The smallest commonplaces act as lifejackets, pulling memories up from the depths of my mind. A car door closing, a light turning on, a car honking, a child yelling… I was here, but my mind wasn’t. It wasn’t the haunting they warned me about. Sometimes I think that would be easier; but, then I see guys huddled in corners, scared of the sound of their own footsteps. No, I can’t want that. Yet part of my mind kept pleading, begging the other part to concede. Concede to fear, to panic. But the boiling in my stomach wasn’t terror, it’s desire.
“Fletcher, would you like to share with the group?”
I lifted my head and looked around. I didn’t belong here.
“I don’t really have anything worth sharing, Ms. Barnet.”
“Come on, Fletch,” My head shot right, to a guy named Ian. Ian belonged here. If his eyes didn’t give it away, his grenade-shortened legs did the trick.
“I’m sorry. I think that my experience was pretty…unique.”
“Hate to break it to you, man, we all served in the same war. We were all there and—”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t bad for me.” That shut him up, and also earned me the eyes of every other person in the room.
“Wasn’t bad how, Fletcher?” Ms. Barnet was leaning towards me.
“It just wasn’t, okay? It stays with me. Every day. When I hear a door close, I’m back. When a light turns on too fast, I’m back. When I hear a kid yelling, I’m back.”
“It’s the same for—”
“NO IT’S NOT!” I was feeling anxious now, like a little kid waiting for a flu shot. “I’m not scared when I remember. I’m scared when I don’t. Because… I miss it.” Nobody spoke. I knew I had said too much. Of course they wouldn’t understand, it probably seemed like I’m insulting them.
“Fletcher,” Ms. Barnet’s voice was soft, urging me on, “Why don’t you explain to us what it was like for you to leave the war.”
I took a deep breath, but I couldn’t bear to raise my head or look anyone in the eye. “I guess it’s like trying to stay awake, even when your body wants to sleep. Part of you knows you need to sleep, but the other part can’t bear not being awake. Before I left, I was tired as hell, but I didn’t want it to end. Now that I’m home, well, I guess it’s like actually sleeping.” I looked around to see every pair of eyes on me, each etched with a mixture of pain and understanding. “But, when I’m asleep…I start to forget.”
Madison Kaplan ’16