Casualties of War: The 2012 Essay Contest Winner
The sound of artillery, rattling the walls, wakes me. Too early in the morning for this, I think. And then, half a beat later, I hope it didn't wake the baby.
I listen for her to stir, but all is quiet. She's not a baby anymore. Remember? Time moves on.
Sunrise is poised on the horizon, but in this small room, darkness still holds sway. Beyond my home in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on a pine-dotted, red-dirt range, soldiers are already training with the artillery.
I'm on the verge of falling back to sleep when I hear glass shatter on tile. I sit up, but no other sound comes from upstairs, and worry takes over. I hurry from the room and take the stairs two at a time, my cotton gown billowing behind me, trepidation gathering. I reach the stair landing and hurry down the hall, where bathroom light spills into the hallway. I open the door and the scene slices through the last of my morning haze. Scott is on one knee in his ACUs -- shorthand for army combat uniform -- towel in one hand, wiping the floor. The smell of spilled cologne permeates the small room. He looks up at me, eyes darting from the shattered glass on the floor to my face. His hands shake.
"The artillery startled me and the bottle slipped...." His voice trails off. I nod understandingly, and the truth hangs heavy in the room, unspoken.
War is hell, even if you survive.The Day He Went Away
I woke alone in bed. The faintest gray light touched the edges of the blinds. I lay still, listening. Scott was leaving in a few hours.
I found him in the garage, sitting on his motorcycle. I stood in the doorway watching him, and then he seemed to sense that I was there and looked up.
"Hey, Sunshine," he said. "You're up awfully early."
I shrugged. "Bad dream." I leaned against the door. "What're you doing?"
"Checking the bike again. Just start it now and then while I'm gone, okay?"
I wrapped my arms around my chest and huddled in the doorway. Scott sat motionless, seeming to forget for a moment that I was there. He stared at the floor, and I realized that in some way, he'd already left.
There were no other words.
"Breakfast?" I asked lightly. He nodded, and the moment became a memory.