Fallen Soldier

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Sitting on the bench at the bus stop, I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the right decision to leave. Easier, perhaps, but was this really a decision I could live with for the rest of my life?

Did I really want to abandon this place, my home for so many years, all because it reminded me of him?

No, I couldn’t let myself think of him; that would eliminate the whole reason for leaving. If I allowed myself to picture his face, hear his voice, think his name, even for just a moment, the heart-wrenching pain would overtake me.

And I just couldn’t do that to myself. Not again.

A shiver ran down my spine, and I wrapped my jacket tighter around myself, throwing my bare hands out of the frigid December air and into the warm escape of my pockets.

My right hand scraped against something in the depths of my fleece pocket—a forgotten piece of trash?

I plucked the offending object from my pocket, unable to conceal my gasp as I recognized it as an old gum wrapper, Wrigley’s spearmint.

The sudden onslaught of the memory was a dagger to my heart, only it made no mark, still beating, impossibly fast, refusing to cease. All at once, the carefully built walls I’d plastered around any thoughts of him fell. And I abruptly found myself breaking the most important of all my rules.

I knew—vaguely, in some far-off part of my mind—that I really shouldn’t be allowing myself to slip up so much. It went against all common sense to let myself think of him so frequently; it would be much easier for me to lose all feeling, rather than endure the grief I insisted upon throwing at myself, as if I weren’t miserable enough already.

And I knew that maybe if I didn’t slip up so much, I might not have ever felt the need to leave.

But I did slip up. I did remember. I was only human, after all. And for those precious moments when I was lost in my memories, the sting of my lost love didn’t hurt quite so badly…

It was a sunny May morning the last time I saw him. He had, like always, popped a long stick of gum in his mouth as he headed out the front door. I remembered teasing him—laughter had been so easy those days!—saying he must be afraid for his breath to smell like anything besides spearmint.

It was a usual, daily thing, this casual banter, but when he’d seen me watching him with even more fascination and reverence than usual, his warm brown eyes had softened, and his mouth split into the dazzling smile I’d never forget, even if I lived a hundred years.

Reading my fears clearly on my face, he’d pulled me into his arms, lulling me, telling me that everything was going to be okay.

And I’d believed him. It had seemed like such an easy thing to do at the time.

Somehow, during our embrace, the gum wrapper had ended up clasped in my hand, stowed into my coat pocket to be found later.

He’d left then.

I remembered standing in the doorway, watching the ancient Honda Accord drive off down the road, taking the other half of my heart away, so carefree and vivacious, never once in doubt of his own life, intent only upon the war he felt bound to fight to serve the country he loved. I remembered standing there for centuries, long after the car had gone off down the winding road. I remembered the beating of my anxious heart, the tears that had refused to spill from my eyes…

The bus pulled up to the stop, taking me out of my trance. I blinked once, and in that instant, the pain hit me again, harder than before.

Pain from the life that had been lost before he’d ever had a chance to really live. Pain from the innocence that had let me hope and believe he would come home. Pain from the love that had been stolen away from me, too soon, too cruel.

The door of the bus clicked open and I boarded. Anywhere was better than here, where his presence was etched into my mind a thousand times.

I chose a seat alone at the back of the bus and took one last look out the frosty window. The driver shut the door, and I closed my eyes (exhaling), and kissed the gum wrapper before sliding it back into my pocket, taking the bit of trash as my souvenir from the place I loved so much.





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