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|17th Dec 2007, 1:18 AM||Scared? #1|
I don't know how I thought of this piece; it just came to me. It's definitely not my best work, but I really like how it came out. I hope you enjoy it; feedback and constructive criticism are always appreciated.
The summer sun beats mercilessly upon me as I stand at the foot of the ladder, slick with chlorinated water, and weigh my options. The other children scream jovially around me and cerulean water continues to splash from the public pool to lap at my feet, but I remain rooted to the foot of the ladder with my geeky little brother pushing me to climb it.
ďNo!Ē I cry defensively. At this point, Iím seven; Sammy is five. One of my hands rests upon the rung nearest to my height level as I push myself to climb, to jump off the high dive and take the plunge. I can do this; Iím seven now. Iím a big boy.
The problem is, I donít want to do this.
Thatís not true. I do want to do this; I want the glory. I want to hear all of the other kids Iíll grow up with cheer me on and call my name as I plunge into the slightly too cold for comfort water. I want another little piece of the endless admiration my younger brother seems to hold for me.
He laughs and grins that crooked smile, blue eyes bright with delight and adrenaline, front teeth missing to create a gaping hole. ďCome on,Ē he wheedles in a high-pitched voice so typical of a little boy. ďYouíre scared.Ē
ďAm not!Ē I respond loudly, adjusting the terribly embarrassing flotation device affixed to my left arm. ďIíll prove it.Ē With that dynamic statement, I clamber up the ladder, ever mindful of the rungs made slippery due to the wet feet of previous divers, and carefully edge out to the end of the board.
It wobbles beneath my feet as I hesitate to take the jump, surveying the dozens of laughing children and their parents who turn themselves into bronzed human prunes merely twenty feet away in the recliners. Despite the floaties my mother plied me (and Sammy) with, I still donít feel entirely safe.
I have this sick fantasy, this cataclysmic image in my head. Itís of me jumping off the board and hitting my head at the bottom of the pool, bleeding to death in the chlorine-heavy water before the lifeguards can pull me out. Itís of me toeing my way off the end and my floaties failing to compensate for my ineptness at swimming, of drowning, of a slow and terrible death.
You can do this, I tell myself. Youíre not going to die. Not today.
Itís Sammy; he has scurried to the side of the pool and is waving his arms like a blithering idiot in order to garner my attention. He grins that goofy little-brother grin and I steel myself, edging just a little closer to the end of the board and daringly curling one toe around the rough, corrugated metal.
Before I know it, cold water rushes up to meet me and Iím submerged. The floaties do their job and I bob back to the surface, gasping for elusive breath and grinning like a fool as I paddle over to the ladder and pull myself out.
Sammy rushes over to meet me, throwing his short, skinny arms about me with surprising force. He nestles his cheek into the junction between my shoulder and neck in an embarrassing display of family and brotherhood that an outsider might refer to as a hug. ďSee?Ē he says lightly as I awkwardly wrap my arms around him and pat the back of his life jacket, too proud to show that Iím loving this. Too proud to show that I love that my brother thinks Iím a hero. ďThat wasnít so scary.Ē
Flash forward fourteen years; Iím twenty-one, Sammy (no, Sam, itís Sam) is nineteen. No longer are these the days of walking fifteen miles to school rain or shine, no more idyllic suburban neighborhood for us.
This is Vietnam.
As far from suburbia as possible.
Itís not like we want to be here. Who in their right mind signs up to fight in a war where their side is hopelessly outnumbered, outgunned, and in danger of being killed as they speak? I know that I, for one, would much rather be at home charming the ladies and drinking cold beer alongside my number one wingman and geeky little brother, but we donít always get what we want.
Life isnít fair.
Donít I know it.
It seems like the whole world is going to hell around us. Dirt piled in front of the chicken wire armed bunker is sent into explosive plumes in the air due to far-advanced gunfire, raining down upon our helmeted heads as Sammy and I crouch to hide from what could easily become our doom.
We have to go out there; we have to.
It doesnít mean I want to.
We have a duty. A duty, an obligation, we have to do this.
ďScared?Ē Sammy shouts over the cacophony of gunfire. He grins, and even beneath the camouflage face paint and battle scars, itís still the same dimpled grin as it was fourteen years ago. Somehow, weíre back at that suburban pool and Iím poised on that diving board feeling as though the world is falling out from under me.
Somehow, he hasnít changed.
Somehow, I havenít, either.
ďíCourse not, Sammy!Ē I bellow, loading my gun with shaking hands.
He scowls. ďItís Sam!Ē
ďWhatever!Ē I call back, rolling my eyes.
He rises into a crouch, peering over the top of the bunker with his rifle slung over his back and the toes of his well-worn boots digging into the scarlet dust. My eyes track to the stain in the right side of his uniform, to the tear patched by an army nurse as he slept. I donít want to remember that night.
I donít want to remember dragging him back to the camp. I donít want to remember holding his hand, holding him down as he screamed and they dug the bullet out of his abused flesh. I donít want to remember his pain.
But I do remember.
I doubt Iíll ever forget.
He gets to his feet, crouching low, and beckons for me to do the same. I follow him and we dart out of the bunker into open fire, bellowing our battle cries like bats out of hell, and in some way, somehow, this is beautiful.
Somehow, between all the screaming and the shooting and the explosions and the pain and the agony and the dying, this is beautiful.
This is me, this is SammyÖ this is us.
And this is beautiful.
Four years later, Iím twenty-five and Sammy (SamÖ right, Sam) is twenty-three. Weíre standing in the bowels of the church weíve attended since birth in our hometown, me doubting myself once again in front of the mirror and Sammy making himself presentable.
I canít help but grin at how vain he is.
People donít change.
Iím already dressed; I have been for a few hours. Iím getting married in twenty minutes; how could I not be far too prepared?
Sammy, however, is not. He stands at the other mirror, half-dressed and attempting to shrug the pristine white shirt that my fiancťe selected for him over his shoulders. I have to fight not to wince at the jagged scar in his side thatís giving him so much trouble; itís a bad day.
I hate it when that damned scar gives Sammy bad days.
And I sure as hell donít want to remember the night that put that scar there.
ďDo you need help?Ē I ask.
His face is white as chalk. It always is on his bad days. Heís pale, in pain but not wanting to admit it. He needs help, but he would never ask. Heís too proud.
People donít change.
He nods and I cross the room in a heartbeat, helping him with the shirt before pulling his arms through the sleeves of a classy black jacket. He manages the bow tie himself, only wincing a little more than usual when the strenuous movement of his arms pulls at the troublesome healed wound in his side. When heís finished making himself presentable, he runs one hand through his dark hair, tousled as ever, and squares his posture before plastering a slightly less genuine grin on his face.
Itís the same grin, though. Heís still Sammy. He hasnít changed.
People never do.
He brushes a speck of dust that I donít see from my shoulder before wiping his bright blue eyes with the back of his hand, same as ever, to hide the tears that he wonít admit are coming. I catch his hand, bony and emaciated, before offering a reassuring smile.
ďWhy are you crying, Sammy?Ē I ask. Please donít shut me out, Sammy.
ďItís Sam. And you know I always cry at weddings,Ē he responds.
I snort. ďYeah, I know. Remember Dannyís wedding?Ē
He scowls. ďI try not to. End of conversation.Ē
I canít help it. I burst out into laughter. Same old Sammy.
He brightens and claps a hand on my shoulder as we move toward the area of the church where Iím to be married. ďSo, my big brotherís finally tying the knot,Ē he says. ďScared?Ē
ďMe? Scared? Nah...Ē I trail off. This feels wrong.
I love her, sure. I love her more than Iíve loved any other woman.
But still, somehow it feels wrong. Somehow, it feels like sheís taking me. Taking me from Sammy.
He needs me. Heís still that gap-toothed little kid, my geeky little brother running alongside the edge of the pool and calling my name. Heís Sammy, heís my Sammy, and he still needs me.
The woman at the door gestures for me to go in, tilting her head toward the church. I turn to Sammy and throw my arms around his shoulders, hugging his too-thin frame to mine for what seems like the first and the last time.
This time, itís not embarrassing.
Heís still the same little boy, still the same kid in the floaties clutching me to him like a life preserver at the edge of the pool.
This is us. And somehow, this is beautiful.
Heís beautiful. Heís my little brother. Heís Sammy.
ďEnjoy it while you can, Sammy. Next time you hug me, Iíll be a married man,Ē I jest.
ďItís Sam,Ē he responds with that juvenile grin.
Two weeks later, the situation has changed. Two weeks later, Iím dressed in black again but merely in far different circumstances. Two weeks later, Iím standing in a cemetery with my new wife clutching my arm and tears that Iím not ashamed to shed rolling down my cheeks.
He would laugh at this. He would cheer that he interrupted my honeymoon.
He never changed.
The priest has said what needs to be spoken and those who attended the funeral have already paid their respects. They look at me with a pity I donít deserve as they wander out of the cemetery, leaving only me and my wife as I stare at the polished, glossy casket for one last time before they lower it into the ground.
ďCan I have a moment?Ē I choke out between tears.
She nods and pats my arm before following after the well-wishers. She understands.
I approach the casket slowly, running one hand along the smooth wooden surface. This canít be real.
This isnít Sammy. Underneath the lid of this closed coffin, this isnít Sammy.
I fold my arms on top of the casket and pillow my head on them, sobbing brokenly.
Itís only a whisper, but itís enough.
|17th Dec 2007, 11:36 PM||#2|
Join Date: Jan 1970
This is the most beautiful, heart-breaking short story I have ever read in my life.
If I may ask, how did you come up with this? Was it a personal experience?
|18th Dec 2007, 12:40 AM||#3|
Join Date: May 2005
OH MY GOD
I nearly cried. You are an amazing writer!
The First Time I saw him....I knew he was the one.
|18th Dec 2007, 1:04 AM||#4|
Join Date: Jan 1970
oh my... wow.
this was amazing. beautiful
you are seriously talented.
i loved it.
|18th Dec 2007, 1:51 AM||#5|
Join Date: Jan 1970
Omg, you actually made me cry... Anyone who knows me will tell you how hard that is This is beautiful and sad and wonderfully written. Congrats, your an awesome writer. :D
|18th Dec 2007, 8:07 PM||#6|
Thank you so much, everyone ! To the first poster who asked how I came up with it; I've had the "scared" "terrified" dynamic in my head for a long time now, but I've never really sat down and figured out how to put words and a story to it. This is what happened as a result of it. I knew I needed to have Sammy die, hence Vietnam, but it has nothing to do with personal experience.
Thanks again; I never expected so much feedback!
|29th Dec 2007, 3:25 AM||#7|
I just read this and it's brilliant. Incredibly powerful and the clipped way you keep things just makes it absolutely hypnotic. I was so caught up in it I got upset when sammy died... I needed a cup of tea. Genius. *rates thread*
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