Chapter 8 - Price
I hurried to make my appointment with Susan. I had my eyes on a rental property that had just come on the market and was to meet her there soon. I ran over the conversation with Joan during the quick lunch we shared. Talking about how at peace Mitch was with his life triggered something in me that I didn’t want to deal with. I hadn’t felt peace in such a long time, I wasn’t qualified to talk about the subject.
I made the mistake of closing my eyes momentarily at the table, and it had all flashed before me. I went back two years in time. It was a hot a night as my best friend, Jerome, baby talked to the child he’d never met in person. His wife, Vivian, held the phone so he could see his son. I relived the argument I’d had the next day with Jerome. He was a short-timer and didn’t want to go on the mission. I convinced him to make one last trip to train his replacement driver. We’d climbed into the Humvees and driven twenty-three miles on a humanitarian mission. I saw the convoy loaded with supplies, the children running alongside with outstretched arms and happy faces, the heat coming off the road in waves. I could smell diesel. I remembered the shock of the sudden explosion. Jerome and the front half of his Humvee were there one minute and gone the next. Kids lay on the side of the road, bleeding and moaning. I acted on instinct, pushing the horror to the back of my mind until it was over, and I was back at the FOB.
Jerome and I had been friends for years, although I could and did pull rank occasionally. We had recently discussed options as our re-enlistment times were coming up. Jerome would go back to Tennessee, home and family. I would re-up. I had no one to go home to. If I had listened to my friend and sent someone else to drive the lead vehicle, Jerome would be learning to be an awesome father right now. Instead, parts of him were never recovered. I didn’t cope well. I stayed drunk until my final three weeks were up. Being inebriated helped me stay in a fog throughout the first months until I could call myself a civilian again.
I’d kept those memories buried deep since that fateful day; stayed busy with friends, work, parties. To have them surface now, in the presence of Joan, terrified me. I had no intention of ‘dealing with it,’ as my friends advised. How can you deal with seeing a friend blown to pieces in front of your eyes? I was angry at myself for thinking about it now. Thankfully, I saw Susan waiting for me at the house before I could sink into a pit of despair.
“I think you’re going to like this one,” she said. The house was on stilts, like all the others on the street. Susan and I were in the shade beside the boat dock.
“How many square feet?” I asked.
“One thousand two hundred ninety-seven square feet of living space. As you can see, there’s parking under the house and this storage space.” She unlocked a door, and I poked my head into a cluttered room with shelves, a washer and dryer, a water heater, and a dog bed.
The place smelled musty and slightl...