I can see the weight of the burdens you carry. The memories restless in your heart, still very much alive in your mind. They steal your peace, even though you try to hide it. You’re a soldier after all. You’re trained to be tough. To be strong and fearless. No one can suspect you are anything less than impenetrable, unyielding and unbreakable.
I see it when you sleep. Your handsome face, when it should be still in the calm of slumber, twitches as you relive moments in the field. I watch as the shadows come; your face becoming that of a stranger. Your brow furrows deep with lines of stress and determination. You’re a soldier after all. Strategizing and plotting, thousands of miles away in a country I’ve never been.
You’re there, your brothers among you, dressed in green and tan; dog tags hang from necks, rifles in hand, boots laced and rucksacks packed. You’re always there. Even when you’re here beside me, you’re there. And I want so desperately to bring you home. But, instead, I sit with you, patiently waiting for you to return to me. You’re a soldier after all.
I’ve listened to your stories. Memories of training light up your eyes as you recall your brother. How he always had your back, and you his. Brothers, from different homes from opposites ends of our country, brought together by destiny. You would bleed for each other. Die for each other. You’re soldiers after all, perfectly in-sync, making you the best in the regiment.
Sitting with you, as you told your story, so many emotions washed over me. So much pride felt for the man across from me; in awe of your strength and courage. The depth of your love for your brothers, for your missions; You’re a soldier after all. My heart swelled to see your face light up, animated in ways I have never witnessed before. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.
And then I watched as your face darkened once again, recounting time in the field. Those familiar shadows begin to fall across your face, storms raging in your eyes once again. You’re a soldier after all, recalling moments in battle; guns fire and tanks explode, the world as you know it crashing around you. Dust settles while searching for your brothers in the sand.
I fight back tears realizing how many times you could have been lost. How many times you could have been taken before I even knew you. I choke back my tears, afraid to let you see them for fear you stop. You never share, you’re a soldier after all. But, I know you need to remember them, to speak of them out loud, keeping them alive. I am honored to hear tales of them.
You’ve escorted them home to their families. To their wives and mothers who wait to say their goodbyes. You stand tall and strong as they are laid to rest. Always on duty, the entire way. You’re a soldier after all. There is no time to grieve or to feel. You have a job to do and missions to complete. Our country’s flag flutters in the breeze as you ship out to continue your duties.
I’ve watched the tears fall from your eyes before you quickly wiped them away. The pain of losing your brothers catches up, no matter how fast you run. Many lost in battle, some lost once home, unable to continue ignoring the demons that sit with them. You’ve buried so many brothers, I fear that you crave the same silence. You’re a soldier after all.
As the time for you to complete your service draws closer, I see the worry behind your eyes. This is all you’ve known and never expected to reach this point; ready to give your life to the sand, this wasn’t the ending you saw for yourself. You’re a soldier after all. I can almost hear the questions you refuse to ask: Who will I be? What is my purpose? Who Am I, if not a soldier?
My heart yearns to help you see that your purpose is to live the life your brothers would want you to live. My breath quickens as I try to explain that you will always be the man who fills a room with a sense of security just by being there. My voice catches in my throat as I try to find words I know you need to hear. But, I know there is nothing I can say to help. You’re a soldier after all.
Instead, I remain silent and watch as you slowly fall into your restless sleep, waiting for the shadows I know will follow. The memories fill your dreams once again, and your handsome face returns to that of the man who knows Death more intimately any living man should. But, you’re a soldier after all.
The silence is deafening as I lean in to kiss your forehead. For a brief moment, the lines soften and the shadows lift. And I understand…
I’m here, soldier.
To all our Soldiers, past, present an future… Thank you for your service, from the bottom of my heart. I carry you in my heart everyday and pray for your safe return home.
Cheers to each of you.
Much Love, Always.