After we’ve returned home
From all the beers and BBQs
From all the well meaning “Thank Yous”
Misplaced yet appreciated
We place our keychains back on the hook
A single dog tag clanking against hardware
The KIA bracelet still sits on our wrist
Or upon a mantle
Next to a picture
The sun goes down on celebration
The next day rises but their memory remains
But ever present
No matter what the calendar says
Their presence is felt
When we heard
When we saw
When we held
When we lost
The silver clinks on her fine china dishes.
The scents of a day’s worth of cooking waft into the air above the table. Wine. Lots of wine. Not the $13 a bottle nonsense that was prevalent in her house growing up. Not with Rachel’s mother in law here. Alice always ensures they drink the very best, even if it means bringing her own supply of what she considers best.
Julia, sitting across the table, happily sloshes the contents of her glass around before taking another mouthful. “Such a beautiful home Rachel. Really. You’ve outdone yourself with this meal.”
Her husband’s Aunt Julia, Alice’s sister, is at their house for the first time since they were married. Rachel’s own sister Kelly sits to her right, bouncing her toddler on her knees. The men are clustered around the other end of the table, discussing what sounds like another disappointing performance from the Detroit Lions. The older kids run amok through the house, occasionally darting into the dining room and conversation.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Rachel says as best as she is able to.
Julia chews on a mouthful of green bean casserole before taking another hefty gulp. “I am, and I have to tell you. Both of you. Your mother would be so proud of how you’ve kept her tradition going.”
The mention of their mother lifts Kelly’s head. Her eyes water and she bites her lip before looking back down. Rachel pushes out a smile. “Thank you. It means a lot to hear that.” She takes a hefty sip of her own glass.
Undeterred, Julia presses on. “You know, I never did hear about what happened to your father. Did he pass too?”
The pack isn’t getting any lighter, and the hayseed it belongs to won’t shut the fuck up.
The redneck drones on and on about God knows what. Derrick had long since tuned him out, especially after he had started hauling the man’s bag for him. If Derrick hadn’t taken it when he did, the entire group would have lost ground, and he had to get them back in time. He spares a moment to glance at his watch. 12:15. Forty five minutes to his promised 1 p.m. conclusion. If they keep up this pace they should make it.
The command post is packed with the junior leadership teams from both Bravo companies.
That’s how the higher ups had decided to match them for the duration of the transition period, by their phonetic alphabet designators. So Alpha Company of this battalion matched with Alpha of that battalion, and so on and so forth, until the entire 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Infantry Division had counterparts with which they would learn from over the next four weeks.
Four weeks. Incredibly close and impossibly far. Now is when the nerves reemerge. He can see it, and if he can’t see it he can sense it amongst his men. His fellow platoon leader’s men. Everyone who had been on Forward Operating Base War Eagle for the last eleven months. Hell, he felt them. Four weeks left until their one year deployment was over. Thirty days and a wake up until they could catch that big, beautiful bitch (also known as a civilian airliner) home to the states. More specifically, home to Texas. The land of Shiner Bock. Twelve hour smoked brisket. All the blonde hair, blue eyed University of Texas coeds one could hope for packed onto a little strip of debauchery known as Austin’s Sixth Street. He can’t wait to get there. He also can’t stand the thought of buying the farm now when they are so close. It keeps him up almost every night, or at least on the nights that sheer exhaustion doesn’t force him to sleep. He lies awake praying, no begging God to let the men of Bandit Company, himself included, get home alive and unharmed. Just four weeks to go.
A man is on his knees, sitting back on his heels.
Is he even still a man? Somewhere far off he believes he is, once upon a time he knew he was. Now, in this moment, he’s not so sure. There isn’t much to corroborate. It is dark around him, cloudy, with a violent swirling that obscures everything beyond, like being inside a sandstorm. Yet, nothing pelts him, the wind isn’t roaring. There is just silence, strange and disconcerting given what his eyes present. It causes him to cast them down, not for the first time, certainly more so recently, and he knows not for the last.