Angrily, I pace outside of 1SG Greenwood’s office. The veins in my neck are stretched taut as I clench and unclench my fists. “Who do these people think they are? How dare they do this to me?” To kill the time before I am swarmed with bad news, I pace back and forth and flip open my Leatherman multi-tool. Each time the pliers flip out, I punch them back in.
“Sergeant Freeman you need to calm down, “I whip my head around, and I notice that my platoon sergeant has sauntered up behind me. Arms crossed; he looks at me in a disapproving manner. His dislike of me is as apparent to me, as mine is to him. Wordlessly, I climb into a chair and cross my arms. He sits next to me and my disgust gets the better of me. I stand and start pacing down the hall. “Why do I need to calm down?” I have an entire litany of people I blame for my situation. As I think of my “enemies,” I mutter curses at them. Fuming, I walk back to the operation center and sit down in the high back chair
“Sergeant Freeman, 1SG will see you now.” I glance up and my friend, Whitney gives me a thumbs up. To put a positive spin on the situation, I return hers with one of my own. She smiles and I shake my head. You can lie to people, but the one person you must tell the truth to is yourself. As I walk into the office, I know there is not a positive thing coming from this meeting. This is the final step, in my removal from a career which has defined my very existence.
I stand in front of the 1SG’s desk and report. “SGT Freeman, do you know why you’re here today?” I let out an exasperated sigh and nod my head. “Yes, I am aware of the purpose of this meeting, 1SG.” The room falls into silence, and an awkwardness fills the room. “Well, we’re just waiting on the commander to show up, and we will have you out of here. Stand by.” Nervously, I shift my weight from foot to foot and fix my gaze on a poster behind the desk.
The door is pushed open and I glance into the eyes of my commander. Fury and dread fill my mind with unease as I snap to attention. “At ease, Sergeant.” Captain Whitley is a tall woman, her reddish-brown hair is neatly kept, and her uniform is always immaculate. She extends her hand, and I grasp it, like it is my lifeline to save my career. “Sergeant, we have your paperwork and the decision of the medical board concerning your illness.” My breath catches in my throat and I simply nod.
Captain Whitley glances at the paper in her hand. The color seems to drain from her face as she places 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 stands and shakes his head in disbelief. “Freeman, I wish that I had the words to make you feel better. Your service to this country is greatly appreciated. This unit would be almost squared away if we had more like you. You are dismissed.”
Angrily, I spin around and exit the small office. “How dare they take my career from me? Unfit for duty?” These words crush my soul. Bitter tears spring to my eyes and an unfathomable rage fills my heart. Eyes set dead ahead, I push my way through the throng of people in the hallway. I want to shout, to verbalize the hatred I feel in my heart, but I manage to keep the lid on it.
“Sergeant Freeman, you have the rest of the day off. Take some time to process what you have been told today.” I never look at who spoke to me. Instead, I storm off to the parking lot in search of my truck. Angrily I make my way across the empty parking lot to where my vehicle awaits to take me from my career for the last time. I slam my foot on the accelerator, and I tear through the parking lot. Hot tears of rage burn down my cheeks, as I seek solace in the fact that I no longer wear the uniform of my country.
“I served this country with honor, and they just throw me away like last week’s garbage!” Whipping around vehicles, I plow down Academy, on my way to the apartment that would be my new home. “God, I need a drink!” Saliva fills my mouth, as my thoughts turn to the dark promise of alcohol helping me forget my troubles. Gunfire and explosions echo in my mind as I pull 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.” The apartment complex I have moved into, is a small housing unit located in the center of the gang-controlled part of the city. The sun is sinking into its bed when I arrive to my new home. I twist my key to unlock the door, it is as empty as my soul. A lone chair fills the vast vacuum of the tiny one-bedroom apartment. Turning on the light to the living room, the soft, white bulb breaks the darkness that fills the small kitchen area.
Bushmills whiskey sits on top of the fridge, I reach for the bottle and pour me a glass. I sit in my chair and the sound of people going about their lives fills my apartment. The slamming of car doors and hurried footsteps eventually give way to silence and the silence brings out the darkness in my heart. In the quiet, questions arise to which I have no answers.
“Where do I go from here? What is my next move?” There is no clearly defined route for me to get my life back on track. The puzzle of my life is broken into solitary pieces which must be put back together, and I’m no good when it comes to puzzles. Bitterly, I kill off the remaining whiskey and make my way back into the kitchen. I reach for the bottle of Irish whiskey. The angry voice of my ex-wife fills my mind.
“I hate you!” I awaken from my drunken stupor to hear her hate filled voice resounding in my mind. Mumbling, I try to stand. The glass of whiskey lies on the floor and in my other hand is the .40 caliber Springfield XD that I carry for protection. Drunkenly, I peer at the pistol and try to piece together what my thought process had been before passing out. “Perhaps, I shouldn’t go there. Think of your children.”
My apartment is still dark, and I look at my watch. It’s 0100 and I am hungry. There is no food in my house, so I walk into my bathroom and wash my face. I look in the mirror and can’t recognize the man standing before me. My eyes are red from my drunkenness, my beard is thick, and I have no hope that things will turn around to my benefit. “Alcohol isn’t the answer, stupid. You need to man up and take charge of your situation.” For all my chiding, it doesn’t change what is. In seven months, I have lost my career, my marriage, and my health.
I walk out to my car and drive off in search of food and new beginnings.