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When Ya Get Drafted
I remember the day I that began to dread answering the telephone.
It had started out commonplace, ordinary, lacking in any defining events. Gabriel and I had begun renting our shared apartment close to six months ago, and it was starting to feel like a true home. We were blissfully happy together, unaware of what would happen to tear apart our contented peace.
The jangling of the telephone reached my ears as I entered the foyer after work one day. I remember my rush, the dash I made to the kitchen to pick it up before the ringing stopped. And I wonder what would’ve happen had I not made it in time to take that phone call.
I was startled to hear the official voice berating me on the other end of the line. The harshness of his tone and the accusatory manner in which I was confronted put me into my initial shock, but as I heard his message, my alarm increased.
Simply words, the news a stranger brought, the summon I had never dreamed would occur, but never wished to hear, sent me crumpling to the floor.
As I replaced the telephone that had so betrayed me on the hook, I glanced down at the growing stack of unread mail sitting on the counter. I flipped through the envelopes, looking for anything with an unfamiliar return address. And it was with a heavy heart that I uncovered the draft letter.
I fretted as Gabriel returned home that evening, uneasy to be the bearer of bad news, not wanting him to be as upset as I had been. And I wanted more than anything to not say anything, to never tell him of what the future was holding in his cards. I didn’t want to think that seeing his figure appear in the doorway that night might be the last time the sight graced my eyes.
As tears began to pool in the corners of my eyes, Gabriel sensed the obstruction to my happiness and moved closer to me. “What is it?” he asked, worry for me apparent in his eyes. My emotions were furthered by the knowledge that I had the greater reason for concern. The words spilling out in an arching stream of emotion, I told him of his assigned duty.
Gabriel left the next morning for inspection. At the same time I was hoping against all hope that a health ailment would be found, he was passing every test given.
He returned home for the final time that night, scheduled to be deported the following day. That day was not my final memory of him, but it was my final sight of his true self.
The hours between us passed like minutes, and as we said our final goodbyes, I felt a part of myself being ripped away.
The months that followed began the worst period of my life. My longing for Gabriel rose, to see his face, to hear his laugh, to feel his embrace. And without any of these, my only fleeting reminder of his love being the letters he penned, I felt the emptiness inside of me growing. As the tears rolled, there was no one to wipe them. As the pains struck, there was no one to soothe them. As the worries grew, there was no one to relieve them.
And I remained in this miserable state until the day I received the last letter I ever would from him. Gabriel was to return home on leave for two months, and would be on home soil in a matter of days.
As the day approached, slowly but surely, I found myself sitting, gazing at the door with hope in my eyes. And before I knew it, the handle that had stayed still for so long began to turn.
The figure that appeared in the doorway was not the man I knew.
The man standing before me was in uniform, not jeans and tie-dyes. His hair was shaved to the scalp, not flowing to his shoulders. His posture was ramrod straight rather than a slouch. And at his side was a shotgun, dishonoring all the peace rallies he had marched in before.
I approached the man who had become a stranger. And as he folded me into his embrace, the touch was foreign.
After sitting beside him, listening to long stories of corpses and explosions I had never wanted to hear, I rose and suggested we go out to dinner. He agreed, and I found myself confused as he started towards the door.
“Aren’t you going to leave the gun?” I asked, shock creeping its way into my voice.
He looked upon me with the hardened eyes of a soldier. “I’ve learned a lot of things overseas,” he responded, “and there are dangers you might never expect. So as long as I’m with you, I will bring this gun with me everywhere I go.”
I turned, hoping he wouldn’t see the tears beginning to leak down my face.
As I sat across from him at a dinner table, I found myself inspecting everything and noting every minute change. He kept his posture straight while seated. He had a long list of specifications as he ordered. He scrutinized his food before he put it into his mouth, then cut it into small pieces, chewing each bite with exact preciseness. He seemed constantly hyperaware of whichever people and actions surrounded him. And I realized, sadness leaking throughout my body and mind, that he didn’t have to concentrate on acting in this manner. These were learned patterns, now routine and ordinary to him.
He didn’t seem to realize my downheartedness. The Gabriel I had once known would have picked up on my sadness automatically, would’ve offered condolences and comfort I could readily accept and would need. But the man now accompanying me was centered on himself and any potential dangers. I didn’t seem to be in his line of vision.
After we finished dinner, we walked around the city, an uncomfortable silence between us. I had nothing to say to someone who acted like a stranger, and he seemed to have run out of war stories. So before long, we found ourselves back at the apartment.
It had grown later than we had thought, and as I found myself yawning I went to brush my teeth and undress, eager for the escape of sleep.
It seemed strange to me that Gabriel followed me, emulating my actions. And as I moved to climb into the bed, though I should have expected it, I was surprised to find him beside me.
I required time to myself, time to think, time to sleep, time to become accustomed to the new man occupying my home. But Gabriel seemed unaware of my feelings, and it was with a sinking regret that I sent him out to the couch, giving him a thin, shabby blanket and treating him as a guest in his own home. But I knew that it was without his presence that I would be able to drift into a calm, peaceful sleep.
Gabriel could not fathom my actions, and as we spoke I saw a hint of sorrow stealing into his eyes. “But why?” he asked, confusion in his voice and hurt in his eyes. “Why is it that you want me gone?”
“You’ve changed,” I told him, concealing my emotions in a monotone. “You’re not the man you used to be, and you’re not the man I fell in love with.”
It was at these words that he turned and exited the room, his posture still stick-straight.
I was awakened in the depths of the night by a loud blast.
I rushed into the main room, wondering at the cause of the noise. And it was there that I discovered Gabriel slumped over the arm of the couch, shotgun still warm in his hand. Blood leaked from his head, a bullet hole shot through straight to his brain. His eyes were frozen in a stare of melancholia, longing conveyed through his facial expression. I checked his wrists and neck and found no hint of a pulse.
The EMTs could not revive him. And as I watched Gabriel being carried away from me, it occurred to me that he had been taken from me the moment I had received that phone call.
I paid movers to take the bloodstained couch to a nearby dump. I threw away all of his letters and photographs. I tried to rid myself of any reminders of him, but I was unable to cleanse my memories. And so I sometimes find myself awake in the middle of the night, drowned in tears for the man I had lost in mind before in body. I find myself walking to his gravestone and talking to the man who will have my heart claimed forever. And every day I curse the senseless, mindless actions of the people who start a war. I curse those who stole my reason for joy away from me.