I was the youngest and the smallest and the quietest. My father was the life of any room he walked into, loud, funny, friendly. My brothers were just like him, they had his broad shoulders and quick temper. They all played football and boxed, stayed outside until our mom had to drag them in. I don’t think there was a day that went by that they didn’t stuff me in a closet or a trunk or spray me with a water hose.
No matter how much they roughed me up, it was always only them. Whenever someone tried to pick a fight with me because I was smaller, I had their height but not their size, they were in for a surprise. Years of getting tossed around by my siblings gave me the quickest hands in our house since that was the only way I could ever win a fight or finish my meals.
Thinking about it made me smile. The nights we worked on old cars since we couldn’t afford new ones. The boxing sessions in the garage where we were all trying to impress dad. Three years apart, always a grade behind each other in school.
John waited until Albert graduated so they could enlist in the Army together. My mom always joked that we were all brothers but I must have come from a stork because John and Albert were joined at the hip.
On May 12th 2012 Albert was taken out by a sniper in Afghanistan. We all took it hard, my mom didn’t get out of bed for a month, my dad was calm about it. “He died a good death, he died a soldiers death.” No one took it harder than John though. He was in Iraq when he got the news. A week after the funeral he went right back.
On July 12th 2012 John died in a fire fight outside of Baghdad. The commander gave the order to maintain cover until the F-16’s arrived but John went in head first. Taking out four extremist before he was gunned down. They said he could have survived all the shots but that day he didn’t wear his body armor.
Within a month both my brothers were dead, fighting for their country. My father never said anything to me but I knew he looked at them differently than he looked at me. He was a soldier, a fighter, a man’s man. All my brothers ever wanted to be was like him.
Everywhere we went people stepped aside. My father pulled two men out a burning tank, won a Purple Heart in Desert Storm.
He never said it but my decision to go to college and not serve our country hurt him. “It’s a man’s duty to serve his country, what good is an education if you don’t know what it means to fight for it.” Those words never made sense to me but they did to my brothers.
The house I grew up in wasn’t a home anymore. My mom spent most of her time putting together care packages and volunteering at the hospital for wounded Veterans. My father spent most of his time in the garage talking to neighbors or the different friends that came by to chat with him or have him look at their car.
I knew I shouldn’t feel this way but I hated him. My brothers were dead because they wanted to be like him. “The army made me a man!” “Women love a man in uniform!” Day after day, story after story he filled their heads up with this bullshit about honor and loyalty and truth! Bullshit that got them killed! Wars that weren’t being fought because we were enslaved or attacked but wars that were being fought for nothing. He didn’t talk to me much because he thought I was a coward, I didn’t talk to him because I thought he was a fool.
Swinging as hard as I could at the punching bag in our garage I could feel my hands burning, the sweat dripping into my eyes but I didn’t stop punching, I couldn’t stop swinging. With every clank of the dog tags around my neck the more anger that surged threw me! They were my brothers tags and I wore them because they were apart of me now.
“You always could throw a punch but you never wanted to come to the gym with us. John thought it was because you had a glass chin. Albert thought it was because you wanted to chase girls. I knew it was because you didn’t want to be like me.”
I didn’t hear him come in. Those were the first real words outside of hello and goodbye he’d spoken to me in a year. He was right, I didn’t want to be another clone of my fathers. Football, boxing, the military. I wanted more for my life, I wanted to be something other than a name scribbled on some stone. What does dying in a foreign place fighting people that never did anything to me even mean?
After Albert died… I almost beat a kid to death because he called my brother stupid for not having on his body armor. The newspaper made it some black hawk down, saving Private Ryan moment but the army saw it as negligence. Since I wasn’t 18 yet and I’d experienced the death of two brothers they dropped the charges. When my dad picked me up he almost looked proud. I’d been valedictorian, I’d gotten into the most expensive school in the State with a full scholarship and the one time he patted me on my back was when I beat the shit out of some kid. That was my father, always the soldier, always about honor and family reputation.
“I’m not them.” I said the words softly, maybe I didn’t want him to hear me but I know he did.
“I didn’t raise you to be a coward!” His voice rose and he slapped his hand on the hood of his car!
Now his real feelings were coming out.
To Be Continued…