It’s Supposed to Be Hard

Arlene awoke in the middle of the night.  She rose to her feet. Quietly she grabbed the journal off her dresser and walked to the bathroom.  She retrieved her slippers and robe then marched down the dark hall into the kitchen.  She turned on the light and placed the journal on the counter.  She reached in the cabinet for a wine glass and gently placed it on the counter.  She opened the fridge and grabbed the bottle of red wine. The quiet of the house was interrupted by the banging of the bottle against the thin glass.  The wine pouring  into the glass sounded like a running river.  She was mesmerised by the red wine pouring into the glass.  Her mind wandered. Did the blood pouring out of her mortally wounded son look like this?

“Shit!” she said as the wine spilled over the edge of the full glass onto the counter. Her attention span has been short. The journal has been home for five days and has reopened lots of healing that had taken place since his death. She hardly can function normally.  Why did he send it to her? It’s a question that won’t leave her mind.  She takes a sip of wine and grabs the journal.

Leaving the kitchen light on she walked into the adjacent living room and sits on the couch.  She takes another sip of wine and places the glass on the coffee table.  She settles onto the couch with the journal is on her lap.  She sits quietly staring at the red wine in her glass.  Then she grabs its and takes another sip.  She removes the rubber band wrapped around the plastic bag containing the journal. Her hands shake as she touches the journal itself.  She places the plastic to her side and holds the journal before her.  She reaches into her robe pocket for her reading glasses.  With the journal clearly in view, she opened to a random page. With light from the adjacent kitchen she maneuvers the journal so she can read. 

10 November 2004

My sweet mom.  Day three of our sweep through Fallujah and it’s getting tougher by the minute.  Death if all around. Nothing can prepare you for this. No book.  No veteran.  No movie.  NOTHING. This place makes hell look like Disneyland. That’s why we are the best mom.  But worry not. I am safe in the hands of my Marine brothers.  We have fought our way into town and my platoon is holed up in a convenience store we nicknamed the candy store.  We are getting 12 hours a rest at a time which we must square away our gear but it also serves as a breather from the reality outside these walls.  Before I wrote this I was thinking of how hard war is.  But I am made for this.  I understand it just like my fellow Marines.  You just are born with this inert ability to stare death in the face and maintain your bearing.  It’s hard, don’t get me wrong.  I am reminded a line from Tom Hank’s character in “A League of Their Own” when Gina Davis tells him that baseball got too hard.  His reply:

“It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great.”

Not everyone can do this.  The Marines can. We are special. And we will win and I’ll come home and be a better man.

Time to get back to cleaning my gear so I can get some rack time. Worry not.  I am safe.  In the candy store.

Till we meet again.  You son Michael PFC USMC.

She manages a quick smile that shifted the streaming tears from her cheeks across the edges of her mouth.  He was brave.  She understood that before he joined the Marines. That is what scared her the most.  She knew he enjoyed that movie yet she was surprised at the quote he chose.  “It certainly fit his situation,” she thought.

A quick moment of pride was washed out by the agony of his words.  Through her tears she reached for her glass and drank the remaining wine.  She laid on the couch in a fetal position, crying herself to sleep. She was reliving his death all over again. When will her pain end?

This is fiction written for Daily Prompt Silver Screen.  This work was inspired by the prompt and written for the ongoing story The Journal of PFC Patterson.  Stop by and read more about a mother dealing with the loss of her only son in Iraq and the turmoil created after reading his journal.

Selfish Act

I was selfish. I am not ashamed to admit. However, I am ashamed and disappointed in my actions.

It started on 07 February 1983 when I stepped onto the footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.  I went on to give four years to the Marines.  I served during peace time and had an uneventful but successful tour.  I came out a different man than when I entered.  For that I will always be grateful.

Fast forward to 20 Jan 1995.  My son was born.  

Now move forward to 19 March 2001.  The United States invades Iraq. Even though my son was only six at the time, I thought there was potential that the conflict would still be active when he became of age to serve.  I was scared for my son. I consciously made a decision not mention my military service.  I also made a decision to tuck the war in the corner and not make note of it in our home. I kept a distance from any coverage and news reports.  I made sure I put no faces to those Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In our home, I made as if the war didn’t exist.

My son is now 18.

A few weeks ago I wrote a fictional story about a mother receiving the journal of her son who was killed in Iraq.  In my mind, the story didn’t end with that particular post. It only began. I researched the battles in Iraq in order to add historical accuracy to my story.  That research lead me to You Tube where I watched countless clips of returning fallen Americans and their journey from Dover AFB to their respective hometowns.  Hundreds to thousands of people lined city streets and rural road to pay tribute to these men and women. I listened to servicemen honored with the highest awards given by our country for valor.  I was deeply affected by all I have learned about this generation of our military. 

As a kid, I remember watching Walter Cronkite end his nightly newscast with how many had died in Viet Nam that day along the total dead.  It had a profound affect on me and was a big reason I joined the military those many years later.  However, I didn’t want my son to follow the same path. I selfishly decided that our family had given enough to this country.  Not only hadI had served but so did my father in WW II.  I didn’t bring this war into our home.  I didn’t want any seed planted. I didn’t want my son to serve.  I did what I thought was right for my family.

I accomplished my mission. Regardless of my reasons, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t know if what I did was unpatriotic.  I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.  Actually, I don’t know what to think or say other than I am sorry not to have acknowledged the sacrifice of so many serving our country in this war.

I was selfish.

This was written for Yeah Write #100.  Limit 500 words.





Alone; The Journal of PFC Patterson

With Anthony gone, Arlene sat alone on the couch staring at the journal on the coffee table before her.  Her eyes glanced up from it to the window. The rain ran down the panes like blood must have on her son.  She took a sip of wine and placed the glass next to the journal. The plastic bag holding it was worn and dirty with grains of sand that once touched his hands.  The room was eerily quiet.  Her emotions swayed from anger to sadness.  

Why did he send the journal to her?  Wasn’t losing him enough! Now must she read his own words.  She was frozen in the moment.  Too scared to open the journal, she stood up and walked towards the wall holding his pictures.  The pain of losing Michael was as agonizing now as it was when two Marines in uniform delivered the devastating news last November. 

This is fiction written for VisDare.  This work was inspired by the photo and written for the ongoing story The Journal of PFC Patterson.  Stop by and read more about a mother dealing with the loss of her only son in Iraq and the turmoil created after reading his journal.

The Journal of PFC Patterson

Everyone knew.  As Cpl. Anthony Sullivan looked around at the faces of his fellow Marines it was clear.  He knelt next to the Marine laying in the sand.  The face looked normal despite being severely wounded.  Sullivan tapped the Marine’s helmet and said “Wat kind of mess did you get yourself into Patterson?”

Patterson smiled at him.  His eyes showed he knew his time was limited.  “You know me Sullivan, gotta have some type of  fuckin’ drama,” he responded.

“We’re going to get you the fuck outta’ here man. It’s all good, Marine, ya’know,” Sullivan said.  “You were brave! You should have seen yourself.  Look at me!  Look me in the eyes fucker!

Patterson’s head turned slowly towards him, his eyes glaring into Sullivan’s.  “What’s up Sullivan?”

“You saved lives mother fucker!  Know this!” Sullivan explained emphatically while he pointed to the Marines around him. “Please understand what you just did man. Look at these guys around you.  They are here only ’cause of you.  You hear me Patterson!” He nodded while Sullivan continued, “because of you!  You are everything a Marine wants next to him in battle.  You fuckin’ delivered man. Thank you.  Semper Fi.”

The kid-faced Patterson gave him a little smile before pain flashed across his face.  He reached for Sullivan’s hand and looked directly at him,  “You know what to do Sullivan, right man?”

“Yea’ I know, man.  Consider it mission accomplished brother.”

Patterson smiled again.

“Hey Sullivan, you need to move back man, we need more room ok?” Corpsman Joseph sternly requested.

“No problem, Doc.”  He stood up and stepped back, looking one last time at Patterson and said, “see ya’, man.”

Patterson’s eyes glanced upward at him. He lifted his bloody hand and waved while mouthing the words “thank you.”  He died the next day, Nov.11, 2004.

Sullivan was awakened from his day-dream by a loud horn honking continuously. He looked into the rearview mirror to see a lady behind waving her hands and her mouthing, not a song, but a few select swear words in his direction.  He turned left onto a small residential street and stopped at the curb in front of 3219.  He put the rental car in park.  He took a deep breath and turned right to look at the old white house.  “I am here,” he whispered to himself.  He sighed, then reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed his book bag.  He stepped out of the car and placed the bag on the roof and adjusted his shirt. He glanced at the house again.  She was standing in the doorway. He reached to the roof and grabbed the bag and slung it on his left shoulder. He walked up the walkway leading to the front door.  As he got closer the lump in his throat grew.  He tried to maintain composure. He was here. Here in New Orleans –  443 miles from his home in Huntsville, 7100 miles from Fullujah, Iraq – where his journey started 268 days ago.

“Mrs. Bernard, I presume,” Sullivan said, extending his right hand to hers.  “Nice to meet you I am Anthony Sullivan.”

“The pleasure is mine, Anthony, I am Arlene Bernard, Michael’s mama.  Welcome to New Orleans. Come inside please.”

“Thank you ma’am,” he said as he followed her into the front living room.

“Have a seat, Anthony, please,” she said. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“No thanks ma’am, I am fine.  Thank you.”

Sullivan stood in front of a cushioned chair and took a deep breath.  After she sat down on the couch, he seated himself. They were only feet apart.  He placed the book bag next to a statue of a woman holding her baby, on the coffee table in front of them. They sat in silence for a few seconds. Then he said, “Thank you for taking my call yesterday and for inviting me here today, I appreciate it.  I am sure this must a be difficult time for you.”

“I’m glad you are here.  Everything has been difficult since my son died.  It’s tough seeing you because I know you were there with him at the time.  You saw him as he …”

Sullivan reached out and took her hand.  She couldn’t muster any more words.  She reached for a kleenex next to her and wiped her tears.  She extended the box to him, “You want one?” she asked.

He cleared his throat, “Thank you ma’am.”  He looked around the room and saw pictures of her son in various stages of his life.  His eyes stopped two larger ones hanging side-by-side.  One was his high school graduation picture, the other his boot camp picture.  It was the first time he saw Patterson as a civilian.  He only knew Patterson the Marine, not the son.

The room was emotionally charged.  Sullivan’s mind was spinning with flashes of Patterson on the sand those many months ago. To know his mother was a few feet away was difficult to comprehend.  “Mrs. Bernard, I spent countless hours on what I would say at this very moment,” he said. “Truth be told,  I don’t know where to begin.  As you know, I am here at the request of your son.  He asked me on many occasions to do this favor for him.  I gave him my word.  He detailed how he wanted it done and I have followed it to a tee. I don’t know what your reaction will be. I have something in the bag for you from him.  Before I pull it out I want to tell you that he was a great American.  Without going into the details, I watched him save lives. Including mine that day.  Perhaps in time you will want to know more. But for now, please know he was a hero to many of his Marine brothers.  Their lives extended because of his bravery.  You raised a great young man, Mrs. Bernard.”

Sullivan reached for his bag on the coffee table.  He placed it on the floor at his feet.  Then he reached inside and pulled out a large, dirty, plastic-ziplock bag, wrapped with a rubber band.  He stood up and slowly placed it on the coffee table. “It is my honor to present to you with the journal of PFC Patterson.  I am proud that it made it back to you as he requested.  It is home.”

Read more of The Journal of PFC Patterson

This is a work of fiction.  Written for yeah write the speakeasy #98.

Story must begin with the sentence “Everyone knew. It must include a reference to this photo.

click to embiggen "Everyone knew." First line provided by speakeasy #97 winner Erica Mullenix

Innocence Lost

Creative Writing Prompt: I want My Legs Back. Picture it & Write February 17, 2013. |

I was thrown to the ground after loud thud.  As I sit up I try to focus on anything in front of me but can only see a dust cloud. I reach to adjust my helmet.  There is blood on my hand. Suddenly a figure approaches me in what seems like slow motion.

“Are you ok?”

Why is his voice so muffled?  Who is he?  My mind is spinning.  I see the dust behind him slowly clearing.

“PFC Graham, are you ok? Answer me!”

PFC Graham?  What is he saying?  I lay back onto the ground, the hot sun blinding me.  I reach my hand to block the sun from my eyes. Again I notice the blood.  “My God,” I thought.  I’ve been hit.  That thud was an IED.  The mysterious figure is our patrol corpsman Coleman.”

“Holy shit, am I ok?”  I feel my body start shaking as everything starts making sense.  I was on patrol and we were hit.  I hear men yelling all around me. I sit up quickly. I see Marines moving frantically across my vision. I look past Coleman to see Private Elken on his stomach crawling towards me.  Through the caked dust on his face I see his pain. His helmet no longer on his head. At this moment I realize my hearing sounds normal. However, the situation before me is anything but normal.

Earlier we moved out on a morning patrol on the outskirts of Fallujah. As we waited for orders to move out I joke with Elken, a tall white kid from Lawrence, Kansas.  We have been in the Marines together from boot camp through infantry training. Afterwards we both are sent to 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines at Camp Lejeune.  Four months later we’re in the desert of Iraq. Marines before us captured this city after intense battles with the Iraqi Royal Guard.  For the two of us, we are in a combat zone for the first time. Today we both lay on the desert floor.

“Graham dammit, are you ok!”

I look Doc Coleman in the eyes and say yes.  I am a little stiff as I reach for his hand and lifts me to my feet.  I look down and notice my weapon on the ground with blood on the stock.  I feel fine, my vision is normal and my senses have returned.  “Doc, I’m fine.  What about Elken over there?” I say pointing to what is now a group of men around him.  I reach down, grab my weapon and sprint that direction.  I push a couple of Marines aside to reach him. He has two corpsmen attending to him along with our company gunny.  As I look down at him, he is now on his back. His face covered with a mixture of blood and sand.

As if there was only one voice out of the chaos in front of me, I hear “we need to apply a tourniquet to each leg ASAP!”

The gunny turns quickly to Lance Corporal Flemming, the company radio operator and yells “get me a medevac Fleming. Right fucking now!”  He turns back to Elken and says “we’re getting you out of here Marine.  Hang in there dammit!”

My body turn numb as I see Elken’s legs are gone below the knees.  Everything slows down as if my mind is drugged.  I begin feel a slight pain in my arm that I hadn’t felt before. I try to make sense of the scene in front of me. How can this be? I stare at Elken’s face.  Does he see me? Does he understand the extent of his injuries? What is he feeling?

“Get the hell back everybody, get organized with your squads!  We have this handled'” Gunny instructs the bystanders.

My mind hears his instructions but my body doesn’t move.  My eyes move between Elken’s face and the corpsman working on his legs. I want to say something to my friend but words never escape my mouth.

“Graham, get the fuck away,” someone yells to me.  I feel a hand grab my flack jacket and pull me backwards.  I turn and take a few steps forward.  I am again in front of Corpsman Coleman.

“Let me see your arm Graham, I see you are wounded.  Move your arm for me.”

“Doc man.  Elken, he’s hurt man, what the fuck!  What’s happening Doc?”

“He’s being taken care of.  They’ll get him outta here.  He’s fucked up man but he’ll live.”

Live.  What is living for Elken now?  What is living for any of us now?

As the corpsman tends to my shrapnel wound I can’t get the sight of Elken on the ground out of my mind.  This is crazy. The suddenly realization of combat is numbing.  There was no speech or manual to explain the horror of this morning.  I can’t stop thinking why am I here as I am lead to a field ambulance. Soon I will be in the safety of our makeshift base a few miles away.  The numbness doesn’t escape me as we ride away from the morning patrol.  I say nothing as my wound is cleaned and bandaged.  I think of my parents back on our farm in Iowa.  I hear the sounds of birds in the morning and the cows mooing in the background. It all seems surreal to me.

After we arrive on base I walk into the medical tent with Coleman.  I sit on the examining table waiting to be seen by a doctor. I understand the magnitude of this morning.  Of combat. Of me in combat.  It is nothing you can imagine it to be and much worse that I could have envisioned.

I will live with that vision of my first combat action forever. After nearly a year together Elken and I will be seperated.  I begin to cry as I realize that he is going to leave this country without his legs.  His life altered forever.  In an instant.  In a country far away.

I will eventually leave also, but without my innocence. I am forever changed.

<a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a>

This is a work of fiction.  It was written for Picture it & Write

I urge people to join in, comment with your paragraph of fiction to accompany the image. It doesn’t have to follow my story or reflect the same themes. It can be a poem or in a different language (provide a translation please). Anyone who wants to join in, is welcome. This photograph will be reblogged under Ermisenda on tumblr and added to the Picture it & Write gallery on Facebook and Pintrest.

Pain in His Eyes

I walked into our makeshift barracks.  Sarge sitting on a footlocker, idle and expressionless.  He’s still in his gear, vest and all.  His helmet lay on the floor. His eyes gazing ahead into what could have been another galaxy.  Who knows.

“Hey Sarge, whats going on?”  I asked.

“Nothing Willie, nothing at all.”

“You don’t look  yourself.”

“I am not myself,” he says.  “I am someone else now.  I’m different.”

“You’re creeping me out Sarge, what is it.”

“I killed today.” he stated matter of factly.

“So” I replied gruffly.

Sarge gets up quickly and stomps toward me, grabbing my neck and pushes me against the wall.  Others in the room quickly get up and stand by with looks of astonishment.

“What the fuck you doing Sarge.  This is combat man!” I yell, our faces only inches apart.  “WAR!”

“War! Well war doesn’t take away the fact that I have feelings dammit.”

He lets me go and stares into my eyes, his lips quivering with either rage or hurt.  He turns and walks toward his footlocker.  Its quiet.  He stops and looks around the room.

“I believe judgment will come when I  face God,” he says.  “I get that its war.  That don’t mean it don’t hurt.  What the fuck are you guys, soulless! Look at me, I am different now!”

“You ever kill Mackie?” he calmly ask the Wyoming native laying in his bunk.

“Why no Sarge,” he states in his country accent. 

“How about you Pryor?” 

The cocky Brooklyn native answers “Nah man.” 

“How about you?” he says to me.


“I hope you don’t.  None of you!”  he yells.   Then says calmly, “I have to live with this, right or wrong.  Forever.”

“But Sarge, its ok man,” I say to him.

“Oh yea, tell that to that kids mother,” he says quietly.  “Is that what the Marines telling your mother if you die here.  Its ok?” 

War gives birth to pain.  Eternal pain. I now know.  I learned today. From Sarge.

This work of fiction was written for Trifecta: Week Sixty.

Please remember:
  • Your response must be between 33 and 333 words.
  • You must use the 3rd definition of the given word in your post.
  • The word itself needs to be included in your response.
  • You may not use a variation of the word; it needs to be exactly as stated above.
  • Only one entry per writer.