The Last Letter
5, July 2000
Well, where am I? On a greyhound bus, with forty other guys, every single one of them is quiet. No one is talking, I heard one guy go into the bathroom awhile ago, and when he came back out I saw that he looked almost like the cartoon character that got sick. I think I will name him, Elmer. Heh, it seems strange to me now, that I can even notice small things like that, because when you think about it, in a few hours I will be in the same position as these guys. I am not even sure what I am going to do the moment I step off this bus and have some guy screaming at me to move, move, move. The guy I am sitting next to on the bus says his brother told him, 'It is a bunch of Hurry up and wait.' Hurry up and wait, doesn't that sound like growing up? As children all we could do was to be in a hurry to grow older, but we had to wait. Then as adults we realize we were so stupid. Ha, I am only 18 and even I know that. I am on a bus to join the country's 'fighting boys', how's that for trying to grow up too quickly? Anyway, I need to tell you something, it is about when I left Joy's house yesterday. Well in all honesty, I need to ask you something as well. So here goes, and hopefully you will forgive my stupidity for being a coward.
Remember when we were all out on the deck, just enjoying the quiet? When I looked over at you I saw you staring at me, I knew right away you caught me staring back. But you never said a word, and I feel so stupid for not asking you to go for a walk. Would you have said yes? Would you have asked me why all I could do was stare at you? Maybe I would have been able to tell you then, that I have stared at you like that since we first met at the camping grounds, that one year. God, five years ago seems like a life time!
You came with the Mackenzie's, every summer. It had just been us, as in the Blackmore's and the Mackenzie's. No friends were allowed, just the families but then you came that year, and broke my heart. Did you even know I couldn't speak, did you not wonder why all I did was nod my head grinning, or shaking? God what a fool I was.
Scratch just woke up, that's my buddy next to me. He was snoring loudly on the bus seat about a minute ago. The reason I call him Scratch is because he is always scratching his head. Well ... he weaseled my nick-name out of me, a nick-name I've been trying to hide from all my life.
"Scout? People call you scout? Like a boy scout?" he asked me in that very northern drawl.
Well, I guess like his brother says, 'Every guy in the military will earn himself a nickname, unless he has a good one already ... That's why I was called rug.'
He tells me this as if it was supposed to explain something. When I gave him that famous 'either speak or shut up look', he laughed and said, "My brother is hairy as an ape man."
My god, is that what this military has come to? Giving people weird or embarrassing names because they want to sound like those movies? So many questions, and so little time to ponder. Elmer went to the bathroom again. This time it was quick but he looks even worse now. As he passed me I offered him a smile of 'It's ok man, no worries.' He nodded his head in thanks, then quickly went back to his seat.
God, this letter has begun to run on and ramble I guess, I am not exactly sure what is in my head right now. At first I thought perhaps it was just nerves, but now I am thinking it is me needing you to be my priest, my dirty confessor, hell I don't know. Just please bear with me and do not try to pass too much judgment on me.
Well, the driver just announced that we will be there soon, so I guess it is time to tell you what I have waited five years and one month to say. Last night when you ran off and would not speak to me again before you left, all I could do was to wish that I was hugging you tightly and telling you that I love you. Maybe you would have returned the same words ... I don't know, but I wish you would have.
The ringing was what initially woke Joseph up from the start of what was hopefully a very good dream, then the quiet again. Joseph groaned just slightly, and rolled over in the bed, his head spinning just slightly but that was ok. He could sleep it off. Tomorrow he had nothing to do, he thought. Friday was his day off, or at least what he considered his day off. Getting up at nine in the morning was a blessing for him. Groaning quietly again, he rolled to the side of his bed. Each time he tried to focus on the numbers on his clock, they would slowly shift out of whack. Better off going back to sleep he thought, at least then that incessant ringing would quit.
Rolling back onto the other side of the small bed, he closed his eyes and in his half sleep, half awake slumber he thought to himself, what was that ringing? It wouldn't stop and wait ... why was it in short bursts like a phone? Was he finally losing his marbles? One day of being a civilian and he was already going nuts?
Bolting upright, he quickly knew what that ringing was. It was a phone, yes a phone, those things people called each other on. Quickly scooting to the edge of his bed, he stood. While his legs seemed strong enough to hold him up, his head sure felt like it wouldn't. Walking over to the wall beside his bathroom, he picked up the handset and brought it tentatively to his head, hoping that it wasn't some emergency with his unit. Wait, what unit? he thought, I am a free man.
"Sergeant Blackmore, who is this?" he asks warily. They couldn't possibly be bringing him back could they?
"Joseph! Do you have any clue what time it is right now?" an almost shrill voice screamed into the phone.
His eyes quickly snapped back to his alarm clock, on the military looking night stand. Three in the morning. Why would his mother be calling him at three in the morning, half way around the world? Did something happen? Did dad get in an awful wreck?
"Mom is dad ok? Was Luke in an accident?" he asks, his head and voice quickly becoming clear and precise.
"No, but I have been calling you for the last half hour. Your flight leaves in exactly one hour and seven minutes..." his mother intoned to him, clearly knowing without even asking why he was not awake.
"What fli ... Oh god the wedding, the flight ... The ... Holy fuck! Bye mom, I will see you tomorrow! I gotta go. Love you!" he said quickly, staring at his room, and looking at the blankets of his bed which were only a sheet and a rough wool blanket.
"Holy what?!? Just because you are speaking to your ... Oh fine. Hurry up honey, You had a long night, I'll bet. Make sure not to miss your connector and we will leave your jeep in the over-night parking. Third row from the right. I left you something under the seat. Don't forget to look. We are at the Mackenzie's, if you get stuck, give us a call there."
"Mom, wait. I am not sure I will be able to stop by their house before the wedding. I don't think I will have the time. Go ahead if I am not there and I will see you at the church."
"Oh, your father and I already figured that would be the case. We left you directions just in case you need them they're in the glove compartment," she said in the classic motherly knowledge.
"Mom ... I ... Well ... Will... , " Joseph quietly says. Not daring to voice the question he so badly wanted to ask.
"Yes dear, she will be there. Now hurry up and catch your flight. I love you, make sure you shave." Always the mother, Joseph thought with just the faintest of chuckles.
Hanging up the phone, Joseph looked around. This was the last time he would look at this room and he wanted to take a good long look. Three years here and what had he done with it? Sadly, he thought, nothing. There was the lone picture on the wall of Luke, Joy, Alissa, and Isabelle but what else?
Looking around the sparse confinement he could only laugh. Nothing. That was the scary fact. Nothing had been done beyond the basic essentials. He used to have a television in the corner but that was before he gave it to Sergeant Morales two days ago, along with the stand it came with. The writing desk that had also been used as a night-stand, had nothing but a lamp and alarm clock on it. The lime green cement walls had certainly been meant for more than just that one picture. But with a dreadful feeling, he had picked up some of the superstitions of the army. Rule number one he would remind himself, never leave too much for a buddy to have to clean out. It was supposed to make it easier and less heart breaking on the poor guy who had to clean out your locker and room.
It wasn't that he really believed it but he had to clean out one of his privates' lockers two weeks after he got to the base. Not a pleasant experience, especially since he barely knew the guy. His buddies looked at Joseph as if he was the devil himself while doing it, but Joseph had taken his responsibilities to heart and knew that he would expect no less of someone else.
'Writing the letter', as they would call it. That was what deadened his senses. It was supposed to be short and to the point but it wasn't. He couldn't help telling the private's mother and father that he barely knew the man, but was so proud to have a hero like him in the squad. When the letter came back, he read it with a sense of fear. Asking around, not a single sergeant had ever received a letter back from a parent, but he had. Opening it with dread, all he had to do was read the first line to know that the parents blamed him for their loss.
Maybe that was why he did it, not out of superstition but knowing that every one of his men had parents who might blame the poor man writing them. Looking around the room, he felt a sudden jolt of elation and suspense. This was only a chapter in his life; he had much more to go. 'I made it, Joseph!' He heard in his head. 'I made it', that simple statement brought a warm joyous feeling, but then again that small corner of his soul that he'd made sure to wall off asked, 'Did you? Are you so sure you made it?'
Answering that question was not safe, Joseph reminded himself, not safe at all. Maybe when he got home, done with the wedding, done with seeing her. Only when he was old in his bed and almost dead would he answer that question.
Quickly packing up the last of what he had left till this morning; only small things really. Shaving kit, his dress uniform and the alarm clock. Beyond that were his notebook and a couple of pens. Throwing the things quickly into his pack, he walked over to the wall. Looking at the picture, he couldn't help but smile. It had been taken that trip when Isabelle came to the camp in southern Kentucky with the Mackenzie's for the first time.
All of them had a goofy grin, 'the terrible five' the parents had called them, but like most times in his life, he had chosen to stay behind the camera instead of in the picture. Arms around each other, the three girls and Luke. God, they all looked so young. Luke and Alissa both fifteen, Joy and Isabelle were both thirteen like him. Something more though was behind those smiles. Maybe the innocence, maybe the not knowing the future. Whatever it was, he doubted a picture of them now would reveal much more than simply happy grins, and if it did? What would they see? God he thought to himself what would it show?
Army green was his choice today. He knew he might catch hell from his captain but to hell with it, he thought, it's not like he doesn't do the same thing when he has a choice. The Captain was tall and lean, with black and gray sand speckled hair, a deep tan with a still rock hard body. He and his wife lived off base along with their two daughters, Emily and Melissa. The older of the two, Emily, being 24 and the youngest being 14.
The house they lived in always reminded Joseph of home. It had a warm welcoming atmosphere. While almost every Wednesday he was there for dinner with the family, he had always made sure to be polite and courteous but there was a sneaking suspicion with a lot of the base that the Captain had finally found a son in Joseph. He in return thought of them as his family.
Walking to the mirror in the bathroom, he watched closely as he finished his tie and buttoned his coat. Looking one last time, he nodded his head. Good shape, he had shaved before he went out the night before and was happy to admit shaving for him had never been a more than once a week routine. His black hair, short and closely cropped, was still growing in from the last hair-cut he had gotten.
While he had slowly grown out of his baby fat, he still looked young. At twenty six years of age, he sometimes still got carded when he went on leave to America. He was six feet tall, with a very athletic build. While he did not force himself to work on his body, which thanks to good genes came easily, he still would spend a couple hours a week in the gym. His gray eyes were one of the most striking features of his lean face, they seemed to be the color of a dark stormy sky. When he looked to both of his parents, who had blue eyes, he could not help but wonder sometimes; but then again, if he looked to his pure blooded Irish grandfather, he knew that instant he had been blessed with his black Irish roots.
The slight tan he had gotten since he came here was what set his lop-sided grin off. He would sometimes look mischievous when he gave that grin. Most men in his squad had quickly learned that if Sarge grinned like that, they were going to have very angry mothers at home, if they heard what he was planning.
In the green dress uniform, he looked slightly older, but not much. When he had originally come to the company, his Captain had asked if he was ready for jail or not. Unsure how to respond he said nothing. With a loud cackle of laughter, it was then explained to him that as young as he looked, most people would assume he had lied about his age to join. Only a groan escaped his lips as he shook his head at the Captain's humor.
Walking away from the mirror with a smirk, he could not help but remember that conversation, where it seemed each of them was playing chess; each trying to gain the upper hand and figure how to approach the other with what would end up as almost a father-son relationship. Going back to the wall with the phone, he picked it up and just for a moment stared at it. Gathering his thoughts, he dialed up the number he knew from heart.
"Captain Jones, that you Scout?"
The Captains gruff voice came over the line, it sounded as if he had long since been awake. But then again, Joseph thought, the man could go forty-five hours and still be wide-awake.
"Yes sir. Scout reporting for his last call, sir," Scout said quickly, almost too quickly he thought. If he had said anymore, he might lose his composure and not be able to speak.
"Good God son, your mother called here five times! Do you have any idea how much that woman scares me?" the man laughed loudly, "She thought you were going to miss your flight and have that pretty lass on your wall all alone for the wedding."
"Sir, I thought me taking your daughter out for the weekend would have scared you more than my poor dear old mother," Joseph quickly replied, his own laughter now filling his empty room. The empty room now resounded loudly with the noise.
"Son, my daughter would eat you for breakfast," the captain replied, laughing even harder, "You packed and ready to go, Scout?"
"Yes sir, just finished up. Remind me to tell you which of the men you should wake up early for some PT. The bastards had me out drinking and trying to celebrate my leaving."
"They're going to miss you. Perfectly natural to want to get drunk, especially when one of my men is leaving. Have yourself out of the barracks in five, son," the captain said, and then promptly hung up.
With a slightly bewildered look at the receiver as he pulled it away from his head, Joseph hung up the phone. Well, he thought, all I can expect is him to be quick. Although it surprised the young man, to think that the captain would be so quick to hang up, Joseph had wanted to speak to him more and thank him for all the help, and advice, he had received. Maybe the Captain expected this and decided he was finished talking.
"Oh well, might as well hurry. I still need to get to the carpool garage before I lose my ride."
Shaking his head again, this time with a touch of sadness, he walked over to the wall, looking one last time at the picture. He took it down from the wall. Putting it carefully in his pack, he zipped up the backpack and walked to the foot of his bed. Grabbing his green army duffel bag, he slung it over his right shoulder, while carrying the backpack by its handhold. He walked to the door, opening quietly so as not to disturb his neighbors, he turns around, closing the door, leaving it unlocked and his room key on the desk. Someone else's room now, Joseph thought. The walls will soon be staring emptily back at someone else.
Walking down the darkened hallways, he quickly put one foot in front of the other. He wasn't exactly sneaking away, he had told everyone he would be leaving this weekend, but didn't happen to mention that he actually had an early-morning flight on Friday. Not good at goodbyes, he wrote his squad and friends a short letter saying where he was going and his address. Then said goodbye. Short and simple he thought.
As he walked by the message board, he pinned it quickly to the cork board. Written on the envelope was simply 'From Sergeant Blackmore to ALL'. He knew he would get letters and calls from most of them but he still did not want to have all those people out there and have it get even sappier than last night at the bar.
Opening the door to the front of his barracks, he was slightly curious to see two cars parked close by; one a military Jeep, the second was a black Honda Civic. Even more curious was that they both had their engines running, their headlights shining brightly into the black, cool early morning. Then quickly the Jeep pulled up beside him as he started heading off to the garage. Looking to his left, he looked into the interior of the jeep, the top still on, he saw Captain Jones.
"Evening son, you going AWOL? I might be able to give you a lift," Captain Jones said with another growl of laughter.
"Sure sir, but I gotta have your word I will not end up in Timbuktu with a tattoo of a snake wrapped around a heart," Joseph said opening the door and tossing his duffel into the back and then pulling himself and his backpack into the front.
"I got that one in Burma, Scout. The drinking there ... Wow... !" Captain Jones smiled. Jones quickly put the car in gear and pulled away from the door, leaving the barracks and getting out onto the road.
"Oh yeah, sir, forgot that," he laughed loudly, as he looked over his shoulder spotting the black Civic again. "Sir, you aware you got a tail? You've had it since the barracks."
"Wow, that was very observant ... That is Marge and Emily. They both wanted to see you off, so I thought we would take you to the airport." the older man said sadly, "Sorry about Mel, she just couldn't do it ... Poor thing..." he shook his head.
When Joseph looked at him with slight a slight nod of his head, he still seemed a bit unsure of what to say. Captain Jones laughed, "Now don't bother trying to act like you're not a part of my family, Scout. Trust me, if that little girl you write to every week didn't have your head wrapped around her little finger, Emily would have beaten you till you married her."
"I doubt that, sir. I mean, what would Melissa have said?" Joseph quipped, smiling brightly.
While Emily certainly would have made Joseph a wonderful wife, Melissa was the Captain's 14-year-old daughter. She had always turned a bright pink whenever Joseph would talk to her, or smile at her. Joseph had truly come to think of them both as his own family.
"Ah very true, the little one would be heartbroken to see the love of her life taken," the Captain mused quietly.
Then as he turned left out of the base, he looked back into the mirror and spoke again. "Marge and I wanted to be sure you got off in time. She was beside herself earlier, when she told me it was like letting one of her own kids move out. She and I both consider you one of our own."
Looking over at the Captain, Joseph sat stunned. While he had always thought he had been treated better than almost anyone else Captain Jones ever dealt with, the meals at his house almost being a regular event, he still had never heard the Captain say anything of how close they felt he was to them. He knew he looked up to them both as parents, but shock was still there.
"Anyways," Jones said, "I figured you might want some advice, about what will happen when you wake up in a week."
"How do you mean, sir?" Joseph asked still in shock but then quickly looking forward. His thoughts moved a thousand miles a minute as he tried to assemble the pieces of the last words he heard.
"Well next week you will wake up as a civilian. I have had many men re-enlist two weeks after they got out. Some adjusted; some found the lack of direction too much."
Jones looked over at Joseph to make sure he had the young man's attention. "Do you have any plans yet for a job, or any ideas?"
"No sir, though I was thinking of going back and getting a teaching degree in world history, or American history," Joseph replied after a few moments, his eyes watching the road ahead now. Seeing nothing ahead of him, he continued to watch, not sure really himself.
"Well, Scout, I want you to do me a favor and think about it for a few weeks. I know you will want to start on your life but do me that favor and think about it," Jones said but then continued, "You might do well, you might not, son. Just remember you can do anything you set your mind to. If you come back, I will see you get promoted quickly, and hopefully you will be able to attend officer candidate school. But if not, I expect a call once a month, at the least."
"Sir, I have been thinking about that as well. I mean I really have no idea what I will be doing. I kinda thought I would just fall into something when I was done, at least I thought so a couple of years ago."
Joseph paused to quickly gather the his thoughts. "But now, I honestly want to do something with my life. I don't think I want to work in a factory..."
"I see." Jones said, "Well factory work is an honest living. But only for the man that wants that life. You son, have a good head on your shoulders and you are highly intelligent. I think working in a factory would ruin your mind and creativity. I think you should go to college, but whether you do become a teacher is up to you. But get a degree son, do not be a grunt. You are too smart for that."
"Thank you sir, and I would like to say I know. But then I ... I'm not sure. Too much can happen now that I will no longer be expected to be up at a certain time and in the field," Joseph said quietly, his mind a thousand miles away. Each time he tried to speak, he failed to come up with a complete thought.
"I know, son. God knows I do," Jones replied, then looked over to the sergeant beside him. "But you've got time, a lifetime of mistakes and happiness ahead of you. Do not forget that."
For a long time they both sat silently in the jeep, each with his own thoughts. Joseph for his part was debating with himself, repeatedly, whether he was right to have gotten out. The wedding would have been no problem; he had saved up his vacation. The only thought that ran through his mind, was two months ago when he was out on a patrol. He had relaxed somewhat. He had what many had come to call the 'last year sickness'. It was where a man got close to the end of his contract and was relaxing, not worrying as much as he had before about making it through.
That was until he had taken the wrong footpath and stepped onto a land mine. It should not have been there, the army engineers had gone through the path a day before, but there it was. He was quietly leading a patrol through the night, down a long sandy road, over and on the side of it, so as not to spook any vehicle that happened to come by. One false step, and all he heard was 'click'. Quickly freezing his body, he stood planted, throwing his fist up and signaling the men behind him to halt.
He could not breathe, his lungs felt like they were in his head. His heart far into his throat while his stomach had just landed somewhere near his feet. Not daring to move, he turned his head ever so slightly and looked behind him to his men. Each was crouched down and scanning around themselves, a new guy was right behind him. What was his name he thought, how old was he? Then quickly to the corporal behind him, motioning him to come forward, the corporal came up quickly with a questioning look.
Pointing down to his foot, he whispered, "Click."
It may not have been the correct word to use in a situation like this, but it was all the corporal needed to hear. He took a small, but very quick, step backwards and turned to motion another man forward. After a quick conversation they both crouched down, and began to move the sand gently and slowly away from the area around Joseph's foot.
The corporal came back up with rivers of sweat dripping down his face. He whispered behind him, for the men to take up defensive positions. As he looked back to Joseph, he had a strange look of calm on his face. Only the sweat dripping down and off his chin, gave away the true thoughts he held to himself.
"Sarge ... It's exactly what you think it is, I will try and see if I can disarm it. Just ... well ... don't move," he winked to Joseph, and quickly bent down.
A half hour later, they were all back on the trail again, moving ahead quickly. Each man now, especially Joseph, being more careful than they had been for months. Joseph had gone back three spots, so that his nerves could work themselves down from the ends of his hair.
He had held still for a full twenty minutes before the corporal stood back up, and handed him a decrepit firing pin.
"You must have a guardian angel Sarge, that thing was a dud. It should have gone off as soon as you stepped onto it," the corporal had said with a sigh of relief.
"Shut the fuck up, are you serious?" Joseph whispered as his stomach took another lurch.
"Yeah, dud." shaking his head, the corporal motioned for the men to return to their positions, and with that he calmly put Joseph into the middle of the squad as they moved out.
Shaking his head to free himself from the thoughts running wildly through it, he looked back over at Captain Jones. He saw that he had been watched as he relived that moment. "Just thinking about the dud sir."
"Good. Because you need to remember that dud, when you see her at the wedding. It will give you that rush of nothing left to lose," Jones said with a warm smile.
"Sir? I can barely think, or even breathe when I see her. She is the one and only person who has ever made me feel like a complete mute. I doubt even that would help me," he laughed quietly to himself.
"Believe me son, from when I first saw you as a young punk, you have grown into a fine upstanding man and soldier. You have led men into battle, and into places few ever see or want to see. You have been bloodied with the rest of us old men. You will do just fine son, trust me. If you need any help speaking, just think of what would happen if I found out you didn't try," Jones said with a smile, but also with a faint hint of sadness in his voice. But just as quickly as it came, the sadness disappeared.
"You're right sir, but I have heard how you were when you met Mrs. Jones. So I know you have been in my exact position," Joseph said as he tried maintaining a straight face, looking at Captain Jones who had a smirk on his face.
"Lucky you're a civilian now son or I would have you walking the family dog for two weeks, and having your bunk moved into his little house," Jones grumbled good-naturedly, although he quickly said, "I know what you mean Scout, but trust me. You will do well; just fall back on your training if you must."
"Which part sir, the clubbing her over the head and dragging her off, or telling her how to climb up a rope hanging from a helicopter?" Joseph asked.
"Funny Sergeant, but trust me when I say 'trust the training'. You just remember who you are, and what you have been through. Let the rest come naturally, and for god's sake do not dance with the poor lass. Emily limped for a week after you tried fast dancing with her!" Jones howled with laughter, after looking over to Joseph's mock-offended look.
"It was your fault sir, if you and Melissa were not pushing and threatening me with a court martial ... Emily would never have had her poor baby toe trampled like that," Joseph snapped back good-naturedly.
Looking back on that hilarious night, he realized that he really did want to dance with Emily, but was more worried about his blossoming relationship with the family. When Emily had literally begged him to dance with her at the Company dance, he balked many times with many very good and some even true excuses. Being an absolutely horrible dancer, the real but unspoken reason was that he in all honesty did not know how Captain Jones would respond.
With one sentence from the Captain all that had been dispelled, "Dance son, or be court martialed." He had winked when he had said it though, which was enough reassurance for Joseph to act.
Flinging himself out onto the dance floor with Emily, he had found more luck. The first two songs they danced to were slow, but that did come with some problems. One, he had no clue where to put his hands. Second, he had even more no clue how to dance slowly with the Captain's daughter.
Emily quickly took charge by taking his right hand and placing it on her lower back. Then taking his right hand and holding it in hers, she winked and nodded her head over to her father. When Joseph looked, he saw Captain Jones laughing again in pure mirth, as he watched the young man standing straight as a plank. The Captain grabbed his wife's hand and as they walked out onto the dance-floor, he smiled to Joseph.
"Remember Scout, she has fun or you get the yard arm," he leaned over to speak to Joseph, before winking and howling with laughter.
Smiling to his daughter, he said "Go easy on the poor soldier Em, he's so stiff he could be pushed over with a feather."
Unlike the rest of the dances he was dragged onto the floor for, those two had been both wonderful and sad. Each time he would look at Emily, she would smile and tease him. But when he looked back out into the slight darkness, he would think about how easily he could imagine doing this for the rest of his life. He knew he would have more work ahead of him, but Emily would have made him a wife he would never be ashamed to say that he loved with all his heart.
With that one fateful night six months after he had arrived to the base, he became a part of the family. A few times he and Emily had gone out on dates, or they went to the dances together. But she had known something was amiss that night at the first dance, so when she asked who was waiting for him at home, he spilled his guts. Every word he said brought a smile or frown from her, but he could tell she understood and would not pressure him. Thankfully, it seemed like they were more friends than anything else, although Captain Jones' wife did not look at it that way, he was either their son or their daughter's future husband. One way or the other, she was going to be having him a part of her family.
"Sir, would you have given me your permission had I asked?" Joseph looked over to Jones, and tilted his head to the side trying to see if he would have to elaborate.
"Son, I would have been beaten to death if I had said no. But I know where your heart belongs. I know that if you had wanted to marry Em you would have made the best husband I could have chosen for her," the Captain said evenly, as he nodded his head back to Joseph.
"Thank you sir, but if she is anything like you, I would never be allowed a moments peace," Joseph said smiling.
"Isn't that the truth? However, she is more like her mother, in that respect. She wouldn't have let you settle for anything but what she thought the best," Jones smiled, and then looked ahead onto the road. Nodding at the airfield ahead, he said, "Well son, looks like we are almost there."
"Sir, is it too late to think about going to Timbuktu?" Joseph said quietly, his words slowly fading away as he looked to the airfield, his eyes looking at the monstrous green airplane on the runway.
Without replying Jones just looked over to Joseph and smiled. Shaking his head, he took his right hand off the wheel of the car and patted Joseph on the shoulder before returning his attention to the road.
Joseph had a hard time concentrating on much of anything as he watched the airfield becoming larger and larger. Each second seemed to stretch out into eternity, but quickly passing. Looking to the field he closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them quickly, resigning himself to do what he knew he had to. He pulled the backpack from between his legs up into his lap, and quickly straightened himself in his seat.
The whole flight he thought, should take about 17 hours. But minus eight hours for his time zone, he would be arriving into Louisville about noon, today. Strange, he kept thinking to himself. He never seemed to be able to grasp how he could be flying for such a long time, and then end up only having gone an actual eight hours difference from where he started.
He had a layover in Chicago, and then it was onto his last stop. While he knew he would be cutting it very close to the wedding time, which was at one thirty, he still worried that he would be hard pressed just to get his bags and find the jeep by that time, much less find the church where he was supposed to meet his parents, and then find a seat inside for the wedding.
For the flight, he had no clue what he was going to do for that whole time. He could hardly think of what to do for the first hour beyond trying to hold down anything he had drank the night before. Flying for him had always been a sketchy thing. At best he was a poor flier, at worst he was a terribly sick person, who could barely make it to the bathroom. But as the old adage said, 'If you can't be happy, make sure you are quiet about it.'
"Sir thanks for the ride and well ... Thanks for everything you and your family have done for me over the last, what is it now ... five years?" Joseph said to Jones.
"You're welcome son, but remember you are a part of this family, so you never need to worry about having a place to sleep, or someone to talk to," Jones said, "Five years; doesn't seem that long does it? I remember the first time I saw you. You came into my office looking like you were going to fall over if I waved a feather at you," Jones said, his voice full of amusement and mirth.
"Yes sir. I had no clue you were going to be such a pushover. I worried this would have been like the real military," Joseph quipped.
"Son, if it was anyone else who had said that," Jones laughed quietly, "The base will not be the same with you not around taking care of things."
"Thank you sir, I think I am going to miss it here. Even the bad things I will miss."
Joseph smiled happily though, his mind suddenly coming to terms with the fact that in just a day he would be at a wedding, and then on a very long vacation.
Joseph had saved quite a bit of money while he was in the army. He tried to live as cheaply as possible. Using his pay-checks sparingly, he ate at the base cafeteria, he bought only what was absolutely necessary and what he had to in order to survive. This was not to say he was a penny pincher by any means, but he wanted enough money when he got out to be able to go to college, with the G.I. Bill. The extra money he wanted to put it into investments and stocks. He had a broker at home who made sure each week that at least half of his paycheck went into stock re-investments or into a savings account.
His parents while far from being in the poor-house, were only at the most at the top of the upper-middle class bracket. They had always made a comfortable living; his father being an electrical engineer, while his mother went into chemical analysis. Each worked for the huge corporation Hewitt-Gramble. They lived in the Cincinnati-suburb Montgomery. Their house was set well back from the street they lived on. It had a tall privacy gate at the end of the driveway, and a tall wall surrounding the property.
Like most families, Joseph's was the typical family full of function and dysfunction at the same time. No outstanding quirks like those that a few of the families on their street had showed, but they still had their moments. He had one older brother, Luke, who was two years older than him. When they were younger Luke was a well behaved terror as his mother would say. Luke would try to see where exactly every line he could cross was, and do almost a ballet dance on the line, never exactly crossing it, but having a dancers grace of pulling back each time he felt the line was about to break.
Joseph on the other hand, had always been a very quiet and reserved child. Never one to cause too much mischief, he was more likely to be found out in his fort in the back yard. All matter of things went into that fort, from his favorite blanket named booger because of the awful lime green color it was quilted with, to his parents' toaster. Each had served a valuable purpose in the fort; the blanket was his hero cape, the toaster his science experiment. His imagination was his greatest toy though, because it would lead to learning everything, from exactly how to take apart a lock for his parents' room to sitting down for hours and playing with his action figures, always giving them a life of their own.
Later Joseph and his family moved away from his childhood home in Louisville Kentucky, to Cincinnati Ohio. It was a much different city where the lines of who he was and who he was to become crossed each other so many times that he could barely recognize the child he once was. Back then things seemed very simple to him, he would grow up, become a hero in the military and that was it. No real aspirations beyond that. He would laugh sometimes at night when he laid in his bunk, as he thought back to those days. When a trip to the ice cream store would fix any possible problem he could ever think of.
Thinking back to those days, he vaguely remembered going into the small convenience store just across his the street from their house in Louisville. He was about ten on that fateful day. Ten years old, and full of the innocence of the young, one which would be broken forever.
He had walked with his father to the store, after dinner. Today was a treat for just him, because he had successfully pulled up ever single weed in his mother's garden, leaving the large plot of land behind the house in Louisville a lush and beautiful place of wonder. He had often lain out back there during his summers, between the rows of vegetables, looking up into the sky. It was a refuge unlike his fort. There he could think of anything and everything he wish.
Slowly approaching the store, Joseph and his father continued their long talk of why exactly electricity was so important to his family and his father. He was growing increasingly curious about how the world worked, and why things like wall sockets would shock you, but if you touched the cord it would do nothing to you.
"Well when you use a cord to say a lamp, it is rubber coated. Therefore it is insulated, since rubber is a poor conductor of electricity. In all honesty though Scout, rubber can conduct electricity but it is almost not noticeable. Inside the cord are a ground wire, a hot wire, and a common wire. The hot wire is what comes from the power plant, through the power lines to the house. It is what gives us the electricity to turn on the lights or keep the refrigerator running."
Thomas Blackmore looked at his son as he tried to gage how much of this the inquisitive child was taking in, or if he was simply talking over the boy's head.
"It also turns on the T.V., the vacuum and mom's hair drier, right dad? Okay got that, but why does it not hurt me to put a fork in the power socket, or when I touch the cord?" Joseph quickly asked his father as he watched the much taller man with rapt attention.
Smiling widely Thomas laughed at how the boy was so much smarter than anyone would usually give a boy his age credit for.
"Well Scout, there are two other wires in there remember? And there's that rubber around the wire also," he smiled again, then continued to explain to the small boy about the inner workings of the way the hot wire would send electricity, and the neutral would return it back to where it came from, while the ground wire would keep it all nice and safe.
As they entered the small store, Joseph had kept his questions up, each time he had finally grasped one concept of the talk, he would quickly try to find a fault with the logic his father explained. Why is rubber such a poor conductor if electricity could still go through it? Or better yet, why not use wood, water, or metal. Each answer he knew before he asked, but he wanted to know why the electricity seemed to have so many limits but was still so powerful.
"Enough, enough, enough!" his father called out as he laughed at the pure inquisitiveness of his son. "How about this Scout, tomorrow when I get home from work, we can head over to the library and we will find a book that explains why exactly electricity can be used on a body, but only in small amounts? That way when you learn, you will also have a full amount of reasons and explanations."
"Okay Dad, but I am not sure if I really understand the difference between ac, and the dc thingy. It kinda makes sense but it doesn't sound right," Joseph said as he quickly looked over the candy aisle and headed back to the large coolers of pop. Eying a bottle of root beer, he grabbed one quickly, all the other ones from Coca Cola, to Nehi orange looked nice but his favorite was root beer.
Heading back to the where his father stood speaking to the elderly man behind the counter, his father looked down at the boy. He shook his head slightly with mirth, asking quietly, "Root beer again? Scout some things you seem to love I guess. But root beer is your obsession I suppose."
"Yep, it's always the best when it is cold and from a really cold bottl..." Joseph had just looked over to the large man who entered the small store.
Shaking his head quickly, Joseph brought himself back from the childhood memory. Too many things to think about, he quietly told himself. And some of them not safe to think about right now. It had been like this lately for him. It seemed that every time he had a moment to think about things, his mind would slowly begin to slip back in time. That might have actually been why he stepped onto that mine when he did. What is wrong with me, he questioned himself quietly in his head. Why could he not quit thinking of his past, which had to be the reason for that mistake he made?
"You ok Scout?" Captain Jones asked loudly, as he stared intently at the young man beside him.
Shaking his head quickly, he cleared the cobwebs that had been filling his head, his eyes quickly coming back into focus, as he looked back at the Captain. "Sir yeah, sorry, I have been all over the place in the last two days, can't quit thinking."
"Ah, I thought so. Me saying your name three times didn't really get your attention. I thought you might have fallen asleep until I looked at your open eyes."
"No sir, sorry again. Just trying to figure out how I got here."
"Well hell son! That's easy, I drove you!" The Captain howled with laughter.
Then he quickly tried to compose himself as he looked over to the young sergeant and smiled, "I know what you mean son, but you might try to think of where the hell you're going. Can't change the past you know."
"Easier said than done sir, even though I know you're right," Joseph said quietly, looking out the window as the Jeep slowly pulled into the parking lot.
He saw the black Civic pull up next to them. The windows of the car were rolled up but it was not hard to see Emily, who was driving, and her mother in the passenger seat.
Joseph looked at the Captain and nodded. It was the only thing he could think to do that would work for him at that moment. He was leaving the life he knew. And he had no clue where his new life would start.