Author: Teresa Mummert
I squeezed some toothpaste onto my brush and began to clean my teeth as tears fell from my eyes. I glanced over at my nightstand where my phone sat. I sighed and spit the toothpaste into the sink. Visions of Gail waking up this morning next to Thomas turned my stomach. I rinsed my mouth out with water and decided getting out of my apartment was what I needed. Pulling my dress over my head, I let it fall to the floor in the bathroom as I walked back to my bedroom. I grabbed a pair of jeans and a pale yellow T-shirt from the laundry basket and pulled them on. Picking up my purse, I glanced over at my phone. It was better to leave it than to spend the day being reminded how no one cared.
March 16, 2010, Tuesday, Too Early
"Turn off the light!" I yelled as I pulled the pillow tighter over my head. May stepped in the doorway and laughed.
"That's the sun and it isn't going down anytime soon. Get up and shower. You will feel and smell better."
"Fine." Groaning, I let the pillow slip onto the floor. The futon was less comfortable than the cots I had the pleasure of sleeping on in Iraq. I never thought I would miss those.
I pushed myself from the bed and yawned as I stretched the tight muscles in my back.
"Jake brought your bags in this morning. He had to run to the office. Something about paperwork. He should be back any time," May called from the kitchen.
"Thanks." I stepped out of the room and grabbed my duffle bag. I didn't have much in the way of civilian clothes but enough to get me by until I could do laundry or go shopping. I dragged the overstuffed bag into my room and pushed the door shut with my foot. Grabbing my dog tags that were tucked below my T-shirt, I pulled them off my neck so could use the key for the lock that held my bag closed.
I dug out fresh jeans and a T-shirt before slipping my tags back over my neck. Even though the bag had rarely been open overseas, everything was dusted with a fine coating of sand. Not the kind of sand you would find on a beach in America. It was more like baby powder and impossible to get rid of.
Grabbing the base of my shirt, I pulled it over my head. I unbuttoned my pants, letting them ride low on my hips as I grabbed my change of clothes and made my way to the bathroom across the hall.
The walls were painted a pale yellow and little rubber ducks covered nearly every surface, including the back of the toilet. I laughed and shook my head as I pushed down my jeans and boxer briefs and stepped into the shower. I turned on the water and let it run over my toes as I waited for it to warm up. It felt amazing. One of the simple pleasures of life. They had a shower trailer at the FOB but after a few RPGs, it wasn't much good for anything. We had been promised a new trailer but other things had taken priority in the war and the soldiers were not at the very top of the list. As long as they were fed and armed, the fight could continue.
I turned the knob, causing the water to spray out onto my chest. I grabbed the bottle of liquid soap from the shelf and squirted some into the palm of my hand. My fingers ran over my chest, grazing the three-inch scar that marred my body.
February 18, 2010, Thursday, Baghdad, Iraq
"Get him off of me!" Owens screamed as the blood and dirt seeped across his face.
"Hold on, O!" I screamed, my voice straining from the extreme rush of adrenaline that was pulsating throughout my body.
We were on a routine patrol inspecting the shops and keeping an eye out for anyone who looked like they were up to no good. Within a minute, we went from laughing and joking to complete disaster. A deafening boom followed by dust and debris. The soldiers weren't the targets of the attack.
"Jesus, I can smell him burning!" Owens was on the verge of a complete panic attack as I struggled to find my battle buddy amidst all of the chaos.
"You hurt?" I yelled over the ringing in my ears as I grabbed ahold of Owens and pulled him out from under the body that trapped him.
"My pride is wounded and my ears hurt like hell. You?" He yelled back. My hand rubbed over my chest, which was now warm and wet. A piece of debris had struck me as the building blew apart.
"Jones!" Owens screamed as we continued to work deeper into the frenzy to find the other soldiers who were along on the patrol.
March 16, 2010, Tuesday, 9:00 a.m.
"I'll have a vanilla bean frappe, fat-free milk, extra vanilla, and no whip, please." I smiled at the young barista behind the counter.
"Size?" he asked as he typed the order into the cash register.
"Venti, please," I replied and held out my debit card.
I was desperate for some social interaction. I hardly left her house since I broke up with Thomas and it nearly ripped my family in two. My mother and father supported Gail in everything she did. They didn't see the pain all of her happiness had cost me. I always seemed to come in second to my sister. Gail put hours of effort into her appearance on a daily basis, while I was more relaxed and laid back, opting for a ponytail and a fresh face.
"Coming right up." He handed me back her card and I moved to the small counter to the left to wait for my order.
"What day is it today?" a woman asked from behind her. I smiled.
"It's Tuesday," I called back over her shoulder.
"Thanks," the woman replied and began typing feverishly on her phone.
"Shit!" I hung my head as the barista sat my frozen drink on the counter in front of me. I had completely forgotten to turn in the Douglas report. It looks like my vacation would start off with going into work.
I popped the straw into my drink and made my way out onto the street.
March 16, 2010, Tuesday, 9:15 a.m.
I rinsed my body under the warm water, dipping my face under the spray to help wake myself up. I reached down and turned off the spigot before pushing back the curtain and stepping out onto the sunny-yellow floor mat
. I lifted my foot as I stepped down on something smooth. I picked up the envelope that was folded in half. It was addressed to me from Jake.
I leaned against the sink and opened the letter I knew contained the bad news of May's miscarriage.
March 12, 2010
I hope everything is well with you. The boys want me to tell you that they miss you very much. I miss you too, buddy. It feels like it has been years since we've seen each other. You remember that time when you fell out of the apple tree in Grandma's yard? I was just telling May about that the other day. You didn't even cry, even though you had to wear a cast on your foot for weeks. I wish I was as strong now as you were at ten years old.
I don't know how to write this so I am just going to come out and say it. May lost the baby. She is fine and the doctor assured us that we would be able to try again in the future. The thing is, I don't think I can. The look of devastation in her eyes nearly killed me. I was so upset and I knew I needed to be strong for her, but I couldn't.
I wish I was half the man you are. We are all so proud of you. To sign up to be sent to war and to not be scared of what might happen. I just don't know if I ever told you how proud I am of you I am. We all are. Stay safe.
The water from my fingertips soaked through the thin white sheet of printer paper revealing writing below. I flicked the edge of the paper to find another piece stuck to it.
To Whom It May Concern:
If you are reading this, I am already gone. I couldn't live like this anymore. The pain that I keep locked inside is slowly eating away at me. I'm tired. I'm not strong enough to keep all of these feelings bottled up inside of me any longer. I'm sorry.
I reread the suicide note three times before my brain absorbed what I had discovered. I sat the paper on the edge of the sink, as I quickly pulled on my clean clothes, not even bothering to button my jeans as I flew from the bathroom into my makeshift bedroom. I fell back onto the futon as I slipped on my sneakers and bolted from the room.
"What?" May spun around from the sink where she was washing dishes flinging clumps of soap bubbles onto the ground.
"Where's Jake?" I ran my hand over my buzzed hair flinging water droplets across the room.
"I told you. He just had to run to work. He should be home soon. I know you boys missed each other, but come on, Shane." She laughed as she placed the plate into the drying rack.
"I need your car. Can I borrow it for a few hours?"
"Yeah, sure. Just make sure you put some gas back in it," she called over her shoulder. "Keys are hanging by the door."
"Thanks, May." I lurched forward and kissed her quickly on the back of her head.
I took large strides across the living room and grabbed the keys that dangled from the hook beside the front door as my mind raced. I knew my cousin had been hurting after the miscarriage, but I didn't know what to say to him. What advice could I offer?
March 16, 2010, Tuesday, 9:45 a.m.
"Hold the elevator!" I called out across the lobby as I adjusted my sandal, hopping on one foot. I slipped inside and tucked my hair behind my ear.
"Thank you." I smiled to the man behind me. My eyebrows knit together as I turned back around to see Shane standing behind me.
"Looking for Mr. Philips?" I asked.
He nodded, his look serious. I faced the doors and waited for our ride to the sixth floor to end. As the doors opened, his hand shot out, holding the door back as I stepped out onto my office floor.
"His office is over there." I pointed across the hall with my drink in hand.
"Thanks." He gave me a half-smile and walked quickly to the other side of the large room.
I made my way to my desk and turned on my computer, waiting for it to boot up so I could print out the files I needed.
"He's not there," Shane called from behind me. "Why are you here?"
"I work here. We met yesterday." I felt invisible on most days but did this guy really forget he had met me just the day before?
"I know. It's your birthday."
"Oh." His comment had taken me by surprise. A perfect stranger had remembered what my own family seemed to have forgotten.
"I have a report to turn in." I hovered my mouse over the file and clicked print. "He may have gone down to Booth Street. Our sister office is down there. I can show you. Just one minute." I pushed back my office chair and made my way to the printer to collect my documents. I flipped through the pages, slid a paperclip over the top, and dropped them onto Howard's desk. Thankfully, he wasn't at it and I wouldn't have to make small talk with him as he leered at me.
I sighed as I took in the sight of Shane, his head hung in his hands as his deep-blue T-shirt stretched across his back, showing all of the muscles hidden below. A thin metal ball chain hung just above the collar.
"You're military?" I asked as I came to a stop next to my chair that he had sat down in.
"Yes, ma'am. Army."
"I can point you in the direction of that office now."
"Thank you." He stood and held out his hand, gesturing toward the elevator.
We stepped inside and the doors pulled closed as we started our descent.
"So are you from around here?"
"North Carolina. Just visiting my cousin. I leave on the twenty-seventh."
The doors opened and I stepped into the lobby, waiting for Shane to follow.
"Take a right and go to the end of the block, turn left and it's two blocks farther on the right side." I smiled and took another drink from my frappe.
"Thanks. Enjoy your birthday." He nodded.
I couldn't stifle my laugh.
"What?" His intense gaze locked on to mine.
My eyes fell to the straw protruding from my cup. To say this man was intimidating was an understatement.