The Veteran

For the families that were affected by the hands of war. May you live easy.

The time was 9:59 PM. The phone rang and I answered reluctantly with heartbreak and fear. My father has had a stroke and any remaining piece of him is gone. I guess it’s time for a little family history lesson. My dad served in Iraq and he went through all things imaginable. You see, he was never the same when he returned home. The man I once knew was gone and I’ve spent my whole life trying to remember the version of my father that sang those oldie blues around the house in the morning. I love him. I love him with every aching ounce in my body and the many mistakes in my soul. I knew solely that that would never change.

My parents were no longer parents. They were merely moving bodies, creating oceans of flames between the love they once shared. They were fueling fires in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons. My mom became reliant on vodka; she was one of those ‘throw away the key’ gals you hear about on TV, but instead of a key, it's the cap of a newly purchased bottle of liquid guilt. Watching my father’s life being overrun by the seven different prescriptions he had to swallow everyday and when he missed even one pill, it was our hell to pay. I love him. This isn’t who he is. I will always hold onto my classic-rock loving father — for he is my protector, the reason I grow for greater things and all hardships rest easy.

“....I’m still runnin’ against the wind.” My voice was shaken and the words were being forced out in a sorrow-filled melody. My legs were held tightly against my stomach, the same comforting way since I was six-years-old. Same room, same bed, same flamingo-pink painted walls. In the first time in seventeen years, everything was quiet; yet I was so overpowered by the silence, it became deafening. My mind flashed through time — memory upon memory. I began reliving how I felt when I was a young child.

“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” I wished for it to end but it never ends this soon. Last night was my seventh birthday party; they got along so well. I heard Daddy sing Mommy a song before I fell asleep. It was soft and sweet — it made my heart do somersaults. It all changes so fast, doesn’t it? I mean, if you love someone so much, why would you put them through so much pain? My teacher says that love is shown in different ways. I’m still trying to understand what she means by that. “'Cause I'm as free as a bird now and this bird you can not change...” Maybe tomorrow it’ll all be okay.

I never truly understood how hard living could be until I had to force myself to get up and out of bed in the mornings. Why am I complaining? My problems aren’t even close to being worse than others. My father was out there dealing with real life-threatening situations and I’m here, sucking my thumb over broken homes. I don’t deserve to feel sorry for myself when he’s clinging onto life in that hospital room. I’ve tried to shut my eyes every night, but my rest is interrupted by more contemplative memories.

“You say you feel so empty, that our house just ain't our home. I'm always somewhere else, and you're always there alone...” I’m singing this song in my head, too afraid to hear the sound of my voice crack out loud. My mind comes to a halt when my grandmother worriedly places her hand around my thin wrist. I don’t even realize that I am no longer in my house. There are officers outside with my mother, taking pictures of her colored skin. My grandma takes the bracelet off of my wrist and throws it in the trash. “Look at me, dear. Just look at me.” I glanced into my grandma’s eyes with no focused emotion at all. I was clearly in shock from what had happened. I finally noticed my wrist — it was purple and sore. I have been snapping my bracelet against my skin to help me cope. I was still so unaware but I had no time to speak when an officer cut in to ask for photographs of my back. Then I remembered.

“Get off of her!” I screamed so hard it felt as though my head would burst. He was on top of my mother and I couldn’t get him off. I yanked at the collar of his shirt, pulling with all of my might. “You stay out of this!” My father looked down at me with tired eyes. I did not know this man. Why was he doing this? We can’t live this way any longer — even if we love him. Within a second, my dad’s large callused hands were wrapped around my mother’s neck. What do I do? I remembered thinking. I ran as fast as my legs could take me, pushing through the front door. I ran to the neighbors house screaming for them to hear me. “He’s choking her! Help, he’s choking her!” After I’m completely sure that my neighbors were calling for help, I ran back into my house. I climbed on top of my father and repeatedly pounded the back of his head with my fists. I stood no chance. His heavy arms threw me off of his shoulders and onto the floor. He picked me up and pushed me into the wall with so much force, I was convinced that my bones could escape from my body. I shook with throbbing pain. I love him. What is he doing? I focused my vision and my father is being obtained away in handcuffs. My eyes then find my mother, the sight I wish never to see again. Anger bubbles inside of me as I follow my father outside. “I HATE YOU!!” My body trembled as I screamed with all I had to give. The police car door slammed shut as I held eye contact with my father for a short moment. I noticed that his eyes softened — almost as if he had no recollection of his actions.

I knew he was no longer the man who raised me and I knew that I needed my father, but I would never let him hurt us again. Those three words would be the last thing my dad would hear from my mouth for almost twenty years. Several more tears fall down my face as I hold my father’s cold and motionless hand. “I love you, Dad.” I sat in silence for a couple of minutes before my fragile voice rang throughout the room and bounced off of the walls. I sang the song he loved the most. A song about loving your children and how greatly they mean to you. “Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer. Every day in every way, it's getting better and better...”