Touch Down

July 9, 2012
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Mirrors, they reflect back only what is before them. Not what mental thoughts can persuade, but the reality of a moments missed encounter. The mistake made in a split second’s decision, forever determining the beauty that the beholder defines. What I saw, staring into my soul, wasn’t I at all. Instead some foreign object, not even human at that. It had all the features of a man, with two dead eyes, that held neither sorrow nor joy, the only evidence that what I had become was less than alive.

As I passed Mother’s held their children closer, Beware my little ones, beware. I tried not to let it bother me, tried to silence the never ceasing whispers of ignorance. I’d give anything to be them. Anything to be so judgmental, then maybe I too could fall under the classification of normal. I knew better than to believe that though.

I had witnessed more combat than I cared take credit for, served my country for twelve years, in a war that wasn’t even mine. I had seen men cry, as hearts shattered, leaving no time for sorrow. Each time a car backfired, I ducked, only to share in a singleness of ridicule, my hands holding cracked eggs from the grocery store, that I was sure had been blood, dripping at my feet. It’s not something I expect you to understand. You don’t lie in bed hearing their screams, finally drift off to sleep, only to watch them die again and again. How could you understand? With your luxury cars, and picket fence life, tell me your horror, and I’ll multiply it by a thousand.

“Aren’t you going to offer me a seat?” A familiar voice asked.

I looked up uncertainly from my usual bench at the football field. Wearing converse tennis shoes, and a lettermen that was too big for him, Charlie Ryan looked down at me, one hand tucked in his pocket and a half cocked smile on his face. He hadn’t aged a day, his baby face still looking like a kid fresh into his senior year. In a second I had my arms locked around him, my knuckles turning white, not daring to loose my grip.

“Charlie? Is that you?”

“What kind of question is that for your best friend?” He retorted.

“I missed you so much.” My voice cracked despite my attempts to keep the tears from falling.

“I know pal, but I’m here now, I’m here.”

He spoke with such reassurance that I let my hands release. My uniform smeared his jacket with dirt, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“Wow, this place sure does bring back the memories.”

“Like remember the time we played LakeView? Biggest game of the season.”

“For the championship.”

“Yea man, you carried us home.” Charlie smiled, his elbows resting on his knees.

“No I didn’t”

“I think Tonya Raves might disagree the way she was all over you with those pompoms.”

“None of it matters now.” I replied, my hands trembling.

“What are you talking about? Of course it matters.”

“No it doesn’t!” I yelled, grabbing on to his sleeve violently.

My rage vanished just as quickly in a waterfall of insecurity. I collapsed in front of him.

“How can you talk like that?” I demanded.

“Like nothing’s changed, it should have been me. Nothing matters.”

Charlie was now on the ground beside me, his arms encasing me.

“Don’t talk like that buddy, life matters.” He was now rocking me back and forth.

I couldn’t pretend anymore. The jungle was damp, with only the never ceasing muzzle flash to break the darkness. We’d been ambushed, taken in on all sides. There was no running. We were in the water, the dark red water, swimming in the blood of our brothers, I could still see their faces. Charlie had been with me, there just in time to push me out of a grenade’s cross hairs.

“Why Charlie, why?” I begged. Death would be sweet, so sweet, but to live, that was the torment.

“Because, who will tell our story? Don’t let them steal this Michael, all you need is sixty seconds’ worth of distance run. Remember?” He whispered in my ear, as my fears soaked his shirt.

“I can’t feel anything! Let me go, let me go!”?
But I had refused. I continued on, my feet sinking a little deeper into the mud as I went, dragging Charlie behind me. His legs were missing, nothing but shredded flesh remained, all life seeping from his body.

“Stay with me man!” I screamed, pounding on his chest as we made it to the shore. His eyes mirrored back like two perfect pieces of glass, transfixed on a perfect sky. It was a day that knew no horror, laughing at our calamity with taunting rays of sunshine, unforgiving and careless.

“Please don’t go. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Ten minuets ago we’d been joking about getting home, how all the girls would love us, and all the football stars would be jealous. He was still warm, still so close.

“You remember the game?” I could already feel his arms letting go as I nodded.

“What did I tell you, huh?” Charlie stared back at me, his unwavering strength somehow giving me hope.

“Take us home.”

“And you said, there’s no place like it.” His laughter echoed through my ears.

“Promise me Mikey, promise me. Don’t give up, it’s when your at your weakest that you have the most courage inside of you. Don’t let them take that from you.”

Charlie vanished, making the scene give way to the battle field. I looked into the broken shards of glass again. What reflected back had all the features of a man, with two worn eyes, that knew more then they should have, the only evidence that I was still alive. And so I rose, rushing into the artillery until the final shot was fired, and I was in the end zone, home at last.

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