Marine Corps Stories: Breaking the Melancholy
Two Marines make efforts to cheer up their fellow Leatherneck.
“He’s eating yogurt,” Corporal Phillip Husser said.
“So?” asked Lance Corporal Derek Fanty.
“With chopsticks,” Husser said.
“Damn. What’s up with him?”
The two Marines conversed in the chow hall. They talked about their fellow team member Corporal Van South.
“His grandmother died and his girlfriend just sent a message that their engagement was over in a span of three days,” Husser said. “He’s been like that for the past few hours. I don’t even know how he got the chopsticks. Or why a spoon wouldn't suffice. He must’ve stopped at the PX to get them. Let’s see if we can’t get him out of this funk.” Husser and Fanty walked over to where South sat.
“‘Van the Man.’ What’s up, buddy? We’re sorry to hear about the bad news back at home. But you’re looking even more down with the way you’re handling your chow. You’re not sitting with us. We’re concerned.”
Like a jolt out of a nightmare, South brought up his head, shook it and laid down the chopsticks. The goo from the chocolate yogurt stained the napkin.
“Hey, we’re going to be playing paintball in a few hours. You’re more than welcome to join us,” Fanty said. “We’re playing threes.”
“Oh. Okay. No, that’s fine. I’m up,” South said struggling to regain some semblance of breaking the melancholy.
“Cool,” Husser said.
“How close were you to your grandmother?” Fanty asked.
“Jesus, Derek we’re trying to help him out here.”
“No,” South said. “It’s okay. She was like a mother to me.”
“Oh, boy,” Husser said under his breath.
“And your girlfriend?” Fanty asked.
Husser grabbed Fanty by the collar. “Excuse us, please, Van,” Husser said.
The two Marines walked to a closed space just adjacent to where they ate. No one took notice of Husser and Fanty.
“Come on, man. You’re going to drive him deeper into depression with all those questions. You know better than to ask a man about tragedy. Those dark days creep up on you like a specter in the night. Let’s get back in there and try not to wreck the mood even more than it already is, huh?” Husser asked.
Once they returned to the hall, South had vanished.
“We don’t know where he went, now. Great going, Derek,” Husser said. He had a seat on one of the benches near the entrance of the establishment.
“Look, we can probably find him either at the barracks or at the gym. Maybe he’s trying to work the pain away,” Fanty said.
“‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.’ Whatever the hell that means. Okay, maybe he’s getting some PT, so we might have a chance to catch up with him again before the paintball session.”
Both Marines first called South’s mobile device. They checked on what social media sites he could’ve posted. Nothing. They stopped by the barracks first and went to South’s room. No answer. They then journeyed over to the gym. Some grunts and some POGs, too, exercised to make stronger bodies. South remained unaccounted for to Husser and Fanty.
“You know where he might be?”
“The computer bay. He’s probably talking to his dad.”
They checked there. South continued to be absent.
“I know this isn’t a place where most Marines go, but I’ve got an idea that he’s at the library,” Fanty said.
“The library?!” Husser asked in almost shock.
“Yes. Van’s pretty astute. I’ve seen him go through novels in a few days. I don’t know how he does it but he does.”
“Like negative three Marines have ever stepped foot on the base library.” Husser looked at Fanty. He shrugged. “To the library we go.”
The small, makeshift book space featured mostly outdated books donated from various donors including the American Entertainment Organization. A dim yellow light like a giant glowworm gave off just enough illumination for someone to read.
“Can I help you young men?” librarian Agnes Abel asked. She was thirtyish and projected “girl-next-door” features.
Husser and Fanty looked at each other faintly.
“We’re looking for our battle buddy. Have you seen a–”
“There’s only one other Marine in this entire place. He’s over there in the corner.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Fanty said.
“You don’t have to call me ma’am. Call me Agnes.”
“Thanks, Agnes,” Husser and Fanty said in unison.
They made their way to the rear of the library. And of course, Van South had plopped down on a bean bag chair and started reading.
“Van,” Fanty said with too much enthusiasm.
“Hey,” Husser whispered. “Not so loud.”
Fanty looked slightly embarrassed but continued.
“We’re still looking for you to play three-on-three paint shooting,” he said in a quieter tone.
South looked at his fellow Marines. “You guys should be in here. You could be studying to become mustangs.”
“That’d be a no for me,” Husser said. “One more year and I’m a phantom to the Corps.”
“That’s cool, Phil’. What about you, D?”
“I’m going to be a lifer. Just on the ‘E’ side.”
“I appreciate you both for trying to cheer me up. I’ll be flying out to see my family back home in Delaware in a day or two. I’m over Jacquisa. We’re going to be good friends, though. She’s going to the funeral with me.”
“Hey, if you want to just stay here and read...that’s alright,” Husser said.
“Thanks for your concern. I think I will let off a few paintballs just to relieve the stress.” He shut the book, checked it out, and left the library with his fellow Devil Dogs.