We return to the city walking like zombies without an appetite. Some of us shuffle, others walk fast and straight. Everyone’s eyes are glazed over. The medication that the general ordered our lieutenants to give us after combat helped erase the terrible memories that would soon come back one we re-adjusted to civilian life.
My hand was half blown off while operating a tank, but I am grateful nothing else was severed from my body. I still have my right hand. I write songs with my right hand. In fact, in my right hand I am still holding the silver chain that Alycia gave to me before I left to fight. The only thing I can think of is her. She was what helped me stay focused, when so many others were so plagued by death and fear of death’s horrors that they ran blindly into the thick of the fighting to end their torment.
I veer off from my comrades at the sight of her home, standing high and proud one block away. I do not look over my shoulder or bother saying good-bye, because I know that they don’t want to hear my voice anymore. They all just want to be back home. It is dark, but I feel a glimpse of summer sunlight once I spot the front door that will let me in to hold her again. I knock on it three times. It opens.
I blink twice, almost unable to take in her pure beauty. Her eyes are wide.
“Tristen. My God!”
She wraps her arms around me, the gesture makes me tense. No one has held me in two years, The only physical contact I receive is from shrapnel or from disciplinary torture.
“I love you, Alycia.”
“I…I love you, too.”
I break the embrace to show her the necklace. It is her mother’s. “I sometimes wonder if this kept me alive. Just the hope of being with you again. I was so lost, so hopeless until I saw your beautiful face just now.”
“Oh, Tristen. I can now be able to sleep knowing that you are safe and that the war is over.”
She gestures for me to follow her into the kitchen. Her long brown hair is braided. Her red gown brings out its richness. She looks like a queen.
“I must tell you something. Please, sit down.”
My mouth goes dry at the sound of her sad tone. I sit and watch her expression. I know that whatever she is going to say will break me.
“I… was not sure if you had survived. They refused to give us updates on the casualties. It was terrible. So terrible.”
She chokes down a sob.
“I married John. I am so sorry.”
I stand quickly. “John? Your father’s business partner?”
“Stop it. I risk my life for our country and you, but you forgot about me?”
“I never forgot. I cried for you every night. Please try to understand.”
“I get it. You didn’t think I would survive. You couldn’t wait.”
She starts crying. I despise her for showing such unrestrained emotion, when she could never know the agony of seeing all of her friends die to the enemy.
“I stayed alive for you. Now I will have to think of something else to continue living for.”
The cold air hits my flaming skin. I am going to show her. She will see in due season what she has truly lost.