Chapter 1. A Depressed Man With A Bible Tells A Story.

The letter was completely trashed. It was tearing in three different spots along the folds. All that was white got replaced by brown or darker. One corner was completely shredded from where my cargo pocket took a 7.62 round from the back through the front. The letter reminded me of a map you find of your home town in a car you’ve had for twenty years. Brittle and ancient.
I carefully folded up the letter and with a smirk, kissed it softly. Then I placed it neatly back in my pocket Bible. How long had I been carrying it around? Five years, maybe more, though this copy was less than a year old. The original is with my lawyer, folded up with my will.
It was last August when I discovered the irony in the name “will.” It seemed to take one to make one. I really hadn’t the motivation to draft a will until I returned from a 19 month deployment, my second in five years. My parents are gone, my older sister married rich, and my younger sister was attending an art school on a full ride scholarship in Southern California. She needed neither money, nor possessions, so a will had seemed pointless. Of course I had no kids either.
But I had seen the face of war twice. I decided my life must be worth something to somebody, besides the two grand the government gives me every month, so I came up with a will. Everything that wasn’t going to be sold was going to my little sister, and the rest of the money would go to present or future nieces and nephews.
It was while I was taking an inventory of valuables that I found the letter I had written to Sarah when I first joined the military. It was tucked inside an ancient book of Edgar Alan Poe’s Poetry (one of which I had always believed was a first edition) that I received from her great-grandmother. I foolishly decided to add it to my will (the letter, not the book), along with an amendment granting her a small portion of the wealth I had been saving up.
I still have no idea why she continues to have this effect on me. It’s been way too long a time for me to still think about her this way, to say the least. I’m a Staff Sergeant now, for God’s sake. People’s lives are in my hands. Every choice of action could potentially lead to a life or death situation. I have a virtually pristine record to uphold.
Of course I’ve “moved on.” I’ve been with countless women since. Still, I find myself too many times wishing they were her. I’d just close my eyes and I’d be kissing her again. I’d imagine that it was her cool fingers trailing idly up and down my bare back, tracing the muscles and connecting the freckles. Popping the pimples. It was her head against my shoulder while we drive across the country.
It’s amazing what an obsessive loser I am. I get caught up in the destructive cycle of getting attached and pushing away. I usually end up crumbled in a pile of self hatred by the end of it. For a while there it wasn’t uncommon to wake up with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels, and a loaded M9, cocked and ready to go, still in my hand. That said, it would be unfair to place the credit of my self-loathing all on her. That’s a problem that stems from deep into my childhood, though Mr. Jack, Sir Morgan, and Señor Cuervo, played the righteous scapegoats during some of the rough history. Depression, alcohol, and firearms: not the best recipe for my current job description.
I admit, blaming my childhood is way too juvenile for me to actually say out loud (what am I, a serial killer?). Not that I talk about my feelings much. I think the last five years have taught me to take responsibility for my own actions.
When my mom was fifteen, she got pregnant from my biological father, but she couldn’t raise the child financially. She couldn’t abort it, due to moral beliefs, so she gave it up for adoption. At seventeen, she got pregnant with me and my twin sister, Erin. (I know, right? Evan and Erin. It wasn’t fair: I was called Erin all the time, but she was never called Evan, because it’s not a girl’s name!)
My father decided to marry her. He had some money, so they kept me and my older sister (by about two minutes) around. My mother would never admit it but she always felt like shit over giving away my older brother, something I didn’t know until it was to late to do anything about.
When I was eight, my dad disappeared. I saw it coming, even being so young, but for some reason my mom didn’t. No goodbyes, no letters, he didn’t even take his stuff. He just disappeared.
Mom tried to involve the cops. She screamed bloody murder, but it’s hard to convince police that it’s unusual for a man to walk out on a 25 year old with two kids about to hit puberty. By this time, she had had a third child, another daughter, that was two years younger. Her name, Leilah. My mother went from alliteration to Eric Clapton. At least it was a pretty name.
Years later, my father never showed, and one by one, we moved out to go to college and various other things. I knew my mom was heart-broken, but I was in a state of reclusion, so I never knew how much, until the day after my sister left to live with an Aunt in Santa Fe, and my mother shot herself in our family room.
I was still living in town then, and made it a habit to see my mother as often as I could. I was the one who found the body.
While I waited for EMTs, I found myself in the bathroom, hugging the toilet, trying to breathe through the torrents of vomit. It wasn’t the bloodied mess. It was the fact that she was murdered. By me, my sisters, and my dad. We killed her. I could have come over sooner, I didn’t have to work so late. I could have told her I loved her, just one more time.
I tore the medicine cabinet from the wall and threw it towards the tub. My eyes were red, to match my vision, I guess. Rage and grief oozed slowly through my veins like crude oil. Like heroine cut with maple syrup. When the cabinet hit the tub, the cheap porcelain chipped, leaving a crescent gap like a cruel smile in the edge. The mirror shattered into little teeth. To enhance this mockery of my display of emotion, red cough syrup spilled in the tub, painting the mouth with crude lips that melted off the gaping smile.
Bottles of pills had flown out and were rolling around like little plastic orange mice, trying to find shelter from the glaring bathroom fluorescents. At first I was sure that my vision was skewed, that somehow my blind rage was causing me to see more containers than were actually there. From a habit I picked up as a kid, I visually divided them into groups of seven and started counting. I always counted in sevens, though I don’t know why. When given a long string of numbers, and told to memorize them, the average American can only remember seven. Four plus three. There were thirty one bottles on the floor. Four groups of seven, plus three. I started sorting through them. They all had long names, sometimes two (Zolpidem that was really Ambien, naproxen that was also naprosyn that was really ibuprofen). She had the whole pharmacy. Pain killers, anti-depressants, hormones, oral steroids, antibiotics, paralytics and muscle relaxants, antihistamines and even epinephrine. I stuffed as many in my pocket as I could. This was a part of my mother I had never seen before. I had to know the driving force behind the trigger.
I went through her personal items, but couldn’t really find anything except clothes. No Bible, no cross on the wall, no photo albums, no journals, no computer. Nothing.
I felt sheepish as I opened her underwear drawer. It was the last place to search, and I knew she sometimes hid things in there. Ten years ago, I found a Super-Nintendo controller that she had taken away, to motivate me in getting grades above failing. As I remember, it didn’t work, mostly because I wasn’t ever a big fan of false motivation, and partly because I knew where the damn thing was.
The underwear was all modest, of course. Everything from Target, and nothing from Victoria’s Secret. I heard sirens, and started to shut the drawer, when a photograph caught my eye. The hair styles and the fading made it look like it was taken in the early 80s. I saw my mother, and my father, and me right in the middle. The emergency vehicles started pulling up, and the photo slipped from my hand, falling face first on the dresser.
I stared, and blinked. It read Julia Wood, Michael Drake, and Edward Drake- 1985. What the hell? Edward? Michael was my father, which means Edward was my brother. But the kid in the photo was at least a year old. My mother said she gave him up at birth. She didn’t even name him.
Well, apparently she had. He did look a lot like me, but when I looked closer, I saw it wasn’t me. Did I have a cousin I don’t know about. No, the dates matched up perfectly. My brother born in 1984, the picture of a one year old in 1985, then Erin and I in 1986.
Riding in the HMMWV (Hum-vee, as we say it, because it sure as hell can’t be called a Hummer), I pulled that picture out of the back of my pocket Bible. It was the relic that marked my quest to find my long lost brother, Edward. It was in better condition than the letter, being laminated, then sheathed in plastic, but that didn’t save the corner being sheared off by the same round that wounded my letter, not to mention my Bible. It was annoying not having page numbers anymore. Despite my religious college experience, I never was able to memorize the Biblical canon, and the bullet rendered the Table Of Contents virtually useless.
Needless to say, shortly after my mom’s funeral, I applied for college. There wasn’t anything keeping me around anymore, so that fall, I headed off to the Bible Belt and attended a Christian College, where I met Sarah. You remember, the one from the letter… all that, just to full circle back to her.
I asked her out weeks after I met her. We were the couple you loved to hate, always in each other’s arms, the cutest thing since a basket full of kittens. It seemed like we were perfect for each other.
Then our first hiccup. I was so distracted with her that I didn’t find a job. My college fund went down the drain, and I was forced to live with a friend a couple hours away at the end of the semester.
This put more than a strain in our relationship. I had to leave her, with promises that I would visit often, find a job, and return to pick up where I left off the following year.
We stuck with it for a while, but I became bitter without her constant healing presence, and frustrated that after 8 weeks I still couldn’t get a job at the local Wal-mart, or anywhere, for that matter. The anniversary of my mother’s death didn’t help.
Finally, I got a coffee shop job, something I was familiar with already, and I was able to buy a ring for her. I called her dad, whom I had met several times, and liked to no end, and he gave me his blessing. That summer, I invited her out for fondue, and sparkling cider; she was against drinking of any kind (oh, sweetheart, if you could only see me now). I put on some Delerium, got on one knee, and proposed like pro.
She said yes.
That August, for reasons I still don’t understand, I was getting ready to go back to school, when I received a call from her. She told me that we were rushing things, and we needed a break.
I told her we could take things slow, and not end it, but she had decided not to go back to college.
September 15, I joined the Army.
My obsession disturbs and annoys me. If I could figure out how to erase all the memories, I would. Better to have loved and lost? Bullshit. You don’t build up just to tear down. And besides, do I even remember her face?
A pang ran through my gut as her beautiful image flashed across my vision. Oh yes, I definitely still remember her. Red curly hair, frizzy when she first wakes up. Killer body. Perfect smile complimented by perfect lips. Eyes that remind me of everything I love about a good rain storm. God, give me a life. When will it end?
The HMMWV hit a good sized rock (not the greatest of miracles when traveling down a hardened dirt goat trail), jarring me back to reality. Which, I had to say, wasn’t much; my reality consisted of a lot of sand, dust, and rocks. Oh, and the taillights of the armored vehicle in front of us.


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