Go Home, Soldier
Go Home, Soldier
I had just come out of the Early County library when I saw a guy in Army fatigues sitting up against the brick wall, looking forlorn.
“Need a ride, soldier” I asked.
“You going to Whigham” he replied.
I didn’t have nothing else to do that day so I said: “sure.” So we piled into my truck and I put on a Metallica CD. We were just jamming along to the music because neither of us really knew how to start the conversation.
“Hey man, my name’s Angelo” I said.
“Keith” he replied.
“Where you from” I asked.
“All over; pretty much every Army base in America, you name it, I been there.”
“Yeah, I had a cousin that was stationed up in Kentucky a few years ago.”
“Been there” he said, lighting a cigarette. “You mind if I smoke in here?”
“Naw, man, go ahead-shit, I gotta stop somewhere and get me a pack of Newports.”
He held his pack of Pall Malls out to me and I took one. So we just jammed to the music and rode down Highway 27, going toward Colquitt. “King Nothing” started to play on the CD player.
“Man, I love this song” Keith exclaimed, exhaling smoke and flicking his ashes out the window. I drove on. We got to the Valero and I stopped and gassed up the truck and went in and bought a pack of Newports and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. When I got back to the truck, Keith had a twenty-dollar bill folded up in his hand.
“Here’s some gas money” he said.
“Naw, soldier, you keep it” I said. “Your service to the country is more than enough.”
“All right, man” he said. “So, man, what do you do?”
“I used to work construction but I ain’t doing nothing now. What about you-were you over there?”
“Iraq and Afghanistan, too” he said.
“What was your job, you know, in the military?
“I was an engine specialist; tank quit running, I’d have to fix it with towel-head motherfuckers shooting at me from every angle!”
“Damn, man” I said.
“What about you, Angelo? Any military service in your family or anything?”
“Nah, I ain’t got no soldiers in my family; I know a lot of people in the military, though, people I went to school with and whatnot; in fact, my high school girlfriend just went in the Air Force last year.”
“Cool” he said.
So we kept riding and smoking cigarettes. I changed Metallica out for Linkin Park. We sang along to “In The End.”
“Man, you got a good taste in music” Keith laughed.
“Thank you” I said. So we kept following 27, coming to Bainbridge. We got to Mr. Pips and Keith announced that he had to pee. So we stopped, peed, and bought sodas and beef jerky. Keith flirted a bit with the counter girl but more customers trickled in so we had to go. Bainbridge isn’t far from Whigham. Back in the truck, I took off Linkin Park and put on Smashing Pumpkins. So we kept driving. I got off on Shotwell Street and we more or less cut through downtown Bainbridge. We passed the college and I said: “there’s where I go to school.”
“Oh yeah? What you majoring in?”
“You gonna be a history teacher?”
“I guess” I replied.
“Let me tell you about history” he fumed. “Basically, the same shit happens over and over; first one motherfucker gets in charged, they don’t like him, they kill him and put the next motherfucker in charge; when they don’t like him, they kill him, and it just keeps going on and on and on.”
“Damn, man” I whispered.
So we rode on in silence.
“Hey, man” Keith said. “I didn’t mean to offend you-all right?”
“Yeah, cool” I said.
Presently, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” started to play.
“Man,” he said. “I’ve heard this song like a million times yet I ain’t ever figured it out!”
“Me neither” I agreed.
“What do you think it’s about?”
“I don’t know” I shrugged.
“Well, take a guess, college boy; lay one of those college boy theories on me.”
“Well, you have a bullet, right? And it causes pain, you know, because bullets kill people. Now take the butterfly; it’s a beautiful creature; so a bullet with butterfly wings is something beautiful that causes pain; it’s all about the dichotomy of pain and beauty.”
“Hmm” he murmured. “I guess I could see that.”
“You see some bad shit over there” I asked.
“Pretty much any way a man could get killed, I’ve either seen it or done it. I know where I’m going when I die-straight to Hell. Shit, when I die, they ain’t even got to put me in Arlington, give me a twenty-one gun-just put me in a damn refrigerator box and bury me in my back yard.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Luckily, I had just passed the Whigham city limits sign so I asked Keith where to go and he told me all the twists and turns. Presently, we came to a nondescript blue house with an angelic four-year-old blonde girl playing in the yard and a girl about my age sitting on the porch in a rocking chair smoking a cigarette.
“This it” I asked.
Keith had a faraway look in his eyes.
“Man, I don’t know if I can get out of this truck.”
I said: “war’s over-go home, soldier.”
He nodded gravely and we shook hands and then he got out of the truck and went into the yard. Presently, he picked up his daughter and held her high. His wife came down off the porch and embraced him. I smiled to myself as I put the truck in reverse and got back on the road.