A Soldier Comes Home

November 17, 2011
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It was rainy and cold, reflecting Maria’s mood. She was alone in a house that she had helped buy about nine months ago. Spending her evenings curled up on the couch wasn’t out of the ordinary. Her days were consumed with school, trying to make perfect grades. She needed them to get into vet school. But now, after classes were over for the day and she was at home alone, her mind was free to wander, over thousands of miles, to the dry deserts of Afghanistan.

Although she always seemed so perfect and focused, inside she was falling apart and constantly distracted. Her mind was always making connections with everything she did and saw to him. The corner café was where they would go after her classes just to chill and grab a latte. Combing out her hair, she reminisced about when he would beg her to let him do it. He loved playing with her hair. Everything always led to him, her soldier.

He had left around eight months ago, soon after they had bought the house and gotten her started on her senior year of college. The deployment wasn’t unexpected but the news still came as a surprise, a shock, to her. She hadn’t grown up in a military household, as he had, and she still wasn’t used to the sudden changes in plans.

She thought all of this through, sitting there on their couch in their house as he was risking his life to help try to give some far off country freedom from a cruel rule. She asked the same questions every day, trying to sort through them on her own. What she really needed was some advice, a more experienced point of view. Too bad those were few and far between. So, she pondered her mysteries alone.

Why did they need him? He was only one man, what difference could one man make in this global conflict? As she thought this, she knew the answer immediately, although she didn’t like to admit it. If every person thought that way, the United States would have no army. They would have no freedom, no liberty, only constant control by a ruthless and cruel dictator. She knew why they needed him. She just didn’t like the fact that they did.

Why couldn’t he help in another way, any other way? There were plenty of important desk jobs here, at home. He was smart and knew enough important people to get a position working nine to five with weekends off and he still would have been of great importance. Yet, even as she thought of this answer, she knew he would never do that. He knew he could best serve his country out on the front lines, in the middle of all the action. She knew this about him and realized how stupid she was to even let the thought cross her mind that he would take a desk job over active service.

What would happen to her if, God forbid, he died? That was probably her greatest fear. He was her everything and life without him was a dim scenario. Even thinking about the possibility was causing her heart to race and her hands to shake. She knew it was always possible, that at any second she could get letter or call saying that he was gone, dead in service to his country. But she still knew that he would rather have it that way than sitting at home and doing nothing.

All of her questions were pointless. This was what he loved doing and she had known this from the second she first heard him start talking about it when they started dating. Few things were certain anymore but she knew a few things to be set in stone. She loved him, he loved her and he loved being in service to his country. The last thing she was sure of was that she would never have it any other way.

Eventually, she fell asleep on the sofa, exhausted from her day. She wasn’t even disturbed as the headlights flashed through the windows. She didn’t even move as the car parked in her driveway and the door was unlocked and opened. The door swung open and all she did was roll over and find another comfortable position.

He had been driving for around six hours. His flight had gotten in late and it was dark as he drove the familiar roadway, took the exit and started off down the town roads. He couldn’t wait to get home to her. He was going to ask her to marry him. He smiled to himself as he felt the ring jingle in his pocket. He parked the car and grabbed his duffel bag out of the trunk of the rental car and pulled out the keys to his house and unlocked the front door.

The door swung open and the entire house was black. The only light came from the television and even it was muted. He was about to turn on the light when he heard her deep, even breathing. She was asleep. On the couch, she was lying on her side with one leg and an arm off the edge. She was all tangled up in the blanket from tossing and turning. Her leg was uncovered and he was taken aback by how much it affected him. It stirred something in him that he hadn’t felt since the last time he was with her. He was thrilled to feel it. He thought the war had taken every emotion out of him but hate. Now he realized that love and passion would always be in him when he saw her.

After being surprised by his onslaught of what he thought were lost emotions, his next surprise was what she was wearing. After letting himself linger on her bare skin, his eyes slowly moved up her body. A pair of army green shorts caught his eyes next. They were followed by his favorite t-shirt. She hated that shirt yet she had it on. It brought tears to his eyes. She had been alone so long and she had learned to cope in any way she possibly could. She slept on the couch because that’s where they would fall asleep together. His t-shirt must still smell like him and she slept with it to help her think he was still there. It just made him realize how much they were meant for each other.

He gently set his duffel bag on the chair by the door, trying to make as little noise as possible. He was still in full uniform, having left straight from the base as soon as he could. He took off his boots only, so as to not track mud into the living room. Again, he tried not to make any noise but failed miserably. But at that point, she was in such a deep sleep, he could have set off a bomb and she would have gone on dreaming.

He slowly walked over to her, the pain of missing her for so long wiped clear by her face, smiling even in sleep. He hated to wake her yet he would be so excited to see her face as she realized he was home early. Gently, he leaned over her and kissed her forehead. As her eyes fluttered open, he knelt beside the couch and prepared himself to be put back together again, mended by her true, undying love.

It was confusing, she could have sworn that she had just been kissed on the forehead! She was almost positive that that was what had woken her up. But it was impossible considering she was alone in the house and the only other person that had a key was him. And he couldn’t be home, could he? She turned over, bracing herself for either option, whether it was the joy of him being early or the disappointment of a hallucination. She rolled and immediately sensed that, whether it was him or not, there was someone there.

Finally, her eyes cast over the figure in the dark. She would have known that figure in any environment; even in total darkness she would have known it was him. She felt her heart melt, tears coming into her eyes. She was in his arms and holding on for dear life before he had a chance to react. She swore she would never let him go, even if she had to follow him into battle, into the horrible war. She couldn’t let him go again, not with not knowing what was going on.

Even after the longest time, she wasn’t ready to let him go. They had eventually settled into a more comfortable position on the couch instead of the floor. He was holding her almost as tightly as she had a grip on him. She had cried herself out around half hour ago and now they were simply there with each other, never saying more words than “I love you”. Finally, he thought it was the perfect time to ask her his question. He slid her onto the couch by herself and got down on one knee. Her face looked confused. She didn’t realize what was going on until he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little velvet box. Her hands flew up to her face as she realized what was happening.

He went on to explain how much he loved her and how his life would never be complete without her by his side. He would always love her and cherish her and especially protect her. He told her he had already asked her parents and they had given them their blessing if she chose to say yes. He told her that it was up to her. He knew as well as she that it would be hard, him having a few more years in the Army. But he thought they could make it through. No, he knew their love was strong enough to make it through.

He asked her to marry him. Her heart was flying and singing high above the clouds. She could see their future together plain as day. She looked back at him and expected to see the joy reflected back from her face. Only then did she realize she had paused too long after the question and his face wore a worried look. She laughed out loud and he was taken back until she said yes. He cradled her up into his arms and twirled her around the living room, both of them crying from the sheer joy. They couldn’t wait to be man and wife.

The soldier had taken leave, bargaining his entire future on one question. Now that it had been answered, he had two whole weeks to spend with her. After that, it was back to Afghanistan but he knew she would always be waiting for her soldier to come home to her once again.

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