Chapter 1-It's Too Hard To Say Goodbye
I stare at the caravan of white buses all lined up on the road. They were all waiting to take us to our destination. Families gather to send their loved ones off. I look over and see my best friend hugging his mother, then his sister and my ex. She says something to him and I hear his deep laugh. She swats his arm while giggling. He then hugs his Father.
A sense of dread rolls down my spine when I see him hug his girlfriend Danika. She cornered me earlier and threatened to cut off of my balls if I let anything happen to Dan. She’s angry at me and wants me to pay for taking him away from her. I didn’t tell him I was signing up but he found out and the next I know he’s at basic training with me. Dan and I have done everything together since we were in diapers. Why not join in the Army too.
Dan and Danika had their future all planned out, He could give her everything she wanted but he signed up with me because that’s how he is. He didn’t want me to go at it alone. My body is coiled so tight with anxiety and fear. He slides his hands around her waist, locking her to him. She throws her arms around his neck and holds on tight. He bends down and kisses her and jealousy hits me hard.
I’m not jealous of him and Danika, it’s more that he has people to see him off. My Mom said she wasn’t going to come because saying goodbye is too hard. I’m her only child and all she has left. I told her I didn’t care either way but it hurts. From the age of four, I had built up an impenetrable wall and learned how to shield my emotions. I contribute my assholery to my old man. He was a difficult man and thought I was weak. Well, I’ll prove to that Fucker that I’m not the sniffling little coward he always said I was. I will amount to something, and leave a mark in people’s life. All he did was drink and beat on my mom and me.
I take off my hat and wipe the sweat from my forehead. It’s a hot day today, but that’s to be expected when you live in Texas. I can’t wait to get out of here but I’m only going to be where the heat is unbearable. However, I will be away from certain people and maybe, just maybe I can forget her. I’m lost in watching Dan with his family when I feel a tap on my shoulder and see my Mom there with tears in her baby blue eyes. When I told her I had signed with an Army recruiter she begged me not to go but it was the best thing I could do for everyone.
“I’m sorry Damien, I’m so sorry I hurt you. I was determined to stay and prayed it would change your mind. I realized when you left that no matter what I did you were going. I’m just so worried about you, and I fear I may never see you again. Day (Her nickname for me) you are my only baby and I love you so much. I want you to know that I will always pray for you and will keep you close to my heart.”
I pulled her five in half feet into my six foot four build. She is such a dwarf compared to me, we all teased her about that and she took it all in stride. She removes herself from my hug and cups my face in both her hands. I tilt my head to look at her. “I love you too, Mom. While I’m gone I want you to take care of yourself. You don’t have me to take care of and you don’t have anything else from holding you back. Please just live your life and keep me updated, I can’t go over there and fight for my country while worrying about you. I need to know you’re going to be okay. You’re all I have too, Mom.”
“Please be careful Damien, I can’t lose you too.” Her words sliced through my chest and straight to my heart. Why did she have to go and bring that up now? I can’t leave here and go into battle with that on weighing heavy on my mind.
“Mom, I’m not him and I’m not stupid enough to drink to kill my liver. You should be glad he’s gone.” My words were harsh but she needed to deal with it since she won’t have me here to help her.”
“I know Sweetheart, you have are a very strong young man. I’m so very proud of you but I just want to make sure you aren’t just running away from everything that’s happened this past year.” Damn, my Mom knows me too well. I am running away but it’s better than spending my days here working at the shop fixing other people’s Junker cars because they can’t afford anything else. I also don’t want to spend my nights drinking until I pass out like he did. I’m better than him and want more for my life.”
“I’m not running away Mom. Yes, I’m leaving but after four years they will pay for College, you and I both know we can’t afford it. Just have faith in me and trust my troop that we will all keep each other safe.” My Mom opened her mouth but then quickly closed it. She had something to say but was nervous to bring it up. “What is it, Mom?”
“What about Emily? How does she feel about you and Dan doing this?” There it is. This is what I was waiting for. She loves to lay the guilt on thick when it comes to my Ex. She loves Emily and had hoped we would get married after we graduated from High School but she decided we needed to break up. Emily wanted more and I couldn’t give her what she wanted. I couldn’t give her the white picket fence and the bazillion children. Hell, I’m only eighteen and just six weeks out of high school. I don’t know where my future is headed after the four years is over. Right now I’m just living day by day, plus I shouldn’t have to have my life planned out for me right?
“I’ve told you, Emily and I ended it. She doesn’t care one or another about me besides she’s leaving for college in a few months. She cares about me getting Dan back and that’s it.” I shift back and forth on the balls of my feet. “Look, Mom, I have to head out so please promise me that I won’t have to worry about you.
“I promise Day, I will do my best but you need to promise me as well. I need to hear you say you’re coming home.” I had a feeling she was going to make me do this. Suddenly, sadness and fear take over my emotions. What would she do if I didn’t come back, I’ve been the one who was there when he would come home drunk and beat the shit out of her and I’m all she has? This is why I’m urging her to get out there.
“You know I can’t promise you that, anything can happen. What I can promise is to do my best.” She wipes away her tears.
“Then that’s all I can ask.” She hugs me one more time, only this time she holds on tight. It’s amazing the strength this woman has. I love my mom very much and I hate that I have to leave her but like I said, I don’t see any other way out of here. This town is suffocating me and will take me down with it if I stay.
“Hey, Mrs. Reed do I get a hug?” Dan pushes me out of the way and I laugh. Dan has always been the goofy one, where I’m the more serious one. He has this charisma that brings people to him; I guess that’s why he was the Student Body President and the Captain of the basketball team. While Dan is saying his goodbyes to his second mom, I scan the emptying field and spot Emily. God, she is beautiful, and the reason I need to leave. I need to forget about her, forget how much I love her and all the precious moments we had together. The wound is still fresh and I need space, and that has to be across the country.
Our eyes meet from the across the field and a million thoughts run through my mind. I want her to run to me and beg me not to go, I want her to tell me she loves me but she won’t. She starts running towards me, her beautiful dark blond hair flowing in the wind and the yellow sundress she has on billowing at her feet as she runs.
“Damien, please wait!” She yells as I turn to walk away from her. I can’t ...no, I won’t let myself get sucked into those beautiful cornflower eyes again. She doesn’t want me and I’m sure she only wants to talk to me about Dan. “Damien, please!” I stop dead in my tracks, it’s the pleading in her voice, and I’ve never been able to walk away from her and that damn voice. I turn back around and she’s standing right in front of me.
“I told you I would do my best to keep Dan safe, I won’t let anything happen to him, Okay?” Yes, I know that’s another promise I can’t keep but I’d do anything to see her smile one last time.
“Day,” Yep, she calls me that too, or at least she used too. “This isn’t about Dan, but I made him promise me the same thing. You two will have each other’s back out there.” I lift my heavy duffle up on my shoulder and meet her eyes once again. Don’t do it, Damien! You need to just leave and forget her. I remind myself and I turn on the asshole side of me.
“Why do you care all of a sudden? You told me not to come back, so tell me why you care?” One thing about Emily is she may look like a girly girl but she is tougher than you think. Being the only girl in a family of boys will toughen you up.
“I know you’re scared and upset with me but that doesn’t give you a right to be a dick.”
“I don’t have time to fight with you. I need to grab Dan and get on the bus before they leave us.” Just as I say that I hear my Platoon Leader Lt. Ray Oliver say,
“It’s time to head SPFC Reed.” I worked hard and impressed the instructors so I was able to graduate from Basic with an E4 rank. Dan has the rank as well. I nod then he glances at Emily and my Mom. His curls his hand into a fist and places it on his chest, over his heart and holds his head down. I learned in basic that this is a sign of respect and gratitude. After a second of watching him, he turns and heads for the bus.
“Take care of yourself Emily and I hope you get everything you ever dreamed off. I also hope you can find the guy you can give you everything I couldn’t.” She reaches out and touches my arm.
“Come on Day, don’t be like this, I need to tell you something and I may never see you again.”
“I can’t, Goodbye Emily.” Against my better judgment I reach down and kiss the top of her head, then flip around without saying a word; with her pleading for me not to go. I ignore her, and then I think I hear the words, “I love you. I brush it off as wishful thinking.
Dan was already on the bus when I get there, and despite the somber mood and my shit attitude he’s still smiling and laughing with the others in our platoon. We were also told in basic that these men will become our family; we work, eat and basically sleep together. No, not in that way, our trainer explained how it all works. We are a team and it’s everyone’s job to watch each other’s back. I didn’t intend to be friends with these guys but I would give my life for anyone of them if it came down to it.