Archive | 1:00 am

These Hands – A Short Story

6 Aug

A young man walked through the front door of a VFW hall. For a moment he looked around, confused, then kind of sidled to his right and sat down in a chair just on the other side of a large shadow box holding half a dozen folded flags. Sitting there, turning his ball cap around and around, he seemed fascinated by the movements of his hands. After a few moments he kind of shook his head, balanced his hat on his knee, and leaning back in the chair, closed his eyes.

An older gentleman had observed his entrance, and had watched his movements closely. While the young man seemed to wrestle with a couple thoughts behind the curtains of his eye lids, this man, maybe 55 maybe 60, walked over and sat beside him. Folding his hands across his chest, he too leaned back, and waited.

Our young man slowly opened his eyes, and said, “My doctor wants me to take sleeping pills. My therapist wants me to talk about my feelings. My wife…” He swallowed hard, “she just wants me to be able to sleep beside her.” He gave a shuddering sigh, “I’ve been home for six months. I found a good job, we got a good house, our little boy is growing like a weed. But, I just can’t…” His voice broke.

Holding up his hands he turned them this way and that. “These hands, they held the gun I used to kill a teenager wearing a suicide vest. These hands, they pulled pins on grenades that killed entire rooms full of people.”

Opening his arms a little wider he said, “These arms, they carried small children out of wreckage. They…they held my best friend as the medics did their best. They held his wife when I attended his funeral. She couldn’t stop crying. He hadn’t even seen their baby girl.”

His tears, held back with a herculean effort, fell now.

He closed his eyes, and took a few deep breathes.

“I just want to know that it will get better. That the nightmares, and the memories…stop chewing away at your soul.”

He wiped the tears off his face, and stared at the floor.

The older man cleared his throat, a couple times. Then lifting his own hands, said, “These hands were trained by the Air Force to repair and maintain just about anything that moves on the ground. I made it through my part of the Gulf War without shedding any blood but my own. Most of my scars are from sharp edges, and tool mishaps.

It wasn’t until I’d been home for two and a half years, and been a city cop for a year that I took my first life. A domestic disturbance. He was on PCP, tearing the house apart with a crowbar. His wife wouldn’t leave, she thought she could talk him down.” He shook his head. “Thankfully the kids were at the neighbor’s house. They got shipped off to an aunt in the next state.

I guess it was the adrenaline of the situation, but it wasn’t until the Sergent arrived that I puked my guts out. I was shaking so bad they had to drive me back to the station, and it was hours before I could put a pen to paper.

These hands have been in several more of those situations, but it’s always that one that wakes me up at night. Over ten years now, but still, every few months I have to slip downstairs and watch old John Wayne movies until it’s time to go to work.”

A few moments passed in silence. Then our older man looked across the room and said, “See the old fart chalking his pool que? His hands worked a flame thrower in the Korean War. To this day he jumps a little when someone flicks a lighter. After the war he finished college and went on to become a stellar used car salesman. His wife’s a peach, makes the worlds best blue berry turn-overs.”

See the guy in the camo jacket sitting in the easy chair? His hands worked an M-60 in Viet Nam. He lost his left leg at the knee in his fourth chopper crash. The V.A. just gave him a new prosthetic. We can’t keep him off the dance floor now.

Jake, over there getting coffee? His hands held a scalpel in Korea. Saved countless lives, but still, a couple times a year, he wakes up screaming the names of the boys who didn’t make it. He and his wife have had separate bedrooms since they got married. He doesn’t want to take the chance of hurting her while having a nightmare. They burned him out over there. Couldn’t even hold a stethoscope without getting sick to his stomach. Went back to school, became a teacher. He still subs now and again.”

He glanced at the young man, then dropped his eyes to the floor between his feet. “There is life after. It’s not ever going to go away. There will always be a tiny part of you that has trouble with the memories. But life goes on, the nightmares become fewer, and slowly, your thoughts will start to think more and more on other things.

The biggest thing is to remember that everyone is different. Your road to a new normal won’t be the same as anyone else’s. Well meaning people will try and tell you how they dealt with traumatic things. And that’s great for them, but don’t follow another’s path. Find your own.”

The younger man nodded his head, and picked at a scab on the back of a hand. “How do I find my path?”

“Keep seeing your therapist, try talking about your feelings…but don’t be afraid to reach out for more help.” Gesturing around at the room he added, “There’s almost always someone here. Most of us have been through one kind of hell or another. Even if you don’t feel like talking, just being reminded that it’s possible to laugh again is a big thing.

You might mention to your wife that the Women’s Auxiliary meets here weekly. She may need someone to talk to about…well, dealing with you.” He gave a gruff chuckle. “We’re not easy to live with. And women need to talk a whole lot more than we do. Having a place where she can talk with someone who has lived with one of us for years could be a big help.”

“Can I…would now be a good time to just hang out?”

“Sure! You want a recliner, or a pool que?”

“Let’s start with coffee.”

“Well, that’s a given.”

A loud rumble filled the room for a moment. The older gentleman looked up as another man walked in the door. Standing up he shook hands with the bearded man in black leather chaps and jacket. “How’s it going, Bill?”

“Not bad, Joe. Not bad.”

“I see you got the hog running again.” Joe smiled wide as he pointed toward the door his friend had just come through.

“Yeah, it wasn’t cheap. But worth it.” With a nod at the young man who had stood up during his entrance, he held out a hand. “Bill Asher.”

Taking his hand, our young man said, “Mike Blair.”

“Fresh back from the sand box?”

“Still obvious, huh?”

Bill shook his head, “I’ve only been back eighteen months.” Stroking a hand down his six inch beard he said with a smile, “I haven’t shaved since.”

“Sure don’t look like a chaplain anymore, that’s for sure.”

Bill laughed, and then turned when he heard his name called from across the room. He waved at someone playing pool. “Be right there.” Offering his hand again to Mike, he said, “Will I be seeing you around?”

Mike looked over at Bill, “Yeah,” he nodded, “I think you will.”


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I feel the need to apologize for not posting a couple nights ago. This story was brewing in my head and would not let anything else occupy my thoughts. I sat in front of my computer until my head started to nod, and Lonnie sent me to bed. The sleep worked. My unconscious worked on the story as I slept, and it was almost too easy writing it out this morning.

I had a little trouble with tense, so if you see a point where something doesn’t quite jive, give me a heads up.

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Keeping with the soldier theme, here’s something to lighten the mood.