A Walk in the Park This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Trevor took a normal walk in the park. He couldn't sleep anyway, so he figured he might as well. He lived this life every night; he always found some way to entertain himself just to avoid the nightmares. No sleep, at least not a full night. Tonight he had woken up in a cold sweat, screaming.
The park felt damp and he could hear the birds crowing in a menacing way. In a maple tree nearby fought two squirrels. The bigger one seemed to dominate the quarrel over food, pouncing on the scrawny one every chance it got. The trees this time of year had a gloom to them, ash colored, with arms reaching towards the sky, clawing away at the darkness.
“Beautiful isn't it?” said an old man.

Trevor responded surprised, who was this guy, “Sure, if you like that kind of thing, darkness.” What could be beautiful about that? It appeared everywhere, almost to mock him.

“Well it ain't that bad once you get used to it.” The man wore a dirty old parka, torn and faded. His voice rumbled like gravel, low and sincere, coming from an unshaven mess of a beard. After a moment Trevor said, “Maybe I don’t want to get used to it.” He stared back at Trevor with knowing eyes as if he understood the depth behind the words.

Trevor turned, but he was in solitude again. He frantically searched around him; hallucinations now too? The man’s scent remained, but that was the only proof he had sat there. Well, what do I do now? Go home?
He would return the next night searching for this mysterious man; he wasn't crazy. Life the past two years had done some screwy stuff to his brain, but that couldn't happen. He planned to walk around again, maybe tomorrow. This would be a good excuse not to sleep and he could occupy his brain for the moment. What did the old goat mean anyway? He can’t really understand, no one can.
He was alone.
The man disappeared, nowhere to be found, maybe forever. By now Trevor’s eyes sagged and a new day had begun. Runners started appearing, the sun had peaked over the endless blue in front of him. He would find him. He had to know what this old man knew.
As Trevor sat in his apartment that day the dimly lit brown walls seemed to deepen the feelings that had already set in. The fear, the worry, the sadness, the anger, all there. Isabel, a sensitive short girl with bright blue eyes, and not the greatest timing, remained his sister.

“Iz, you know that I love you guys, but you don’t know what I've seen and heard, or what I've gone through. And I’m not about to tell you.”

“Why? Why can’t I help you?” He shrugged away as Isabel reached out to him. He contained his anger. He started to speak, but paused for a moment.

“Because, I’m handling it. It’s not like I’m going off the deep end.”
“You’re exhausted. It looks like you haven’t slept in weeks and I’m scared what the reason for that is. Your buddies aren't here to talk to anymore and I’m offering my ear.”
“I’m fine.” His eyes drifted to the old worn carpet below him, avoiding the eyes that pierced through his soul.
“You've been dreaming again haven’t you? It’s everything you've seen.”
“Honestly, I can handle it.” He didn't even blink when he said it. With a determined stance he stared back at her. He yearned to get away, and he knew what to say. The past couple of months had taken away his sympathy for other people. No one had seen what he had and they portrayed their worries as these great trials when they hadn't witnessed anything that could destroy their innocence and hope for life.
“Right, but you’re not handling it now. Will you please go see someone, please?”

“You don’t get it. I want to do this by myself!”
“Alright! Okay, I’ll leave you alone.” She opened the door ever so slowly, almost waiting for him to stop her. As Isabel stepped out she turned around. With a glimmer of pity in her eyes, she said, “If you keep pushing people away, one day they may never come back.” Maybe, he wanted it like that.
His day filled with loneliness and self-examination. He lay on the faded blue couch for hours, eyes wide open. All the energy he had used to think drained his brain and exhaustion overtook his body. He would close his eyes for five minutes that was all; he would not risk the chance of dreaming again. His eyes closed, the five minutes turned into twenty and he slipped into a deep sleep. His mind heavy, he woke in a sandy desert alone. He walked for miles and miles and saw a city in the distance. He fell on his knees from the exhaustion and then he saw a uniform walk in front of him. There stood Brian, Trevor’s buddy and this scene looked all too familiar. More of his unit appeared. Trevor screamed at them, he knew what was about to happen, but he heard no response; they were too far off. All of a sudden shots zoomed passed him, and at him. Brian fell, then Josh, then Greg, the mission had failed and now he kneeled alone in a sandy desert.
At this point he was shaking on his blue faded couch again. The moon shone brightly and the man from the park was still out there. This time he would find him, he had to. He got up from the couch and headed out of his gloomy, dimly lit living room. He wanted answers and he walked briskly through the dimly lit park.

Trevor came to the same tree where the squirrels had been the night before last and he stared once again. He walked a little further on the path and up ahead sat a man in a dirty old parka. Without thinking he went over to him and sat down facing forward, not wanting to start the conversation. The man turned to him and nodded with a shallow smile on his face.

“Hello again.” The gruff voice he had imagined sounded in Trevor’s ears.

“Uh, hi sir.” Trevor turned to him then, “I, uh, looked for you yesterday.”

“Really? Well, I’m sorry you didn't find me; we could have had alovelyy conversation.”

Doubt started to enter his mind. Maybe he should just get up and leave. What if this man had a serious mental problem and he didn't even know it? But no, he had spentenoughh time thinking about this man the past few days; he would ask his question. He waited a moment and then, “What did you mean when you said that it wasn't that bad once you get used to it?”

“Well, I figure you should answer that one for yourself. I guess that you probably haven’t slept in a while based on your appearance and based on that you've been out late for the past three days, probably more. You've been thinking about it haven’t you, what have you come up with?”

Trevor couldn't respond, he didn't know what to say. The guy had just picked up on a few details that he thought he hid very well.
“It’s all in the perception you know? What do you do? Care to tell me why you've been out so late, you might as well?”
He hesitated for a moment, “I was in the military, just got back a couple months ago, unemployed right now.”
“Had any good dreams lately? If I can guess, you’ve probably been avoiding sleep and when you say you don’t have a job it’s because you can’t hold one down. Anything sound familiar?”
He couldn’t respond. He had no words at all. It’s like this guy knew him, repeating his life the past few months, saying everything that he hid from. What if this guy had lived my life? It’s like he actually did understand me before. He remained in silence.
“I get it, trust me.”
“I bet you do,” sarcasm definitely hinting in his voice.
“Vietnam, 9th Infantry Division. My name’s Gerald.”
“Oh. Wow.”
He chuckled a big belly laugh. Warm and sincere, “You can say that again. You know, you do get used it. What you call the darkness.”
“But I don’t want to get used to the darkness. Can’t it just go away?”
“I saw so many things over there. I wanted them to go away. My friends died and I came back to nothing. No family willing to deal with me and no one to talk to. I was alone and then I found this, the park. Every spring new growth appears and the leaves return green and new. It’s alive and it still thrives no matter what is going on around it. Gunshots ring through the air, Police sirens go off, doors slam, horns honk and nothing changes here. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. And now you’ve found my secret hiding place. Secluded from the rest of the world, yet just closeenoughh to get back to the outside world whenever I want to.”
Could this be true? The park had seemed welcoming and the past few days he had found comfort in the seeming endless winding paths. Trevor paused for a long time thinking about what this wise old man said before speaking again, “Do you regret any of it?”
Without hesitating he replied, “You know I wondered the same thing for years after returning home. Was it worth witnessing all the destruction and death? Was it worth losing my family and feeling so alone? The only answer I can give is that I do not regret any of it. It was worth fighting for my country. Although I lost some people and my own innocence, I had helped to preserve it for other people, so they didn’t have to witness everything I had seen. I never lost the hope that those people had given me.
He paused for, well, dramatic effect. He let his words sink in, “Why don’t you go home? You’ve got people, I can tell just by the expression on your face, call them tomorrow. Right now, go. Try to sleep get some sleep; I’ll be right here tomorrow night.”
Trevor solemnly got up and dragged his feet back to his apartment. He walked into his living room and turned to the chair his parents had given him in college. He flipped on the lights for the first time in weeks and glided his eyes over the old friend. It was the only part of his life that had remained the same, with the exception of a few faded swatches of leather. The chair brought him comfort and safety. He had spent many hours here in the past, but recently he hadn’t wanted to corrupt the safety it brought.
When Trevor had enlisted he wanted to help keep the country safe. Somewhere along the way he had lost sight of what he wanted. However, Gerald had returned a glimmer of hope not as strong as he once had, but still there. He tried the chair, just like he had left it, soft and worn, hitting all the right grooves in his back. He closed his eyes. The darkness retreated ever so slightly and he saw peace up ahead. The war was coming to an end and he drifted off to sleep.

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