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The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Seventeen
A Note from the Author
I never intended to leave Max and Katie. I like them too much. I did intend, however, to take a break from them, a break longer than a week . . . but I was working out in the yard, in-between rainstorms, and Max and Katie started talking to me. I know, I know, it’s frightening sometimes, hearing voices, having imaginary characters talking to me. Welcome to my world!
So anyway, this is all Max and Katie’s fault that I’m back with another chapter so soon. Blame them, not me.
I couldn’t do it!
There was just too much noise down on the docks. Forklifts moving merchandise, container doors clanging, horns blaring, the docks are twenty-four hours of noise, constant, subtle noises and loud, jarring noises, and by the time I finished my second week down there on Dock Twenty-Eight, I was jumpy as all hell, man, and thinking the enemy was preparing to attack.
I quit right there and then. Had to do it. I felt like my skin was peeling off, you know?
Well of course you don’t. Most people have no idea.
I’m not making excuses, folks. I’m just telling you the real of it.
War changes a man! War will turn you inside out, and outside in, and have you jumping at shadows that aren’t even there, and memories explode like tracers across your mind, starbursts, threatening, frightening, a call to arms and take no prisoners scary-as-shit.
So I had to quit. I went home and told Katie.
“I couldn’t do it, Katie. The loud noises, I was getting all nervous, and I was afraid I’d snap, and shit, that’s not fair to the guys working around me. I need to get some help, Katie, sooner rather than later.”
She did what she does best, she held me, not telling lies, not telling me everything will be all right. We’ve both been through too much to do that to each other. No, she just holds me, strokes my hair, rocks me back and forth, big soldier boy clinging to her warm comfort.
“So we head to the VA, Max. We’ll find you help.”
The Family Rallies
Eleven in the morning, Katie rallied the troops. She called my mother, who was doing her volunteer work at the church, who called my father, who was working his day shift. My sister Jeannie was home, not scheduled to work until three. By eleven-forty we were all poured into Dad’s SUV, heading for Fort Lawton, home of the VA Hospital, and by twelve-twelve we were parking that same SUV and walking through the hospital’s front door.
I explained to a young woman at the In-take station what I needed. Pretty little thing, probably twenty-five, hair braided, tired smile, maybe a bit too much makeup for the natural beauty she possessed.
“I’m sorry, soldier. We’re all backed up today. We can schedule you for an appointment to see Doctor Cummings next, let me see, next Wednesday at thirteen-hundred hours. How does that sound?”
I looked at Katie. She shook her head.
“It will only take ten minutes,” I said. “I just need, uh, I need something to stop the noise, you know?”
“I’m terribly sorry. We are so behind here, short-staffed, too many in need. I can try to…”
My mother stepped up the counter. Pulled something out of her pocket and slammed it on the counter.
“For your information,” she said, “that’s what’s known as a Purple Heart. It belongs to my son, here, Max, and it’s for a bullet wound during action near Kabul. Would you like to see his Bronze Star?” She slammed that on the counter. “That Bronze Star was awarded for bravery under fire, to be precise for saving his platoon in an ambush near some other dust-blown village you and I will never visit, and do you know why we’ll never visit it? Because soldiers like Max do the shit-work for you and I, and then they come home broken, and by God someone in this building is going to take care of my baby boy right this goddamned minute.”
It got pretty quiet around the In-take station at that point. The young woman just kept looking at the items on the desk, like she couldn’t quite fathom how she had gotten in that situation, her mind not helping her out with the right words. Finally, from a room behind the young woman, a door opened and a doctor stepped out, military bearing, six-two, in shape, steely-gray eyes surveying the situation.
“It’s all right, Dahlia. I’ll handle this,” he said, then reached out his hand to me. “I’m Doctor Perkins, Captain, United States Army, and you, soldier, had better follow me. I suppose your family should come with us to avoid any further scenes out front.”
Cures Are in Short Supply
I’m not sure what I was expecting Captain Perkins to say, but telling me there might not be a simple cure to what ailed me was not it. Seems there are some soldiers who feel the effects of PTSD all their lives.
We were back home in two hours. I was back on Zoloft and scheduled for another meeting with Doctor Perkins in five days. Mom was clucking around like a mother hen, all “can I get this for you” and “here, Max, let me take care of that for you,” and finally Katie had to pull my mom aside and explain to her that what I really needed was some peace and quiet.
So Katie and I sat in lawn chairs in the backyard, the early January sun giving the illusion of warmth. Dad took Mom shopping, and Jeannie was working her shift as a barista.
Katie put her hand in mine.
“I don’t want to live my life on drugs, Katie.”
“Nobody said it was forever, soldier, but right now you need help and there’s no shame in that.”
Somewhere nearby two birds carried on a conversation. A trash lid clanked down. A siren sang its urban song, doors closed, cars honked, televisions played, normal life continuing as my little drama struggled for a foothold.
“It was like being smothered, Katie, like I was struggling for breath, and I started to panic, just flat-out panic, when some guy knocked over an iron drum with a forklift, and sweat was pouring by that point, and I knew I had to get out before something bad happened. Shit, Katie, you didn’t sign on for this.”
She leaned over and kissed me, soft-like, the tenderness of that hard heart finding its way to my soul.
“You and I were making love the other night and I kept seeing the face of my pimp, Max. I wanted to rip your eyes out, just for a moment, lost it all there, and then it was gone, and your gentleness washed over me again.
“I’m not afraid of you, Max. We’re two broken people who need help, but I can’t imagine not being with you.”
“But Katie, you aren’t…”
She put a finger against my lips.
“Max, I swear, you can be so obtuse. Will you marry me? I know the man is supposed to ask the woman, but I think you can agree, this isn’t a normal situation with Ward and June in Beaver Land, so damn it, Max, will you…”
I finished the sentence for her by kissing her, softly at first, then harder, the wounds of the past pouring into that kiss, and hunger won the day, and on that January day we made love on the ground, colder than all get out, the bare limbs of a maple our canopy, the sounds of the city playing sweet music for us, and somehow, in the depths of my primitive brain, I knew, with certainty, that things would be all right.”
And They Will, You Know
Because I’m the author of this story, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to Max and Katie because, well, they’re my friends, so things will be all right!
Thanks for joining me for another chapter…see you down the road!
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)