real lj idol | week 20 | 687 words
The hills we climbed were shorter then, less burdened with all our broken stories. We imagined we sang with one voice, our childhood melodies finding their way out of the past. The words were always simpler then, the reasons easier to understand.
From the pieces of our hearts came all the things we forgot to say, raw secrets like, We were and Once and a dream that began with If. Someone should have told us—or were we fated to forget?—that all our certainties were churchyard prayers and the future infinitely harder to define.
Annie thought that college would save her from a life of small-town expectations. Like a caterpillar in a chrysalis, it brought her one step closer to becoming her fullest self. For a while, she had confidence and big-city aspirations, and she said it was the job of a lifetime, the one that took her away from home. I was half a world away, in a treacherous, snake-filled jungle, by the time we found out it wasn't true.
We were too innocent to imagine what a married man might want with a pretty girl like her. Annie's energy and intelligence were so evident that we thought along the surfaces of the obvious, never seeing the coercion and betrayal he would wield while trying to destroy her.
She came back home after she lost everything, including the baby she had to give away. She thought failure and cowardice drove her, but it was braver to face her family and friends than to keep running until she couldn't remember how to stop.
I was gone then, still chasing Charlie and trying to make it alive to the end of each day. We lost half our platoon the week of Easter, most of them kids no older than me, and I got field-promoted to squadron leader. I never understood the math on that, except that I was senior and somehow not dead.
The troops' lives rested on my shoulders then, and it was a thousand times harder than just being afraid for myself.
They said that war was glory, but those had to be the words of generals and not soldiers. War was blood and terror and people dying, and losing the man next to you inside the blink of an eye.
War was a Thunk followed by a red hail of mud and vegetation, and pain so bad you couldn't-breathe-couldn't-scream-couldn't-m
That grenade stole my leg and saved my life, and the next few months at the VA Hospital gave me the chance to try to be grateful.
In August, I came home again, limping off the train to find Annie and Mama waiting there to meet me. Annie cried for my return or my missing leg, or even for herself or the fact of how badly life had scarred us both.
We've been working our way toward something ever since, following the echoes of our past like misbegotten ghosts. We could offer each other that, memories of when she was sweet and I was whole and our future waited for us to claim it.
Apart, Annie's history came back to haunt her. Mine did the same. She dreamed of being powerless and trapped, and I dreamed nights full of death and explosions that would never leave me any more than the fragments of shrapnel still buried too deep to find.
In time, she helped me to walk more steadily, and I convinced her to hold her head high. The streets themselves were a gauntlet of lost pride and reputations, but we traveled them together. Our innocence had been shattered, so we looked for hope instead.
"What will become of us?" she asked, on a night grown heavy with stars and the threat of late frost finally gone.
"Nothing," I said. "Or maybe everything."
We had the house and Mama and each other.
If someday she found a husband and I a wife, then we would have unearthed our dreams again—a little tattered now and slightly faded, but still every bit as true.