The Pain in His Eyes

I could see it in his eyes, there was a deep seeded pain there, one that was planted under fire, when the world had gone dark and thoughts of home and green grass and Sunday dinner had faded from faint memories to fantasy.

His hands were calloused and so was his gaze. If he looked at you it was circumstantial, he wasn’t really focused on you but something far off in the distance behind you. There was a darkness shrouding him, he seemed uncomfortable in his skin, like a tag on a shirt that wouldn’t stop itching your neck, something bothered him, something that continued to hurt and wouldn’t go away.

Sometimes as we talked, he would disappear, I don’t mean from sight, physically, but he would drift off, into the shadows of a place only he understands, a place the hurt welcomes him, comforts him. It’s a place he has grown to feel more comfortable than in the lighter places where people expect things from him, where they want to know what it’s like and how he feels.

What would you know, how could he explain? You stand there wanting him to speak, wanting to punish him for things he’s done, as though he hasn’t been punished enough.

Just when you think you understand him, he says something that makes no sense and you laugh, and he laughs, and you both stand there looking at each other like you’ve lost your way and don’t know where to go. In that silence you can feel his anxiety, it’s palpable, it’s tainted with shame and mistrust.

So, as you stand there, the silence quickly becomes awkward, uncomfortable, and as you peer out of the corner of your eyes at him his gaze has turned downward, his scarred and tangled fingers move against each other, rubbing, searching for something in his hands and he closes his eyes tightly. For a moment you can almost hear the wretched screams inside his head.

You want to touch him, hold him, comfort him, but you can’t hold a reflection, that’s when you clear away the fog and realize its you in the mirror you’ve been talking to, and it scares you.

You attempt to take a deep breath and then get dressed, and think about those fantasies, thoughts of home, green grass and Sunday dinners.

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Why I Cry

I can talk all day about how I have a thick skin, how it’s not my business what others think of me and how I love myself and when folks talk poorly of me how it doesn’t affect me. But the truth is, it does, usually I can deal with it and especially from strangers’ I could care less, they aren’t part of my world and if I am not doing anything illegal, immoral or hurtful to anyone then why should I waste my time worrying about it right?

When I was married to my first wife she would say many times over to family and friends, in front of my children how I didn’t cry when my kids were born but I would tear up every time when our Nations anthem was played. She would mock me. Truth be told I always nearly cry outright every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner. That’s what it looks like when someone literally doesn’t understand, I would gamble to say that most veterans would get it at this point, they would know exactly what I am talking about, but there are segments of society whom will never get there, they just fundamentally cannot comprehend that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, for their entire lives I have altered my own to be there for them and care for them and love them. Everything I have done, including serving my country was for them even though they had not been born yet. I may not have teared up at their birth, I have never cried at happiness, but I was and still am proud of each one of them, I was the day they were born and am still today.

When I hear the national anthem of our great country I immediately think of all the opportunities my children and those of my friends and relatives, and all the people who’ve found their way here away from tyranny will have to become what makes them happy and successful. I think of all the freedoms they will enjoy in this land that so many around the world will never have. And I know the sacrifices that have been experienced to keep it that way for my children and all those who’ll come behind me. I think of my grandfather and his siblings fighting in Italy and France, my father and my cousins all serving to protect our freedoms, I think of those I have served with when I myself served over-seas whom didn’t come home and their families who’ve experienced those sacrifices. I think of all those soldiers who’ve come home to face protestors enjoying their freedom to speak out against those soldiers, the freedom they are given because of that soldier’s detriment. I think of all the soldiers who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder every day, and the guilt of being the ones to make it home.

You don’t have to agree with me and you don’t have to understand. But every day I spend free because someone from this country is somewhere around the world without their children, holding a blank check they have written to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life, is  another day I get to spend with my children and my loved ones.

That is why I cry.