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Letting Go

Short Story

By Steve B HowardPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Letting Go
Photo by UX Gun on Unsplash

I remember my granddaddy saying, “Austin, boy every generation needs a war to define itself. This one’s yours. You go on and sign up now. You’ll come back a man or you’ll die a hero.” The coroner told me your suicide looked like a Jackson Pollock done in gray matter. You said you would been a painter if ‘Nam hadn’t of fucked you up. Fitting you were also the bastard that told me Hitler wanted to be a painter too.

Uglier places in the world to wrap it up I suppose. The top of this ridge overlooking the Korangal Valley ain’t too bad. That warm eastern breeze coming up carrying the perfume of some kind of wild flower is nice for early April. That thick wall of evergreens above us blocks out most of the harsh sunlight. Never seen a landscape this pretty. I got the radio here listening to the EVAC call in the times, “Five minutes out, three minutes out.” Don’t really matter much now though. And I’ve got old Sargent Reeves here to keep me company. Funny how that face of his with the doughy weak chin, the sprinkle of dark freckles across the nose and the flaming blue crazy eyes is clearer in my head now that it’s been blown off. Never let them tell ya that American fire power is not effective, though not necessarily very accurate. I laugh to myself wishing I hadn’t as the pain racks up my torso.

M-16's and AK-47’s crackle off to the south. They’re shooting at the bad guys now I guess. Credit to them though, they tried to get to us once they realized they’d shot the wrong people. Made it half way out of the ravine too before the Haji showed up and fucked up the rescue mission. At least they called the EVAC for us before chasing those bastards back down into the valley.

I don’t even know for sure what hit us. Our boys were 300 yards down the trail at the bottom of the ridge. So close I barely even registered the shots being fired. Both me and Reeves went down the same time. I took AR-15 fire judging by the size of the hole in my gut. Reeves got the .50 caliber in the face, I think. Dumb shits set up the ambush in the wrong spot. That’s why the Haji came in from behind.

Sorry your short six week visit to Afghanistan ended so quickly Sargent Reeves. I would a liked to relieve you of the rest of your drinking money at our Friday night poker game, but it looks like we both cashed in our chips today. You always said to me, “Austin, show me the ropes, make sure I don’t fuck up and get myself killed.” Guess I let you down. That little silver cross pinned on your shirt from your mamma didn’t do shit either. You take that up with your Maker if that’s where you’re going.

Fucking war. I remember those memes I got so emotional about; the ones talking about signing a blank check and all that when you serve your country. I think I should’ve Googled jingoism and propaganda before I put that shit in my head.

And what about you granddaddy? Still got a dictionary definition for me? Your war defined the rest of your life mostly by your subhuman behavior. And the stain from the splatter pattern on the wall in the basement is still clearly defined. That what you meant? Pretty fucked up canvas for you to chose if you ask me.

Boot camp, boy the letters you sent me then. Telling me to suck it up when I wanted to quit. Saying you’d never live down the shame if I got a “fucking pussy’s medical discharge” I think that’s what you called it. Never understood though till now why I heard your voice crack on the phone that night I shipped out. Two months later I was on emergency leave for your funeral.

Lot a irony in our family. You did two tours and always talked about all the hop heads and dope fiend fuck ups that lost the war for you. But somehow my mama ended up a heroin junkie, an overdose in fact, by the time I turned four. Never knew my daddy. You and grandma were all I ever knew.

“Ain’t gonna end up like your mama,” you always said to me.

When I was eight I wrote a letter to my mama up in heaven. Gave it to grandma, all shiny smiles and pride. Showed it to you in that faded yellow kitchen and your face broke red with the mean anger I’d understood since I was five.

“Boy, your mama ain’t in heaven and if you ain’t careful you ain’t getting there neither,” you screamed before shredding it in your big rough hands.

I didn’t even cry. Just went and sat on the back porch with a glass of iced Tang and looked at across the dry field at the stand of Bald Cypress. The thick fronds were already turning brown in the early summer heat. Sat there and thought about heaven and hell. Hadn’t even wanted to get into heaven, just thought like a child that my letter would be delivered to mama by God himself. All I understood was that she was dead so she must be in heaven. At eight I had to reconcile myself to a very lonely eternity sitting motherless next to God and I seriously wondered if maybe it’d be better to be in hell so as to see my mama one more time. Thought about that a lot as a kid. Felt better after grandma died when I was twelve. “At least I won’t be alone now,”I thought. And when you offed yourself granddaddy I didn’t give it a second thought as to whether your ass was burning in hell. Knew the answer even without your suicide, long before you were even dead matter a fact. I hope they ain’t got any paint brushes in hell.

Damn cough pulled me out of La La Land. Hurts like a mother fucker. I don’t want to see it. My left side looks like Moses parting the Red Sea. Prettier than your Napalm scars though granddad, you sorry ass bastard. The pain’s making me mean again. Don’t wanna go with an angry heart. I’d control my breathing, but that hurts too. I’m just going lay here and try not move. What was that mantra Reeve’s tried to teach me, “Om Shanti Om”?

I can hear the “wop wop” of the gunships now coming in as escorts for the EVAC. One of them will break off and hammer the Haji’s. I hear the radio squawk out “LZ 20 seconds” and think, “Don’t bother boys. Reeves is already gone and I can just come up to meet ya’ll now.”


About the Creator

Steve B Howard

Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.

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