Back to the World
by James Shaffer
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My mama, Jenny Piper, died at the end of my twelve-month tour of duty. She’d kept me out of the war as long as she could with my 2-S deferment while I studied for my GED. “No boy of mine is going off to fight a war in some far-off place without knowing what he’s fightin’ for,” she’d said — more than once. But knowing and doing were two different things. She knew that. I loved my mama. I’d surely miss her.
I learned something about death in the jungles of Southeast Asia. It was a relentless hunter. My mama’s death proved that. I figured if it could reach out and touch her on the windswept plains in a remote corner of the West Texas Panhandle, I wasn’t safe anywhere. “Watch and pray” took on a whole new meaning.
Instead of going home like I could’ve when my mama died, I faced it and signed on for another six months. At the end of eighteen months in-country, I signed my discharge papers.
Thirty-six hours later, I walked back into the world. I landed in Dallas and caught a connecting flight to Amarillo. My taxi driver, a veteran of the Korean War like my daddy, gave me a free ride home from the airport. The uniform helped.
I’d lived through it, but I somehow knew that was incidental. A lot of my buddies hadn’t. They’d come back to the world, not walking, but prone, still and lifeless in body bags. All the casualties of war eventually come back to the world, one way or another.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer