A veteran copes with war trauma through his family.
Five minutes felt like an eternity. A lifetime felt like millions of years.
"So how old were you when you first joined the army, Andro?" The journalist peeled her eyes off the clipboard and looked wide-eyed at me.
"When I was 18." I croaked.
"You are one of the only left of the legendary Battle of Torches, correct? The shortest but most destructive battle."
I bobbed my head up and down like one of those Bobbleheads put in a car's dash.
"What was the Battle of Torches like?"
I shifted under my skin feeling like someone had pinched my spine. I hate talking about this, I thought.
"There was smoke and fire everywhere. Our opponents were catching up to us as we were all panicking. Gunshots crackled in the air. I thought those were going to be our last minutes. Ugh." I stretched out the "ugh" for a little longer than usual and closed my eyes, infested with regret.
The journalist sat frozen for some time, her silence jabbed through me. I let my gaze wander back to her.
"It still follows you around, doesn't it?" She articulated. The question was not planned. She did not even write the answer down. It was mere curiosity.
"Nah, I've learned to brush it off and get back up," I responded.
She blinked two times and sliced out her hand for me to shake.
"Thank you for joining me today. I appreciate it."
"No problem, nice meeting you."
I licked my lips, trying to vanish away the two lies I had said.
Everything was uncomfortable. The mattress was too rough. The blankets were too hot. The pillow was too soft.
I stared up at the ceiling hoping it would bore me to sleep. Emily's hand twitched beside me. My pupils darted towards the edge of my eye. I was holding on to the possibility of Emily being awake, like bell bottom jeans held on to the 80's. I knew she wasn't the moment she began to snore. I felt my eyes glue back together and plunge into darkness.
A city ablaze. Scattered wails. Thunder, but no lightning. War, but no warning.
Our enemies were advancing closer with every heartbeat. They walked synchronized in a mesmerizing way. I felt my veins throb to the enemies' steps and my heart rattle in its cage.
My instincts made me believe it was General Tanner. Sweaty hands wrapped around the gun, I pulled it out of my belt and got in my combat pose. Then I realized it was a civilian shocked by a sudden outburst of flames.
Oh, thank god, I heaved. The enemies were still a distance away from us. They were warming up by scaring us with their heavy boots thumping on the gravel.
General Tanner came up right beside me. His firm posture remained but lines were beginning to form around his eyes and on his forehead.
"Yes, General?" I mustered out the words as best as I could.
"Do you see that American flag?" He said in a frail voice I had never heard out of him. General Tanner turned around and pointed to a brick building with an American flag pinned on it.
The moment he loaded his gun I flinched as my body tensed.
Gun in hand, he pointed towards the flag.
"You have something to keep going for. Something to fight for."
A shiny and metallic object whizzed by my ear. My blood went frozen cold. Our men scattered around the battlefield. The tall, dark silhouettes of our enemies approached us calm as ever, but this time with guns fired up. I ran behind a big boulder, a gunshot crackling in my ears. It's ear-splitting, menacing tone hovering in my head like something stupid I said that day. The only stupid thing I worried about was my joining of the army.
That same bullet rebounded off a nearby boulder. That was when it hit me.
I opened my eyes to find I kicked away all the sheets at night. Not only that, but my wrist was over my eyes as if I were blocking something from hitting me. There was sun pouring in from the windows as if it was being told to wake me up in a forceful way. In fact, it wasn't the sun that woke me up it was the sound of a gunshot ringing in my ears. I looked around the room just in case. Everything was fine, it was the nightmare, the one I always had. The feeling of waking up was like taking a deep breath and still feeling agitated.
The door creaked open. Sarah stuck her head through the space between the door and the frame. I grin at her that boyish smile that brings me through hard times. Next thing I know, a little bundle of joy rolled next to my side.
"Good morning dad!" Sarah squealed with a toppled princess tiara on her ruffled hair.
"Hey, sweetie!" I sat up, embracing her.
"I ate a whole pancake!"
Before I was even able to hold back laughter, Emily slipped through the door. Her neon colored pajamas lit up the whole room, and wavy hazel hair swayed along with their ripples.
"I see the two partners in crime are awake and thriving. What prank are you planning so I can choose my wardrobe accordingly."
My laughter spilled out, she knew us so well.
"Sarah was telling me about the pancake she ate."
"Ahha, that was fun." Emily sat on the corner of the bed.
"There was syrup dripping down my mouth and...and my fork got all sticky and I had sugar all over my face!"
Emily stared at Sarah from the corner of her eyes, a mischievous smile forming next to her dimples. She lunged at Sarah, tickling her in all the right spots.
Laughter bounced off the wall. Echoing in me like a catchy song. Emily's snort like laugh and Sarah's high pitched giggle.
Looking at them, the light in their eyes and their wholesome personalities, I couldn't help thinking... I have something to keep going for. Something to fight for.