Once upon a time, I was a hunter.
The woods my home, the rivers my bath, the bounty of nature was mine to enjoy. My father, Abel, trained my brother and I too live our lives according to the rules of nature. Take no more than needed, leave the woods in the same shape you found it.
Those halcyon days are far behind me now. My beard is white, my eyesight dimmed. The one true love of my life was taken from me by cancer. I am alone. My one last vice, writing, is the only link to the world outside my abode.
I gnawed at the corncob pipe and waited for the infusion of tobacco to stain my lungs. The pipe is not loaded with tobacco or the other ‘herbal’ version of cancer. I gave it up years ago. There’s something about losing your love to a preventable disease that changed my perspective on smoking.
The day she died; I swore I would not touch the stuff again. I haven’t. She suffered, and I watched. There was nothing I could do to alleviate her pain.
Tears dripped down my face as I stared at her picture. She’s gone on never to return to me, time separates us now. Death called her number and punched her ticket. I must wait my turn, but I pray so earnestly for it.
At 18, I grew disenchanted with hunting game. The challenge was gone. The greatest game of all was hunting men. I signed up for the military and left my home on a cold Friday morning in October. My dad picked me up.
We didn’t talk much. Words wouldn’t express what we wanted to say. My father served in a war people wanted to forget. I didn’t know it at the time, but my war would fall into the same category. War, a necessary evil if you believed the politicians, came to my country on a brisk fall day in September.
I signed up and jumped at the chance to prove myself in mortal combat. Movies glorified the sacrifice of men for ‘the greater good.’ Video games depicted it as a contest of courage and fortitude. I have no idea where they got those ideas from.
If you want to know about war, visit the medical tents. Guts splayed out on field litters, blood soaked into the hungry earth, and hard men cried for their mothers. “Will my wife still love me,” the amputees shouted. “Will my momma recognize me,” the deeply scarred asked anyone who looked their way.
The cost of war is found in those who came home less than they were when they left. Those not killed on the field of battle live a little longer and die in the war anyway. There is no escape. One way or another, war claimed us all.
Tension crept into my arthritic neck, I twisted and cracked it. My blurry eyes brimmed with heavy tears. It does no good to think of those dark days, I chided myself.
I survived the war and came home to Mississippi, not straightaway, I had to lose everything I worked for before I returned home to the Magnolia State. Still, I returned to my roots. Although, I was far from happy.
My mind survived the screams of the dying, and the moans of those brutally injured. What it could not deal with was how to adjust to life without war. As tobacco stained my lungs, war stained my soul.
In the quiet of the night, madness visited me. My sins had followed me home.