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I was promoted to Sergeant and there was a celebration at the Dragonfly with the guys from the barracks. Later I went to Toby’s to celebrate. Toby looked like he wasn’t feeling good.
“What’ll you have?” he asked rather quietly.
I gave him a blank look. It was the first time he’d ever asked me what I wanted to drink. He knew.
“The same,” I said with a curious look.
He got my beer and instead of sliding it across the bar like he always did he reached over and set it squarely in front of me. I saw a sad look in his eyes and he glanced away from me a couple of times, like he was avoiding me. I gave him another curious look and took a drink of beer, looking at him over the top of the bottle.
“You……haven’t heard,” he said in a soft, flat tone.
“Heard what?” I asked.
Toby gushed the air out of his lungs with a pained look on his face.
“Heard what?” I asked, now with panic in my voice.
He still hesitated.
“Heard what?” I asked, and in those few seconds that lapsed I grew panicky.
“Jason’s plane went down.”
The air went out of me and the blood left my head, leaving me light-headed. I felt dizzy and I slid up on the bar stool because my legs weren’t going to hold me up. I felt sick to my stomach.
“My Godd!” I whispered. “He….he’s….he’s not……”
Toby just shook his head.
I downed the reset of my beer and Toby put a glass of whiskey in front of me and set the bottle beside it.
“I’m sorry, Brad. I’m so fuckin’ sorry. He was a great guy.”
I sat there staring into the empty glass, trying to breath and trying to quell the sick feeling in my stomach. I was going to loose it. Toby poured some whiskey to the glass and I downed it.
“Where? When?” I asked, setting the glass down with a loud crack.
Toby looked down, shaking his head.
“They were on their way back, stopped for refueling and something went wrong. There were only two survivors.”
I wanted to ask if Jason was one of them; if he was just hurt, but I knew better. I put my hand to my head and closed my eyes tightly, fighting down the emotions that threatened to burst free. I could not loose control. Not there in Toby’s. Jason would expect more than that from me.
“He got to see his family,” Toby went on in a consoling tone but if it was supposed to be any consolation, it wasn’t. Not for me.
“Geezuss, all that guy did, and he went down in a goddamed airplane?” I said. I gulped down another drink of whiskey.
“Do you need to use my office?” Toby asked.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “No, I…..I have to go someplace.” I poured myself another drink. I downed it and stood down from the bar stool.
“Brad……,” Toby said.
I waved him off. I exited the bar and sucked in the night air, pungent with the odors of a city that didn’t concern itself about air pollution. It smelled good to me. It smelled like war. I walked hard in the direction of the church. I needed God worse than I’d ever needed Him in my life and it wasn’t all for good and holy reasons. I was angry. I wanted some answers why this stupid thing had happened, and I had a few things to say to that saint. And the patron saint of military men….whoever he was…..where the hell was he?
I wasn’t any more calmed down by the time I got to the church but I entered with the reverence and respect that had been instilled in me as a boy. I was angry, but you didn’t show anger and disrespect at the same time in the house of God. I took a pew in the front and knelt down, near the grotto of the saint I’d prayed to for Jason’s safety. I didn’t look up at the statue. Rather, I gazed into the flames of the dozens of flickering candles at the saint’s feet. I didn’t look up at the statue. I didn’t have anything to say to him and if he had anything to say to me, he could have God strike me down to get my attention. I looked up at the crucifix instead…..stared at it for a long time….and felt a calm come over me. I don’t know what it was, but the tension left me and I realized that it wasn’t all anger, but grief that consumed me.
I tried to fight down the emotions and the tears. I didn’t know why. I don’t know why anybody does. It’s there and it’s going to be there till you let it out or it’s going to hurt all the worse. In my case I didn’t let it out, it escaped on its own. I started to recite the litany of prayers I’d learned as a boy but my shoulders slumped and I sobbed. I lost it completely. I heard footsteps coming into the church then someone moved into a pew close behind me. I didn’t realize how close till I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey, buddy…..excuse me….Geezuss, what’s wrong?” he asked. His voice was hard and deep. He got up and moved into the pew beside me. He was intruding on my space but I was grateful for his presence. I was more grateful when I felt his arm across my shoulder and saw that he was in uniform….combat fatigues….and I didn’t care that this bahis firmaları soldier was seeing me cry.
“I know how it hurts,” he said.
How did he know? He didn’t even know why I was hurting.
But he did. “I lost my best friend a month ago,” he said.
He wasn’t a priest so I felt no need to confess anything about my feelings for Jason, to explain the depth of my feelings. It went deeper than that anyway, beyond the sex we’d shared. The soldier was offering me compassion. After a few minutes though, I wanted to be alone. When I began to regain my composure he asked, “Do you want to go have a beer?”
I shook my head. “I want to stay here for awhile,” I said.
“Okay. I’ll be at the Dragonfly. I’ll be there for awhile.” He went up to one of the grottos, lit a candle and knelt down. After a few moments he got up and left. He nodded as he walked past me and I wondered who or what he had prayed for.
I sat in the soft dimness, letting the grief engulf me. I didn’t raise hell with the saint. I wasn’t angry anymore. Jason would’ve frowned on it anyway. He would’ve been embarrassed with my grief. But it was my grief, not his. I sat numb for over a half hour, not even trying to grab any of the thoughts running through my head. I was just there, in a space with the heat of the candles warming it; there for no real purpose or need to be there and I didn’t know why I was. I suppose I wanted to feel the warm embrace of an understanding being that would comfort me or make the awful truth go away. But I didn’t feel it. All I felt was numb, and my own presence, very much alone, in an empty space. Finally, I crossed myself and stepped out of the pew. I still didn’t look at the statue of the saint. I wasn’t angry, but he had a lot to answer for.
I wondered if it was too late to meet up with the soldier. I walked the few blocks to the Dragonfly. When I went in he waved me over and signaled to the waitress to bring me a beer.
“I’m glad you decided to come,” he said.
“I just needed a little more time back there,” I said.
“Jack Burnside,” he said, putting out his hand.
“Brad Courter.” I sat down.
“I know it fuckin’ hurts, man,” he said.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Because I just went through it. I’ve still got the pain in the pit of my stomach. It’s going to be there for a long time. How’d it happen?” he asked.
“His plane went down.”
“He was a pilot?”
“No, he was coming back from the states. He was a Navy Seal. He went home to see his family then he was going to re-enlist. He was a Navy Seal sniper and he gets it in a damned plane crash.”
“Me and my best friend enlisted and came over here together,” he said.
“How’d you get past it?”
“You don’t. You deal with it,” he said.
We talked for over two hours and I felt better, and maybe he did too. We promised we would stay in touch; meet up at Toby’s. He said he’d been to Toby’s once but he heard it was a gay bar. I told him I’d never seen anything out of place there and that seemed to satisfy him. At least he never suggested meeting anyplace else.
I went to Colonel Brown and requested to escort Jason back home.
“You knew Petty Officer Seaborn?”
“Yes, sir, very well.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said.
Less than an hour later, he called me into his office. “Get your shit together, you’re the escort,” he said. “Your orders are being cut. I’m giving you some extra time so you can go see your family while you’re there. You’ll need to go over to his unit and pick up his personal stuff. Take one of the Jeeps.”
“And Courter, go through his stuff carefully, make sure his mother doesn’t get something she shouldn’t see,” he said.
I drove to his unit, showed the LT my orders and he had someone, a young PFC, show me to Jason’s bunk and foot locker.
“You need anything, let me know,” the PFC said. “You want some coffee?”
He came back with a cup of coffee.
“You need anything else, let me know.” He came back a few minutes later with a form on a clipboard. “LT says you need to list everything and sign for it,” he said.
I began making the list, in detail; his shaving kit, shorts, socks, T-shirts, a few letters and pictures, a watch, a choker necklace, the presentation boxes containing his ribbons. It didn’t surprise me that there wasn’t anything in Jason’s locker that his mother shouldn’t see, except I confiscated four condoms. She didn’t need to have those but I did list them. I even noted on the form who the letters were from and if there were any pictures in the envelopes. On the very bottom of his foot locker, tucked under a pair of athletic shorts and a jockstrap I found an envelope with the words, “In case of my death see that this letter is delivered Cpl. Brad Courter at Intel.” I felt a chill holding the letter in my hand. It was a moment or two before I could bring myself to open it. kaçak iddaa
I hate to put this burden on you, but you’re the one I want to handle it. If you can’t do it, I’ll understand, but I’m asking you. I won’t get sappy, but I want you to know that you’ve been the best buddy I ever had; like the brother I never had. I know, I’ve got a brother, but you’re a lot more of a brother than he is. Don’t try to make my folks understand any of this. I don’t expect them to. You do and that’s what matters, that I and what I stood for are not forgotten at this time. And I know you will make sure that what I stood for is honored. I’m not sure mom or my dad will want the flag. If they don’t, you take it. It does not go to my brother! He would probably burn it, and it would only mean more to their cause that it covered my casket. Being with you was great, in every way. You taught me a lot and you gave me a lot. I only wish I could have given back just a fraction of what you gave me but you knew I wasn’t built that way. Take whatever else you want of my stuff. I would like for you to keep the ribbons, my discharge papers and DD214 unless my dad and mom ask for them, which I’m sure they won’t. There’s another sheet attached to this letter that authorizes you to take care of every-thing, including the final arrangements. Didn’t want to include it here because what I’ve said here is none of anybody else’s business.
I turned to the other sheet.
This will authorize you, Brad Courter, to make all of the final arrangements. You know what I want; full military honors. And that’s not just for me; I want it because it will honor the rest of the guys who are still fighting and dying over here. I want my death to mean something, Brad. It has to mean something, otherwise what the hell was it all for? To back up this authorization, my GI insurance is made out to you. After you’ve paid everything, go out and have a beer ON ME, then give what’s left to my parents. It’s been a hell of of a ride, Marine, and I’m honored that you were there with me. Take care of yourself. Stay safe, and say hello to Toby for me.
Your buddy, Jason
I stayed knelt beside his foot locker for a moment to regain my composure. Then I inventoried the stuff on the shelf and the stuff hanging on the rack at the head of his bunk. It was mostly uniform shirts and pants. I found the PFC and told him I was finished and asked if he could get me a duffle bag to put everything in. I couldn’t find Jason’s duffle bag.
“Do you want to go through the stuff and verify my list?” I asked, handing him the clipboard.
“No. If he trusted you, I do,” he replied and signed off on the sheet.
In addition to the ribbons and the condoms, I took a pair of his briefs, a T-shirt, the choker necklace, two pictures that he was in, his athletic shorts and jockstrap; all things that meant more to me than they could ever mean to anyone else.
We flew out on a C-130 and began island-hopping back to the states. I sat with Jason’s casket all the way. We were met in San Diego where we transferred to a civilian plane headed for Indianapolis. There was some hassle over me staying with his body on that flight but I won out. I stayed with his body every leg of the journey except in the hearse. In Indianapolis, along with the waiting hearse, there was also a military sedan for me to drive. So I followed on the drive to his hometown, a small town called Attica. I showed the funeral director the letter but told him I wanted the family to be there to help make the arrangements were made. I was there only to see that he had full military honors. He said he would call Jason’s parents to make an appointment. From the funeral home I found my way to Jason’s parents’ house.
I was welcomed and treated with cool respect. I thought they might be angry and would have liked to take it out on me. The four of us, Jason’s mom and dad and his brother, Allen, went to make the arrangements. They wanted us to all ride together but I was reluctant to leave the military sedan. Jason’s brother was an ass.
“Does that make you feel proud?” he said, indicating my uniform as we stood aside while the funeral director was talking privately with his parents.
“Damned proud,” I said, unflinching. “He was a good man and a fine soldier.”
“Well, I guess this isn’t the place,” he said and let it go.
His parents pretty much accepted the fact that Jason had asked me to make his arrangements and they seemed okay with it, especially when they saw that they were making most of the decisions. I wanted them along. His brother was another story. The casket was picked out and we were back in the office where the funeral director explained that he would acquire a flag and arrange for an honor guard. That’s when Allen interrupted.
“Look we don’t really want all the military honors, the uniform, the guns,” he said. “We would like to simply put my brother to rest in peace.”
I kaçak bahis looked at his parents but I couldn’t tell whether they agreed with their son or not. I was hoping they didn’t and would speak up. When they didn’t say anything, the funeral director did.
“I’m sorry, but I have a letter that the deceased wrote to Sgt. Courter stating his wishes and requesting him to be in charge of the arrangements,” the man said, “even so far as to making him beneficiary of his life insurance.”
“Well, now, that’s interesting,” Allen said.
“I can’t disregard your brother’s instructions,” the funeral director went on.
“For your peace of mind, I’ve already signed the insurance money over to the funeral home,” I said in as kindly a voice as I could muster. “He will return the unused portion to Mr. and Mrs. Seaborn.” I would have been dubious about doing that but the couple obviously knew and trusted the man. I didn’t mention the cash I’d kept out of Jason’s personal stuff. I wasn’t stealing it. He told me to have a beer on him, and that’s what I had to do.
Allen glared at me. I looked at his parents again but got no clue what they were thinking. Finally, his mother spoke up.
“You know better than anyone what he would have wanted,” she said to me.
“He made his wishes known,” I said simply.
“There is the decision whether to have an open or closed casket,” the funeral director said.
“Open,” Mrs. Seaborn said, without hesitation.
“Open at the wake, but closed for the funeral,” her husband put in. She patted his hand in agreement.
When the arrangements were made I started to excuse myself and leave the family alone.
“Where are you going?” Mr. Seaborn asked.
“I was going to get a room at the motel,” I said.
“You’ll do no such thing,” Mrs. Seaborn said with indignation. “You can take Jason’s room. He would be honored.”
It would have been impolite to argue so I went back to the house. Allen dropped his parents off and left. Mr. Seaborn was waiting on me and met my car.
“I’ll get your bag,” he said.
“No, that’s all right, I’ll get it.” But I stopped in mid-motion when I saw the firm determined look on the man’s face.
“The Marines didn’t teach you to respect your elders? I said I’ll get your bag.”
“Yes, sir,” I said and backed off.
I followed Mrs. Seaborn up the stairs with her husband behind me with my bag. He set the bag down at the door and she showed me into Jason’s room.
“Make yourself at home. The room is just like Jason left it…..he was just here, you know…..,” she said. “We thought he would……” She stopped again, choking off her words. But then she quickly recovered. “We thought he would want to use it for a little while when he got back, before he went on with his life.”
I thanked her quietly but profusely. It’s not what I’d planned but I was so grateful for her hospitality. When I was alone, I stood there in the middle of the room. It was eerie; comforting and disturbing at the same time. The room seemed to wrap itself around me, as Jason had done so many times. It was easy to imagine him there; I could almost feel his presence. I tried to imagine the day that he walked out of the room to become a Marine, expecting to return and find everything just as he’d left it; and when he did return, he would find that nothing was as he’d left it. The first thing to catch my eye when I walked in was the weights and the workout bench that took up about a fourth of the space. I walked around the room taking in every detail. The bed that he’d slept in such a short time ago was wrinkled where he’d sat on it, I suppose, to put his boots on. There was still a towel draped over the barbell from where he’d worked out last, I’m sure while he was home. There were several pictures of bodybuilders stuck to the wall. A football sat cocked against the pillow. A bulletin board displayed a dried boutonniere, some concert ticket stubs, some old newspaper clippings from the sports page, several pictures of him and his team mates as well as pictures of him and various girls. There was a concert poster on the closet door. His clothes hung in the closet, including his athletic jacket. It hung heavy with medals. I wondered if he felt the same about his athletic honors as he did about his military medals…..no big deal. Probably so. Oddly, there was a GI Joe doll standing on his dresser, barefoot, no shirt. I couldn’t help noticing the striking resemblance. I would learn later in conversation with his parents that he had patterned himself after GI Joe.
Mrs. Seaborn called me down to supper, she called it, not dinner.
“You take Jason’s chair,” she said, pointing to a chair at the opposite end of the table from her husband.
I felt uneasy about it but I didn’t argue. Whether it was meant as a gesture of hospitality or honor to her son, these people were not to be argued with. The three of us made casual and pleasant conversation during supper. I wondered but didn’t ask where Allen was. I thought he should have been there to comfort his parents. He was, after all, the surviving son.
“You’ve probably gathered that Jason and Allen didn’t see eye to eye on things,” Mr. Seaborn said.
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