Authors: Kristen Tsetsi
Tags: #alcohol, #army, #deployment, #emotions, #friendship, #homefront, #iraq, #iraq war, #kristen tsetsi, #love, #military girlfriend, #military spouse, #military wife, #morals, #pilot, #politics, #relationships, #semiautobiography, #soldier, #war, #war literature
Copyright © 2007 Kristen J.
Cover Photos by
Cover Composition by MCM
This book may not be
reproduced in whole
or in part without
Published in the United
is a Backword Book.
Kristen J. Tsetsi
I tug on my jeans, cover up with my
bra. He is asleep before I put on my socks, naked on the couch with
one bent leg propped against the back, the other flat and angled
open. Even drunk, most people would be self-conscious. Most would
have pulled something on first thing. Were he anyone else, I would
be embarrassed for him, would find a light blanket, or a robe or a
bath towel, to drape over him.
I sit on the floor and run my
fingers over his body, the tissue-soft skin of his inner thigh, the
sparse hair curls on his lower abdomen, the dark hollow where neck
pools into collar bone, and I wonder if I could ever be comfortable
enough, trusting enough, to sleep this way, watched, the way I am
We kissed at midnight, the way
people do, but we must not have had time to say happy New Year
before kissing was more than kissing. I don’t remember either of us
The phone rings and neither of us
What time’s it?” he
“I don’t know.”
He looks at his watch and wipes his
face and picks up the receiver. "Yes, sir. Yes, sir."
He hangs up. “Date changed again.”
“Surprise.” I hold my
“By changed, I mean, we’re not
“For sure? For real?”
“Not going.” He rolls over to face
me and the tags clink on their chain. Toe tags, really, no matter
what they call them.
“Why aren’t you smiling?”
“I don’t know, M. I wouldn’t get too
Chancey jumps on the bed and Jake
strokes his tail.
“Why?” I say.
“It’s just—there’s a lot in the
news, and people are saying things.”
“Just…something. I don’t know
anything for sure, so don’t get—don’t get the way you
“Who’s saying it?”
“It’s not that it’s being said—not
by anyone reliable, that is—so much as people think Iraq’s
“It’s just talk, though,” I
“Yeah. Just talk.” Chancey flattens
between us. “It wouldn’t make any sense.”
FEBRUARY 27, THURSDAY
From our window, I watch him stuff
his bags in the trunk, LAKELAND black-lettered on the sides. He
looks up once, then goes back to punching his duffel to wedge it in
a side nook. When he finishes, he holds out his arms in the snow
and smiles up at me. There’s been a lot of snow, for Tennessee. The
first we’ve seen in the year we’ve been here. He writes ‘come play’
in the dusting on the roof and I put on my mittens and
He holds me in the kitchen
in front of the open refrigerator. His sweater, wool, scratches my
“I don’t know if I’ll write
you,” I say. “I may not write you at all.”
“Come on, M.”
“I won’t know what to
“Say whatever you want. Say
you woke up at seven to go to the bathroom and then went back to
“You’d rather fight about it
“Then write that you love
me,” he says.
“Do you love me?”
“Don’t be an
“Why don’t you…you could
write notes like the ones you wrote me in high school.”
“I hate it when you do
“It took me two weeks to
figure out who you were. Remember?”
“You’re pissing me off. And
you didn’t figure it out. I told you.”
“And when you told me, I
figured it out.”
“You know it’s not some girl
thing, right? That I’m not one of those girls who grew up dreaming
of a big, white wedding? It’s just, if we—I can’t help wondering
what I’m doing here if you’re not sure.”
“Oh, no no no. Don’t do
“Besides you—and not even
you, pretty soon—what’s here for me? There’s no work, Jake. Why am
He leans into the fridge and
pulls out the orange juice. “I guess I don’t know what else I can
The curtains billow in the
wind and we are under the blankets, neither of us with a foot on
the floor. His last breath is quiet and he falls beside me. “I’ll
miss that,” he says, and I tangle my legs and my fingers in his. He
says, “Promise me you’ll take care of yourself while I’m
“We’ve already done this,” I
say. “I feel like we’re in a bad movie.”
“That’s not what I
“What do you
He slides his fingers from
the knot. “I’ll show you.”
Janis Joplin says there is
no tomorrow, that staying up all night means today never ends, so
while Jake sleeps, I sit at the kitchen table and listen to the
helicopters flying the pattern. Listen to the artillery exploding
at the weapons range on post, five, six miles away. I open the
window, smell the snow, listen to the cars on the main road, trucks
wheezing up the hill, bass rattling in the window-tinted Lincoln
that rolls down our street every night at eleven sharp.
Ten hours to count or to
enjoy, but not both.
I close the
Outside, cool air blows
sharp and hard and the snow is sun-bright under flat
People brush past, arm in
arm, sniffing, blowing, consoling.
I squint, but it doesn’t
help. My eyes ache. Shapeless white-gray clouds go on and on and
the sun and the snow and the clouds together are all too white and
I don’t remember where we left the car. Jake and I had leaned
against the trunk after dropping his duffel in a pile, and we’d
, surely, standing out in the lot. Maybe fast food, maybe the
weather, while waiting for the call to go inside, for his mother to
catch up from where we’d lost her at a red light. I remember
running my finger over the raised letters on his breast pocket and
reading the name.
This must be what it’s like when
someone dies. They’re here, and then they’re not.
“Hon, why didn’t you wait
“I’m sorry, Olivia. I didn’t
see you.” Her hand grips my arm. I tug free and her long nails zip
“I called your
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I
didn’t hear you,” and when a salt-stained minivan pulls out of its
spot I see our car, overdue for a wash, a radio station sticker in
the corner of the rear window.
“Where’s your ribbon, hon?”
she says, squinting at our bumper. “I thought you’d have one by
We—Jake and I—have one
bumper sticker: MARRIAGE = LOVE + LOVE. The message was crossed out
by a vandal, the streak extending to the bumper, the ink a
permanent, ugly smear on white paint. I tell her, “They were out.”
Too many—Olivia included—slap on the yellow ribbons in perfect
alignment on trunks and bumpers, the more the better. Her SUV
boasts six, three on either side of the license plate. She fits
right in, in this military town, where a bumper without ribbon
magnets is a rarity. Jake and I call the people magnet-junkies and
even found, online, a bumper sticker reading, I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS
We didn’t buy it.
His mother nudges me,
pushing me to walk with her across the lot. “There’s your car,” she
says. “I parked just a few spots away.” She links her arm in mine
and says, “I can come over.”
“Oh, no. That’s—I’m not going
directly home. I have to…” and then I mumble something. I have
nothing. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, until Monday.
“What was that, hon?”
“I have to pick up cat
“That won’t take but a minute. Let
me go with you.”
We reach our car—mine and Jake’s—and
she stands in front of me, keys dangling from her fist. Dried tears
stripe her cheeks.
“I have so many other things to do.”
I wipe my own cheek even though there is nothing there and tell
her, “You have something…” and point until she scrubs at her
“Gone?” she says.
She pulls me to her and clutches me
tight—so tight my nose is stuffed into the fake fur lining of her
hood and the perfume collected there makes me sneeze—and then
releases me. “Well. Call me, hon.” I watch her go, wait for her to
close the heavy door of her SUV and disappear behind tinted glass.
She honks when she passes.
Cold wind cuts through my
I zip my coat.
My head hurts. All that
I check my coat pocket for the keys,
hoping Jake has them. Maybe he held on to them and they’re in
—but I find them in my
Denise—I’d looked for her in the
hangar after Jake and William and the rest of them were marched
away—now pulls out onto the street and rolls down her window. I see
her light a cigarette.
I drop my keys on the floor and
stand in the middle of the living room. We left the tree lights on.
It wouldn’t matter if the tree were fake, but it’s real, and I
don’t remember the last time we watered it.