Matthew Borczon

American Soldier

Henry took job with an automotive dealer. He would drive cars across country for sale or delivery. It wasn’t much of a job really but it allowed Henry to work mostly nights. Sleep had been hard to come by since coming home and he figured this was one way to make the best of a shitty situation. He also valued the opportunity to be anywhere but home. This was harder to explain, but Henry was tired of the questions about the war and even more tired of people thanking him for his service. He doubted any of it meant anything and people seemed annoyed if he did not appear grateful. It was just easier to avoid the world and be alone; and alone on a highway at night felt about as alone as you can get.

His sister had wanted to call the media to meet him when he got off the plane; his wife wanted him to go to his kid’s school to surprise them in his uniform. All Henry wanted was his feet on the ground and a quiet place to sit without looking out of the back of his head, without crawling out of his skin. It only took a few days to realize that was not going to happen. His radar was up constantly and everyone looked like the enemy, he still tasted sand in all of his food and he was afraid to touch his wife or kids for fear he would get blood on them. When the baseball field shot fire works over his house he was face down on the floor before he realized where he was.

At a stress debriefing in Kuwait he was told to expect this, but at the time he was just so ready to be going home he could not believe any of it. Now he just remembered a lieutenant telling them it may be awhile until you feel like a regular person again. Henry can’t even try to remember what that used to feel like. The nightmares were the worst, stretchers carried into the aid station with his children on them blown to pieces or dead. So he stopped trying to sleep, gave up the pills they gave him and decided to take this job.

It was all going alone pretty well until he started hearing things. First it was the sound of screaming soldiers crying out in pain. Or maybe it was the screeching of his tires on hot asphalt, he wasn’t sure. Then it was the cry of an afghan mother he heard the day he had to give her back her dead child wrapped in a towel in a hospital in Helmand. Eventually screams became voices and voices became ideas that start to feel like orders. Now he drives only at night, he turns up his radio loud enough to drown out the voices in his car. He tries to think about his wife and kids. About his mom and dad and all the things he loves. He tells himself it will get better over time. He tells himself people do get back to normal. He changes the radio station constantly looking for something louder and hopes he doesn’t hit a country station because he is pretty sure if he hears Toby Keith sing American Soldier he will drive his car strait into the nearest tree as he sings along.

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