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Jennifer: Veteran's Day
By
Colors_of_the_Wind

Jennifer: Veteran's Day

Boss and Jennifer are the same person, but this is the 1st story before the Boss Spin-Off.

A year after coming home...

"Mommy! Mommy, my girl scout troop is walking in the parade tomorrow, do you wanna walk with us?" Kristi, 7, runs up and tugs on my shirt sleeve. Her smile is so wide and hopeful, I am conflicted in how to answer her. I know what I should say, to be a good mother, but I heard the parade here at home last year. They set it up so it's at the center of town, a good five miles from here. I should say yes to my young daughter and make her giggle like I so love, but if I hit the floor last year with everything muffled by five miles, how will I survive being right at the center of it?

"Mommy? Oh pleeeeease, Mommy?! Pretty please with a cherry on top? All the other mommies will be there!" She hops up and down in front of me, her eyes- so like her father's- sparkling with her innocent plea for me to be there like the other mothers will be. My body buzzes with anxiety, but I nod my head yes and smile back at her.

"Oh thank you, Mommy! Thank you!" She runs into the other room with her brother and I sigh, putting my head in my hands and wondering how the hell to survive tomorrow's parade.

*

I jolt awake the next morning in a cold sweat. My room is still dark, but there's no way I'll be going back to sleep any time soon, so I peel the blankets off of myself and walk stiffly to the restroom. It's hours before sunrise and the kids won't be up until a couple hours after sunrise, so for now I have the house to myself.

The emptiness of this old house reminds me of a time when William and I were newlyweds and had just moved in. It seemed so large to us back then- too much to clean, too much space to fill- but we filled that space with our love and it soon held two more small beings in addition to us. Little Kristi came first, with her father's eyes and hair, and my mother's nose. She has my temperament, and her father's stubbornness. William named her after a favorite aunt of his.

Jonathon came next, named by me. He has my eyes, but his father's hair. He wants to be a soldier like his daddy was and is learning stubbornness from his older sister. They are two very difficult children, but I think they understand subconsciously that their mother can't deal with it that well right now. They've dialed it down since I got home last year... but only a bit.

The bathroom is steamy, the air heavy with the heat from the shower water, and as the first stream of hot water hits my frozen body, I shiver. The cold has infected me from the inside out and I will have to warm myself up in the same way, so I quickly wash myself of all the sticky, nightmare sweat and step out, dressing in my running gear. You might be able to send me home, but erasing from my mind the routine of the Army is not so easy a task. Besides, running calms me.

I turn on the house's new security system and lock the front and back door as well as all the windows. This is a safe neighborhood and all my neighbors know me and my children, but nevertheless two young children in the house by themselves just screams 'kidnap me!'. It's slightly chilly out, but nothing I haven't handled before. I regulate my breathing before beginning my morning jog, eyes wide open and ears alert.

*

"Ma'am?" A hand lands on my arm and, in my running zone, I swing a fist in its direction and then look around, startled, my anxiety ratcheting up another few levels.

"Ow! Not cool. I was just gonna ask if this was yours? It dropped out of your pocket a few blocks back." He holds up a picture and I recognize it as the wallet size I have of William. I carry it with me everywhere, sort of a good luck charm.

I look up at the stranger who was kind enough to pick it up and see a red mark on his face, presumably from my fist, and apologize.

"I'm so sorry. Yes, it is mine, thank you. I'm extremely grateful." I tug a smile into place and take the photo from his hand. "Thanks, again. I'm afraid you may have a slight bruise tomorrow... sorry, again."

"No problem. And it was my own fault, I should've seen you were in the zone. Any sane person would have done the same thing. Shoot, I'd have done the same thing." He chuckles, but I'm done with pleasantries and I nod, making motions that I'm going to go.

"Alright, well, see ya around." I'm grateful, I am, but I'm not very good at talking to people, so I just nod again and continue on my jog.

*

2:30pm

"Mommy! Mommy, we gotta go or we're gonna be late! I can't be late, Mommy!" I smile at my little girl dressed up in her girl scouts' uniform, an American flag pinned over her heart. I am dressed in an ensemble I haven't worn in over a year. It screams America, no need for a flag, though there is one. My heart beats like a jack rabbit, but I usher her out the door with her brother. He'll be staying with his grandparents who are also going, but will be in the crowd. I'll be along the sidelines like all vets, but I'll move as Kristi does.

"You won't be late, sweetie. We'll be there in plenty of time. We're going to meet Gramma and Grandpa there, remember?" She grins up at me as we get in the car and I smile back to her, turning the radio to 94.1KMPS to listen to all the wonderful Veteran's Day country songs. Proud to be an American by Lee Greenwood comes on, and I turn it up just a smidge. Kristi isn't a huge fan of country, but she's silent as I mouth the words and go through light after light until we reach the center of town. As I'm parking, another song fades in and I recognize it the second it starts: If You're Reading This by Tim McGraw.

Kristi starts to unbuckle and get out, but I instruct her to stay put.

"But Mommy, I'm gonna be late!" She wines at me, but I look at the clock and see that she's still got fifteen minutes, and shush her.

"It's a short song, you won't be late, hun. Listen." She quiets and listens to the lyrics. I close my eyes and I can see the letter William sent to me. I close my eyes... and I can see William. We left on the same day, but we were not sent to the same place, nor did we come home at the same time. The man is always first.

"If you're reading this, If you're readin' this... I'm already home."

"Mommy? Mommy, why are you crying?" Kristi wakes me from my daze and I wipe my eyes, turning the car off and opening my door.

"Remembering your daddy, sweetheart. I'm okay. C'mon, let's get goin' or you'll be late." I usher her in front of me and take her brother's hand. We meet up with Mom and Dad at Odd Fella's and they take Jonathon to stand near the end while I take Kristi to meet up with her troop.

"Mommy? Are you gonna walk with me?" I nod.

"I'll be along the side with the rest of the veterans, sweetie, but I'll follow ya. I'll be there when the parade's finished." And then I'll tackle the post-parade fireworks show. It wasn't required by the girl scouts that the girls go, but it was expected by all the rest of the moms that everyone would be in attendance.

"Okay, Mommy! See you there!" She waves and I go stand on the sidelines next to proud Vietnam and USMC vets, smiling as she hops up and down in excitement with the other girls.

Someone to my left clears his throat as we stand and wait for the parade to start. I chew on my lip, bracing against the wall at my back, ears picking up on the calm breathing to my right, trying to mimic it and relax. Images flash through my mind from Veteran's Days past. It was like any other day over seas- watch your back. Kill or be killed. The only difference was the letters. I got one from William and sent him one back. Snail mail took on a new meaning there, but it felt good to get letters no matter how long it took. Letters meant there was more to the world than fighting, more to the world than killing and war. More than gritty sand, burning sun and hatred. More than Iraq.

"Some little one you have there, ma'am." Reality fades back in and I realize the parade has started and the Vietnam vet to my left is speaking to me.

"She is indeed something. So like her father." They have Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue by Toby Keith playing and Kristi is waving to me, dancing a little as she walks down the road next to her fellow scouts in brown Brownies outfits. I wave back and put on a smile for her, pushing off the wall we're all standing against and starting down the sidewalk, following her.

"Welcome home," the old vet whispers and I stumble a little in my confident gait, turn around, catch his eyes, and salute him, waiting on him to break it. When he does, he smiles, and I notice a tear in his eye. We are one and the same.

"Welcome home," I mouth back.

*

"Did you see me, Mommy? Wasn't that a fun parade?" I nod down to her and then up at Mom and Dad, but especially Dad.

"Are you two going to the fireworks show? Kristi's gotta go for girlscouts, so we'll be spending it with them. I don't think they'd be particularly fond of Jonny hanging about, though." Dad nods in understanding, but Mom looks at me and him like we're both insane. Maybe I am. In any case, Mom says nothing. We have a couple hours before the fireworks show starts up, because, like any sane people, they wait 'til it's dark to start it up, so I offer up going out to dinner first. We agree on Old Country Buffet, because everyone enjoys something there and head on over.

*

"Mommy, we're gonna be late. C'mon Mommy we gotta get going to the fireworks show." I look at my plate and try to at least finish the potatoes. I'm the one paying after all. Should probably eat something.

"Alright, let mommy pay the bill and we'll get going." Mom and Dad had already left with Jonny, but they drove slower than I did. Not that that's a bad thing, but it makes me wonder if everyone over sixty is a snail on the road or if it's just the select few.

"Okay Mommy." I call the waitress over and let her know we're ready to go. She comes back a couple minutes later with the bill--$47 isn't bad for five people. I give 'em two twenties and a ten. The remainder is her tip. She did a pretty good job. Little shy, but I have no room to talk.

We exit the restaurant and as we walk to the car, the fireworks start. They invade my mind and I break out in a sweat, flashing back instantly, the world around me fading into shouts and gunshots, comrades dropping like flies.

A little hand takes mine and guides me to the car. Kristi's hugs and cries of "Mommy!" wake me up like a bucket of cold water and I look down at her.

"Mommy... you don't have to go to the fireworks show if you don't wanna... but can you drop me off with Gramma and Grandpa?" Her words send a pang of guilt through me, but I know if this is how I respond from a few miles away, there's no way I'll be able to handle them up close and personal. I don't want my kids to have to see me like this. I nod and smile shakily, helping her into the car.

I drop her with her grandparents at the show, then head on home, the radio on the whole way to block out the fireworks.

"I said, ' I just came back from a place where they hated me and everything I stand for, A land where our brothers are dying for others who don't even care anymore. If I'm not exactly the same good old boy that you ran around with before, I just came back from a war." - I Just Came Back From A War by Darryl Worley.

*

For this story, all through writing it, I used the songs mentioned in it as well as Welcome Home Soldier by Karl Sapp, Stop When You See A Uniform by Buddy Brown, A Soldier's Memoir by Joe Bachman, Soldier's Light by Kylee Preston, and the video titled I Fought For You. Combat PTSD is a real and debilitating thing and I hope I captured at least a fraction of a fraction of what a lot of veterans- of any war- face every single day. This is, of course, from the point of view of one of my fictional characters, but that doesn't make her struggle any less real. I don't know how I'm going to write her spin-off. War and everything that goes with it is a totally new monster for me to tackle and figure out. If I get anything wrong, word anything incorrectly, don't do something justice or offend anyone in any way whatsoever. Let. Me. Know. I can only write something as well as I know it and I don't know this subject very well at all. Thank you for reading and please comment and give feedback, it would mean the world.

And to any and all veterans out there, not just of the U.S. of A, but anywhere, as well as your families, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, and Blessed Be.
This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright 2012-2019 by Aria Leitner aka Colors_of_the_Wind

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