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Stepping Together

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“Hero’s Return Home”, the words printed in thick black ink on the newspaper dated back to April 1975 held in my hands as my eyes scan the headline over and over again, making us out to be hero’s, but in reality to be treated like dirt. They say it is a noble act to fight for your country, but what they don’t say is what will be made of you when you return home. Especially if it is a war your country has lost. Originally my eyes were staring intently at the words printed on the page, but gradually the words swarm together until lost completely. The words are so untrue, so sugar coated. My ears are assaulted by the noise of guns in motion of rapid fire and the cries of each helpless solider as his life is taken from him. Thick bushland confronts my eyes. The splatters of red, stained upon the tree trunks and surrounding flora contrasts vastly with the rich greens and deep browns supplied by the nature in which we shelter like mice from a hawk. My eyes hook left at a soldier who has just fallen. As another solider runs over, rolling the fallen solider onto his back to reveal a hole the size of a baby’s fist through his chest, the soldiers cries come in slow motion, but in the need of cover he must abandon the body of his best friend, leaving his deceased remains to begin its process of decay next to the peach flowers which cluster in full bloom. My nose is filled with the reek of decaying humans, animal bodies, and the smell of water sitting for a long time in shell holes as I see that the smells begin to match the scene before me.

I shake my head in desperate need to escape the flashback. The memories of the battle leave my body tired and in agony, making me wish I could just forget it all, though I know my experiences are ones that will never leave my mind.

I sit in silence to recuperate my body as I stare blankly out the window into our dull street. The old picket fences that have had the life of their colour drained from them seem to match the grass that no longer flourishes a bright green. The trees stand still in a deadly silence as if afraid to make a movement. My eyes are drawn to the only lively colour that is in sight; a little red flag is sprung up on the mailbox. The old flag was faded, just like the rest of this neighbourhood, but since my return home the call for a new mailbox has had to be made twice. Once due to the destruction of a baseball bat as it makes a cracking hit from a passing car, and the second time from the placement of firecrackers.

But as I am told, today is the day of change. Today is the day we are allowed to march.

I stand before my closet, hesitating to open it. Reluctant to unveil the uniform that tore my life apart. With a deep breath and the need to close my eyes I tug the double doors open and after gathering myself I open my eyes. They set upon the crisp hung uniform. Jacket and pants saddled over the hanger and the hat sitting directly above on the shelf. Below sit the heavy-duty boots that you could stand for hours in water before feeling the water touch your toes. The uniform is one of honour, though the only emotions I gain from it is betrayal. I stand there as it mocks me. Knowing that it should be the one that deteriorated. Not me. I watch in the mirror as I place myself in the battle dress, smoothing the parts that have gathered, tie on my boots, and finish with the placing of my hat. Though it doesn’t feel a thing like it did the first day that it came out of that black garment bag. I remember that day. I was smiling. Not once did that smile fade while I was in that uniform for the first time. The thick material felt like a security blanket, as though wearing it I could never be harmed. How ignorant of me.
I shift my hat back so that it doesn’t hide my face in a shadow, reminding me of the way my wife used to do before she would give me a delicate kiss and make me promise to return safely. Though now I stand alone, no kiss, just the company of me and my shadow, and a broken promise.
The ding of the doorbell brings my mind back to the present. I exhale a bottled up sigh. It’s time to go.

I haven’t seen this many people together since battleground. The crowds cheer louder than any football game I have ever been to. Though this experience contrasts the battleground, as this time people are not fighting, they are happy, there is no blood, and the tears shed are ones of happiness. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one worried of not being accepted today. As I look around me I face other soldier’s who too have shared my experiences. They march tall and proud as single tears are shed and just like me, they feel renewed. The loud beating of the band times the hit of the drums to each footstep, enriching each step taken. Lively colours are everywhere, blended through both the crowd and the parade. The rich brightness of flowers are swarmed everywhere making me think back to my little flag on the mailbox, how bright it seemed back then, but how dull it will appear now. There is nothing creating an essence, but the air almost smells sweet. Although it isn’t, the ceremony feels like it is for us. Our being accepting by the public. And as we march together, we march into a new beginning.



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