December 8, 2010
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Over 4,300 soldiers have died in Iraq. This is just the story of one.
I was only eight years old when my uncle, Theo Bowers was deployed. I was much too young to have heard the vivid recantation of Theo’s tragedy, but I did.
Theo Bowers arrived home on a night that seemingly matched his mood. The door clattered against the wall as he stood in the darkness, the wind ripping at his clothes. His features lay contoured in the shadows. I looked up from my spot on the sofa and saw the lightning flash in his eyes, crashing in time with the thunder clashing overhead. The storm raged outside. The wind throwing water droplets about in a tantrum, streaking his face with unshed tears. This was the first time I’d seen him in thirteen months. The first time since he’d walked away from me and onto the plane that took him 7,721 miles across the world.
I leapt over the sofa, knocking off a tea set in the process. I didn’t register the clash of shattering porcelain on tile that followed in my wake, but Theo did. I barely discerned the blur of skin as his arm reached out and threw me behind him, against the wall; the reaction of a soldier under fire.
Maybe I should have realized then that Theo had brought the war home with him. Maybe I should have run for the comfort of my warm, safe bed. But, I didn’t.
It was late by the time Theo kissed me goodnight, tucking my covers underneath me. I giggled as he pinned the wind chime he’d brought me to my ceiling, listening enraptured to the melodic tinkling as I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the clock cast an eerie pink hue, it’s shadows licking the wall as fire would at paper. Cinderella, Belle, and Anastasia danced across the clock’s face; three princesses, three o’clock. I rolled back onto my stomach to return to sleep, stretching against the too-tight covers, when I saw the golden light seeping from under my door.
I crept from my bed and across the room, pausing at the cat poster tacked to my door. Curiosity killed the cat, my conscience intoned. Good thing I’m not a cat, I retorted.
Leaving my cat poster behind, I shirked into the hall and up to the partially opened door. I could hear the murmuring whispers coming from inside. I cautiously peeked around the corner and saw my uncle sitting in a chair. Although the chair held his body, I could see from the haunted look in his eyes that it didn’t hold his mind.
I jumped when Theo broke the tension with a word, or more accurately, a name. “Gunny.” I knew whom he was talking about immediately. Gunnery Sergeant John Thomas, my uncle’s best friend, and mine too. Gunny had always showered me with affection, and this hadn’t changed when he’d left for Iraq. I had often received little trinkets: black sand from this desert, prayer beads from that town, and, my most prized possession, a rag doll formed of an old camo shirt that a child had shown him how to make.
My father, perched on the fireplace, bowed his head. Whether in grief or prayer, I never found out. Theo gazed into the fire; it’s light reflecting in his tears.

The wind whipped at my uniform; the red sand blasting at my goggles, blinding me. I held up my hand in a feeble attempt to deter the hardened granules. I looked to my left and saw Gunny making the same attempt. “Gunny!” I shouted through the storm “We need to find shelter!” I knew we were too far from the HUMVEE’s to make it back safely in the midst’s of a sandstorm. Apparently, Gunny agreed because he turned and motioned to the rest of the team. We walked forward, single file, to the left, as we’d been trained. The next thing I know, a bullet whizzed by my shoulder, clipping my pack. I lifted my gun and could hardly make out the dozen figures in the distance as I dropped to what little sand wasn’t flying through the air. Bullets still parading overhead, I crawled to a near-by wall for cover. I could see my brothers scattering to their own respective covers, shooting as they went. The sweat dripped down my face as my body absorbed the shock of the gun in my hands. I could feel my gloves as they gripped the trigger, sending a spray of death to the enemy.
I watched as they retreated under our attack and could hear the war woops and shouts of pride coming from my team. I staggered my way back to where my comrades were clustering, trembling as the adrenaline began to wear off. I looked around as I went, pondering the eerie silence that had engulfed the world. I don’t know when it had happened, but the once-howling wind had died away, to be replaced by a storm of bullets killing what life remained. That’s when I noticed it, out of the corner of my eye. The boot. The tan, laced up, military-issued boot, just barely creeping out from the bullet-battered wall.
I sprinted towards it. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel my heart pumping, if it was pumping at all. And then I was there, standing over him. I collapsed to my knees, ignoring the rocks making their perch under my skin, and pressed my hand to the hole in his chest. I could see the blood seeping through my fingers. I could feel the sticky sensation it left, could smell the iron. He was gone.

“I never saw him hit,” Theo said, ending his story. I tried to stop the tremors flowing through my body as I got up from the floor, walking away. My innocence seemed to crack with every step I took from my uncle, shattering as I reached my door.
That night, I left a piece of me back in the hallway. My childhood had ended with the blunt slap of reality, leaving me to the bloody torture of the world, with not even a night light for escape.

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