A Veteran’s Lament
By Kwame Toshambe, Air Force
Writing Type: Prose
Located on the northern part of the island, this facility was designed for the health and welfare of our nation’s veterans. Positioned on the same property is the VA nursing home. Its function is to take care of those veterans who can’t be taken care of at home. This could be due to age and the other symptoms that plague us in our latent years. By latent years, l’m referring to what happens when old age sneaks up when we aren't looking and nothing seems to work like it used to.
For a veteran, there are other issues. Things that he forgot to do. Things he will do when he has the time. The fates that govern our lives jump in occasionally and turn things upside down. Our politicians call it a conflict while others call it what it really is, a war. A conflict with all the trimmings. Airplanes take to the sky, ships are on the move loaded with the tools of war slated to bring peace. The marching feet of those who serve are heard on the streets of foreign shores, far from home. At night when the clouds have gone to sleep a lonely soldier looks to heaven and counts the stars and then on his cheeks he feels the kisses of the winter wind.
Josh was his name. He was only 21 years young. He had completed two years of junior college and was wondering what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He had a girl that he had bedded once or twice, but there were no stars after the event. There was a song being sung called, "Fly Me to the Moon". They remained friends and had the occasion to walk the paths of life, and be FRIENDS! That was what he wanted it to be, but the young lady called him all the names that she could think of as she tossed the wedding planner at him. He had gotten what he wanted. Memory of this caused Josh to pause. Maybe he should have at least looked at the planner. It may have saved him the knot on the side of his head. Josh smiled to himself and continued his trudge down the road.
Being a veteran means you have served somewhere for some time, but there are some things that give you pause. There was a man that you shot today. You remembered firing your weapon and you saw him fall. You knew that he was dead. When the bullet hit him in the chest, a little of the blood erupted from his body and then his small frame was lifted off the ground and he fell backward crashing into mother earth. The leaves that were green are now red from the blood spewing from his body. The night was crackling with sounds of men shooting men. A remorseful silence filled the night. A job had to be done, and Josh remembers as he walked into the night with the thought that it could have been him. He wiped a tear from his eyes.
Josh pulls the covers over his shoulders. The clock reads 3 am. Suddenly the room seems a little colder. For some reason, he can hear his heartbeat. His breathing becomes heavier. He can count the beats. Soon it will be another day. The sun will rise and then the chill he feels will vanish. The rising of the sun paints an orange glow across the horizon.
For a short time, Josh appeared to be in a dream state. He was at church and the minister was preaching about the end of time and the coming of the judge who will consider what's in our hearts, and see the good and the bad. As the good book states “He will them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
Josh’s mind is in a dream. His thoughts were on the soldier that he had killed earlier that day when he was on patrol. Josh awakes with a start as he envisions that he is standing before the judge of all judges of humans. Josh is covered in a cold sweat. He falls from his cot to the floor. He curses and then gets up wondering whether he is alive or dead.The nurse walks into the room, calling his name. He pushes pass the nurse and goes running up the hall shouting that he didn't mean to kill him. The doctor says, "Who did you kill"?
Reality slowly returns to Josh. He looks at the doctor and says, "No one of any importance.” I will explain when my time comes to do so. Not knowing what to say, the doctor, not knowing any more than what he knew before, returns to his office.
At the VA, there are many cases where the veteran has a short-term memory of an event that took place in the distant past. There is a key that unlocks the hidden event. The vet finds safety in the hospital, and if they are there, they are safe. The nurse brings the meds which keeps the safe in their minds closed. Sometimes a doctor or group of trained physicians can unlock that which was hidden. A nurse's perfume can be the trigger or the sound of a horn. Perhaps, the backfiring of a car.
A veteran’s story is a not something that the community thinks about in their comings and goings of the day, only when there is a war. There is a price to be paid, but no one wants to pay for the conflict until it is over. Perhaps he should have asked for payment in advance. And perhaps in advance, there could have been peace.
After the war when a vet wants or needs something there is no money because the money was used to pay for the war. And the cycle goes on repeatedly and again until there is no one else to fight.
This, in my opinion, is a veteran’s lament. What's yours?
It's Sunday, March 5, 2017. The troops were talking about what they were going to do on St Patrick's Day. For most of them it's just another day. Henry rolls over and checks the clock which always seems to have the same time. Knowing that it's time to get up, he curses as it's going to be just another nothing day. James had just gotten back from Afghanistan. This time it was going to be his last. The gods on high had closed the books on his career.
James had witnessed the horrors of war and the fates sent him. But for some reason he could not understand, war was his blood. And yet the enemy was there, he could remember shooting one. His weapon was fired and the barrel was hot and there was smoke and he heard cries of the enemy and there were bodies here and there, but none was his target. For a time, he gave it some thought.
The doctors told him to think of something else. To take his mind off war. There was a girl in town as well as one back home. Lucy was her name. She was approximately five foot five inches tall and she weighed about 110 pounds, and at times could curse like a sailor. When there was drinking to do, she held her own. As James's thoughts linger into the distant past they are halted by something more current. There was someone more in the present and not in the past. Lu, Ling Chou, that's a long name but that is how James remembered it. He called her Lee, lei, if he had to remember the Lu, Ling and forget about the Chou he might as well go back to the base. Sometimes he did for when he had too much to drink there was a blank period, one that he couldn’t remember. That name came out any way that his tongue could arrange the syllables or the parts of the name that made sense. She became his pillow for the night when he had too much to drink.
Jame’s attention was drawn to the calling of the charge nurse who wanted him and some other soldiers to give some blood. As he walked up the hall he thought to himself, "Take, take that's all they do is take."
David looked past the snow barrier above the building tops. Into the night, his thoughts went as if they had wings that lifted them into the heavens above. They took him back to a time when things were different in his life. He remembered skiing and the snow of that night. Jane’s dress was blue. It was short in the front but long in the back. Her hair was blondish or the color of something that the artist does with paint. Her portrait hangs in David's mother’s house. When one walks in the house, she commands the attention of all who enter.
David told me about the last dance they had before he left for a distant land whose name he couldn't say. Moonlight was the covering for the evening and then it started to snow. The kind of snow that one can count each flake or should I say droplet? In David's mind, it has been a million years ago, or just a second. As it is doing now, as his thoughts are turned around in his mind. David said that he remembered the kiss. Deep and long, his shirt collar was torn before she let him go. The kiss was to last until he returned. To return from that magic place that he described to Jane in his letters.
Jane was about 115 pounds and approximately five foot six. Somehow, he couldn't remember the color of her hair. David felt the first drop of snow, as he wiped it from his face. Opening the start of a new day, it turned into a tear. He tried to wipe it away but for some reason he couldn't. Then there were two then three. His face was covered with tears. You see his beloved was in an accident, and she is with him no more except in his heart, and when the winter wind blows and it snows, David remembers. Josh and David were from the same company but this night they were miles apart. The chill in the air came from the nearby mountains. Yet there was a connection, a mystical bridge. One linked by two hearts beating as one. One might call it a computer link. One could, but one shouldn't. Their thoughts were tied together just for a split second. Perhaps it was the chill or something else, in war that binds all men and some women by the same beliefs and fears.
What is the future? The future of those who read the paper each day and there is doubt about everything from "A to Z. " What did you give up so that the dreams that mountains are built upon are still there (Mountains are a metaphor for buildings that reach to the heavens). When one walks down the cobblestone streets in a foreign land, there is a laughter deep within. Why cobblestone? They make a noise when you walk in the dead of night returning to the base.) The night holds all secrets. For what was done in the darkness shall remain among each stone as you tiptoe silently while the phantom awaits to smother the perfume that lingers in your clothing. The MP at the gate smiles as you pass. The night, with its many stories, fades into the nothingness of time. Until another night.
Josh and David, David and Josh, does it really make a difference? It's just a little story.