The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 2
Restraint

September 8th, 2007

Dear Nate,          

            There’s so much I’d like to tell you.  I don’t know where to begin.  Every piece of news I’ve got seems so insignificant compared to what you’re doing.  The most exciting thing around here is Spirit Week, right around the corner.  But since I’m sure you’re craving a distraction from your current lodgings, I’ll do my best.  Bear with me. 

            School has started, obviously.  Junior year has already become the most challenging thus far.  The teachers I’ve got are so sporadic.  I’ve got a woman who eats, sleeps, and breaths Quantum Physics.  My English teacher, on the other hand, is a man who doesn’t fully understand the language himself.  It seems harsh, I know, but it’s the God’s honest truth.  I don’t know who he pilfered a degree from, poor guy. 

            I happened upon your parents a few weeks ago.  It’s obvious that they know, Nate.  They know of our monthly correspondence.  Your mother was sweet as can be.  She smiled, though it was touched with just a hint of grief.  I don’t mean to displease you, Nate.  I simply want you to know she misses you. Sorely.   We both do.  There was an understanding between us that was previously lacking, I think. 

            Your father, however, was much more guarded—forever the Colonel, that man.  Don’t fret, love.  He’s just proud of you.  He desperately wants to shield you from any distractions, which admittedly, I probably am. I’m selfish enough to hope you won’t stop writing me, however.   I wouldn’t have been able to endure these last few months without the comfort of your letters.  Awaiting them each week is what rouses me out of bed in the morning.  Listen to me, sniveling on. 

            I’m sorry, Nate, I’ve been trying to be cheerful.  The fact of the matter is that everything has lost a smidgen of, if not all, importance.  Facets of everyday life that seemed vital just a year ago have grown so immaterial these past few months.  Perhaps that’s unhealthy.  I don’t know.  All I know is that I never expected this much torment.  You followed your dreams and I’m ecstatic that you did.  I just miss you.  No—even that statement sounds too trivial. 

            For lack of a better phrase, however, I DO miss you.  I love you with all my heart, Nate.  I hope it’s everything you wished it would be.  I genuinely want you to be happy. 

 

All my love,

 

Erin

            The past month and a half in this U.S. military base in Iraq has taught me how to fight a number of things: the enemy, man-made danger, etc.  My fellow soldiers and I are forced to fight through test runs—like an obstacle course on steroids—daily to maintain and fortify our valor.  But despite all of my new found strength, all of my hard-earned muscle, I haven’t been taught how to fight tears. 

            In the dwindling daylight, I crouched on a miniscule 3ftx5ft patch of grass that one of the men planted beside the backdoor of the bunkhouse as a token to the wife he left behind.  I read Erin’s words repeatedly until even the punctuation was burned into my memory.  I thought of my parents, in their lavish, million dollar home discussing our relationship with distain and felt momentarily ill. 

            Though I know it wasn’t her intention, hearing of her distress pained me more than any physical wound ever could.  I hated that she was losing interest in everything that used to excite her, and the fact that it was essentially my doing. 

            She used to participate in so much, too.  She was the captain of the debate team at our school—she was bound to make one hell of a lawyer some day.  She could argue her way out of prison, still clutching the evidence. 

            For me, it was our school’s writing program.  Perhaps that paints me odd, or boring, what have you.  I couldn’t care less.  Writing is my passion.  It was how I told Erin I loved her.  A three-page sonnet…spoken into a mega phone on one fire lit evening. 

Well, I might as well have fun with it, right?

What I loved about our relationship was the openness.  We had actual conversations, unlike so many others I know.  I could read her my poetry without fear of being mocked, which was a fairly common emotion for me whenever my writing is involved.  She could vent about a point she misconstrued, or a match she got overly heated in, and she would know that I’d understand, or try to.  Neither of us could stand the dim-witted conversations commonly held amongst our peers.  It was all mind numbing, brainwashing tripe that had no real meaning, even to the speakers of such utterance.  It never means anything to anyone. 

Tucking the note that smelled deliciously like vanilla—like Erin—back into the breast pocket of my uniform, I gazed straight ahead as I let the tears flow.  The immature, “macho man” in me hated showing weakness but I took solace in the fact that at least no one was around to witness it. 

            The military base, which consisted of only the several modified shipping containers in which we slept and a supply bunker, wasn’t exactly in the heart of the battle, for obvious reasons.  Therefore, our surroundings weren’t detrimental.  But believe me when I tell you that it was no Times Square, either.  Straight ahead stood a number of abandoned, one-floor buildings that evidently hadn’t been occupied (or cleaned) since the start of the war.  Down the road a ways was something extremely reminiscent of a flee market.  Women and children scurried from awning to awning, feeling uncomfortably exposed without a covering over their heads.   The air was saturated with a thick tension. 

            But just above the chaos, the sky was melting into a cotton-candy pink.  Close to the horizon, the lining blazed a fiery orange.  That alone comforted me.  It was my stability, my rock, amidst the macabre waves of warfare. 

            It was what connected me to Erin

            It was the same sky she gazed at, the same sunset she will undoubtedly watch when it finally reaches her.  It has become customary—a routine—for her and I to observe the sunset together.  Figuratively, at least. 

            Soon, the image of the sunset grew blurry as her angelic face came into focus.  Like a rapidly developing photograph, her face dominated my vision.  It was all I could see—her mahogany hair whipping about as she spun in the twilight, lingering rays submerging her skin in an earthy glow.  Her wide, almost green eyes sparkled with mirth, her nose crinkled in laughter.  Soon, the sound of her delight rang in my ears, taunting me more than it comforted. 

            Our romance was unlike the average high school fling.  It was so much more; to compare it to such a meaningless waste of time was simply degrading.  I know that sounds like a line, a sickly-sweet plot for some corny Lifetime movie.  Honest, it isn’t.  We met by chance, when she stumbled into my senior English class the first day of her sophomore year.  Nearly knocking me over with the wooden door, she mumbled a quick apology, her cheeks reddening adorably as she retreated.  Following her, I introduced myself and was graced with the most beautiful smile I’d ever laid eyes on.  I like to think that was the moment I fell in love with her.  In truth, I woke one day with the courage to finally speak my feelings aloud; I had no idea how long I’d been sitting upon the information. 

            One thing is for sure, however: I knew, from the moment I said, “I love you,” that Erin was the girl I was going to marry. 

            Heaving a watery sigh, I raked my hand over my shaven head, from which curly black locks once grew.  Viewing the missing tresses as a lost friend, it added to the empty feeling in my gut—like a swooning recognition that this was all for real.  Hunching over, I bent forward so that my reflection was visible in the puddle at my feet.  As I pondered, tear drops, evidence of my flaws, leaked from my dark, almost charcoal eyes and fell into the water below.  

            At a rough clap on my shoulder, I jumped, and reached for the rifle that wasn’t by my side.  A little over a month in Iraq and already, the slightest disturbance sent my finger to the trigger. 

My bunkmate, Chris Fournier, plopped down onto the plot of grass beside me, calculating but comforting.  He didn’t laugh, for which I was grateful.  He understood.  All the recruits did.  “Safety” was an atypical sensation among the barracks, but was deadly when it reared its deceptive head.  Safety was a bomb waiting to go off.  Vigilance was a blind man’s walking stick.  The sooner that lesson was learnt, the better. 

            I tried to shield my tear-streaked face at first, but it was in vain.  After a moment or so, I chanced a glance at him.  Again, he didn’t laugh.  I could tell we were going to get along well.  A uniform was thicker than blood. 

            Chris Fournier was one of those men who could convey wisdom with simply a loaded glance.  A man of few words, he somehow always got his point across.  Though he had only thirty-five years under his belt, he seemed much older, and not only because of the laugh lines beneath his eyes.  He exhumed acumen far beyond his years.  He was something of a respected father figure around the garrison, especially to me.  He was a Dr. Phil of sorts, having been stationed in Iraq for over three years with only the occasional reprieve.  His normally sand-colored hair was graying at his temples when his head wasn’t shaven, and he was gradually acquiring the dreaded middle-aged paunch. 

            “Talk,” was all he said.

            I felt an odd reluctance to share.  I respected the man, I truly did.  But Erin—she was mine.  All this suffering was my cross to bear.  Talking about it wouldn’t help…would it?

            “It’s the same old story,” I murmured, the hardened grimace on my face at odds with the tears welled in my eyes.  “I left a girl back home, same as anyone else here.” 

            Fournier said nothing, merely cocking one eyebrow. 

            I swiped at my tears before trudging on with my tale.  “Okay,” I murmured, “she’s not just a girl.  She’s…she’s…”

            “Perfect?” he suggested.

            I nodded, but my brow furrowed.  “Yes, but she isn’t perfect.  She speaks her mind—to the point of crudeness, occasionally.  She’s stubborn as anything, she can’t dance—not even the limbo—and she never answers her phone when it’s important.  She’s got these ridiculous knee-high red socks,” I whispered, emitting a mangled guffaw of laughter that sounded more like a sob.  “All of that—it’s what makes her perfect.”

            The corners of Fournier’s mouth turned up in a sad smile.  It seemed to me an invitation to continue.  Perhaps because of my yearning to simply hear her name.

            “Erin is…absolutely gorgeous,” I breathed, her image once again overpowering my mind.  “She always puts everyone else’s needs before her own.  She has no patience for electronics, which sets her so far apart—so far above—probably every other girl her age.”  I could feel a smile stretching over my lips, even as I began to taste my salty tears.  “Before my departure, she didn’t have a care in the world.  She knows about the sufferings of others and she feels for them, and it makes her live life to the fullest.  She puts your life in perspective with one gleeful glance, one blissful smile.”  My gaze fell from the radiant sunset to the dusty, barren soil.  “I miss her.”

            Fournier was silent for the better part of 5 minutes.  The silence, horrendous for some, soothed my emotionally raw nerves.  Finally, he spoke.  His voice was wrought with solemnity. 

            “I was 23,” he began, gazing upon the destitution around us.  “My father had just died and, seeing as he was the only thing keeping me enrolled in the Harvard Pre-law program, I withdrew the day of his funeral.  I enlisted the day after that.  In the span of a week, I was in basic training.  For nine years, I did nothing but train.  It was alright, in basic training.  I had family nearby, friends.  I had company when it was appropriate.  When I was shipped out in 2004, though, everything changed.  It wasn’t until nine years after my involvement in the army that I understood what war is, and only elementarily at that.  It was the first time I was truly confronted by the isolation in the barracks.  My parents, they’re dead.  My brother has his family to be concerned with.  The friends I had at the time were casual acquaintances at best.

            “I had no one who cared enough to be bothered by my leaving.  No girl back at home.  The majority of my bunkmates all received letters and care-packages by the dozens.  I was lucky if I got a damned Christmas card in December.  I’ll admit, I was selfish.  I still am, though it’s gotten easier now that I’ve learned to immerse myself within the arms of wartime camaraderie.  You’re lucky, though, Nate.  I know it’s hard.  I know.  But the ache, it has to be worth it.  It has to be.” 

            He didn’t wait for a response.  He didn’t need to, for I was left speechless.  I watched his retreating back long after it disappeared into the bunkhouse. 

            His scenario was one I’d never given thought to.  My pain was agonizing, it was true.  Being apart from Erin will always seem unbearable.  But would it be worse to not have that pain?

            As my mind slowly drowned in nostalgia, I strived to picture a life without Erin; a life without ever having met my true love.  It was more than unthinkable—it was impossible.  In that moment, as I watched the very last ray of sun disappear behind a cloud of debris on the horizon, I realized that this war was something I wouldn’t have been able to go through without the promise of love back home.  Without the knowledge that someone was feeling the same pain as I was, I would no longer have incentive to move in the morning.  

            Was that selfish?  Of course.  Did it hinder my gratitude?  Did it spark any guilt? 

            Not in the slightest. 

 

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