Normal. I am tired of being told I should be ‘normal.’
“Davy,” people shouted, “you’ve changed. What happened over there that made you the way you are?” Everybody wanted the old Davy Allan Walker back. No one like the ‘new’ Davy. “He was such a good young man,” people would mutter as I passed them on my way to my new job. They thought their voices were low enough I couldn’t hear their whispers. I could hear them.
The war had changed me, but it changed everybody. The impact of war could not be ignored. No one escaped the touch of fate. I tucked every whisper away in my mind, there was no reason to unleash my demons upon them. Still, it pained me to know that I was not accepted for who I was. “You’re only tolerated, Davy. You did the unthinkable for the ungrateful. Now, you’re just a monster no one is comfortable around.”
McCall’s Grocery sat on the corner of Piney Way and Main Street. It wasn’t very big. Mr. McCall hired me when I returned home from ‘the war.’ He was a veteran also. His war was also one that people wanted to forget.
I grew up around these parts. My first job as a teenager was as a bag boy at McCall’s. When I walked in fresh from being forced out of my military career, Mr. McCall gave me a huge smile. He hugged my neck and whispered, “welcome home, Davy.” I met his eyes that day, something I could never do as a teenager. I saw the sorrow in his eyes, the same anguish reflected in mine.
“I don’t reckon you’re hiring are you, Mr. McCall?”
Mr. McCall hired me that day. I was relieved to have a job, even if it was as a bag boy at the ripe age of 29. Mr. McCall had no children, heck, he had never married. As far as I knew, Mr. McCall was a eunuch.
“Have you found a place to live,” he asked. I shook my head no.
“I just got off the bus, sir.”
Mr. McCall raised his eyebrows and stared at me. He pulled out a pipe and stuffed tobacco into it. I waited for him to light his pipe.
“You came straight here, Davy? Haven’t you been to see your folks?”
“Yes, sir. I came straight here. I figured I should have a job before I told them I couldn’t hack it in the Army.”
A trail of smoke wafted into the air from the pipe. You could always tell when Mr. McCall was stressed. He puffed on that pipe, and it smoked up the place like an old coal train engine. Kind of like what he was doing now.
“Couldn’t hack it,” he muttered. “Son, you went to war 3 or 4 times. It’s easy for people to say dumb things about something most would never experience. You ‘hacked it’ just fine.”
I looked around the store and bit down on my lip. In all the years I was gone from Fredericksburg, McCall’s Grocery hadn’t changed. It seemed as if it had rebelled against time and refused to be updated in an ever-changing world.
“Just thought it might ease the blow of me coming home so unexpectedly.”
Mr. McCall banged his pipe against the trash can and took a deep breath. He put his pipe away and placed a hand upon my shoulder.
“Son, they don’t know you’re home?”
“No, sir. I haven’t talked to them yet.”
I guess Mr. McCall thought I should go home first, or at least should have called, but I couldn’t piece things together in my mind. One moment I had a thought, and a millisecond later, I was off on another rabbit trail. Besides, saying that I failed was too hard. Telling my parents of my lack of success made it real. Tangible. I never intended to hurt them.
“Son, you should go home. Screw that, I got it. I’ll get you home.”
A white phone hung outside of the office space. We used it to page one of the managers when things got screwy with the registers. I hated the way my voice sounded over the speakers. My words came out in a maple syrup slow drawl. Everyone always told me I sounded like an idiot.
As usual, I tucked it away. I was young then, well, younger than I am now. Kids are mean to each other. Dr. Rhonda Thom told me before I left the military that it’s part of finding yourself in the world.
I had been around the world, and still haven’t discovered my place in it. McCall’s grocery would be a great place to start looking.