The green LED on the bottom of my phone flashed. I didn’t have to thumb the button to see who it was. I’d spilled whiskey on it a few days before. It auto-selected things for me.
A few minutes later it flashed again. Voicemail. I thumbed in the code and hit play.
“Hey honey, it’s me . . . give me a call when you get this . . . “
It sounded important. Important is not urgent. It could wait.
I’d just choked down two scoops of pre-workout dry, and straight-faced my co-workers. They stared at me in disgust. In a few minutes, I would stop clicking Send/Receive on my e-mail and disappear for as long as I felt necessary.
I ran errands after, and didn’t show back up at the office until 1630. I needed sleep meds, liquor, and two packages of steak that I didn’t want lingering in my truck.
She called again the next day. I hadn’t called her back.
” . . . Your grandfather passed away yesterday morning . . . “
It took a minute to sink in. I was reacting to her more than what she’d said. She was sad . . . but not hysterical.
Steady voice. Sad. Not danger.
“I’m sorry . . . “
She wrote off my concern. She barely knew her father. He’d abandoned my grandmother with six children when my mother was young. Moved across the country to start a new life. I never asked the details, and still don’t care to know.
My grandmother. Near deaf. Near blind. Restricted to a wheelchair, with blood pooling in her eyes. She burst into tears when she heard my voice . . . she didn’t know I was coming to visit.
I took a day off. No one questioned it. I walked out of the office and didn’t come back. I stabbed purposefully at my eggs while the waitress brought my Bloody Mary. An elderly gentleman settled in two seats to my left.
I don’t recall how the conversation started.
He was a retired Command Sergeant Major. He had the trifecta . . . WWII. Korea. Vietnam.
We shared a polite conversation. I settled reflexively into a respectful tone. He said he was ninety-four. The last survivor of a group of brothers.
He went quiet.
I paid my check, shook his hand, and left. On the walk home, I got an awful, crawling feeling. Most people in their early thirties are only just learning to cope with loss. Except for a few statistical outliers . . .
Veterans learn early . . . and often. I stopped keeping track. The first one was hard. The last one was hard. I sat in the back, doing a controlled breathing exercise as they called Role.
Guilt hit me in a wave. I stood at my door, keys in hand, unable to process which shiny object to jab into the lock. I spent the day cleaning and doing laundry. No one else was going to do it.
A week went by.
Mom called. Her father was leaving me some of his guns. The first conversation we’d ever had was about guns. He hunted all his life. He used to bring live animals home at random. Some poor creature, injured on the side of the road.
I was inheriting his first hunting rifle. .303 British. Jungle carbine . . . The provenance of the piece settled in.
A rifle from some other clusterfuck in some other primordial shithole. A perfectly good implement for killing humans. Repurposed.
I suspected I had more in common with the first man to carry it than the last.