The delivery truck was double parked next to me. I sat, engine running, watching the hazards flash. Mechanize hammered from the open driver’s side window.
Two basic bitches shot me cunty looks from the sidewalk.
The driver came out at his own damned pace. He threw his hand-truck into the back of the battered Isuzu and pulled off. I shoved the Jeep in gear and whipped out of the space.
I headed for the river and turned north.
The long winter buried New York in snow. Spring lasted a week. One day after the thaw, it was 80 degrees. It’d been years since I’d been home in the summer months. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.
My hometown was more verdant than I remembered. I rolled slowly past a thousand places I knew. Someone had freshened up the landscaping around my childhood.
Memories snapped past my head at a cyclic rate. I turned down a back road to get away from them. I passed a rusty trailer on a tiny lot. I went to school with the kid that grew up there.
I’d choked him unconscious on a sidewalk. After he woke from the seizure, a buddy and I dragged him kicking and screaming for blocks. I stuffed him, up-side down, into the passenger seat of his truck.
I walked back to the bar alone, smeared with snot and blood. Somewhere along the way I had become a solution looking for a problem.
I headed for the assisted living center.
The women at the desk coo’d at the bouquet of flowers under my arm. My grandmother didn’t see me approach. She didn’t know I was there until I held the flowers in front of her.
She didn’t know I was coming.
She startled at first. I leaned down at put my arms around her in her wheelchair. She held the bouquet up close where she could see it. She smelled it and nearly burst into tears.
She was in Stage IV organ failure.
“When the pain starts, don’t even bother bringing her to the hospital,” the doctor told my mother.
“There’s nothing they can do for her.”
She had a hemorrhage in one eye. Her vision had degraded until the signal was no longer strong enough to stop the brain from seeing images of its own. She’d been having frequent conversations with my dead grandfather.
She got visits from a group of little children. One of them my stillborn niece. She would have been 18 this year.
I sat with her a long time. I listened. Her voice trembled with age. She introduced me to her friends on the floor. She introduced me to the nurse that brought her pills. She introduced me to the nurse that shot her insulin.
“He’s an officer!” she told them, her voice full of pride.
My head felt two sizes too small.
I sat with her through dinner. She argued with the nurse. Said she had no appetite. The nurse wouldn’t hear it. I coaxed my grandmother to eat.
I wheeled her back to her day room. I held her hand and kissed her forehead. Embraced her. Kissed her again. I said my long good-byes and promised to visit again as soon as I could.
I walked back to the Jeep, morbidly certain that was the last time I would ever see her.
A decade in the military has taught me things about myself. Things I needed to learn. Things I wish I didn’t know.
I’m not a ‘joiner’. I’m not a sheepdog, either. It’s a throw-away metaphor. A tag-line for gun geeks and “three-percenters”. Bullshit jingoism for the natural follower.
Live Free or Die. Molon labe. Jesus Loves You.
I’d spent years trying to prove myself. It was a tough act to pull while I was simultaneously pushing away everything and everyone in my life.
I’d paid the price to join one family, and alienated myself from another. Watched as guys lost their families. Lost their mind. Lost themselves.
I summoned up my anger to numb the pain in my chest.
It was the only emotion I knew how to deal with.