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The Green Duffle
The sky was waking up just as Samantha was. She looked out her window and watched the street lights slowly dissolved under the morning sunrise. She pulled back her matted hair into a loose bun, and threw her grey hoodie over her favorite rolling stones nightshirt. The old beat up floor creaked as she made her way across the hall into her parent’s bedroom. Her fathers puke green duffle bag laid open on his bed, and she could hear the shower going in the bathroom. Samantha walked over to the bed and traced her fingers along the embroidered “Sgt. John Lewis” on the side of the bag. She gazed up at the bathroom door, then back at the bag. She pulled one side down and gazed at what was inside. There were numerous ARMY shirts on top of his spare uniform. Along the side of the bag laid the same picture of Samantha and her mother he had carried around with him ever since she could remember. She gently picked up the picture and unfolded it, carefully avoiding the rip in the corner. It was her and her mother on the day she was born. Samantha was wrapped up in the same pink blanket that still laid on her bed. She heard the shower stop, and the squeak of the shower door opening. Samantha folded the picture and placed it back in the bag and walked downstairs. The smell of fresh brewed coffee pierced her nose.
“Good morning sweetheart.” Her mom said as she poured herself a glass.
Samantha grabbed a mug out of the cupboard and poured the coffee. She placed her palms around the mug and let the heat seep through her skin.
“Oh Samantha, you’re too young to be drinking coffee, it stunts your growth you know.”
Samantha was sixteen and already 5”8, growing was the least of her worries.
“I think I’ll manage.”
She took her warm mug and walked back up stairs to her bedroom. She sat down on her bed sipping the coffee, letting each sip warm her throat on the way down. On the dresser across the room was a framed photo of her and her dad last year at the beach. She remembered that he was on leave that weekend, and he had said all he wanted was to spend the weekend with his daughter. In all her sixteen years, she couldn’t remember a single moment better than that one. A knock came form her bedroom door.
“What are you doing just sitting around? We’re leaving in twenty minutes let’s go; get dressed.”
Samantha had made this trip twice before and each time, deciding what to wear always took forever. She never wanted to dress like the other sons and daughters did; in nice clothes and all made up. Samantha wanted her dads last image of her before he left to be the real her, the girl in the torn jeans and t-shirt. She pulled out her favorite pair of jeans with a hole right on the kneecap, and paired it with her favorite pink shirt form Abercrombie.
Across the hall came a noise Samantha had been trying to avoid all month: the “pound, thud” pattern of her dad’s ten-pound boots making their way down the stairs. She hated how harsh they sounded against the weak wood floor. Samantha followed her father downstairs and watched as he swung his duffle over his shoulder, and straightened out his uniform. He saw her staring at him from the corner of his eye. He didn’t say a word, but gave her a smile. That smile had always warmed her heart, and made whatever was wrong, go away. Samantha’s mom came down the stairs shortly after and they all went out to the green jeep in the driveway, closed the garage, and headed out. The car ride was silent except for the occasional comment from her mom about how she “hated the breaks on this damn car” or how “this air conditioner is so loud”. Samantha knew better than to respond; this happened every time they made that trip, it was her mother’s strange way of dealing.
A rush of noise grew louder overhead, and Samantha could tell they had arrived. When they all exited the car, two other families that looked identical to theirs greeted them. They had never met but the expression on each of their faces would make you think they had been friends for years. All the families smiled and nodded, still silent, and made their way to the shuttle. The crowd by the first shuttle was a blur of camouflage and the same puke green duffle bag her dad carried. Samantha had blocked off all noise and moved her eyes from one good bye to the next in one fluid motion. She was next, her mother released her grip on her husband, and it was her turn to say goodbye for the third time to her father. She had grown numb after the first time at these things, and looked up and squeezed her dad harder than she ever had before.
“I’ll be back in a couple of months. Listen to your mom and don’t cause her any trouble.”
She smiled at him and gave him his farewell kiss and hug.
“Love you dad.”
“Love you too, both of you.”
And with those last words, she watched her dad board his bus on his way to depart for the third time to Iraq. When the bus was full, and the families had cried all they could, the bus took off and there was nothing left to do but go home and wait for that first call.
A week had past since that departure, and Samantha laid on her bed staring aimlessly at her ceiling. The phone rang. Samantha grew alert and her heart began to race in fear and excitement. Her mother’s footsteps shook the house as she ran, causing Samantha’s picture frame to move close to the edge of her dresser.
Samantha heard a muffled “hello” from downstairs and then a loud thud. Her picture frame was on the floor; shattered.