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Short Stories

A soldier’s story

The return home

As the new age approaches I cant help but think back on the times of my life when life in general was a lot more clear. I mean a time before political correctness and when you always knew what one was saying, a time before the economy was at the top of every news broadcast. Oh we had our battles over the years, wars and occupations effect every generation in one way or another, but I can remember a time not so long ago when those topics didn’t concern me. A time I guess you would say when I was younger, but not so young as a child oblivious, but a younger man in the work place with a family and responsibilities, were the only real concern might be where we might go on vacation this year. A time when work was plentiful and it was so that the employer need you more than you might have needed them, a time when you could truly find a job that was enjoyable and not a chore. There are those whom still have that luxury, oblivious or just uncaring about the future with the live for today and let tomorrow take care of its self attitude. I use to be one of those and at times I surly wish it could be that way again, but today everything is a struggle, our freedoms at jeopardy the invasion of and outside force not willing to adapt to our way of life, and God for bid if you speak out against such a people then you are labeled a racist or possible worse if you could think of something worse. With talk of end world events and the constantly changing weather patterns, for every job offer out there 100 applicants trying there best to claw their way into the position just for a hope of some kind of normalcy put back into their life. The future of this once great nation is on rocky and unstable ground for the first time in our history, oh yes we may have stumbled once in awhile along the way but nothing like the storms we are facing today. Since know one can truly tell the future or predict where and when the next storm will hit, all we can do is prepare for the worse and hope for the best. Since we cant say what the future holds for us I will tell you a story of something that has already come to pass, a story that took place back in that time when old enough to know better but still to young to truly care. A time when we felt like we ruled the world not much unlike the young generation of today, most troops returning from Vietnam, and not giving the respect they deserved with all the stories of bad happenings when in theater. So now I will take you back, back to a young man returning home for the first time in many years, a young man whom left as a boy and returned aged beyond his years not unlike so many who have come home.

My name is Tommy, I just got off the bus with my duffle pack on my back as the rain storm seams to be reaching its peak I see nothing more than a small light over the closed box office and a lonesome bench with no cover, I have no ride and really no place to go, I hadn’t even written home to let them know I was coming since I didn’t want to deal with a crowd be, them of friend or foe. The rain seams norm to me and bothers me none since most of my days in the jungle it seamed to rain and it gives me a cleansing feeling. Well I flipped up the collar on my long coat and began to walk towards the main road not sure where I was going to go or what I was going to do once I arrived, there’s not much traffic out here tonight and I guess that’s a good thing as I walked along the shoulder of the road heading south. Lost in my thoughts as I tried to recall some of my youth, see this is my home town not unlike any small town with a population of 3000 people all year around, and that number doubling in the summertime as those from the city would come to the shore area to spend time at the beaches. I as well was born in the city but my family moved down here when I was just nine years old. This was a time when people would leave their doors unlocked and keys to the cars in the ignition, no crime seemed to exist and everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood.

As I started my teens, often you could find me at one of the three lakes in the area, playing, swimming or just sitting and writing my thoughts on paper. It wasn’t long before I came part of the beach patrol, see back in those days we weren’t considered life guards, but our duties was to maintain the beach by cleaning up trash and keeping the people safe. We had some training in water rescues but nothing as you might see today.

It was around this time I started to notice girls, and you might say I had a lot of girl friends. Was never a sexual thing, just kid stuff like holding hands playing spin the bottle or seven minutes in heaven as we use to call it with a kiss here and there all in good fun, often switching girl friends on a weekly basses within my little gang if you would. You could always find us together a merry band of fourteen or so out to concur the world and never getting further then the lakes down the road. I remember sneaking out of my bedroom window in the summer around midnight to go shoot hoops at the ball park that was no more than a hundred or so yards from my house, thinking I was some sort of big shot out in the middle of the night. Until the day my dad said to me, “look stop using the window since he was tired of fixing the bottom frame” then he explained to me how he knew all along that I was going out and the first few times he would follow me to see what I was up to. And when he realized I was just going to the basketball court and was meeting up with some of the older boys from the neighborhood he just left me alone to do my thing as it where. So much for thinking I was so smart and acting like the big man who pulled a fast one on his parents.

One day when I was sitting on the beach a beautiful girl that I had not noticed before had walked by and said hi and called me by name, seems like everyone knew me the leader of the pack as it where, said hi back as she kept right on walking by with her girl friend, whom I did know. I watched the two of them for a time before returning to my note pad. I started to see them on a daily bases and around the third day I pulled Susan over and asked her who her girl friend was, she said come on I will introduce you. Not giving Sue a chance but with my new found confidence as I walked with her, I went up to this beautiful girl and said hi, you know my name but Sue never told me yours. I’m Christine, she replied, well it’s my pleasure to meet you Chris, are you just down for the summer, since I do not recall ever seeing you at school? We just moved her last month into the house next to Sues. Oh cool so I will be seeing you around more often then, Sue knows how to find me if you ever need anything, its been great to meet you but I have to go and relieve the guard at the far beach, but hope to catch you both later on. “Nice to meet you as well” she replied. Catch you later Sue, Sue was a frequent visitor to the beach and have known her for sometime, but never really associated with each other off the beach.

I was seeing Chris at the beach more and more but other then saying hi to each other in passing since I usually was often on the move covering one beachside or the other during the afternoons. Until one early evening after the crowd had gone home for the day as I sat writing in my journal as I often did when ever I had a chance to jot down a few words when Chris came walking up and said “hey what you working on’? Oh just writing my thoughts down, I like to write short stories and some poetry. And by the way were Sue at? I think she went out with her parents. That’s cool; would you like to sit down? Sure. We sat for sometime talking about where she grew up and things she liked to do, and I told her what we like to do around here and how everyone knows everybody and all the parents are real nice. About this time a car pulled up by the fence and blew the horn it was Chris’s dad so she had to go but would see me around, I waved to them both as she got in the car and drove off. Through out the summer we never did get another chance to sit and talk as before but would see each other often at the beach and say hi, one day on my lunch brake I was writing in my journal as I often did when Chris walked by and said “hey lake dreamer,” I just smiled and said hey back. From that day on anytime she would see me she would always respond with “Lake Dreamer” it would become the pet name she gave me.

Well summers were over and time to hit the books, Chris was going to the same school but we had different classes. And Lake Dreamer was shortened to Dreamer when ever we passed each other in the halls. Not sure how it all started but by the time we entered into high school we had become a couple. Often having dinners at each others houses and hanging out on the boardwalk playing the many games, going on rides and just enjoying life. About six months before graduation I had made up my mind to join the Army and serve my country as so many of my friends did at this time. As strangely our relationship came about from just hanging out to dating, we began to drift apart not sure why, its not like we had a fight or anything we just stopped spending so much time together and I was now so busy with preparing to ship out for basic training never gave it much thought. The few chances I had to write home, I often asked my mom how Chris was doing and the response was always the same everyone home is fine and praying for my safe return. Well returned I did and here I stand in the pouring rain alone with my thoughts.

I had gone a few miles when the rain started to let up and is now nothing more than a light drizzle, it’s a warm night near the end of July not sure what time it is since I don’t wear a watch but I figure its around 2a.m the time when the bars where starting to close down, I noticed people leaving a corner bar up ahead of me as the lights started to go out. Not wanting to get into any kind of confrontation especially with someone whom may have had a few to many, so I ducked into a small ally between a couple of buildings and took a squat and smoked a cigarette. By know the rain had stopped and the streets seemed quiet so I started to walk again I could see the center of town with its traffic lights blinking yellow at an intersection I have been too many times, you see I grew up around here and I wasn’t that much further from home. As I walked along these familiar streets that I once knew like the back of my hand but now seems changed not unlike myself for I am no longer that little boy excited to go off to war and serve my country like so many of my class mates have done. And many of them had not returned with me, and the ones that did were facing there own demons, I did a lot of things over there that I take no pride in, for how can any person take pride in the killing of a fellow human being. But it was my job, and what I signed up for. The worse part about the whole thing was the way they used the children to fight what should have been mans war. And those are the images that haunt me much needless death for how does one clean off the stain of blood that has flown from the body of a child. And this endless need to feel cleansed, will I ever be clean again? I can’t think on that right now, some how I have to find away to put this war behind me.

As I stand here alone on the corner where normally I would make a left to head for my childhood home I started to think about my friends whom didn’t make it home, so I kept on walking alone with my thoughts of what I have been through, the things I’ve seen, as well as. What I had done myself. Not having a plan or even knowing where I was going just knew I had to keep moving and I did, I walked mile after mile and kept right on walking over the big bridge that lead to the shore where as a kid I held my first real job as a ride operator out on the pier. As I reached the boardwalk seeing the sun beginning to rise on the horizon as I looked out over the vast sea, it was here that I finally stopped walking except to head out on to the clean white sand of the shoreline, stopping just a few yards from the oceans rolling waves thinking how easy it would be to just keep on walking into the cold depths of the sea, taking off my pack and jacket as I sat down on the cool sand and using my backpack as a headrest if you will. Watching the sun rise higher and higher and listening to the waves as they brushed up against the shore with its hypnotic rhythm my mind began to quiet down and for the first time in what seemed like weeks I dared to close my eyes, I must have fallen asleep for sometime for when I woke there was much foot traffic on the boardwalk mostly the early risers out on there morning jog, and the sounds of the pier coming to life as the gaming stations open for the day. As I sat up taking in a deep nasal breathe smelling that clean fresh ocean air I noticed one of the beach joggers heading my way along the shoreline as I’m sure this is there normal routine dressed in a sweat suit a common sight from my younger days. I could just hope that they were a supporter and not a protester since I would not care for the first person I see since getting back to the states one that might be, well not pleased to see a soldier returning, approaching she began to slow her pace, so I sat still not wanting an unfriendly confrontation and kind of just looking down hoping to disappear. They did just that at first, but about 10 paces past me stopped and turned calling out my name, “Tommy is that you” the person said, I looked up to see who this person was, and for the first time since I can remember when a smile came to my face it was none other then my high school sweetheart, “Christine” yes she replied and start to walk over towards me, as I stood up to greet her not knowing what to expect, whether to put my hand out to shake hers or, but as I turned to face her she ran up and wrapped her arms around me as we stood there holding each other, my mind racing what would I say to her questions I am sure she has many and since we never lied to each other, but I haven’t spoken to any one except the Army personnel prior my release and I certainly was not ready to face the events of the last few years as this panic if you will started to build.

Just then she took her head off my shoulder and asks simple “are you hungry” at first I wasn’t sure how to respond, did I look like I needed a meal? And she could see how that question kind of caught me off guard so before I could say a word, she grabbed my arm and said “come on I’m starving lets just get some food, I could use the company” well how could I say no to this person whom once I held such deep affections for. So I grabbed up my jacket and pack and we walked along the beach line as she held my hand leading the way as it were, it was great to see a kind and friendly face. We had no conversation as we walked in and before we reached the boardwalk I felt relaxed and was thinking about our days together in school. Walking along the boards I hadn’t even noticed the other people going about there day, we sat down at the outside table of the cafĂ© over looking the ocean. The waitress came over and asked if we would like coffee this morning? We both replied yes please, the first full sentence I have spoken since I can remember as I looked into Christine’s eyes I said “you look as beautiful as ever, how are you doing”? She smiled and said “not looking bad yourself, and that she was doing fine, but more importantly how are you doing and when did you get back?” At this time the waitress brought our coffee and asks if we were ready to order? Neither one of us even looked at a menu but Christine said she would take the two egg special scrambled with toast and bacon, sounds good to me I’ll have the same please. So Tommy when did you get in, she asked. Late last night, I said. Well how did you end up here? I told her, I just started to walk when I got off the bus and ended up were you found me this morning. Well I am sure glad to see you, so do your parents know your back yet? No you’re the first person I have spoken too since I left the base. She reached out putting her hand on top of mine, just as breakfast arrived. We eat and talked about our class mates who was were who got married and was dating who, and she avoided asking any prying questions about where I was and what had happened, and I was very grateful for that. The waitress refilled our coffee a time or two as we sat talking, with Chris, as I have always called her since I really was never one of those formal types, doing most of the talking as she informed me of all the events since I was gone. After about an hour or so, I called over the waitress and asked for the check, she said no sir the check has already been taking care of, by whom may I ask? The owner sir and he said to tell you from one brother to another. This I understood for in battle we are all brothers and sisters, and thanked her and asked her to thank the owner for me as well. I placed a $5 bill on the table for the waitress which is about equal to what the bill would have been not trying to be a big tipper, probably because it was the smallest bill I had in my wallet. Gathered up my gear taking Chris by the hand and headed out to the boardwalk, taking in the familiar sights when I realized how rude of me I hadn’t even asked Chris what her plans were and if she needed to get to work or had any other errands that I might be keeping her from, so I stop and turned to her and said I am so sorry I hadn’t ever asked you about your plans for the day. Tommy she said I have the whole day off and I wouldn’t want to spend it any other way than with you. She gave me a big hug, and we continued our walk on the boards. Mainly pointing out to each other some of our teachers from school that worked and owned some of the gaming booths along the way.

As noon began to approach and the people became a crowd, I was becoming more and more uncomfortable. Chris noticed my uneasiness, and suggested we go for a drive, so we did. We drove all along the coastline for hours listening to music and singing songs, at one point Chris turned down the radio and said, “Tommy, I just want you to know that when your ready to talk I am ready to listen, and that all though we had not spoken about it I should at least call my parents to let them know I was back”. I thanked her for that and for giving me the best day I have had in a long time, I also asked her if she was ready to get rid of me yet? She just laughed, “Never silly I told you I was yours all day long”. Eventually we did call my parents to let them know I was in town and would be home sometime after dinner. I was looking some what a mess after all I have been in the same clothes since I arrived on base two days ago and haven’t even shaved let alone taken a shower, and Chris must have realized that since she took me to a house without saying a word about it till we got there. I asked her is this your place? Yes and that I needed a shower and to change if I was going to go out to dinner with her. Well who was I to argue with a beautiful woman, except the only thing I had nice to wear was my class A dress uniform and it needed to be pressed, no worries just give them to me, she lead me inside and showed me around the place, got me some fresh towels and made me a tall glass of iced tea. Now you go take a shower and I’ll have these ready for you by the time you’re done. Boy I will tell you this hot shower felt so good I didn’t want to get out, then I heard the door open and Chris said you’re all set I hung your clothes on the door for you, thank you I really do appreciate all you have done for me today. Whether or not she heard me I’m not sure, well I finished up my shower dried off shaved and put on my uniform I haven’t worn it since graduation from basic since I was deployed shortly there after. And is probably why I didn’t have it on when I left the base for home like so many others due. Looking at me in the mirror a well of emotions began to build inside of me, feelings that I could not describe perhaps guilt of actually enjoying a day when just a few hours ago my mind was in a cold dark place, but I chocked down the tears, stood tall and headed back into the living room.

Chris wasn’t around so I sat down to finish my iced tea figuring she was getting changed herself. A few minutes later I heard her coming down the hall behind me so I stood and turned to great her, there she was, with her long dark hair and bluish eyes looking more beautiful than the day we first meet, I was speechless and at first all I could say was WOW, “well” she said “I couldn’t very well go out to dinner and have you looking better than me could I” “Chris” I said even in clothes made of torn up rags you would still look better than me. She just smiled and at that we headed for the door a gentleman and his lady going out for a quiet dinner, maybe I shouldn’t say {his lady} since we hadn’t been a couple even before I left for the service but we had always stayed the best of friends, I can’t recall the reason we stopped dating and hadn’t thought about that in many years but I was sure glad to be with her on this day. Whether she knew it or not she may have saved my very life allowing me to just enjoy the day without a whole lot of questions and allowing me the time I needed to decompress.

We headed out to one of the small restaurants just over the bridge from the shore, we sat in quiet corner booth as to not be disturbed since I still wasn’t ready by no means to meet up with a bunch of people. The lights where down low candles on the table top, light smooth jazz playing in the background, as we sat across from each other just enjoying each others company through dinner with what I would call small talk conversation. It was a perfect evening and I didn’t want it to end, but Chris always the smarter one of the two of us, and after the dinner plates were removed, said “well I should be getting you home, I’m sure your parents are anxious to see you” I guess your right and they don’t like to stay up to late but I want to thank you again for today Chris you have no idea what it meant to me, she gave me hug before we got in the car and then drove me home, she didn’t get out of the car just smiled said to call anytime night or day mom has the number if I needed anything. Thanked her for everything, as I grabbed my pack from the backseat and turned to head up the walk way. Chris drove off and mom opened the door just as I was coming onto the porch, dropping my pack and wrapping my arms around my mom whom at this time was in tears and didn’t say much, dad meet me inside the door and shook my hand saying welcome home son it sure is good to see you. Thanks dad sure is good to see you two as well. Mom asked me if I was hungry and said no thank you Chris took out for dinner before coming home, could I get you anything. A glass of iced tea would be great, thanks. Well come on in grab your gear did you want to change first, that sounds great thanks dad I think I will. All your stuff is still in your room I picked up some jeans and a few shirts for you they are on the bed, Chris told me your sizes since we knew you had nothing but your service clothes and hadn’t done any shopping. When did she do that and thank you mom but you didn’t have to go through all that trouble, no trouble dear us girls have to stick together. Ok mom what ever you say, I proceeded to go upstairs to my old room and sure enough there on the bed were some new clothes; I took my time changing again as a little anxiety began to settle in for the first time in civilian clothes in four years and not knowing what this night still might bring but thanks to Chris and the day we spent together I’m as ready as could ever be to face any question my parents might have for me.

Well got myself together and head back down stairs to the living room were my dad was sitting, as I came into the room my dad stood up gave me a hug and said well it appears your still all in one piece, yes dad I am fine thanks, come on in and sit down your mom will be here in a minute with your drink are you sure you don’t want a beer or something a little stronger, no I’m good thanks. Mom came in and sat with us bringing me up to date on all the gossip including my sister and her many boyfriends yes I have on sister three years younger than me so we never did spend much time together both having different interest, dad didn’t say much and he could see I was getting tired and said we should call it a night, mom agreed and we said our goodnights, as I was heading back up the stairs my dad said to me, by the way Tommy I am very proud of you and when your ready to talk let me know. Thanks dad that means a lot to me. Sitting on my bed in my old room seemed a little strange since I’m not a kid any more, but was to tired to think about that right now, since tomorrow was another day and for the first time in four years I knew there would be a tomorrow.

I don’t know how long I was lying down before I was able to fall asleep at times feeling the tears run down my face, but I don’t think it was long since I had a great day to look back on and my mind was at rest other than thinking about Chris and how beautiful she looked, I don’t even know if she is dating anyone or even where she works but I sure would like to take her out again as my thoughts once again returned to the days on the beach when we first met, and these were probably my last thought as I fell asleep.

The following morning.

Not sure what time it was when I awoke, but as I got dressed I could smell something cooking in the kitchen. I did a quick shave and brushed my teeth before heading down stairs, on the way down I heard voices coming from the kitchen, I slowed my pace not to interrupt and wasn’t ready to meet a bunch of my moms friends, especially first thing in the morning. As I got closer I recognized the voices right away it was my parents and Chris making small talk and I hadn’t picked up on any others in the room. This put a smile on my face but didn’t want it to be obvious, so I walked in calmly said good morning all and kissed my mom on the check as I got a cup of coffee. Good to see you Chris, before I could say anything else mom asked how I wanted my eggs, knowing better than to say something like don’t go through any trouble, I said sunny side up will be great thanks. Chris said hey I have some errands to run today and asked if I want to go? Sure would love to, so I finished up breakfast asked mom if she needed anything while we were out? No I’m good, have fun you two. I kissed her on the check and headed out with Chris again.

It was a beautiful day the sun was shining not a cloud in sight, we got into the car turned the radio on and she started to drive, I didn’t even ask where we were going, I was just so glad to see her again. Before I had realized it we had drove into the yacht basin where both my uncle and my dad had boats when I was a kid, I kind of grew up on the water and as young teen even worked for a local crabber to earn spending money when I was still in school. I asked Chris what’s up. Why have we come here? She just smiled, and kept driving to the far end of the yard and stopped at the last set of docks, looking out at the bay. She got out of the car and said come on silly, so I got out of the car and followed her to the end of the dock. Leaning up against one of the last pylons she said ok shoot. Not exactly what she meant and giving her a strange look, she clarified ask the questions that have been on my mind. Chris at this time I don’t want to know the answers to my questions, afraid of the answers no matter what they might be. She just smiled and gave a head nod indicating for me to follow, about halfway back she turned and boarded a boat, Chris I called out what are you doing, come on its ok I know the owner. As I got on board I noticed the name of the boat, Lake Dreamer. It’s a good thing I had a hold on the railing because my legs gave way, Chris grabbed my arm to help stabilize me. Chris what is going on? She led me inside and we sat down at the table in the cabin. I’m sorry Tommy; I didn’t mean to upset you, that wasn’t my intentions. That’s ok, I just need a minute, and I guess I will ask some of my questions now, first of all whose boat is this? It’s mine. Why did you pick that name? no wait don’t answer that, oh Chris please don’t cry, come here, as I held her in my arms I asked her the only question that really matters, Chris do you love me? Nodding her head she said Tommy I never stopped loving you. Then why did we stop seeing each other? I knew you were planning on joining the service and I didn’t want to stand in your way, call me selfish but I never want to get that letter, the one that said you would never be coming home. Once you left your mom and I have been closer than ever, I stayed in touch with your parents on a regular basis and your mom would always read to me your letters when they came in. I didn’t want you to think about things here at home, so you could focus on your job at hand and not worry about a long distance romance. I knew one day when you came home if our feelings for one another had not changed, that we could start a new.

We spoke for what could have been hours, she owns a very successful business and the boat was her way of keeping me close. It was a lot to take in all at once, but I had already made up my mind when she first took my hand that day on the beach, that no matter what I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was going to be a long process getting through all that has happened the past four years in both our lives but the important thing is we are going to do it together. Two years latter we did get married and now have three wonderful children.

Who would have ever guessed a couple of fourteen year old kids kidding on the beach one summer would end up together for the rest of there lives, I was one of the lucky that came home but not a day goes by I don’t think of my fellow soldiers that weren’t so. I live my life in away that I hope honors them, pray for our men and women surviving, you might not agree with the reasons for the battle, but they are fellow humans with family and friends and loved ones and they deserve no less than to some day come home. God Bless you all and your families wherever you lay down remember you are never alone.

David Meola