"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning."
I look up from the grave which sat right underneath a big beautiful willow tree, seeing my sister walking toward me and stopping not even three feet away. She looks at me and then down at the grave.
"Luca. Why are you at dads grave so early?"
She asked, hearing some concern in her voice.
"I know you come here pretty much every day but don't you think it's a little too early."
I mean, she wasn't wrong. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon and it was cold out but I didn't care. I could care less really. I couldn't face her. She already knows why, everyone does. She just wants to hear it from me. I know everyone thinks I am now that troubled kid who lost his father at war and can’t get over the fact that he's gone. The boy who once was always happy and never was in huge trouble.
"You already know why I’m here Kelly. You have known ever since he..."
I didn't look up at her but I knew she was looking at me with worried eyes. That seems like how everyone else looks at me now. I try to ignore the looks. No, I wasn't always like this. Ever since dad came home in a casket, I shut everyone else out. Not wanting to be around anyone. If I am around people, I wouldn't be around for long. Before dad left I told him he shouldn't go. That he doesn't have to go but he was stubborn and went anyway. He said it would be good for the family and our country if we won. I guess that's where I got my stubbornness from.
"I couldn't sleep. Why are you here."
"Same reason as you. I also heard you leaving so I decided to follow you just to make sure you were ok."
I hummed in reply and silence followed. Not long Kelly spoke again.
She sighs, sounding concerned still but continues.
"We both know that you miss him. A lot. Maybe you even feel some sort of anger towards him for leaving in the first place but you need to learn to move on. Everyone is worrying about y-."
I cut in.
"No your not, we aren't blind Luca."
Silence fell over us again. This time I decided to break it. "I signed up for the army not too long ago. I'm already accepted. They are coming to get me tomorrow and then I’m leaving."
She looked at me with wide eyes. The shock was written all over her face. She was the first one I told.
"WHAT?! Did you tell mother about this? Does she know?"
I inhaled and exhaled loudly while looking out at across the cemetery.
"No, she doesn't. I wasn't even planning on telling you to let alone ma."
"Are you crazy? What? Did you think that you could just leave a note in the morning before you leave and expect us to find it when we wake up and be fine with it?"
I kept quiet. Kelly, clearly mad and frustrated, stormed off back home. I bent down by dad’s grave and put my hand on his tombstone.
"Bye dad, I will make things right. I'll come back when I get back and tell you we won."
I stood back up, put my hands in my jean pockets and headed home as well. Inching closer and closer to our old wooden house in the middle of our run-down neighborhood. Well actually the whole place was full of poverty and was a little run-down but we manage to get through. I am hoping Kelly didn't tell Ma about me going into the army. If anything I want her to hear it through me and not Kelly. I reached the front of the house, in front of the old wooden door. I turned the doorknob and pushed the door open, hearing it creak whenever the door was opening. I see Kelly and Ma in the living room. Ma stands up and looked at me right into my eyes. She doesn't come close to me. Just stood there. I could start to see her eyes water but she looked pretty mad.
"WHY ARE YOU ENLISTING! I LOST MY HUSBAND NOT TO LONG AGO, I DON'T NEED TO LOSE MY LITTLE BOY EITHER DUE TO THIS WAR!"
She said while walking towards me. I didn't know what to say to her. I felt like I needed to explain.
"Ma, let me ex-."
"NO! I don't need to hear any excuses. Do you think that going to that war is going to bring back your father because it isn't going to Luca! Grow up! Open your eyes and see that! He is not coming b-."
At that moment I stepped forward towards her and snapped.
"YES MA I KNOW THAT! Everyone knows that! It pains me to this day knowing that he is NOT coming back! Everyone knows that! I see the way everyone looks at me! I'm not blind nor stupid to see that!"
Feeling the hot tears starting to well up, threatening to fall. I take a step back to calm and collect myself. Lowering my voice and looking at her hurt and angry. I could see her well up as well and it hurt me seeing her like that.
"I am just finishing what he died for."
All she did was turn and walk away. I stood there not knowing what to do. I just looked at Kelly. She was the one who told her. I didn't need her to know. I didn't need both of them to know. I stormed off into my room. I didn't want to be around Kelly. If anything I wanted to be the one who tells Ma, not her. I decided to go back to bed. It was still really early in the morning.
I woke up around dinner time. I got up and walked to the kitchen. I was starving. I didn't have anything for breakfast and I slept through lunch. I walked in and I saw Ma standing at the counter, just about to finish dinner. I didn't say a word and neither did she. I decided to go to the dining room. Kelly was already there already. I sat down waiting for Ma to come out. Not long after she came out with enchiladas and quesadillas. Dinner was very very awkward and silent. No one said a word through dinner. We just ate, cleaned up and then left to our rooms. I fell back asleep. I am actually scared for tomorrow. Did I make the wrong choice? There really is no way out of it now. Maybe I should run away. Life on the road and always running. No, I can't. I'm doing this for dad, I have to go through this.
I woke up to the sound of someone knocking on the door. Must be the Colonel to come get me. I stood up and got dressed quickly, I didn't want Ma or Kelly to wake up. I walked out and I already saw Ma and Kelly up and at the door. They looked at me sad, not wanting me to go, yet I have to whether they like it or not.
"I take it you are Luca Rivera."
One of the two Colonel that are there.
I replied. Both guys were roughly the same height. One had brown hair and eyes while the other had black hair and blue eyes. I noticed a big scar starting just a few millimeters away from the corner of his eye and curved down between the eye socket and his cheekbone in the middle on his left side while another one was down his right cheekbone towards his ear and stopped at his jawline an inch from the corner of his mouth on the black haired Colonel.
"We have to go kid."
I walked past Ma and Kelly, not saying a word nor looking at them. I walked out the door with the other two and headed towards a jeep.
I hear Ma calling after me. I turned around to look at her. She runs up to me and hugs me.
She lets go and backs up a little. I could see her starting to cry, I looked at my sister who was leaning on the doorway, she waved and smiled trying to look happy. I nodded in return and I headed to the jeep.
"Name is Colonel James and that's Colonel McKay."
The brown haired one spoke.
"Nice to meet you sir."
We non-stop drove for a good day and a half until we reached the basecamp. They gave me a uniform and we went straight to training. I didn't think that training would be that hard. God was I wrong. The first ten weeks was about formations and marches. Physical readiness training. Chemical Radioactive Biological and Nuclear or known as CBRN readiness. Getting that Army Unit patch being put on my uniform was such a relief. The next few weeks was about learning the basic skills of becoming a soldier. Learning how to operate guns and how to shoot one. Basic rifle marksmanship, maintenance and engaging targets at varying distances. Hand to hand training. Prioritize targets simultaneously. We also continued our physical fitness training. During some of the fitness training, I fell due to being so tired and hungry. I was so exhausted. At first I was jumping over these big tires and the next I was laying on the ground on my side. I couldn't get up. My body wouldn't let me, it was shutting down. I saw one of the other trainees stopping and walking over to me.
"Hey, let me help you up man."
I was just a dead body, I didn't have any energy but I somehow got up with his help. He helped me stand up but I had to have my arm slung around him and his around me so I could stand somewhat properly. He helped me walk to the infirmary where I could rest and get some food. I haven't really eaten anything since I got here. I was too focused on working and getting through training. As soon as I hit the bed I passed out.
Once I woke up I had a cloth over my forehead. I slowly got up, I felt pain all over my body. I was so sore. I saw the same man who helped me still here. He saw me get up and walked over to me.
"Hey, your awake."
"God, how long have I been out for?"
"Not too long. A few hours. Hungry?"
The man walked away and came back not to long with some scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. It may sound good but its not. It tasted really gross. Tolerable but not something that I would eat but I didn't care, I was so hungry. Once I was done the man took the tray and gave it to one of the nurses while another nurse came and checked up on me. She said I was free to go and I did.
"Thank you for helping me out. I don't think I would have made it here by myself. I probably would have died out on that course."
I said somewhat jokingly.
"No problem, I'm Lopez. Antonio Lopez."
"Rivera. Luca Rivera."
̈"Nice to meet you."
We both walked back and we both did get a loud lecture from the Colonel. We had to run around the course eight times non-stop and the course is huge but we somehow made it alive. Almost.
We got to the mess hall and had out dinner. I ate maybe half of what they served us. We got to the barracks and went to sleep. Turns out Antonio's bunk isn't too far. He's really the only person or friend that I've made since I got here.
Weeks and weeks of more training. I slowly got better and stronger. Finally was the final phase of the basic combat training. We learned advanced marksmanship and maneuvering techniques. Engaging targets as a team, convoy operations and identify and disabling improvised explosive devices. Advanced weapons such as machine guns and learn how to throw grenades. Land-navigation. Now having two out of the three badges, I knew I was almost done with training. Training. Training. Training. So much of it. I was so done with this camp. I know I've come this far but I don't want to be here anymore. It's messing with my mind and my physical abilities. Pushing me to the max so many times. If my effort isn't at its max then I fail and have to do it again until it's perfect.
I just want to go home. I miss Ma. I miss Kelly. I had all of the doubt but knowing that I came here for dad, its helped me through this. I finally was at the ending of training. I got the badge along with Antonio who has also helped me a lot through this as well. Knowing I'm done with training and that I'm now an official soldier, was such a major relief. There was a ceremony and everything. Ma and Kelly came to see me. Once I saw them, I and hugged them both. I will admit. A few tears was shed.
"You look so different, you look nice."
"Thank you ma."
We talked for a while and spent the day with each other. It was nice. I haven't seen them in what felt like years. All of a sudden, I got a call from Antonio.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"You have to get back here now, no time for explaining but you have to get back here now."
He hung up on me!
"Luca what's wrong?"
Ma asked me while both of them looking concerned.
"I have to leave. No time to explain."
Just like that I got back into my car and drove off back to camp. I found Antonio and we went right to where the Colonels were. They just found out that they are needing backup for the war and they are shipping us out there today. The Mexican-American war. The war my own father died in. I was ready to go. We all got our gear and we headed to the trucks. Texas here we come.
Long, very long rides. We finally arrived and there was shooting in the distance. So much shooting and yelling. I was actually really scare. I could tell I wasn't the only one judging from the looks of the other guys. We grabbed our guns and got ready for the signal when it would be the best time for us to join. Antonio and I were side by side getting ready to run into war. Death really. I am not going down without a fight. I am leaving here alive one way or another. We saw the signal. We ran. I swear everything was blank. I remember seeing myself running, soldiers falling the next. I just kept finding all of these enemy men and kept shooting. I hid in one of the trenches and so did Antonio. We both caught out breath and continued to peak over the trench and shoot. Days flew by. I would occasionally get bullets flying by my ear and scaring me but I would keep going. I kept going until they were all dead. I would go to different parts of the trench to get better shots. I would see Antonio once in a while. He had to rest up for a while due to getting shot in the arm. Nothing to serious. He didn't want to leave so he stayed and fought. Men after men dropping to the floor dead. I would see planes fly over carrying bombs. Grenades flying over our heads as well. Loud sounds all around me. Yelling, screaming, crying out for help when they couldn't be saved. One by one the enemy men dropped. Everything was going just as I hoped. I was over by Antonio and we were trying to regain ourselves and eat some food. We were done and we started to go back and we kept peeking up over the edge of the trench. As soon as we both looked over, that's when I heard that distinct gun being shot. I felt the blood hit my face. I looked over and the bullet went right through Antonio's head. Taking off some of his face as well. Down he went. Gone. I slid down the trench wall and tears started to form. The only man that helped me through the first few weeks up until now. He was my only friend. He's gone. I lost another important person due to the war. Full of anger and hatred I managed to get up and grab another gun full of ammunition and a few grenades. I started to get out of the trench when another soldier came over to me.
"Don't, it's a suicide mission if you go out there."
He looked a bit shocked. I stood up out of the trench and I ran forward. Shooting any enemy man I could see. Bullet after bullet. I threw the few grenades I had. One by one quickly they fell. The quietness took over. No more shooting. No more explosions. No more yelling. Was it finally over? Did we win?
We heard our Colonels yell saying we won. I was so happy. I couldn't be anymore happier than I was at that moment. Good things don't always last though. As soon as I turned around to head back to my side. That's when I heard one more gun shot. I saw everyone duck down and scanned everywhere to see who shot the gun. I didn't see anyone go down. That's when I felt warm liquid running down my shirt. I looked down and saw blood. I was the one who got shot. I fell down to my knees. Another shot was fired. I felt the bullet go through my shoulder. I fell and hard. I heard the last bullet being fired. It was one of the soldiers on my side. He shot the last enemy. Now we won. Darkness fell around me. I started to not feel anything, going completely numb. I heard footsteps running towards me but the more the darkness fell the more I lost all senses. I knew right then and there, I was going to die.
All of a sudden I heard voices. I couldn't move or open my eyes. I couldn't speak. I couldn't hear much. Just mumbling. It soon got better. I slowly opened my eyes. It was so bright and really white. A hospital? I saw a nurse taking note of my vitals and I saw Ma and Kelly sitting in the room as well. Kelly saw me awake.
They both ran over to me and gave me a hug. Again a few tears were shed. "Ma? Kelly?"
"It's us hon, we thought we lost you, doctors said you had a 50/50 chance of living. If that first bullet moved to the right a few more centimeters you would have been dead right on the spot"
"The doctors said you will be able to get out of here in a few more days. You are all patched up.¨
I tried to sit up a little more but I couldn't use my left arm since it was in a cast and I felt a stinging pain in my chest. I winced in pain.
"Luca don't move too fast, you will mess up your stitching!"
"Ma, how long have I been out for?"
"A few days."
A few days?! Holy-. It was the rest that I needed for sure. After all that I needed some well-deserved rest.
A few days later I was released from the hospital. My arm was in a sling and I couldn't move around a lot since my stitches were still healing my wounds. I got home.
"Hey Ma, before I go in. I think I need to take care of something first."
"Ok but remember, don't move too much."
I walked. I arrived at the cemetery, towards that beautiful willow tree. I stood in front of the grave. Both actually. I stood there smiling a weak smile.
"Dad, Antonio...I made it."