Angrily, I paced outside of 1SG Greenwood’s office. The veins in my neck were stretched taut as I clenched and unclenched my fists.
“Sergeant Freeman you need to calm down.”
I whipped my head around. My platoon sergeant had sauntered up behind me, his grin menacing as he measured me up.
“Why do I need to calm down?”
As I paced the hall, I muttered curses at everyone that I could think of. “How dare they rip away my career for this!” Fuming, I went and sat down in the striped high back chair outside of the operation center.
“Sergeant Freeman, 1SG will see you now.”
Glancing up, my peer gave me a sympathetic smile. I stood and smoothed down my uniform. Buttons fastened? Check. Are my pockets empty? Check. Satisfied that I appeared squared away, I turned the doorknob and walked into the office.
Upon entering the office, I noticed that my commander was present for this meeting. I glanced into her eyes and dread filled my mind with unease. Captain Whitley was a tall woman. She kept her reddish-brown hair neat, and her uniform was always immaculate. She extended her hand, and I grasped it like it was my lifeline to save my career.
1SG Greenwood motioned with his hand and cleared his throat. The silence was deafening.
“Sergeant, do you know why you are here?”
“Yes, First Sergeant, I believe so.”
Captain Whitley glanced at the paper in her hand. Color seemed to drain from her face as she placed her hand on my shoulder.
“Sergeant, due to your illness, we find you unfit for duty. I wish that I could do something to change the Army’s mind on this matter, but our hands are tied.”
1SG Greenwood grimaced, as if someone had shoved a blade into his guts. My breath caught in my throat. “That’s it. I’m left with nothing.”
“Freeman, I wish that I had the words to make you feel better. Your service to this country is greatly appreciated. This unit would almost be squared away if we had more like you. You are dismissed.”
Angrily, I spun around and exited the small office.
“Unfit for duty?”
These words crushed my soul. Bitter tears sprang to my eyes and an unfathomable rage filled my heart. Eyes set dead ahead, I pushed my way through the throng of people in the hallway.
“Sergeant Freeman, you have the rest of the day off. Take some time to process what you have been told today.”
I never looked at who spoke to me. I stormed off to the parking lot in search of my truck.
I made my way across the empty parking lot to where my vehicle awaited to take me from my career for the last time.I slammed my foot on the accelerator as I tore through the parking lot. Hot tears of rage burned down my cheeks as I sought solace in the fact that I would no longer wear the uniform of my country.
“I served this country with honor, and they just threw me away like last week’s garbage!”
Whipping around vehicles, I plowed down Academy on my way to the new apartment that would be my new home.
“Just like she did! God, I need a drink!”
Saliva filled my mouth as my thoughts turned to the dark promise of alcohol helping me forget my troubles. Gunfire and explosions echoed in my mind as I pulled into my apartment complex. The parking lot is near empty as I pull into my assigned parking space.
“Welcome to the ghetto old son. Best keep your gun nearby.”
My ‘new home’ was a tiny apartment that sat on the corner of Platte and Murray Avenue. It was as empty as my soul. A lone chair filled the vast vacuum of the tiny one-bedroom apartment. Turning on the light to the living room, the soft, white bulb broke the darkness that filled the small kitchen area.
“Good ole whiskey, at least it will burn away the pain.”
I drank until I passed out. The sound of my alarm going off at 0500 brought me out of my drunken stupor. I stumbled through the house looking for my wallet and keys. As six a.m. approached, I went to the bathroom to rehearse my smile.
“Time to go see the guys.”
I entered the cold, brisk air that is winter in Colorado. Breathing shallowly, I made my way down to McDonald’s to visit my fellow veterans. This is my daily routine, and it’s one of the few things that kept me grounded.
The air is warm as I entered McDonald’s. I heard the shuffling of feet and watched as the manager rushed from the back window to the front. She gave me a small wave. I smiled and nodded at her.
‘They must have been shorthanded again.”
I bellied up to the counter and perused the morning’s selection. The manager, Katie Winslow, a brunette and about 30 years of age, rushed to the counter to take my order.
“What would you like? I apologize for your wait. We had three people call out last night.”
I turned my head to hide my tears. I coughed and wiped at my eyes.
“I’ll have a slice of peace and a cup of coffee.”
“We don’t have a slice of peace.”
“Then, I’ll have a bacon biscuit and a cup of coffee.”
Katie laughed and took my money. She acted as if she wanted to say something, but she stayed silent. Smiling, she nodded her head and rushed back to the kitchen to prepare my biscuit.
I walked to the back of the restaurant and waited for my number to be called. As I waited for my breakfast, I noticed my friend Larry had made his way in. He waved as he walked to the counter to order his ‘senior’ coffee.
After he got his coffee, he walked back and joined me in our booth. He craned his neck to look toward that door, and he let out a low whistle.
“Wow. Look at that gal son!”
I sipped my coffee. Larry continued to gaze at the lady he had motioned to.
“Yep, she is a doozy alright.”
His teeth shined in the darkened corner. White snow drifted lazily outside of the warm lobby. Our friends gradually make their way back to our corner. Bob is a World War II veteran with 40 years of military service under his belt. He slid in and asked for a coffee. We all laugh and make small talk about politicians, both local and federal, who the Broncos beat up on Sunday, and other topics we shouldn’t mention in polite company. Bob smiled and rubbed at his white mustache. He would often chuckle and say:
“Son, they don’t make people the way that they used to!”
I would smile and nod my head in agreement with his assessment of today’s youth.
“Yes sir, the boys of today are a bunch of whiny sissies! God only knows where we will be in thirty years!”
I would leave after a couple of hours of chit-chat with my friends. I’d wave goodbye and trudge through the snow to my apartment. Stepping slowly, I made my way up the ice-covered steps to my third-floor apartment.
Quickly, I peeled off the wet clothes and prepared to shower. The sandy beach themed shower curtain hung loosely inside of the tub. I pulled the curtain back and turned on the hot water until it reached a skin-melting temperature. Satisfied that no germs would survive first contact with the heated water, I gave a slight twist to the cold-water knob. I bathed quickly and looked at the clock in the living room.
“Time to get to school! That psychology paper will not write itself!”.
I drove my Ford Mustang to campus nearest my apartment. The campus was a small building that is situated between a Loaf and Jug convenience store, a Waffle House, a Carl’s Jr and a dentist office. I pushed the door open and entered the school.
I gave my friend my most practiced smile.
As I walked toward the classroom, the irony of chasing my degree struck me.
“You’re 90% disabled and yet you think that you will find a use for a criminal justice degree.”
I shrugged it off like yesterday’s clothes and pulled up a chair to the nearest computer. I unloaded my backpack and took out my Psychology book. My lesson plan dealt with ‘blind sight.’ Blind sight is the brain’s ability to guide us around obstacles without us looking.
“Interesting. That explains how I am living right now-by blind sight.”
After I finished my assigned reading, I began to type my paper. The frustrations of my divorce tainted everything I tried to write.
“I should write on how it felt to be discarded like some unwanted toy.”
However, I stuck to what the instructor wanted and finished it. After I completed my assignment, I went home.
“Great. Now what?”
My head still ached from the copious amounts of alcohol that I had consumed the night before. I pulled into an empty parking space near the bottom of the steps and made my way inside.
I considered where I might have gone wrong in my marriage as I poured myself a drink. As is typical of a ‘bad’ divorce, I blamed my ex-wife. The burn of the whiskey convinced me that I was not at fault.
“It’s not my fault that I was not enough to keep my spouse happy. “She left me! She said I was not the same person that she had married!”
I paced my floor like a madman. The veins in my forehead and throat were stretched tight as my pace quickened. The more I focused on the divorce, the angrier I felt. By God, I was justified to feel the way I did! I sat in the dark and drank to silence the anger that threatened to swallow me whole.
As was typical, I drank until my consciousness faded to black.