Wednesday, July 03, 2013

SPE: "Sorry"

(For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: "Page 44 of your favorite book." I gave Cheney this prompt: " I don't know where I'm going, but I sure know where I've been.")

[And we're back, to quote comic Jonathan Katz. Dozens of you, and by dozens I mean three, have noticed my absence from this here space for around about a month or so. No particular reason for this- I've been busy, but who isn't. I've been depressed, but again, who isn't. But I'm back. Hold your applause.]

{Stealing an idea from someone, naming my favorite book is like naming my favorite breath- it's going to be the next one. I'm going with "A Farewell to Arms", and in my edition, page 44 begins with the taxi driver telling Frederic Henry, "It's better to wear him. That's what it's for," in Chapter 8. So, with a nod and a wink towards this book and also Papa's "Snows of Kilimanjaro", here it is. This is called "Sorry"}

Don't get ahead of your blocking, Coach Parker used to tell me. I used to run too far, getting tackled before the blocks could set up in front, turning an 8 yard gain into four or two because I couldn't wait. "Richter!," he would scream in practice as we panted under the merciless sun. "Can you wait a second for the hole to form, ferchrissakes?" I was staring up into the night, wondering how it was I still hadn't learned.

We were on a night patrol, looking to reinforce and see that an area we had already cleared remained cleared. It was a simple maneuver, walking through the village, staying together, rhetorically showing the flag. We came out the other side, climbing up the side of a small hill, when I could feel that I had walked too far ahead of my unit. As soon as the feeling hit me, I half turned and then felt the slap, a crunch in the lower abdomen like a pure, full speed tackle, before I heard it. I was surprised more than anything, and almost annoyed, and then the world turned over and everything went dark.

She was sitting on the porch when she told me, one of those hot, sweaty nights when it never cools off, no matter how late it gets. She was sitting on the porch, talking in low, soft tones, the anguish clear on the edges. I was standing, leaning on the rail, my sneakers flat between her bare calves and bare feet. I remember her belly, bare and pale, sticking out where her tank top gapped, heaving as she sobbed. I remember her finally finishing, her story sputtering to a stop in front of us, the story that she was so sure changed everything.

I could see that I had fallen, and I could hear the sound of rounds headed both ways. My unit was following procedure, taking cover and trying to drive them off so we could recover the wounded. I tensed to try and get up, and then winced when a hot knife of pain reminded me not to. I could hear the sounds of our weapons, then the tinnier sound of theirs. I could see a trickle of water, not even enough to call it a stream, running below me, along the valley and back towards my men.

She was nervous, tension written across her face, constant worry that I would change my mind and leave. I finally stopped reassuring her as we stood in our finery in front of everyone, her son toddling between us with the rings on a pillow. The day was warm, and the sweat pooled at the small of my back in the tiny white church with the fans that couldn't keep up. I was looking at her, seeing the lines in her face finally dissolve. I knew without doubt that she was the one, and the greatest part of the whole day was watching her see that I meant it.

Her son Benjamin had very solemnly walked up to me after dinner the night before I left. He handed me two popsicle sticks in the shape of a cross with yarn holding them together. "I made this," he said, and I bowed my head. He solemnly came forward and placed the string around my neck. "You wear it when you go," he said, and I had, carrying it with me as it grew tattered and dirty, sweat stained and battered, but always present. I could still reach it with one hand, and I fingered it there in the dirt, listening to the sounds of
my men fighting to reach me, feeling the yarn worn smooth with time.

We were laying together in the night, bodies made wet and slick
with sweat and need in the heat. It was the night before I had to leave. I
was full with the emptiness, the feeling Hemingway used to write about.

"You will come back to me," she said.

"Yes," I said. "Promise."

"And we'll have a baby together?"

"Yes," I said. "If you haven't changed your mind."

"I won't," she said.

I felt my thoughts starting to blur as I waited for help to come. The pain
was a constant background sensation, like a TV playing in another
room. I felt the yarn at the center, where his tiny little hands had
wrapped it tight, and I thought about how tiny and innocent he was
when I left, and how much progress he made every time I could Skype
with them. I tried to listen for the chopper coming, but I couldn't hear it.
There was still too much noise, too much fire coming from the enemy,
and I could picture Benny's little hands behind my neck, and all I could
think was how sorry I was.