We returned to Davis the next morning.  The biggest part of me still believed it was a tormented nightmare brought on my too much brown liquor or not enough Vitamin  C.  I would shower the grease paint and sweat down a drain and as I fell into the bed I would keep falling down the abyss of that falling dream only to wake up before I hit rock bottom.  The sun was breaking through the mist and somewhere people were talking about checking our weapons at the armory.  The invasion was off post.  Once you hit the gate, you’re good.  Man has the need to break up pain, leaving some behind while seeing to the next.   Leave behind the screams.  Leave behind the smell of vomit, the sound of helicopter blades beating the black sky.  Leave the look look in his eye before he went dark and silent.  Here is the next thing, Man.  Move to this.  See to that.  Experience the new and ignore the stench of the old you leave behind though it burns your nose, coarsens your voice.  Once you hit the gate, it’s America.

We stood in line silently.  Neither of us knew what to say at that point.  We just existed.  Radios were talking to one another and soldiers were asking what happened to Reston?  I heard Conner say,

He didn’t make it.  Yeah, I’m serious.

I looked at the pale blue wall thinking of a porch I painted years before and wondering if the paint in Virginia had peeled the way the paint here did. Did everything disintegrate the same?

Connor tapped my shoulder forward.  I walked up to the Armory window.

How many rounds you got?

I didn’t answer quick enough.

Never mind, let’s count them.  You soldiers need some sleep.

We’re suppose to go out in a few more days, I said.  Up North.  Not sure why.  Sargent Jacks was talking about it.

Well, the CO says everyone turns in their rounds before hitting the barracks.

Oh, no problem.  I was just saying.

He counted my rounds.  One mag plus 11 were missing.  Forty-one.

I heard you boys had some trouble.  I’m sorry to hear about Reston.  Did you get some of them?

I stood there trying to form the answer and could barely grasp the question.  Get them? I thought.  You mean kill them?  Did I kill any of the motherfuckers while they were trying to kill me and Connor?  Did I kill any of them as they gunned Reston down like a fucking animal? Did I get them?  Was I supposed to bring them back and put them on your fucking desk so we could stuff them and sit around smoking pipes and drinking brandy talking about the fucking glorious time we had getting them?  Mount their heads like bulls?

Connor touched my shoulder.

We’re not sure.  It was dark.  We aimed at the tracer rounds.  He said.

They’re probably going to want a report since live ammo is missing.

See to this, get to that.  I thought.

El-Tee knows all about it.  We debriefed him at Mar-For.  Can we just turn in what we got left and sign what we got to sign?  I asked.

Sure.

We walked out weaponless for the first time in a month.  We looked toward the Canal but knew no ships were coming through now.  I saw the pool down the hill, the pool where just a month ago we joked about Christmas in paradise.  Reston doing a triple flip off the high-dive.  Connor hitting on that lifeguard who needed a Brazilian wax or a larger bikini bottom. I tried to smile.  For now, I left that behind as well.

Connor threw off his Kevlar and TA-50 and made a sudden dash down the hill.  It was a full-on sprint in a matter of seconds and though I didn’t know why he was running my instinct was to join him.  I threw down my gear and took off behind him.

We ran across the drill field, ignoring the puddles of water.  I slipped once and landed on my face.  Back up and running, I felt refreshed by the water. Connor was headed towards the latticed wall around the pool.

He scaled the fence in what appeared to be one bound.  I climbed over as he stripped down to his underwear by the poolside.  His pale skin seemed so young compared to the grease painted dirty face and hands I’d seen for weeks.  He dove into the water and began to swim.

I yelled, What the fuck are you doing?

And then collapsed onto the vinyl recliner.

Connor swam to the deep end and back to the shallow.  I watched him as the sun rose higher.  I waited for signs his strokes were getting weaker, signs he was tiring.

He kept swimming.

I was tempted to join him but found myself weeping uncontrollably as the sounds of his splashing hit me all at once.

Months before, when Connor and I were at the pool talking about whatever randomness passed for importance that day, he said something that came back to me now.

You know Man, I figured it up.  You know I’m from Florida.  I could probably swim home from here.

That dark and silent look on his face, see.  He went cold and gone all of a sudden and there was nothing more to him then.  Reston was gone.  Done. We were left here.  Left to explain to everyone the what and when and how and did you get them and Connor kept swimming and swimming. I felt suffocated by my uniform but so cold I couldn’t move.  I screamed but don’t know what I said, if anything at all.  Connor kept swimming and swimming.  I picked up a vinyl recliner and threw it over the fence and kicked the concrete wall and screamed more when his splashing became weaker and then stopped.  He was on the other side of the pool, lying face down on the concrete.  He was panting and whimpering.  I walked over and knelt beside him.

Man, I can’t.  He said.  I can’t.

We have to.  You know that.

But he was better than me.  Why not…?  Fuck.

I know.

Then.  Man.  I can’t. This ain’t the way, right way.

Connor stayed on the concrete a long time, crying and whimpering.  I found some of the rent-a-towels in the locker room and brought one out.

He was sitting then with his knees to his chin staring out over the water.  I wrapped the towel around him.

We walked back to the Barracks.  I shaved the grease paint off my face and took a hot shower.  I kept falling in my dreams but never reached bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

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