This story is by Jamie L Biggs and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A dejected Curtis Welty pulled up to the end of the gravel driveway and parked his truck. Squeezing the steering wheel, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, already missing his wife and son. He stepped out of the cab, rounded the side of the truck, and pulled out his Army duffel and backpack gear.
The cabin appeared smaller than expected, but would fill his need to be alone. Dave, who served in Afghanistan with Curtis offered him the use of his cabin for as long as he needed. SEVEN – FOUR – NINE- THREE. With a click, the electronic lock released, and the walnut door opened.
He took one step inside and peered through the open space. Living room, dining room and kitchen shared the open area. Good. Nothing can take him by surprise here. He sat his gear on the floor and closed the door. His soft steps moved through the room without a sound. Stopping in front of the easy chair, he slouched into the cushions facing the floor to ceiling windows.
He rubbed his eyes with the heals of his hands, hoping to push the mounting pressure out of his head. Return to civilian life had been more difficult than expected. The Army trained him for war but neglected to show him how to adjust back to civilian life once he was home.
Curtis was one of the highest-rated marksman in the Army, hand-picked right out of basic training. His mission in the sandbox, Afghanistan, was to take out the evil men who preyed on the innocent. He rolled his shoulders and tried to shake the memories from his mind. There had been so much death.
He needed time to recharge, to get his head straight. How was he supposed to reclaim his place in the civilian world when he continued to drift between two realities, war and civilian life? Putting his family in danger was not an option. He eased his head onto the back of the chair. Pure exhaustion took over his mind and body as he drifted away into a much-needed sleep.
Hours later, Curtis found himself on the floor, toes planted into the wood planks, arms in front of him gripping an invisible rifle, and gasping for air. His heart pounded as he tried to figure out where he was and pulled himself into a sitting position. His arms covered his head to protect him from imaginary gun fire. Curtis brought his knees up toward his chest and sighed. This was the reason why he left his family. If his rifle was within arm’s reach, would he have killed them? Could he live with himself? The answer was no. To take out an enemy target is one thing, and quite another to harm an innocent. He would not let that happen.
The chilly mountain air had made its way into the small cabin. The fireplace was the cabins only source of heat, so Curtis picked through the wood and tinder for a fire. The blaze took shape and warmed the room.
The far wall of the cabin had a five shelf bookcase full of odds and ends. He looked for something to occupy his time. His hope was to avoid the return of his nightmare so he began to pick through the dusty items. Curtis tugged on an old leather journal from underneath a stack of worn books. He moved back to the easy chair across from the fireplace and opened the leather cover to read the inscription, Personal Journal of Jeremiah Crumb.
December 24rd, 1941
I will be discharged and then returning to the mainland tomorrow. A nurse re-bandaging my head wished me a Merry Christmas. I tried to smile but the stitches across my jaw are tight. I am not sure what happened; I don’t remember any of it. The Japanese attacked us in the harbor and now I’m going home because of my injuries. The doctor told me it may take time, but I should get my memory back.
Curtis envied Jeremiah Crumb. He wished he could forget the war. Jeremiah had been lucky to have forgotten his war experience. Curtis remembered his war and what happened over there. He wanted to forget. All of it.
A month has passed. Curtis scratched the bristles on his face and thought about his wife Melanie and their son, Max. They were the reason for Curtis’s self-imposed isolation. The thought of waking from a nightmare and hurting his family was horrifying. Melanie said they would work through this together, but Curtis did not agree. He thought he could figure this out on his own.
He opened up Jeremiah’s journal for inspiration. Jeremiah had been his constant companion over the last month. An unlikely friend who understood what Curtis was going through.
March 30, 1942
I have been home for a few months now and I still can’t sleep through the night. I wake up screaming. The bombers were blowing up everything around me, including my best friend, Hank. How do I escape this?
Curtis continued to move through the pages of Jeremiah’s Journal.
June 7, 1942
After my first week home, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, but I can’t walk. There is no way for me to escape my brother. I see now that was for the best. My brother’s unconditional love is helping me find my way out of the nightmares and back into the real world. I am forever grateful.
PING! Curtis reached over to the coffee table to pick up his phone. It was another text message from his wife.
I miss you, honey. Please come home. Love u – M.
His stomach tightened. Curtis and Melanie had been through so much. He loved and missed her. His hands squeezed around his phone as he shook his head. Curtis knew he couldn’t continue on like this. Something had to change and knew he was the only one who can make it happen. It was time to take action.
He stretched behind the sofa, dug into his duffle bag, and pulled out his wallet to search for the card.
Veterans Counseling – PTSD – 800-555-2345.
He turned the card over and read the hand-written note.
Call me when you’re ready. D.
His friend Dave had similar issues when he came back home but had gone straight to the VA for help.
“Buddy, you don’t need to do this alone. In fact, it’s only going to get worse.” Curtis recalled the conversation he had with Dave before he left. “Take a couple of days to breathe and call me when you’re ready.” The weekend getaway had already turned into a month of hiding in isolation. It was time to end this. He would do the work to get his life back. With the decision made, he was not letting the nightmares hijack his life any longer.
He pressed his friend’s name from the contact list of his phone and waited for Dave to answer.
“Hey buddy, you doin’ okay?”
Curtis cleared his throat when he heard Dave’s voice. “…uh, yeah. I’m okay.”
“I’m glad you called, Curtis. I’ve been worried about you. You’ve been gone longer than I expected.”
Curtis pulled his free hand through his hair. “Yeah. I know. Dave, I found a journal here in the cabin. Do you know Jeremiah Crumb?”
“Yeah, he was my great-great-grandfather. You found his journal? Did you read any of it?”
“Actually, I did. He went through a lot of the same stuff I’ve been going through. You know, getting back into civilian life.” Curtis sighed. “It actually helped me figure some things out and I think I’m ready to come home.”
“You’re ready to do this?”
“Dave, I have never been so afraid in my life. What if this does not help? What if…?
“Dude, stop with the what ifs. Pack your stuff and head home. I’ll be at your place waiting with Mel. Okay?”
“Yeah. Okay.” Curtis disconnected the call and tried to force a deep breath from his lungs. It would be so much easier to stay here. It was far enough away from his family and friends and the simplest way to keep everyone safe. But it wouldn’t fix what was missing right now. Melanie and Max.
He pulled himself out of the chair and began to tuck his belongings into his duffle. After he finished packing his things, he climbed into his truck and gripped the steering wheel. He blew out a breath and reached for his phone to call home.
“Curtis?” His wife’s voice cracked open something inside his heart.
“Yeah, babe. It’s me.”
“Curtis, are you okay?” He heard fear in her voice.
“Yeah, honey. I’m fine. In fact, I’m on my way home.”
“You… you are? Oh Curtis, I’m so happy! When?”
“Right now. I should be home in a few hours.” He closed his eyes and felt the love from his wife break through the barriers of his fear.