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The Fallen Soldier

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People say you never really know how much you miss home until you’re gone, but really, you never know until you’re back. A year is a long time to be away, away from your family, your friends, your life. It’s great to have my life back, to be away from the war finally. I can’t wait to feel normal again. I can’t wait to walk through my green front door, sit in my comfy blue chair, pass the formal family photo in the hallway. This is my life, my home.

I put my things in place: my gun in the nightstand drawer, my duffel in the storage room, my uniform in the closet. I sit with my family for dinner, talk about how school’s going, how’s work. At bedtime, I tuck my children in, tell them goodnight, that I love them. “I will see you tomorrow,” I tell them. I’ve waited so long to say those words. I’ve waited so long to feel like a family again.

My wife sleeps with her arms around me; she keeps me warm. I look at her. I can’t sleep. There are too many things in my head to sleep, too many nightmares I fear will come. I can’t close my eyes. I don’t want to close my eyes. I don’t want to see the nightmares, to feel the fear of them, to imagine that they’re true. I can’t.

I open my eyes. I’m awake again. I’ve never felt so awake.

My head is in circles. I feel light-headed. I feel different.

I wake up shaking. My fingertips are cold. Numb. My bones ache. My stomach turns upside down. I reach for the gun lying at my feet. Blood covers my hands, my clothes, my face. Warm blood. Or cold? Blood is blood.

Something is wrong. I feel pain. I’m not dead.

I feel different. It’s hard to feel different when you aren’t sure who you are. I have a name, an age, a face, but no memory of a life.

Do I have a family?

I’m in a house, on a bed. The blankets are tangled, blood covering them, sticking to my body. I’m not dead.

On the floor, I see a pale limb. I circle the bed. A woman, her eyes half open, dead. I race through the rooms with the gun. I barely feel my legs carrying me. Three children lie in their beds, just like the woman.

I pass a blue chair, a family photo. The family looks perfect. Too perfect. Something is too wrong with too perfect. The man looks like me. How did they get a picture of me? What kind of trick is this?

Did I have a family?

I exit through the front door. It’s green and ugly but familiar.

Outside, it’s cold and wet, dark. It had been raining. It’s silent, eerie. I grip the gun and prepare myself for the worst. It feels natural, like an instinct.

Something is wrong. I’m not dead.

I race across streets, through perfectly groomed lawns. There is a house with a light on. Someone is there. I see them through the window. They stare at me. I can’t see their face.

I creep into the house and hide in the shadows. Why is this so normal? This is my life. My duty.

My head throbs. I march on.

“…I need the police.”

A woman’s voice. Upstairs. The enemy.

“I saw a man outside with a gun.”

They’re conspiring against me. Where’s my unit? I look behind me; they‘re all gone. Disappeared.

“210 North Marks.”

Basement’s clear. Kitchen, clear. Living room, too. The stairs creak. Down the hall, bedrooms; nothing. This place is too homey. Where’s the dirt? The blood? Corpses? Weapons? What am I looking for?

A car goes up the driveway, then another. I peak out a window, my gun glued to my hand. Why is it so quiet?

The stairs creak. My feet are still. I turn. No one. I follow the footsteps. My head throbs. In circles. I’m delusional. I’m crazy.

No. I’m not.

I’m not dead.

The footsteps go out the front door. I follow them. I need to find them. They are the enemy. My unit’s gone. Where are they? Where are my men?

Outside. There are lights. Red. White. Blue. I can barely see.

“Drop your weapon!”

I can’t. It’s mine. Protect my country. Protect my men. My unit. They have my unit. I must fight for them. I must return them to their homes.

My head throbs. It aches. It feels like I’m being shot. Isn’t that what I’m here for? Protect. I raise my gun, aim. Aim well. Know your target.

“Drop your weapon!”

Who is crying? No one cries in war. We’re built stronger than that. Stop crying!

“I said, drop your weapon!”

I can’t see any faces. It’s like they’re not even people. Enemies. All of them. Am I the enemy to them? I must be. I’m the enemy to myself.

I’m not dead. Why am I not dead?

I stand up straight. I refuse to surrender. Protect my men. Protect my country.

“Now!”

“No!”

Gun shots. One. Two. Three. I squeeze my eyes shut. Cannons. Or fireworks? My head pounds. Stop!

I hear nothing. I see nothing. I feel nothing. Everything is nothing.

It’s important to keep your identity. Keep to who you are and you’ll survive.

I said I would never let the war change me. I swore to my wife and children that I would be the same when I got home. I thought I could do it. I thought I was the same, but things change. War changed me. War changes everything.

I should have died, then and a long time ago. I left good men to die. My soul still fights the war with my fallen unit. I should have saved my men or died among them. I hate myself for it. It makes me want to go back, to leave everything I know and love to make things right, to leave my family behind.

I already left them behind. That alone makes me want to punish myself for eternities. They didn’t deserve that from me. They knew something was wrong with me the moment I came back. They knew I wasn’t the same. I will never be the same.

I should’ve died back there. But I’m not dead. No- I am. I don’t feel at home. I don’t feel at peace. In my head, I’m still fighting. There’s nothing else for me to live for.

I am dead.



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