"Jeeeezsus Dammit MEDIC, MEDIC over here." I ducked again when I heard the snapping sound of bullets speeding past my head. Occasionally one would hit the ground and throw dust and rock chips up at me or whine off the Hummer I was laying beside. I moved to pull my platoon sergeant farther away from where he was laying. We were way too exposed and I wanted to get down into the little depression that served as a ditch on this damn road we had been driving on.
Our Hummer was crumpled and smoke was rising from the damaged engine compartment. I wanted to get a little farther away from the damaged vehicle in case it caught fire or exploded also. We had been very lucky. Our up armor and an impatient terrorist had resulted in damage instead of death for us. The rest of our patrol was moving trying to either kill or drive off our attackers. I was surprised they were making such an effort to get to us. Usually the IED is exploded and maybe a shot or two is fired then they disappear.
I pulled the Platoon Sergeant farther away from the danger zone. Finally I got to the depression and I pushed him into it. I was crawling toward my little slice of safety when a mule kicked me in the hip. At least it was the same leg I had been injured in before. Damn it hurts. Dust was kicking up around me as the bullets sought out my flesh once more. I made another lunge and then rolled into the ditch beside the Platoon Sergeant. I pulled his battle dressing open and tried to cover the wound on his head. He had a nasty bump on his forehead. I didn't see any other wounds. Damn my hip hurts like a mother. Shit, is it getting dark already?
I opened my dressing and tried to cover the worst of my wounds. "Medic," I screamed once more. Crap, I'm so tired. I can't believe we've been fighting all afternoon it's dark. I'm soooo tired...
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP ... It smells funny here. Why can't I see? "Help," I yell. "I can't get up. Is anyone there?"
I hear running footsteps and then a soft hand lands on my forearm. I smell something wonderful and hear the voice of an angel. "It's ok Sergeant. You're fine. You've been injured and are in the hospital. Relax. Everything's going to be ok now."
I let my muscles relax and lay my head back. "I can't see." I feel a real shaft of fear rush through me. My stomach clenches and my asshole puckers. "Oh Shit. Those rag headed bastards blinded me didn't they?"
"No Sergeant. We don't think you're blind. There were some injuries around your eyes and we had to dig some sand and rock chips out but we don't think you'll be blind. You were shot in the left leg twice and the side once. You lost a lot of blood but you're doing fine now. Just relax and get better now."
I took a deep breath and let it out. God it hurts. I moan, "Hurt." There's a rustling and something is pressed into my hand.
"Sergeant this is a button to push to release morphine into your IV when the pain gets too much. You can't overmedicate. It is set to only allow so much an hour to be requested." That wonderfully soft hand takes mine and places the button in it. She guides me to the side of the bed and says, "Here is where it will be clipped if you need it again."
I press the button. Ahhhhh that feels better already. The pain is less now. I sleep.
I can tell day from night. The noise in the hospital is greater in the daytime and gauze over my face isn't heavy enough to completely block out the light. Wait! Light. I can see light. Maybe I'm not really blind after all. And the pain isn't as great now either. I wonder how long it's been?
Finally another doctor comes in. He asks me questions. He removes the bandages on my hip and leg and side. He pushes on my belly and leg. It hurts but not as bad. Slowly he removes most of the bandages around my head. "Close your eyes," he says. "Don't open them until I say."
They take all the bandages from my head. I'm so scared. "Ok," I hear. "Open your eyes slowly. Let me know what you see. If the light hurts close your eyes and let me know."
It's bright. My eyes squint from the brightness but it doesn't really hurt. I blink my eyes and feel them water. I look out the window with joy and cry with happiness. I can see.
The next day a little short female Sergeant comes bouncing into the room. "Good morning Sergeant Wilson. I'm Sergeant Phillips but you can call me Mandy. I work in physical therapy. I'm going to help you with your walking. You're going to hurt Sergeant. You're going to think this is worse than getting hit and in a way you are right but we have to do it. Today we're going to take it real easy on you but every day we will stress you more and more until you have regained all the muscle and ability you can."
Mandy was so nice until she began working on me. Damn she's an ogre. She won't let me stop or rest and will not let me take it easy at all. I love her. I hate her. When we're working she's a stone cold bitch. After therapy sometimes she sits with me and we talk. She's such a sweet person then I wonder how she can be so mean when we're working.
Over the course of the next month I sweat. I hurt, I curse and I cry. Finally the day comes when I can walk with crutches. I move slowly and painfully across the room. Now I get better rapidly. I am called before a medical review board. "Sergeant we have recommended you be discharged and retired from the Army with a 40% disability. You just can't perform all your duties with the shorter left leg. I'm sorry Sergeant," the Major said to me.
I feel anger, loss and yes, even a little fear. The Army has been my life for almost six years. I was going to make it a career. I loved the Army and my friends. We were making a difference. Now I have nothing. I'm a nobody all at once. I have to go home and try to start over. Oh, sure I managed to get a two year college degree while I was in garrison but so what? I have no real training and what I am trained for I can't do now. Who wants a disabled Military Policeman? I can't even get a job as a police officer now.
Time passes and I complete my out processing. I decide to return home in my dress uniform. At least I can have the pleasure of wearing it one more time. I catch an Army shuttle bus for the ride to the airport. People stop to stare at me. Many smile. Many more come up to me and shake my hand. Most of them say, "Thank you for your service." Damn it feels good.
I have a three hour layover in Atlanta. Damn people sure are nice. An older gentleman sees me waiting and takes me to a bar for drinks while we wait. He fought in Europe in WWII. We share memories and get maudlin remembering old comrades. Finally they announce my flight and I leave my new friend. I am so excited about going home. I haven't seen my parents except for a short visit while I was in the hospital for almost two years. It will be good to renew old acquaintances but I am still upset I have lost my career.
Finally the aircraft banks and begins the approach to the airfield nearest my home. I look out the window. I feel my chest tighten and my eyes water. I will not cry. I won't, I won't. This is a very small airport. I walk out of the departure lounge and see wall to wall people. Where are all these people going I wonder?
When I exit the security area a loud roar goes up. The crowd surges forward. There is my mother and father. My sister and her husband. A beautiful woman throws herself into my arms and hugs me. I can't breathe. DAMMIT I WILL NOT CRY.
The woman finally releases me and turns to face the crowd with me. She has wrapped her arm around my waist. God she's still as beautiful as I remembered her. She's wiping tears from her face.
I look down at the woman hugging me. "Linda what are all these people doing here," I croak.
Linda looks up at me and smiles. "They're here to welcome you home Larry. We've all missed you so much. We were terrified when we found out how badly you had been injured. We wanted you to know how much you mean to all of us and we wanted you to know how glad we were that you came home to us."
I walked farther into the crowd. I couldn't believe it. Women were crying and touching me. Men shook my hand and many hugged me too. Oh, shit, there's a bunch of my old teachers. There's old Mr. Patterson, the Principal of the high school. He walked up to me and shook my hand. He stared into my eyes. "Larry I was wrong. I am so proud to know you. I'm proud I helped guide you in school. I don't know how I could have been so wrong about you but I am so glad I was. I should never have said you would never amount to anything. If there is ever anything I can do for you just let me know son."
I finally managed to maneuver through the crowd. We left the airport and headed for the parking lot. It looked like a funeral or huge convoy as all the cars tried to leave at once. We filled the access road and clogged the onramp to the interstate as we headed for my home.
Finally I am on the small secondary road leading into my small home town. We round the last curve and top the last hill. Oh, shit, look at the banners and all the people. Our car drives slowly down the main street. People are screaming and yelling at me. I smile and wave. There has to be more than the fifteen hundred population of our small town on the street and in the convoy. Where did they all come from?
The park. My God, look at the park. There are BBQ smokers all over the place and the tables are decorated. I can't believe this is all for me. It is! Look at the sign. It says "WELCOME HOME LARRY WILSON, Our Hero". God it's good to be home. I eat until I am almost sick and talk to people who say they know me but I have no idea who they are. All this time Linda is beside me smiling. She keeps touching and kissing me. She wraps her arm around me at every opportunity. I don't understand this at all.
When Linda went away to college and I went into the Army we grew apart. We had been 'promised' to each other but I had never gotten around to popping the question. After I left we wrote occasionally and I always saw her when I was home on leave but we both dated others. When I was home though and if she was too we were still always together. The sex was way out of this world too. Why is she with me now? I need to think about this. I thought I had heard she was getting serious with some twerp that worked at the bank. Linda teaches at our small school now. I hear she is making a really good teacher. The kids love her and she loves them.
Finally at nearly ten p.m. I am allowed to go home. My leg is hurting so badly I can hardly walk. I have been sitting on the hard benches in the park for the last two hours and my ass hurts also. I return to my parent's house and walk into my old bedroom. Crap, did I leave all this stuff here? What a mess. But at the same time it is a comfortable mess. I relax. I feel at home, at peace.
"INCOMING, INCOMING," I shout. I roll from the bed and look wildly around for my rifle. Ohshitwherethehellismyweapon? I can see bright light streaming in a window as I scrabble around on the floor. My mother comes running to the door and throws it open
"Larry are you ok? What's wrong son?"
Crap, I get off the floor and look around sheepishly. Its weeks after the 4th of July and the damn neighbor kids are setting off fireworks still. I look at Mom and say, "Nothing mom. The fireworks just scared me. I'm sorry."
The rest of the summer seemed to go past effortlessly. I still hadn't decided what I wanted to do with my life. College didn't really interest me but what could a partial cripple do without a degree. I wandered up and down the streets. I found myself helping some of the older people in town with minor repairs and yard work or something. Many evenings I would hit my old favorite hang out. There was a small campground and canoe rental at the edge of town. There was a nice stream, a river really, running through the middle of town. The campground was on it near the edge of town. It was more of a park really but they had tent and RV sites too. There was a really comfortable bar and snack bar there to serve the campers and "river rats". Many townspeople dropped in for a burger and beer from time to time too.
When it became common knowledge I could most likely be found there some of my old friends began meeting me there. About the fourth or fifth evening I was there Linda came into the place with some of her teacher friends. When she saw me she smiled and walked over to sit at my table. Her whole face lit up when she smiled. She was so beautiful. Her friends weren't any slouches when it came to beauty either. I did notice one rather obnoxious man who sat on the other side of Linda and tried to monopolize the conversation. He became more and more obnoxious when she ignored him or only gave him cursory answers to his comments. Finally about six p.m. he left loudly and angrily.
Linda turned and watched him go. She frowned slightly, shook her head and turned back to me with a smile. Slowly her friends drifted away too until it was just the two of us. We stayed and talked and laughed and reminisced until closing time at nine. I walked her back to the parking lot and her car then I got into my old F150 and followed her back toward town. She turned off at her house and I went on to my parents.
In September just after Labor Day Phil, the owner of the bar came to sit with me. We had a pitcher of beer and were working on it heavily while we watched the sunset behind the trees to the west. "Decided what you're going to do now Larry," he asked.
"Not really Phil. More college doesn't interest me and I'm too gimpy to do a lot of heavy work. I've about decided to try and get a little job in a parts store or self service station or something like that. I saw a help wanted sign in the Dollar Store and a couple other places I intend to check out. I really don't want to leave home though. I've grown to love it here now. When I was a kid I couldn't wait to get out of here."
"Well son I've decided to sell the bar. I'm 65 now and I want to slow down. You seem to like it here. I thought maybe you would be interested in buying the place. I make a pretty good living here. With your Army pension you could live really well if you ran this place. Most times folks are real friendly when they come in. Oh, you get the loudmouths and drunks like any bar but I've never had to call the police that I remember. You have to get your bluff in on the kids every year but a big husky man like you could do that. I have a really nice apartment upstairs and to the side. You know built on the hill like we are you go in on the ground floor at the street and can sit on the deck behind on the second floor. It's real peaceful. The customers all stay down here on the bottom level and park out front between here and the river. I have a privacy fence above so they can't bother you after we close. I even enclosed a little of the yard with a tall fence for privacy. I use the hot tub out there naked and never worry about being seen.
I really think it would be perfect for someone like you Larry. What do you think?"
"I don't know Phil. I like that idea as well as any other. You're right, I do like it here a lot but I'm pretty sure I don't have the money to buy the place. I'd have to get a loan and I don't have any credit built up."
"No problem there. If you had a big enough down payment I'd carry the loan for you." Phil clapped me on the back then walked away. As he was leaving he said, "Think about it son. I think this is just what you need. I know it was what I needed when I got back from The Nam in 69. I've never been sorry I settled in here and neither was Sophie until she died on me last year."
I was sitting on the bar's outside patio thinking about what Phil had said when the after work crowd started arriving. One of the first to arrive of course was the school teachers and Linda led them out onto the patio. She smiled when she saw me and came straight to my table like she usually does. To my surprise before she sat down she bent and gave me a quick, gentle kiss on the lips. She pulled back and smiled then said, "Hi Larry. Have you been waiting long?"
"No, only about forever." Linda did the little pout she is so good at and slapped me on the shoulder with the back of her hand. "Liar."
Linda and her friends ordered their drinks and began chattering like magpies. The mostly talked about the school and the kids they had that year. Occasionally one or the other of them would say something to me but mostly not. I spent most of my time looking at the place with new eyes. I surprised myself when I realized what I was doing. I was trying to fit myself into the place as more than just a customer.
This time I watched as the place filled up with working stiffs stopping off for a cool one on the way home and the occasional school kid hiding from responsibility for a while looking for a good time. There was a part of the bar set aside for under age people and families.
As her friends left us Linda spent more and more time talking to me. Like many evenings when she sat beside me she leaned against me and rested her hand on my thigh. From time to time she would squeeze my thigh to make a point or just to get my attention. She would be looking up at me with a strange look on her face when she did that.
After all her friends left Linda turned to me and said, "You've been awfully quiet tonight Larry. Is something bothering you?"
I sat a moment then said, "No, not really. Phil and I were talking before you came in and I have been thinking about what he said. He wants to retire and sell the place. He asked me if I wanted to buy it. I've been thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life and for some reason I can almost see myself here. He said there was a really large living area upstairs. I just love the shade and yard here and the stream running past. I have been trying to decide if I want to try and find the money to buy the place and if I really would like to do this if I can."
Linda leaned against me and wrapped her hands around my arm. "Larry you have to do whatever makes you happy. I learned that in college. Daddy wanted me to get a business degree and then an MBA. I loved the business courses but I just couldn't force myself to work in the business world. I hate the back stabbing and the unethical behavior going on there. The little petty jabs supposed friends and work colleagues poke at each other make me steam. I worked for a while in college as a tutor and found I love teaching so that is what I decided to do. I love my work and can't think about doing anything else. I know I'll never get rich doing it but so what? I make enough to live on and that's fine. You need to find something you like too."
I hugged Linda and smiled down at her. "Yeah, I agree. My little pension helps a lot but I can't live on it. At least with it I don't have to worry about finding a really high paying stressful job. I looked down at Linda once more and continued, "One of the things I really want though is someone to share my life with. I need someone who will be happy with whatever I make of myself, someone who is happy to just let me be me and wants to share that."
I felt Linda stiffen a little when I said that. She didn't relax when she looked at me again and asked, "What do you mean Larry? Are you going to start dating someone or something?"
"No, just commenting that whatever I chose to do I need to have someone who will support me and understand. I need someone who doesn't need more than I can or am willing to give. I saw a lot of marriages break up while I was in the service because the wife ran around and partied when her husband was either deployed or on duty. Too many of the women and men were only faithfully married when they were physically with their spouse. I feel like my woman should spend the majority of her non work time with me like I want to do with her. Neither spouse should go bar hopping late at night and dancing without the other. A few drinks after work early like you and your friends do is fine unless you step over the line while you are doing it."
"Larry are you trying to tell me something?"
I sat staring out over the stream at the setting sun. Linda's question took me by surprise. I wondered what she was getting at. I thought we were just talking about things in general. Where had this question came from. And whatever happened to the little twerp that used to follow her around? I hated his ass and I had never been introduced to him.
"No Linda. I was just telling you what I needed in a woman I guess. I need someone that understands like you do and that can be happy with the same things I am."
Linda smiled and laid her head on my chest for a moment then patted my stomach. "Good," she said. That's what I wanted to hear."
Once again I walked Linda to her car and followed her until she turned off at her home. Same thing three or four nights a week seemed like. But it was nice. I really enjoyed our time together after her friends left. Hell, I even enjoyed her friends too. They were special and I could tell they loved her and cared about her like I did.