I grabbed the corner of the headboard. I echoed the mantra that it was in front of me. I fought the spins the best I knew how–anchoring myself to something. In the matter of an hour, I went from sober to hammered in a way that would shock a civilian but make a veteran simply scoff. Your loss hit me in moments of silence in ways I cannot explain. Everything is okay until it isn’t. Everything is okay until the silence.
I sat and wondered why. The mere thought of putting a gun to my own head always makes me sweat and my stomach turn. How did you do it? How do we fight our every instinct to survive? We never point a firearm in an unsafe direction. We never point them at anything we do not intend to kill… I grabbed the headboard, fighting the spins, the spins of a mind trying to understand why. They were the spins of a mind that already knew the answer.
When the morning comes and my wife kisses my lips, what will she think? I told her I was okay but the remnants of the night are inescapable. I told her I was okay because I thought I was. No matter how much I try to brush away the drinks from my breath, the passing hours betray me as the mint fades. In the morning my wife will kiss my lips. She will taste a familiar taste. She’ll taste what follows the dates on my bracelets. It is the taste of a man trying to numb the mind, if only for a night.
In the morning my wife will kiss my lips and taste the thing I cannot hide. She will part my hair and stare at a broken man. She’ll stare at a man tormented by trying to understand why–tormented because he knows the answer. My wife will know at that moment I was not okay because that taste only follows those days. Those are the days when I have no words. Those are the days I place an open beer on the counter for those no longer here.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
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