It’s pitch black out here, and unbearably humid.  The sound of my heartbeat drums in my ears. Thum, Thum-Thum. I wish it would be quiet, it makes it hard to hear.  Out here, that could be deadly. Suddenly, just across from me, I see two beady, red eyes staring back at me. I’m on my stomach, arms stretched out in front of me, and I don’t move.  It’s too black out here, I can’t see a body, but memory stirs, recognition comes, and I know it’s a frog.  A fly darts around my face. I want to swat at it, but I can’t move.  I try puffing out a breath of air to scare the fly away; it just moves up to the corner of my eye, damn it.  Finally, I risk moving my hand, ever so slowly, to swat at it. It flies away, and I return my hand to its outstretched position.

Thum. Thum-thum. Thum.

The mud on my face is dried now.  It makes my face feel tight; it’s hard to twitch my mouth. The frog is still there, watching me,  croaking now every other minute. The longer I here, the more anxious I get. I know it’s coming. I know it can’t be long now.  My arms are hurting, they’ve been holding their positions for so long.  My neck is hurting, too, from being unable to lay my head down. The helmet on my head weighs a ton. Mostly, though, I wish there was some light here, so I could see what’s behind the bush.  I drop my eyes to look at the blades of grass at my nose. Sometimes one of them will barely touch my skin.  Funny how I never thought I could be scared of a blade of a grass before I got here.  I think of the picture, faded now, that’s in my pocket.  A woman with hair the color of honey and jade eyes sits in a rocking chair, holding an infant girl swaddled in a pink blanket in one arm and a toddler boy in a ballcap in the other.  They’re all smiling; the boy is blowing a kiss to the camera.

The frog jumps away, startling me back.  My every sense goes on alert.  My eyes scan the scene, but I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.  Just the humid blackness that’s been staring back at me for the last hour or more.  Without warning, a loud boom sounds, so loud it can only be one thing. Light flashes in the sky, people start yelling, men are on their feet now. I don’t remember getting to my feet, I don’t remember charging forward, toward the gunshots—but that’s what I’m doing.  My boots are beating the ground hard now, as I run fast, behind the tree. I duck, adjust my helmet and look for my next target, anything not in green, I’m going to shoot.  I don’t remember anymore why I’m here. I don’t remember why those men in the red gear are my enemies—all I know is that they are. I can’t hear my heartbeat anymore, but I can feel it. Suddenly, the gun shots are too close to me— I can’t stay here.  I look for the next place to run, and take off.

The light from the gunfire light up the whole sky. I hear a man in green scream and see him fall.  Damn it.  I  don’t know who he is – but he’s wearing green. He’s my comrade, and I can’t leave him. Hoisting my rifle over my shoulder, I lean down and grab the man by the arm.  He’s grunting that he can’t stand, his leg is shot, so I drag him behind the trees, then stop and fire more ammo into the open.  I pause long enough to radio for help, then look again.

They’re everywhere.

There’s no way I’m getting out of here alive.

I yell a promise to the soldier lying beside me, my comrade, that I’ll be back, then fear makes me charge forward. If I don’t attack them, they’ll attack me.  I have a wife, two young children.  I want to live.  Just before I get to the next cover, I see a man in red run in front of me. I fire — but not fast enough.  Exploding pain rockets through my chest.  I’m a big man—I can’t remember anybody or anything knocking me down.  Until now.  I hit the ground hard, my helmeted head bouncing on the ground.  A metallic taste fills my mouth, blood gushes from its side. I put my hand over my chest and feel the warm liquid soak it.  The sounds of the men yelling, the sounds of the gunfire…it’s all fading.  Instead, I hear the heavy breathing that’s my own. Big puffs of quick air….out….in….out…in….they’re getting quicker and closer together. Breathing is becoming difficult. I start to panic, feel myself try to rise to my feet.  I can’t do it. I can’t rise to my feet.  My head is swimming, lights are starting to shine in front of my eyes, my chest is starting to squeeze.  Despite the hundred degree humidity, I am suddenly very cold.

I am dying.

Panicked, my eyes dart around. I’m on my back now. I can see men running, I can see their mouths moving, but I cannot hear what they’re yelling.  My hand is shaking, I reach for my pocket. I pull the picture of my family out and look at it.  I crunch it to my chest and scream again. My eyes look up and, past the heads of the men running, past the lights of the gunfire, I see something. What is that?  It’s two trees, standing side by side. At the top of them, there’s a space, an open space and, even though it’s the middle of the night, there’s a light shining through them. It looks like the sun, it’s so bright. There’s something in the middle of the light: a flag with red and white stripes and blue with stars waves back and forth. I’m not there right now, but that’s an American flag. I’m an American.

Suddenly, I remember why I’m here, why the men in the red are my enemies.

Tears dot the corners of my eyes, but the panic goes away. I’m here because freedom is important.  My country is brave, and it’s the home of the free.  Comforted,  I start to close my eyes. It is worth it.

 

 

 

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