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Friday, March 6, 2015

Purple Heart

The bloom of misplaced rage defies the stars and turns night into day.  Sudden, sharp shadows cut across the landscape, carving the shapes of everything above ground into the eye.  The very air bellows outward in a tight wave, flattening trees, buildings, and people that are unfortunate enough to sit nearby.  First I am overwhelmed by the light.  It is this final image, and only this image, of cold, hate-filled light tearing apart my best friend that seals itself into my mind's eye: the last thing I will ever see.  Then I feel my skin burning off of my face.  By the time the deafening battle-cry of the bomb hits me, I am already dead.

6 minutes, they tell me.  I was dead for 6 minutes.  I had no vision of the afterlife that I could remember, no tunnel, no angels, no demons, no long-lost family members.  Fuck no, there was nothing to take away the sting of my friend in his last moments.  He's been dead for 5 years, now.  The doctors won't be bringing him back.

That was my first night in the war zone.  Private one second, fuckin' purple heart the next.  For all of my training, nothing prepared me for what was to come.  Being blind does not make me stupid.  I know when people are staring at my scarred visage, the splotches of twisted albino against dark flesh.  I do not need to see myself in the mirror to know I look like a damned monster.  When my seeing-eye dog was killed, I knew it was because I was a monster.   No parent ever lets me forget it.

"Mommy, what's wrong with that man?" a little girl asks on the subway.  I imagine she has golden curls like Shirley Temple.  I find myself putting faces to voices as often as I can for fear I will forget what a face actually looks like.

"Don't stare!  Come over here, Libby.  Leave that poor man alone," says her mother, who I decide looks like Julia Roberts.

I wince inside at those words.  "That poor man," might as well be a slap in my face.

"But mommy, he's all alone!"

"Stay away from him!"

Grown men aren't supposed to cry, but the vinegar in her voice would have brought tears to my eyes if that was still possible.  I've lived through this experience a hundred times, but it never gets easier.  Nothing ever does.

The subway doors open with their distinct chiming and I hear the shuffle of footsteps.  I mouth the words, "Foggy Bottom," to keep track of the stops.  Someone sits next to me.  He smells of hand sanitizer and dirt.

"Buford?"  The voice does not sound familiar, which probably means I knew the man before I died.  I didn't pay as much attention to people's voices back then.

"Yeah?" I ask, raising my face as if that will somehow help me see the man, B.B. King, I decide.

"It's Tom, Tom Bradley.  Wow, I haven't seen you in so long!"  Tom's hand is placed on mine.  I do not hear the fear in Tom's voice.  "How've you been holding up?"

Tom Bradley was a friend of mine before I enlisted.  We were in high school together.  I have no idea how he could recognize me.  "Tom?  What the Hell are you doing here?  I thought you hated DC."

"Yeah, well, I travel a lot nowadays.  How's Cindy?"

"She left.  Couldn't stand to look at me, I guess.  I suppose you don't know about the incident."

"Oh no, I know.  It was in the newspaper back home.  Maybe you should visit sometime.  I'm sure people miss you."

"Miss me?  Who would miss me?" I ask, turning my face downwards.

"I sure would like to see you around more.  And Brad, and Jules, and even Tanya.  Heh, she still talks about you sometimes.  Nothing would make us happier than to see you come home, even for a while."

"Really?  Well damn, I didn't think anyone would even remember me."

"What're you talking about?  We're proud of you back home!  Just, no one's heard anything in so long.  Won't you think about coming home?"  He slips a small piece of paper into my hand.  "Seriously, call me."

The train began to slow down.  Rosslyn must be coming up.  "Yeah, I'll do that."

"It's good to see you again, Bu."

As he gathers his things and steps off the train, I turn his business card around in my hand.  I won't call tonight or tomorrow.  No, I'll make sure to leave the card in my pocket so it goes through the wash.  I'm blind, I ain't fuckin' stupid.


  1. I love that first paragraph, very powerful and descriptive.

    One would hope that someone who has been damaged in defence of their country would never find themselves being abandoned to live a life like this, a life without the support they need and deserve, but I fear that these people are all too easily forgotten once they have served their purpose.

    Sadly, the story gives insight into how many of our species are capable of treating each other.

    Powerful writing, Spencer.

    1. Thank you! If I can make someone think about what some of these men have gone through and continue to go through, then I feel I've done my job.