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He’d thought of the glory. He’d thought of the combat, the excitement. He’d thought of the experience. He’d met the requirements.
She’d thought of the death. She’d thought of the combat, the agony. She’d thought of the fear.
He’d gone through the training, perspiring through the pain. In high school, he’d attended ROTC every week, never skipping, even when he ran a fever. He’d hopped the fences, cracked the locks. He’d passed the test.
She’d pleaded and begged, explained her every fear to him. She’d screamed, she’d cried. She’d whispered understanding and encouragement, knowing that this was his choice.
He’d gotten in. Passed the exams, been accepted by the Academy. Cut his hair, surrendered his free time. To advance. He knew he’d get there.
She’d swallowed, tried to tolerate it. Begged through non-stop flowing tears. Yelled, asked how much he was willing to give up.
He’d been called. Jet-flyers shot down constantly, they’d come up short. Advanced training unfinished, he was shipped. He took with him his bare necessities and a photo of her.
She’d walked him to the gate, straining to keep her composure. She’d hugged him goodbye, holding onto him as long as possible before having to let go.
He’d embraced her, felt her composure begin to slide as he turned away. He’d looked back before turning the final corner, found her smiling and waving, albeit crying, and a tear slipped from his own eye. He’d understood her: she was making sure that if this was his last image of her, she’d be smiling in it.
She’d made it five minutes into her drive home before pulling over to weep. Part of her wanted to run wailing back to the gate and beg him to reconsider. Piecing herself back together, she continued home, crying. This had been his goal since fifteen years of age, and she couldn’t take that away.
Minutes after take-off, he’d begun to cry. Sizeable bits of him urged for him to ask the pilot to turn back, land. His head down, he ignored fellow passengers and cried for the fear of not seeing her again. Collecting his frazzled edges, he rode to the location in silence.
She’d arrived at their apartment. She’d felt no eagerness towards going to school the following day, but after skipping to spend time with him, she knew she had to go back. Any more absence and the college could send her home. She was only a freshman. She’d forgotten why it was that she was supposed to show up for work tomorrow evening. She’d settled for less out of a job and school, to be with him. Now she didn’t have that. That night, she rolled over in her sleep, crying out for the person who wasn’t there.
He’d lain awake all night, wondering how she was. Telephones were hard to come buy, even harder were computers. Letters were censored. Still, he wrote, attempting to exhaust the emotions which still raged at him. He would come home victorious. For her.
A letter had arrived, blotted-out words and all. It did her heart no justice to read how much he missed her. Her soul grasped toward the one which had written the letter. That evening, crying, she sat down and wrote, assignments and due dates forgotten.
He’d received her letter, smudged blotches and all. It hurt him to read the forced words, formal in an attempt to obliterate depression. He understood: she wanted him to think she was okay.
That night she’d slept alright enough. She still cried out to the darkness, nightmares reigning almighty in her subconscious. It’d comforted her none to receive that phone call at 2AM.
He’d felt the jet tug out of control. After months of practice, having gotten used to no action, he believed it to be a simple technical snare. He landed, exited the plane to check. He saw them: the men had guns. And bombs. He raised his own to shoot, but – to end a life? “A life is only so long,” she’d said to him, “Why do we kill? We’re worse than they are.” He didn’t get to shoot. They shot. But not at him, at the colleagues he hadn’t noticed were beside him. He watched a friend fall, then another and another. They told him to run, but as he began to flee, someone threw something. Something that exploded.
She sat down heavily as the voice spoke into her ear. He was alive…barely. They were discharging him, sending him home…if he made it. She cried, though the phone said to expect him in a matter of days. This would have been joyous news, if it were not for the purpose of his return. Lost one leg…likely damage to the brain… the agonizing sentences floated through her mind.
He’d opened his mind, feeling a pain more demented than damaging. He reached for his leg, finding nothing, then remembered. He cried out. They told him they were sending him home.
She waited by the gate, the same gate he’d left at. She watched him roll out in a wheelchair. She braced against the pain and shame she saw expressed in his face. She understood: he felt he’d come home unsuccessful.
He felt he’d failed. Failed his country, failed her. He felt ashamed. Ashamed to be sent home, his mission futile. When they returned to their apartment, he entrusted such feelings to her.
She’d cried, holding him. She told him that he’d come home alive, and to her, that was success.
He’d come home. Broken and sad, but he’d come home. And that was more than she could say for countless others. She knew she could piece him back together, to a certain extent. Never again would he be the same careless, laughing soul she’d first met, but now he knew.
He knew he didn’t regret anything. Didn’t regret going, didn’t regret not shooting. Didn’t regret being sent home.
They leaned on each other for support. She held him up, he held her together. Though they may or may not have lived happily ever after, they lived.