July 22, 2009
By ClaySuttles BRONZE, Lagrangeville, New York
ClaySuttles BRONZE, Lagrangeville, New York
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I always reveled in the beauty of the field we were headed to. The local hot air balloon pilots chose it as a launching and landing spot on the weekends. Directly in the center of this glorious place stood the water tower, casting a monstrous shadow on the field beneath it. The site was by the side of the road, in that quiet midway between suburban and rural. I kept sneaking glimpses of him in the passenger’s seat as I drove. While I was glad my brother was finally back, we didn’t talk much.
We parked under a willow tree and got out. I watched my brother grinding his teeth together, shifting his feet apart, and inhaling deeply through his nose as he planted his eyes on his feet. I wondered if he even noticed that I stared. In my head I could hear the voices of his brigade cheering his name and calling him Superman, like I had read in the town newspaper. The scars etched on his neck were the only visible proof of his time spent in Iraq; his clothes concealed the rest of his wounds while his anguish concealed his heroism on that day in Fallujah. He marched almost as stiffly as I imagined he did in the army. I marched after him into the field.
The autumn air was cool enough to comfortably enjoy the quiet flight of the suspended hot air balloons as my brother and I had planned. I looked over at him and searched his face for approval as we looked for the proper place to stand and observe. I felt uncannily like Robin next to Batman as we stood together on the grass near the water tower. I scanned the horizon for high rising balloons. A gust of wind stole my attention and directed it elsewhere. I turned my head and, as if out of instinct or necessity, looked straight up at the water tower. I could make out the outline of a woman dangling from the top of the guardrail that surrounded the peak of the structure.
I shouted something like ‘hold on’ when I saw her; the exact words were somehow erased from my memory almost instantly, fading faster every second like a blind horse leading an empty carriage into the foggy distance. In those first few seconds, my stomach burned with intensity. I ran to the service ladder and began to climb, suddenly feeling as though I were a character from a comic book.
When I got to the top, I was stunned. A wave of disappointment coursed through my veins. My damsel in distress was the shadow of a tree branch, nothing more. Strangely, I felt no relief. Feelings of shame and incompletion ran circles around me. On the ground was my brother standing firmly, looking quizzically at me, unimpressed by my actions.
To my disgust, I found myself wishing there really had been someone up there hanging on for her life. My conduct would have been confirmation of selflessness and would have maybe been rewarded with echoing voices that repeated my name in some random yet distinguished crowd. My brother left in the morning for Seattle as silently as he had come home. I prayed for a second chance at honor; my very own purple heart.

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