I wrote this short story a couple years ago on Veterans Day. I’ve brought it back, touched it up a bit. Thank you to everyone who willingly, selflessly took on the job that so many can’t or won’t. Regardless of your roles, you are all heroes to me.
I Bled For You
He was tired. Mentally, emotionally. The weight of guilt and grief and anger were a heavy mantle around his shoulders. Today, when his little girl came home in tears because of him, had been more than he could take. Feeling like a failure, he’d gotten into his car and drove.
Pete knew he should have probably let his wife know he was leaving. She would worry. She was a good wife. A better mother. She didn’t deserve all the hardships and sacrifices she’d been forced to face, mostly alone. He just couldn’t help himself. After looking down into his 6 year old’s tear stained face and coaxing the story out of her, he’d needed an escape. He didn’t want her to see the rage that was floating close to the surface.
Looking around, he found himself in the middle of nowhere. Up ahead, to the right, there was what looked like an old abandoned church. The tiny building with its dark wooden doors flung open seemed to beckon him from the road. As he pulled up and put his car into park he noticed the decay. Tall weeds surrounded the building everywhere except along the rubble path and the steps made of carved gray stone. The white paint curled and chipped with heat and age.
Stepping out of his vehicle he looked up at the little cross at the steeple. He walked carefully up the steps noting the cobwebs in the corners of the door jams. Although the doors were open with welcome, it was obvious to him that no one had been here in a long time.
He contemplated the dark, scarred wood that made up the cross in the front of the sanctuary. His feet led him forward, down the aisle. Stopping at the second pew, he glanced down. They were in good condition.
“What the heck,” he thought to himself as he sat down, “I’ve got nowhere to go anyway.”
Gazing up at that cross he started talking.
“I didn’t ask for this war. I believe in this country and what it stands for. I enlisted hoping to better myself. To make a difference. I wanted to provide a better life for my wife and my daughter.”
He laughed bitterly. “Little good that had done,” he thought. That same little girl that he’d wanted to give the world to, whose birth he’d missed because he’d been deployed, was the same adorable face that had looked up at him, eyes swimming in tears.
“Excuse me for interrupting, but it sounds like you’re having a crisis of faith, son,” a voice came from beside him.
Looking over, he saw a gentleman sitting beside him. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he never even heard the man join him. In coveralls, little chips of wood and sawdust in his dark brown hair and clothing, the man was fairly nondescript. Pete figured he was probably a carpenter.
He tried for a friendly smile, but only succeeded with a grimace, “It’s been a rough day.” He snorted softly as he rolled his eyes, “Who am I kidding? It’s been a rough few years.”
“Care to talk about it?” The man asked warmly. “Sometimes it helps to tell a stranger.”
Pete didn’t trust easily, especially after the welcome he’d received when he’d gotten home from overseas. This war was doing some crazy things to this country he loved so much. Something about this man called to him.
He found himself speaking, “My six year old came home from school today, crying.”
He swallowed hard, blinking back tears of his own as her precious face swam into his memory, “She was playing with the neighbor kids in their yard when she overheard a couple of the parents talking. One of the parents said that they thought it was ridiculous that we were even in this war. That our soldiers were out there murdering innocent people for a selfish cause that nobody agreed with. As other parents nodded agreement someone else added that they couldn’t believe that soldiers just went along with it. According to these people I should have voiced my disagreement and insisted on coming home.”
Pete ran his fingers through his razor short hair and looked into the sympathetic brown eyes. “They never considered the damage their hurtful words would do to those innocent six year old ears.”
He huffed out a breath, “Who am I kidding? I doubt they even cared. I came home from the war to be greeted by picketers, hate and angry words. Why should they care about how their words affect my wife and daughter?”
“Only your wife and daughter?” The man beside him asked, eyebrow raised in a very astute question.
“No,” Pete answered. “Not just them. I left today because I was so filled with hurt and rage. I didn’t even tell my wife I was leaving. She’s probably worried sick. I didn’t want them to see me that way! I feel betrayed! I serve for love of those same people who hurt my daughter. Who mocked my trip home. I’ve done it so they can enjoy their lives. Enjoy their freedoms. They don’t know. They have no idea what I’ve seen. What I’ve heard so that they can taunt me and make my daughter cry. I still hear the explosions in my head. The screams and chaos that follows never quite go away. I carry it all with me. In my heart. Scarred on my soul.”
He looked at the kindly stranger whose face was filled with such understanding, “Part of me wants to scream at them. I bled for you. I died a bit for you. Don’t you see I do this for you? How can you turn away from me so completely? How can you make my wife and child so sad for love of me?”
The man gently put his arm around Pete’s shoulder. “I know how you feel. It’s not easy to be turned away by the people you love so much. When all the things you’ve given up or missed seem unnoticed and unappreciated. Hang in there. Give them time. One day someone will realize what you’ve done and how deeply you loved them. Go home to your wife. Your daughter. Give them a hug. They love you.”
With that little bit of wisdom, the carpenter stood up and walked away.
Pete thought for a moment about what the man said and turned around to thank him for his kindness. The man was gone. As he looked back toward the cross, prepared to head back home, he looked up again. For the first time he noticed Jesus. He shook his head. He didn’t remember him being there when he first walked in.
Shrugging he walked to the car. As he pulled the car back onto the road he realized three things. First, the guy on the cross had a very familiar face. He looked an awful lot like the guy he’d been chatting with. Second, as he thought back to that man, he remembered the scars he’d seen on his new friend’s wrists. Third, those voices in his head had stopped screaming for the first time in years the moment he’d entered that church.
He bowed his head for a moment to say thanks. Someone understood his sacrifices all too well. It was time to go home.