Last night I woke, sweat soaking my pillow.
It's been so many years. I thought that it was behind me. The faces of men I barely knew, Katrinski, Pajoli, Myerschmidt, their hard smiles playing under my eyelids like the flash of artillery fire.
My wife thought that I was suffering from what they call now "post traumatic stress syndrome" when I was a graduate student. Which in a way is true.
During the war I bought myself precious time. With my desk job in the army, with the skills I learned in college, I managed to delete my name from the roster of soldiers to be shipped off to battle in Okinawa. None ever returned.
I was the first in my family to go to a university, and I knew then that I would move on, get my Phd. make my mark.
And I've never regretted what I did. I accepted the path, the burden, that is given to all men of greatness when they must go against the grain, contrary to common truisms. Today I am famous. I discovered a blood cell now named after me. And it has brought me prize after prize, saved countless people.
So usually I forget the men I saw shipping out on LST's, knapsacks bulging, smiling from behind their dread. They wished me luck, told me they'd be back soon, said that in no time we would sitting down together over a beer.
It's just at these conferences when I stay at modern hotels which have always reminded me of the army housing, in their sameness no matter where I am, Barcelona, Tokyo, Miami, Rio, that I can see them more clearly. Barely literate men, men who would have gone back to being plumbers and carpenters and taxi drivers. I knew that I was not one of them.
Of course, we went to the bars, danced together with the girls, because we were there, thrown in together. Some almost became friends, a few I shared my vision with, of returning to school, looking deep into our selves and making an important discovery.
Which is all the justification I need for what I did, because my work, has saved a hundred Katrinskis and Pajolis.
It's only once in a while when I'm looking out at a foreign ocean with the sound of waves breaking, like the post where I was stationed, that I can almost hear them speaking to me, in their heavy accents.
Most of the time I don't hear anything.
* * *
My husband is gone to a conference. And I worry about him when he's away. I miss him, sure. But he doesn't realize how often he still dreams his regular nightmare. Usually about three I wake up to see him clawing at the sky.
He thinks I don't know. Which in a way is true. I don't understand what war means to men, what promises they've made to each other, which they're allowed to break. He will never tell me about it.
But over the nights, when he talked in his sleep during the early years we were married, I put together a quilt of what had happened. At first it was a crazy pattern. But then I stood back, and I saw it, saw what he had done. And in the dawn that morning, I felt shivers falling through me, and I held him tight until he stopped kicking, and we went back to sleep.
Some time today he'll call me from where ever he is in the world, and he'll think he's just checking on the small farm we keep, the sheep, the goats, and I'll tell him everything is fine, except that the hoof we've been having trouble with still isn't right. And he'll take a deep breath and say its good to hear you, and I'll agree, and then he blow me a kiss through the phone, and we'll hang up.
But I can tell by the pitch in his voice, how bad it was last night, like being shelled in his dreams. And just talking to me seems to do the trick, because he knows I love him. And whatever happened, he did for us, even though I didn't know him when he was a soldier. He did what he believed in. He did it for the future.
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