Memories pool to the back of my temporal lobe, fashioning my temples sharp and my mind weary. The air is swift and biting, unlike the ocean kind: thick with salt and slow humility. This muscle that now seems foreign to my body tries to break through my ribcage, pushing for another day, as if it is trying to win a high-speed chase. I can feel my tongue on the brink of apologies, for all thoughts that shall never be spoken aloud, mostly to myself. And yet somehow my breath is still calm and shallow: reminding me, I will have another.
There is a shadow lying beside me. His breath rotates between absent and gasping. The dark gaping cavity inside the wall in front of me swiftly reminds me to look but not touch, to whisper but not shout, and to pray my way into the morning hours. The pistol on the bedside table mocks me, safety off, red on. As fist hits spring below, my body trembles. I can almost hear the roar of mortars in his head and see the terror that lies behind his eyelids, by the crinkle of his nose and the snarl of his lip.
Sometimes, I too dream of the sandbox, I’m always running, the heat and exhaustion enveloping me. I think I’m searching for him, well at least a part of him. The half I’ve never met before but heard so much about. I wonder where he is hiding, and I scour the world of his mind, but never find him.
I believe there are times when darkness will blanket you. Wrapping so tightly around you that not even the tiniest spark of light can shine through. These are crucial turning points in your life. This is it. Where you either choose to fall apart and give up, or pick yourself up off of the floor and take a deep breath. There are going to be people that come into your life for a reason. Some will test you, some will push you to your absolute limit, and you will want to break. But you don’t. Because those people, that bring you to your knees, they are the ones who will test your character. They do not, however, determine your character. It is instead, what you do when faced with the challenge of rising above yourself that truly counts.
I think about these things as I drift off to sleep, always writing stories in my head. I need something to drown out the moans and whimpers, since the hum of the television can only do so much. I feel like a paper maché rock, trying to be strong for him, but breaking so easily blow by blow. I wish I could hide the pain as well as I think I do. After several years later in this now foreign land, the white coats finally came to a conclusion. “I’m not going to get better,” he said. “There is nothing physically wrong with my brain, it’s all mental. Do you understand?” he asked almost pleading, “I’m broken. Every time I deploy and come home it’s going to get worse. Every time. And baby. . . I’m not getting out.” Those words echo in my eardrums as I float into dreamland. There’s no getting out.
When the morning light caresses the cracks in between the dark blue curtains, I wake realizing I am not only holding a hand which has given death, but I am also grasping a soul which has had life taken from it. There is no getting out. Not because he won’t leave, but because I won’t. I’m determined to spend the rest of my life helping him search for the rest of his. And if we can’t find it, I’m hoping maybe, just maybe, he will find a new one. As he kisses my forehead and whispers, “good morning,” I gaze at his grey shirt. The letters read, “Army Strong,” but his eyes tell a different story.