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Coming home

A story from a Memorial Day dream

by Denny Meyer
  2013 Denny Meyer, Gay Military Signal

The young man had been through a lot since he’d left home.  It seemed like it had been a long time ago; but it was just two and a half years.  It was over now, he was on the way home; that was what mattered; he had to keep reminding himself.  On the transport ship, sometimes, often, some of the other fellows would wake up screaming.  He understood, he’d been there with them.  He’d knock his knuckles on the metal bunk bottom and mutter, “hey, its ok, we’re on the way home; it’s over, go back to sleep.”  For some, it was hard to remember that in the dark in the middle of the night.

Finally, the ship arrived; there were bands and do-gooders greeting everyone, and hordes of relatives.  He hadn’t announced his return in advance.  They knew he’d be coming home by and by, because he hadn’t already arrived in a box.  So, trying to smile at all those greeters who meant well, he hustled past and through all of that and found out what bus to take to the train station.  There was a long wait for the next train to where he was going.  It didn’t matter, not at all; with all the hustle and bustle, there were no mortars roaring in, and no rooftops and doorways to watch.  That’s all that mattered, really. He was still wearing his uniform. Once in a while someone would come over, a total stranger, and thank him.  He found it kind of weird, but he’d nod and even accept food and drink if they offered it.  It didn’t matter, he had to eat, and he was used to eating whatever was handed to him, for such a long time.

On the train, he slept for something like 17 hours; it was soothing, the clitter clatter and squeak.  Finally, a conductor who took it upon himself to make sure no solider missed his stop, woke him up, gently.  “Almost home, soldier!, thank you!”  Outside the window, in the noonday sun, he saw the city.  Well, he was getting closer; but this city wasn’t really home.  There was another long bus ride, far out into the rural countryside, past the suburbs, past the paved roads, to where he could actually smell the wheat and manure.  At last, that was familiar.  Almost there, almost dusk.  With loud diesel down gearing and hissing hydraulics, the bus stopped out in the middle of nowhere, where two county roads crossed. He got out and got his duffle; the bus geared up and roared off until there was silence.  He stood there, alone, breathing in the farm country air.  It wasn’t the middle of nowhere to him.  Almost home.

He could have called from the city of course.  But he didn’t want any fuss, even though there would be.  So, he walked the eight miles down the county road.  What was eight miles in the peace and quiet of wheat rustling in the early evening breeze. He’d walked so far, so very far.

The dog saw him first, or sniffed him on the wind.  The dog went crazy, barking and running straight at him, knocking him over and licking him all over his face and hands.  Home.  Then, his little brother saw him; not so little any more, wow.  He easily took his giant duffle, honored to carry it the last steps home.  His sister started screaming.  And at last, in the door, stood mom, calm but bursting with pride.  She went inside to start cooking meatloaf even before he got to the door.  That’s what he wanted most, she knew.  His father stood on the porch filling his pipe, looking him in the eyes.  He knew, he could see it right away.  But, he waited.  First there had to be the big fuss, no way around it.  His mom had to hug him; his sister had to hug him.  His brother just looked at him in awe.  The dog had to be hushed.

Finally, he could hardly hold it a moment longer, and croaked, “Paw…”

“Come on, John,” his dad said and led him into his little private farm office room and shut the door.  And at long last, the soldier burst into tears, he couldn’t stop.  His dad, a veteran of the big war, held him, patted him, and said, “I know, I know, I was there.”

“P Paw,” he croaked, “I killed people, I had to k….” He couldn’t finish, crying again.

“I know son, I know.”  He knew what the boy had seen.  He knew why the boy had stayed on over there for the cleanup.  He hadn’t wanted to be home for the funeral parades.  He’d held those local boys, whom he grew up with, as they died horribly.

“Son,” said his dad, “I bought this bottle of scotch the day you were born, sit down son...”.

The scotch helped, it was good, really good.  It was the first drink he’d ever had in his life, as it should be, with his dad after coming home from war.

“You don’t have a girl waiting for you do you?”
“No Sir”

“Well,” his dad said, “its better that way.  You’re different when you come back, it doesn’t always work out, you know.  You’ll meet someone, you’re a hero.”

“Paw, I…. I’m…”
“I know that too son, I know that too.  You’re the bravest man I know son, I’m proud of you, really proud of you.  And when you marry or meet someone, I’ll be standing right next to you, John, proud as can be, proud as can be.”  And after a pause, “I may not kiss the br…uh fella, but…”

They both started laughing and laughing.

And his dad hugged him again.  The tears flowed again, different now, sweeter.
And the aroma of mom’s meatloaf began to fill the house.
Home, really home!

  2013 Denny Meyer, Gay Military Signal