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Volume 3, Issue 2
Summer 2007:

Keeping the Books

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2007 Summer; 3(2):a11

Lillian, the lady that comes in to do our office books once a week, was sitting at the computer workstation, entering checks into the electronic register. One of her boys had just gotten back from a six-month tour in Iraq. She was overjoyed to have him home again. We were all glad he made it back safely. You read about the war in the papers, but it's different when you know a family who has a son or daughter over there in the thick of things.

"How're things?" I asked her, as I walked through the business office.

"OK," she said, rather flatly.

"I guess it's good to have your son home, huh?" I offered. "Is he back in school?"

She shook her head. "No, he decided he couldn't go back to school right now."

"Yeah," I said. "I remember how it was when I got out. I thought I would just slip right back into civilian life no problem. But I was wrong. It took some time to adjust."

"He's having a hard time all right. The girlfriend broke up with him."

"That's too bad. What's he doing? Is he working somewhere?"

"No, just hanging out at home. He's quiet — doesn't talk much."

I noticed the hesitation in her voice. "Sounds like maybe he needs to talk."

She stopped typing and turned around in her chair. I could see her eyes beginning to water.

"I wish he could talk to someone. I tried to tell him it would do him good. But he can't."

I stood still and waited quietly.

"He talked to me — a little," she said. "It's a lot for him to deal with. He's only twenty years old."

"I suppose he saw some combat?"

She nodded, and her face turned bright red.

"Did he — he had to kill someone, didn't he?"

Again a nod of the head, a tightening of the upper lip.

"A child," she said. "A six-year-old boy." She started to cry. "His unit passed by a group of Iraqis, when someone started firing on them, someone from behind this group of people. His unit returned fire. One of the men held up a boy in front of him as a shield. There wasn't time to think; everybody was firing back. The boy died along with the others."

I waited for her to finish. I thought back to a similar story I had heard years ago during the Vietnamese conflict. Then I said: "Didn't they de-brief him before sending him home?"

"Oh, he went through the ropes all right. They said he was OK, fine to come home. But he's not the same kid — he's changed. And he doesn't want to talk about it."

Soldiers come home with all sorts of wounds. Some have lost an arm, or a leg, or an eye, or a hand. But even those who look whole on the outside have lost something, too. And just like those who have been scarred physically, they will be forced to bear their wounds as well, most likely for the rest of their lives.

The medals and the citations and the monthly disability checks only serve as reminders, not of honor or courage or grace under pressure, but of deeds done, which cannot be undone — deeds which continue to produce a sudden tightening in the chest or an unexpected wrenching in the gut, even in the most peaceful of moments.

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