Home for Halloween a Hero's Welcomebyandtheend©
Blown to pieces, a war hero returns home for Halloween.
It was a Tuesday, just after 9am, when Brad heard about the plane crashing in the Twin Towers. He didn't have a first class until later and he was still in bed. His dormitory at Boston College was alive with people congregating in the corridors and in one another's rooms and they had already burst in his room to tell him the news. Many of the students were gathered around the big screen TV downstairs, and everyone was walking around in their nightclothes, as if it was a giant slumber party.
Unlike his dormitory mates who were angry and made idol threats against some unknown enemy, Brad watched the events unfold in shocked silence. He watched the news on a small black and white TV his Dad gave him, after turning down a big screen TV, an illegal gift from a sports agent. He watched the second plane hit the Twin Towers, the third plane crash in the Pentagon, and the fourth plane brought down somewhere in Pennsylvania. Then, he watched the Twin Towers fall. It was devastating.
In his 18 years, he's never watch as much TV. Around the clock, he never turned off the TV and didn't attend classes that day or the next. Always in control, a born leader, now a cauldron of seething and boiling emotion that he didn't know how to rid himself of, feeling helpless to do something to help, he was in shock. He was horrified. He couldn't believe that something like this could happen in his country.
His country was under attack by terrorists and it was up to him and others like him to do something about it. He was angry and that's the one emotion that stayed with him throughout this whole terrible tragedy. Only, unlike so many others who just talked about it and railed over some unknown enemy thousands of miles away, he wanted in and he wanted to go there, as soon as his country went to war over this. He wanted to get back at whoever did this. He wanted them to personally pay with their lives for what they did.
A big kid, who grew up on a horse ranch in a small town in Oklahoma, when he wasn't caring for horses, he was playing football. His life, from the age of 4-years-old, when he wasn't on a horse, he was wearing a football helmet, shoulder pads, and running long to catch passes thrown by his Dad. It was already predetermined he was going to be a Sooner and graduate from the same school, the University of Oklahoma, his Dad had. As wide and as tall as some of the horses he groomed, his hands were twice the size of most men, and were the perfect tools for grabbing and throwing a football. A good old, home boy, everyone figured he'd do the right thing, make his Dad proud, but he made a lot of people angry when he turned down a football scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, home of the Sooners, to go to Boston to play for Boston College and to become a member of the BC Eagles. Every school in the country wanted him. He was a one of a kind, a talent that comes around once every decade.
Professional football teams wanted to draft him right out of high school, something fairly common in baseball, but uncommon in professional football, but he was that good and already that big. A phenom with a football, what most athletes, even some professional pitchers, couldn't do with a baseball at 20 yards away, he could fit a football through the center of a suspended tire 60 yards away and hit his target, nine out of ten times.
"Bull's-eye! Bull's-eye! Bull's-eye!"
They called him Freight Train in his freshman year because, at 6'3" and 260 pounds, he was bigger than most of the seniors on the varsity football team. Then, as he matured, muscled up and toned down, and grew to 6'6" tall, his coaches soon realized that he was a better passer, a quarterback, rather than a pass rusher, a lineman, and they changed his name to Express. The thing that caught the attention of the Pro scouts was not only his enormous size and pinpoint accuracy but also the speed at which he could find his target and throw the football. Maybe a skill learned early in life from going hunting with his Dad and shooting off the back of a moving horse, but his hand to eye coordination was off the charts and he was deadly accurate with a gun. In the time that the pass rushers had taken three steps, he had already thrown the ball to his intended receiver downfield.
"Touchdown! Turning and throwing across his body, what an unbelievable throw!"
Without discussing it with his parents, without mentioning it to his coaches, or notifying the school that gave him a 4 year football scholarship to play football, he joined the Marines. That fateful day was his life defining moment and he traded his college scholarship and his professional football career, that he's surely have, for the red, white, and blue emotions he felt over 9/11. A lifetime ago, it's hard to believe that it was only 9-years ago, a lot has happened since. After two full tours of duty, one in Iraq and a second in Afghanistan, and reupping for a third tour of duty, he's done. At only 28-years-old, his military career and his life, as far as he was concerned, was over.
How are you? Where are you? Call me. Please come home.
I'm sorry, but I had to write all the stuff a mother would write first and get that out of the way. I wrote this letter not to pressure you to come home, well, maybe I did a little, but just to know if you're okay. I'm not okay. I need to see my baby boy. I need you here with me. Come home, Brad, please.
Let me take care of you in the way that only a mother can care for her son, just until you can get your own place and find a nice woman. I promise not to nag you to clean your room, just kidding. I'll always nag you about cleaning your room.
Speaking of finding a nice woman, you may have found one already. Molly stopped by looking for you. She wanted to see how you are. She said she was one of the physical therapy nurses where you were recovering. I don't know if she's your girlfriend, but if she's not, she should be.
She's really nice and seemed to care an awful lot about you. Besides the fact that she's really pretty, prettier than that other girl you used to run around with that your Dad and I never liked, but we took an immediate liking to Molly. Maybe it's just a mother's intuition, but I think she likes you, really likes you. A mother knows. Just the way she walked around the house looking at your pictures was if she was showing the pictures to me, instead of me showing her the photos. She had knowledge about you in every photo I showed her. She knows an awful lot about you.
I don't know if this letter will reach you, but this is the address she gave us. Please come home, Brad. It would be a real treat for me if you came home for Halloween. Everyone misses you.
I don't have to tell you how much Halloween means to me. You already know it's my favorite holiday of the year. I'm sure you remember how I made you suffer through the fuss that I made over it every year. I admit that I do go crazy with decorations in the way that some people decorate at Christmas and how I decorate at Halloween, but that will never change. I even put up more decorations on the house hoping to motivate you to come home to see them.
We had a lot of memories of the fun we all had during this special day together. Of course, we're having another one of our famous Halloween parties and everyone will be here. It would be a nice surprise for you to be here, too. I'm making your favorite dessert, homemade apple pie.
Brad read the letter from his mother. Even though the letter was upbeat, even though he was happy to receive a letter from his mom, reading her words made him sad. He remembered all the Halloweens they had together in that house and how she always enlisted him to hang the highest decorations because, at 6'6", he was the tall one in the family. Well, not anymore. Now he's the shortest one in the family, except for Louie, the dog.
He could tell that she had chosen her words carefully. He could feel her pain that she hadn't written. He felt bad that he had disappointed everyone, including her, especially her, and worse of all himself for being blown to pieces, parts of him still there buried somewhere in the hot, blinding sand of the desert. At least he was alive, still alive , when so many of his buddies couldn't even say that. If all he could hope to do was to live more of life, then his reality wasn't so bad.
Feeling pressured to go home, he didn't need that kind of pressure, not now. The fact that Molly visited was a real surprise and as soon as he thought about a relationship developing and blossoming between them, he put that out of his mind. Why would she want him? He was only half a man, a cripple, a paraplegic and unable to do the things he used to do before. He couldn't believe it when there was another letter in his box. This one was from his Dad.
Your Mom doesn't know I'm writing you. She's never seen me write anything more than my signature to a check.
Molly came by to see how you're doing. Boy oh boy, you know how to pick 'em. She's a looker, even prettier than that other woman you used to run around with, don't even remember her name. Molly was surprised you hadn't made it home, yet, after you told her you would. She said this is where to write you. She said you've been moving around a lot. I hope you're still wherever you are to receive this letter in time to make your Mom happy by surprising her at Halloween with a homecoming.
You know how much Halloween means to her and it would be a real treat for you to come home, son. I promise not to notify the Mayor that my son, the war hero, is coming home. They'll be no marching bands, just friends and family happy to see you and glad that you're alive.
Come home, Son. We all miss you and love you, including your horse, Touchdown. You belong here with us. You don't have to worry about anything. We'll help you. We'll take care of everything, until you recover enough to get on with your life.
Wow. He couldn't believe his Dad wrote him a letter. He was shocked. Even when he was in country, he never received a letter from his Dad. It was always his mother who wrote. Rock solid Dad was Mr. Unemotional. The kids used to call him Spock, after Leonard Nimoy's character on Star Trek because he was always so detached and logical.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm okay, really I am. Don't worry about me. I'm fine. Just give me some more time. It's not so much my body, as it is my mind. I need to sort some things out on my own.
I don't know. I just need to be alone right now. I don't need to see familiar faces, places, and things to remind me of what could have been will never be. Okay? Please understand. I'm sorry.
The local high school football hero, even though he had a college scholarship to play football, after watching those twin towers collapse on television, no one was surprised when Brad forfeited his scholarship and sacrificed his certain professional football career to enlist in the Marines and go to war. Not one to start anything without finishing it, no one was surprised when he reenlisted the first time and expected him to reenlist the second time, and he did. A chip off the old block, if anyone was going to make a career of the military, it was Brad.
He was like that, just like his Dad, who was still a Marine and will always be a Marine in spirit, even though the last time he fired a weapon was in Vietnam. A bittersweet time for his Dad, serving two tours of duty in Viet Nam, they were his worst and his best memories. He still stays in contact with some of his Marine Corps buddies. I'm sure he has some real stories to tell, but he never tells those to anyone.
The flash was the last thing he remembered before everything went dark. Already unconscious, bleeding, and dying, he didn't hear the explosion. It was better he didn't because the sound would have haunted him and his dreams for the rest of his days. Fearing the shock would kill him, as much as his injuries surely would, it was nearly a week, before they awakened him from an induced coma.
He should have been dead. He could have died in the way everything just went dark, as if turning off a light switch inside his body. First he could see, hear, and feel, then there was nothing.
In the troubled way that he feels now, maybe he should have died on that battlefield. Yet, he'd disappoint all those people, from the ones who got him on a stretcher, to the pilot that flew the chopper, to the emergency medical staff, who made the decision to cut off the rest of his mangled legs to save his life, to those who helped to rehabilitate him, if that's what you can call what he is now, rehabilitated. He just calls himself crazy.
"Brad, how are you doing? You're lucky to be alive, Marine," said his commanding officer shaking his hand, patting him on the shoulder, and pinning the Purple Heart on his pajama top. A man who never spoke a word to him before, now knew him by name. "You're going home, son. We're shipping you out of her today to a hospital stateside."
As automatic as firing his weapon at the enemy, he didn't know why he said that, but he did. One word that meant so much to everyone there. Of all the words he could have chosen, the perfect choice, he had picked the right one.
When Brad said it, there was a chorus from the other wounded warriors. Men in bed who were drugged and in pain suddenly came alive with an excitement he hasn't seen since he was in the barracks and on the battlefield. A football team united as one, after hearing the coach talk before a game, a platoon gathered together before going out in the field and after returning alive. He shouted it, as if he was feeling lucky and glad to be alive, but being stuck in a bed or confined to a wheelchair, he wasn't either of those things. He was angry, so damn angry. Why me?
Retuning his salute and accepting his handshake, maybe he said Oorah to show the Colonel that he was on board but, with the loss of his legs, he was overboard now and floundering, while just trying to keep his head above water. He wished he were dead, left there in pieces on the battlefield where they picked up what they could of him, before evacuating him the Hell out of there, out of Hell. The hope he had of returning to the war to finish what he had to do was punctuated by that one word, oorah, as if it was a defining period and an exclamation point to his life. Certainly, 9/11, his reason for joining the Marines, was something he'll never forget for as long as he lives and that will follow him wherever he goes. With the loss of his legs, this was his reality now and he was fighting a new, personal war now to survive.
Unable to do the things he so loved to do, now learning to walk and to live without legs was his daily, private war to fight, Brad's battle. He tackled his disability, as if learning new plays whether on the football field or learning new defenses on the battlefield. Imagined or real, his enemies were the demons that wouldn't allow him to sleep without medication, those same ones that he couldn't let to get better. Understandably, with the sounds and smells of war still fresh in his mind and in his nightmares, it was too soon.
From battlefield, to hospital, to home, to feel no longer needed, moved from one rehabilitation facility to another, he never had time enough to adjust to his new surroundings. Just like his father before him, relegated to talking about the war, after he's had one too many, he was on his way to sitting on the front porch talking about the past instead of building for the future. Seriously, what kind of future can he have without legs, without horses, and without football?
Even though Brad had only been there at the hospital a little while, he had made as many close friends as he made in country. All buddies now, a tight knit group of good guys, even in the hospital, they watched one another's backs. Ingrained, something that will never change, buddies relying on buddies to get them through and to get them home safe, he didn't want to leave any more of his friends behind, but it wasn't his choice. Never leave anyone behind, but it was his orders to ship out to another hospital that would help him to rehabilitate and learn how to walk again.
"Bye, take care. Good luck," said his buddies bidding him farewell.
"Marine Corps! OORAH!"
Thinking then that it was all bullshit before, saying it because it was something he needed to say now, and something they all expected to hear, he said the three words they all so needed to hear.
"Marine Corps! OORAH!"
Before he said them, they were just words that may not mean the same to you who didn't serve and who weren't Marines. Yet, as soon as he said them, they were more than just words. They were his forever connection to those who fought, those who died, and those who survived. Even though none of them were his best buddies, strangers who had become close friends, they were more of the same ones he fought with shoulder to shoulder that was leaving behind.
A shared experience, together in war and together in a hospital, all of them confronted the same uncertainty of how to make it without the uniform and without someone telling you when to sleep, when to get up, and when to kill. Still there because they had survived all that he had survived, they knew all that he was going through because they were going through it, too, and if he could make it out and make it home, so couldn't they. If nothing else, he was their hope and it was up to him not to disappoint them.
"Marine Corps! OORAH!"
As if a shot fired from a Marine artillery cannon, they all answered back in kind, loud enough to shake the windows. It was the fitting farewell they bade to him that temporarily lifted his spirits like no other medicine could. If he never felt like a hero before, he felt like a hero now that his hospital bound buddies, some even more seriously wounded than he was, gave him the reason not to quit on them and on himself. He rode their words like a bucking bronco at a rodeo, holding on with white knuckles, digging in his heels, until his thighs, back, and shoulders burned with pain and his body could not hold on any longer. Yet, even after being thrown from the horse, it was his duty, as a Marine, to his God, to his country, and to himself, to get up and get right back on that horse again.
"Oorah!" He bade them all farewell, while being wheeled out to begin the next chapter of his recovery.
He was okay now, that is, until the days of inactivity troubled his mind again. Replaying the activities of that fateful day, over and again, while wondering what he could have changed or done differently that would have put him in a different place and a different time enough away from that bomb blast to have survived in whole, instead of going home broken and in pieces. He was plagued with the misery of all the things he could no longer do, instead of thinking about all the things that he still could do. So long as he wasn't dead, he still had a chance to succeed at life. He should have a problem.
They sent him to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D. C. He had asked his Army shrink not to contact his folks for a visit, but just to let them know that he was alive and recovering. He couldn't bear to see them, not yet, and not like this. Respecting his wishes for the sake and sanity of his patient, his military psychiatrist agreed and made his patient's wishes known to his parents.
"I'm Molly," said his physical therapist introducing herself to him and trying to get him interested and focused enough on her for her to help him, but more importantly for him to want to help himself. Having done this many times before, knowing how to work with the mental pain, as much as the physical pain, she was a real pro.