly that was life as a soldier, his buddies greatly appreciated it. So they all watched John drink from that bottle with admiration gleaming in their eyes.
So they all saw the sniper’s bullet enter the bottom of the bottle. The glass shattered into thousands of shards, exploded. They flinched, some faces were cut, but they didn’t exactly look away, so they saw the bullet exit through the top of John’s skull.
Cory missed John. He missed everyone he had served with, those surviving and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why he was ready to go back, that’s why he would go back – always, no matter when he was asked. He would forever fight for the guy to his right, and the guy to his left.
That’s what he would try to explain to his mother.