'nuff said

"All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things."
Bobby Knight (1940 - )

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Black and White

By Lloyd Hawes

It is pitch black, but I canít open my eyes. Maybe they are already open and wherever I am, no light is available. Am I awake or still asleep?

Black fades to gray. A figure coming into focus stands at the table. I recognize Mom. Her light brown hair, with streaks absent of color, rests on her shoulders. A smile is held between her chubby cheeks. She is saying something to me, but I canít hear her. I too am smiling. At least I think I am. What is that on the table? A birthday cake.

A warm feeling overwhelms me. It fills my being. What is it? Love? Admiration?

I see Momís back as she exits the kitchen door. I am alone. The warm feeling is replaced by a cold, empty panic. Mom, why did you abandon me? Donít you love me anymore?

I open the same door Mom just walked through and I see Jimmy, my brother, running from the backyard tree. The tire swing tied to a thick branch slowly pendulates. His ten year old body comes towards me. This must be a dream since I know he is at least 25 now. My conflicted childhood feelings toward him fill the space left empty by Momís exit Ė pride, jealousy, our brotherly bond.

As the boy gets closer to me, I notice the face is not Jimmyís. It is that of an Afghan boy. He is dressed in rags of brown and faded purple and burnt orange. The ache in his hollow eyes haunts me. He looks like he has been crying. Ten feet from me, he explodes into a thousand pieces, chunks of flesh and blood and bone splatter against my chest and neck. I feel something the consistency of pudding on my cheek.

I canít isolate the pain. It is all consuming. I am blinded by the white light. Are my eyes closed?

I hear Emily, my wife, talking to me. The first sounds I have heard in what seems like an eternity. I canít see her, but I know she is with me: telling me she loves me and that she will miss me and I need to be careful.

Her shape emerges out of the whiteness. She lies on the bed. I can see the beach of Maui out the hotel window. It is just like our honeymoon. I see her smile, her bright eyes, and her strong chin. Of all things, I notice her chin. She is mouthing words, but I cannot hear her over the roar of the surf wafting in through the window.

I am doing it for you, I tell her. I am doing it for Josh. I have to do it. Tears well up in her eyes. Not tears of sorrow, but of pride. She knows me.

This pain of the whiteness is going to kill me.

I hear mumblings with an urgent edge. The operating room of the evac hospital comes into focus. Who is that on the operating table with tubes running in and out of him or her? Masked personnel are running around the little machines on stands making electronic bips and beeps.

I notice it is only a torso on the table. Arms and legs are amiss. Blood is everywhere. Tendons with pieces of meat hang off the stubs of what remains of the limbs. The blood flow from the stumps is reduced to a trickle by the tourniquets. I know this person. Is he from my unit?

Hang in there buddy. Donít give up.

Dirt and dust covers everything. There is no more windshield wiper fluid in the reserve. I have to stick my head out the side window to see where I am driving the Humvee. No trees, no buildings, just rocks and dirt and a poorly maintained road which I am trying to navigate. I feel the sting of sand striking my face. Thank goodness for the goggles.

Watson is in the passenger seat looking at a map and barking directions. I donít know why, there is only the one road.

His head bursts from a sniper hit.

I stop and exit the vehicle, drawing my weapon. IEDís are probably all over the road here. No sense trying to drive away.

As I radio my position and request assistance, I see a small figure running down the road towards me.

Shit.

Smitty is sitting next to me at the bar. My best friend since the sixth grade sheds tears of sorrow. He wants to understand, but canít.

In his beat up Nova, we are driving home from the Dixie Chicks concert. Ronda is in the passenger seat. Maggie and I are in the back seat Ė half naked. The four of us decided to see the concert after the graduation ceremony rather than go with the rest of our High School class to some stupid amusement park. And, we are very glad we did. Ronda gives Maggie and I a glance of disapproval. Smitty laughs and winks at us in the rearview mirror. Itís funny how Maggie and Smitty ended up together after I met Emily.

The smell of Christmas pine takes over me. I can see Dad, very happy with the Craftsmen tool set we gave him. Jimmy has a smile the size of the Grand Canyon as Mom takes a picture of him with the bike Santa brought this year. I am happy

. Beeeeeep. All the little machines have flat green lines across their faces. Each medic of the team pulls down his or her mask exposing their expressions of futility and desperation. The tones emanating from the little machines, one by one, become silent as a medic slowly flips the off switches. Finally, complete silence.

I feel for the soldier on the table. He gave his life for my family. Who is it? Canít be Watson, he has no head. A nurse pulls off the oxygen mask and through the red grime, I recognize my face.

The white pain ceases and blackness encroaches on me. The void is filled with nothingness.

Good-bye Mom, Jimmy, Emily, and Josh. Good-bye Smitty, Dad, and Maggie. And, even a good-bye to you Ronda. I did it for you.

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