A Cruel World
There were few bright spots in Hank's life. Most of the happier moments had been before the war, but in reality, those days weren't so great either. Until recently, Hank Landers was not a happy soul, his life experiences had taught him to expect the worst and persevere.
But these days Hank looked at life quite differently. He could see the world wasn't perfect, but was able to see the good in those around him.
When the person who helped change his life began to complain of headaches on a warm Sunday afternoon, a shuddersome apprehension took root inside of him.
During the first doctor visit those roots took a firm hold. After waiting with his wife, Brinna, in the examination room while staring at the Norman Rockwell paintings, the doctor had come back with the x-ray results using language such as further testing and inconclusive. Hank knew what these words meant, and it wasn't good.
He had met Brinna at the Moose lodge almost 5 years prior. He still remembered every detail. The house band was playing that Friday night as they always did. All of the regulars were in their regular places. Everything had been routine, the songs, the beer, and the conversation. Just some old veterans having a few cold ones and talking about an idiot friend who wasn't there to defend himself at the moment.
She had come in with a group. He had seen one of the guys in there before, but he had never seen her. He sipped his beer and kept an eye on the cute little lady as she danced. This was after all the moose lodge. Nobody danced at the moose lodge.
At some point, Hank got up and headed towards the restroom. On his way, as he passed the stage and nodded at acquaintances, he saw it. Ever so slightly the man whom he assumed was her boyfriend grabbed her by the arm and headed for the door. This didn't sit right with the old marine.
As the band performed a dreadful cover of a CCR song, he calmly walked back across the floor and headed to the exit. His instincts had been right on target. He heard the angry voice over the muffled sounds of the band inside. In between cars, he saw the man grab the much smaller woman and shake her before delivering a solid backhand to her cheek. This was more than enough for Hank.
Using the element of surprise, Hank had the unsuspecting younger man in a headlock and rendered useless immediately. A sharp kick to the groin by Brinna had finished him off.
“You had enough yet?” Hank asked the man, who was in too much pain to reply.
“Do you want another shot at him?" He asked Brinna before loosening his grip.
Another hard kick to the groin and Hank dropped him to the gravel parking lot.
Brinna picked up her pocket book, then rubbed her cheek.
“You okay?” He asked.
“Yeah” She answered looking down at her attacker, who was still on the ground, writhing in pain. Hank thought that she just might take another kick at him.
“Is that your boyfriend?”
“Not anymore, wanna dance?
Hank could still remember his buddies’ faces at the table as he walked in with the much younger brunette on his arm. Paul set his beer down and nudged the almost incoherent Sergeant John Ferguson, a Korean war veteran and the oldest of their group.
The guys watched and a few even pointed as Corporal Henry Landers, 1st Marine Division, was out on the dance floor mixing it up with the hot little number. Sgt. Ferguson thought about stepping out on the dance floor and taking a go at the girl, but didn't feel like standing up.
They danced until last call that night, Hank’s knees aching. He offered to give her a ride home, which she accepted. She talked and he listened. He wasn't sure what to say at times, but felt at ease nonetheless. She was 20 years his junior, full of life and exciting to be around. His last date had been with a bitter, thrice divorced miserable creature that had complained about his truck.
As he dropped her off, he summoned the courage to ask her out. She smiled at him and gave him her phone number along with a kiss on the cheek that made his aching knees go numb.
Six months later, they were married at the courthouse with very little fanfare. For both Mr. and Mrs. Landers, it was the second time around.
The second doctor visit was due to the seizure. Brinna had been at her job as an administrative assistant when she fell unconscious and began convulsing. Hank, who occasionally enjoyed a few beers in the afternoon while working in the yard, received the call and jumped in the car without a second thought. He punched the gas and recklessly weaved through traffic, his heart feeling as if it was flipping over inside of his chest..
Just as the doctor had feared, Brinna had a large brain tumor that had already destroyed a significant portion of her brain.
“She was fine just a month ago.” Hank lashed out. Brinna clutched his hand tightly. She was always able to soothe him when he became angry.
The Doctor explained how it was easier to recognize the clues after the fact, the headaches, the nausea, and now the seizure. Brinna would have to see a neurosurgeon to perform a biopsy. Hank stared at the floor, devastated. The Doctor, though cautious, reminded him that the tumor could be benign.
The ride home was quiet, neither knowing what to say. Hank was hoping for the best, something he never would have done before Brinna. Although she was scared, Brinna worried about her older husband, he wasn't handling this well.
When they arrived home, after helping her inside, she watched as he opened the upper cabinet in the kitchen. He pulled out a dusty bottle of whisky, along with a shot glass. She had never seen him drink anything other than beer. He had told her he had given it up shortly after they met.
“Why don’t you pour two?” she asked, and watched him pause briefly before pulling out another shot glass.
She stood up and walked into the kitchen. There, the two of them said a silent cheers and choked down the warm harsh liquid. Hank immediately poured another, throwing it back quickly. She sensed an anger inside of him.
Hank could not accept why this was happening. It was he who had lived a life wrought with sadness; he had fought in a war, killing the enemy and at times, the innocent. He had come home and been treated as the villian by his own countrymen, as if he had made the choice to go to Vietnam.
He had lived through hell, and made many choices of which he was not proud. Why couldn't it be him? He deserved the brain tumor, not his wife. She made people happy every day; she had brought joy into his sad, dark life. Why did this find its way inside of her? Hank wanted the tumor.
Once again she grabbed his hand, gently massaging his palm.
“Hank, it’s okay.”
Hank wasn’t listening; he stared out of the glass door at the American flag that hung from the porch. They had been married for 4 years now, and Hank had never known such joy. She made him smile every morning, while getting ready for work. They talked in the evenings on the back deck while he enjoyed a beer and listened intently to her workday stories, often enjoying her telling of the story more than the actual story itself. He stroked her hair in the evenings as she fell asleep beside him. Now, this thing inside of her was going to take it all away. He had always been her protector, and there was nothing he could do.
In the next few weeks, things progressed rapidly. The results of the tissue samples showed an aggressive malignant tumor had spread throughout Brinna’s brain. Little could be done, she was given one to two months to live and the couple tried to prepare. In the beginning, Brinna’s spirit gave him hope; she would not let him get down. Inside she worried about him, and what would happen when she was gone.
Hank never left his wife’s side, although at times he would shut down, unable to speak or process information. The Nurses would talk about the man, who, like a stoic sentry, stood guard over his wife, as if he would fight off death with his fists. Inside the dark room, Brinna was fading. With her energy depleted, Brinna slept for days at a time. Hank would gently crawl into bed with his wife, stroking her dark hair while holding her close.
Hank thought about the surprise vacation he had planned for next month. The two of them would go to Jamaica for a week to celebrate her 43rd birthday. He had made the reservations and had been able to keep his plan secret, not that it mattered to him now. One night as he thought about this, he watched as his wife’s eyes flickered before slowly opening. He sat up, touching her hand.
"I love you. Do know that?"
“Of course Bri, I love you more than anything. How are you…”
“Hank, listen to me.” Her voice was weak, she grasped his hand.
“Promise me you won’t be angry, when I go. Promise me that.”
A tear came down his cheek. Hearing her say it made it sound so final
“Hank, please. For me, please don’t be angry.”
“It’s not fair, it should’ve been me…”
“No, Hank, you’re an amazing man, I’m so glad I met you, and married you. I want you to enjoy your life, don’t be angry.”
He wiped the tear from his cheek and nodded. He then leaned over and kissed his wife on her forehead. She closed her eyes and smiled gently, holding his hand one last time.
Brinna passed that night as Hank slept in the chair beside her bed. When he woke up that morning, he knew it was over. Thankfully, her pain was gone. The nurses tried to help, attempting to persuade him to seek help, asking if there was anything they could do. Hank wanted to be alone. He wasn't sure where to go, he just didn't want to go home. There was a funeral to plan, and other proceedings that would involve speaking repeatedly of his wife’s death.
As he stepped outside, the world once again seemed dark and cruel. In fact, it seemed crueler. He now knew what it was like to feel love and happiness, only to have it ripped away after such a short time. He thought about his promise to his wife, unable to understand how he would keep it. He wanted to scream and he wanted to cry, he wanted to hurt something or someone, perhaps himself.
Sitting on the beach chair under the straw tent, He took a sip of the mixed concoction in his hand. The sound of the waves was soothing to him as he closed his eyes and listened to the seagulls in the distance. A slight breeze ruffled his half-buttoned shirt.
Later, he watched the younger couples walk up and down the beach. Honeymooners kissed as they huddled in the ocean, playfully splashing each other. In the distance a fishing boat passed, lazily drifting along. Happy, carefree people were all around. Hank thought about his wife and the lessons she had taught him in their time together. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the bright blue sky.
"Happy Birthday Brinna, I love you."
Copyrite 2012 Pete Fanning