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A Promise to Fallen Comrades
He was sitting in the helicopter, alternately watching the pilot and scanning the ground with his night-vision goggles. The whole squad was sitting on pins and needles and everyone was anxious and waiting- on the brink of something, but Matt couldn’t feel what. He glanced at Ryan sitting beside him, who gave him a thumbs-up, and then his eyes moved on. That was when the shooting started.
There was the staccato sound of bullets tearing through the sky. Tranquility turned into chaos and the night seemed to explode into fireworks before his very eyes.
There was the loud boom and the Blackhawk next to them was going down, blooming like a vibrant flower, both beautiful and tragic. It was Josh- Josh who was on that copter. Josh Callahan, who liked to eat his French fries with vinegar and who said the only seafood worth eating was from Cape Cod.
But it was himself that Matt should’ve been worried about. In the next few seconds, all he could comprehend was that he was crashing. There was red fire, black smoke, flashing lights, bird tipping tail-over in the sky, falling, falling, falling, shouting, and then black. And it was still black. Was he even alive?
The pain let him know he was alive, but the continued darkness left him utterly blind and confused. It pressed down on him on all sides- smothering, choking, making him panic. He could see nothing, but could hear all sorts of noises- the steady dripping of water that told of damp quarters, the hollow echo every time he moved, and the patter of tiny scurrying feet, which suggested that the rat population was not much diminished by the war going on in the world above. He was a captured prisoner of war, that much he did know, but how much did the Pentagon know? When would someone send a force to get him out of here?
He was so tired, and he hurt everywhere. The pain seemed to consume him at times, and he had to focus on breathing steadily just to keep conscious.
He tried to concentrate, thinking about what he knew. Time meant nothing down here- he easily could’ve been out for minutes, hours, even days. The only constant to mark the elapsed time was the continual dripping of water, which starting to burrow into his head after a few moments, causing even more of an annoyance.
It was getting so hard to stay awake, but he had to try. Who could tell when or if he would ever wake up?
He focused on his squad, his team, his family away from home- Josh Callahan, Gray Holloway, and Ryan Grecco chief among them. Were they looking for him right now or were they dead, lying in the wreckage of the helo? Or were they in the same predicament as him, suffering wounds from the crash and a prisoner of war?
His thoughts stopped there, and he tried to continue with what he knew, but sleep was just so inviting. He relinquished his hold on consciousness and let sleep overtake him, falling into a dream-world full of memories.
There was Josh Callahan in his Red Sox ball cap from a few nights ago, laughing about how he was Boston, born and bred. He and Gray would argue about who would win the Series- the Sox or the Yankees- and Josh would always tell Gray that a Yankees fan like him deserves to get shot, but never really meant it. And then Ryan would get in the middle of it and calm them both down, because that was what he did, and Matt would just sit and watch and laugh at the absurdity of it all. They were getting shot at every day, but Josh and Gray could argue about the World Series?
And then he saw Melissa and Rena back at home in the house that he and Melissa had saved up for and had finally been able to buy, and when they did, he carried her over the threshold, just like they did in the movies. Then Rena started to cry, and Matt had to put Melissa down and pick up Rena so she would stop the racket. After that, they ordered Chinese takeout because no one felt like cooking, and it turned out that Rena, being the finicky two-year-old that she was, hated Chinese food. So Matt had to make her a grilled cheese and ended up burning his hand in the process, making overall for a pretty hectic day. But, as funny as it seems, it was one of the best days of his life. Both everything and nothing seemed to work out. His heart almost ached from the memory.
Then there was the day he enlisted and the graying officer who looked him up and down, not hiding the fact that he was sizing Matt up. “I may not look like much, sir,” Matt had said, knowing he was never the jock throughout high school, “But I have a family to protect and I’m ready to do my part.”
And then there was Gray, when he saw the picture of Matt’s family for the first time. “Why are you over here, Sullivan, when you’ve got a wife and daughter back in the States?”
“The family life was getting to me. I needed some excitement before I got too boring,” Matt had laughed, but all the while thinking how he could afford not to be here. Some things were too beautiful not to protect.
Last he dreamed just of the wind on his face, the sun at his back, the view from the window of his childhood bedroom, the sound of rain as it hit against the roof, the faint rustling of the leaves outside, the taste of snow melting to liquid fire on his tongue, the smell of bacon in the morning, and all the other small things in life that were overlooked and taken for granted. He wanted it all back- all of it. He wanted another chance to live so badly that it hurt more than any physical wound could. He wanted more time- more time with his boys, more time with his family, more time to enjoy life. Everything suddenly seemed all too precious, all too important, all too beautiful, to ever let go of. It was then Matt recognized that the simplest kind of beauty isn’t realized until it’s gone.
Then his dreams were shattered as he felt himself starting to come to, waking up from the fantasy he was living in. He heard the water dripping and the rats scurrying, but he also heard the sharp crack of gunshots. He could hear a door burst open and the shuffle of footsteps. He held his breath, unable to see anything and helpless. The people coming in the room were either his friends or his enemies, and in a few seconds, he was either going to be rescued or dead.
“Matty, you okay, boy?”
“Gray,” the word came out of his mouth all in a rush and all the emotion poured out with it. He felt the ropes binding him being cut and he was being lifted onto a stretcher.
“Never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy, right?” He joked, but Matt could sense uneasiness behind it, “I would be a sorry excuse for a Ranger if I left you out here.”
“Holloway, you are a sorry excuse for a Ranger,” Matt answered, managing a weak smile.
“It’s all a matter of opinion, Sullivan,” Gray answered wryly.
Matt could difference in the atmosphere as he breathed fresh night air, eyes stinging with unshed tears of relief. He was going to be okay. He found he could finally see and looked up to see Gray watching him carefully, night-vision goggles in his hand. There was a cut below his eye, probably from the crash, and Matt immediately thought of the rest of their group.
“Where are Ryan and Josh?”
The sad look in Gray’s eyes said it all, and Matt turned away as he was loaded onto the truck that would take him right to the nearest army hospital. Matt was reminded of what he realized in his dream and he sent up a silent prayer for his fallen brothers-in-arms. As his relationships with Ryan and Josh showed, the truest kind of beauty was never realized until it was gone. In a few chosen words, he silently swore to honor their memory forever in the way he lived- by continuing to serve his country as they would’ve in his position, holding onto his family for dear life, and seeing the beauty in everyday life that could easily be missed or forgotten.
It was time to go home.