George, a boy she liked in high school, had returned home from Afghanistan. Amanda was thrilled to finally have a moment alone, as alone as you can be in a room full of people, with him. It had been three years since she last saw George. How her heart jumped seeing him again. Small talk was finished and awkwardness arrived. Amanda’s eyes darted from side to side and she saw the antics of some party revelers while she steeled herself to finally ask the question.
Impulsively, she blurted, “What’s it like? Combat, I mean.”
Startled, George looked at Amanda. He always thought her pretty and sweet but never felt for a moment he had a chance at dating her in high school. Now, this question struck him like the bullets and shrapnel that missed during his tour of duty. Simply hearing the word plunged George into the sights and smells seared to memory.
It was nearly 48 hours ago he was in a firefight. The juxtaposition of being plucked from combat to home, without a moment to process anything, stirred great turmoil in his psyche. Nevertheless, Amanda’s inquiry carried the popping sounds of automatic weapons to his ears. It was the sights and smells that tormented him the most. Like felines toying with a mouse, they took turns in their attacks. Sometimes they alternated but at others, they both pounced.
The first body he saw was ripped apart and the horrific odor of decaying flesh and exposed bowels overwhelmed George. The scene haunted him anew. All those sleepless nights when his mind was powerless to stop as it all repeated again and again and again. Inwardly, he flinched in defense of the violent outbreak in his mind.
George’s breathing deepened but he said nothing. Amanda saw the conflict in his face and realized her terrible error. How she wanted to retrieve the words and reverse history. Finally, she stammered, “George, I’m so sorry.”
For the first time, George looked her in the eye. Amanda recognized tremendous anguish deep in the soul of his eyes. It was like a child calling out to be rescued from a miry pit. How he wished to escape the beasts clawing at him but he was trapped. George broke the gaze, shifted his feet, and looked at the floor. He knew she would never understand. There is no explanation for combat. Calling it hell only scratches the surface. Finally, and without a word, George turned and walked out. He didn’t know where to go. Even home was no longer sanctuary. His whole world had changed.
Amanda rigidly stood in place fully knowing the terrible thing she did. She only prayed she would have a chance to atone for her sin.