"I’m From Colorado Springs, CO"
Story by Matt R; Artwork by featured artist, Jason Shorr
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“So he stuck his middle finger to the world,” Nick’s ring back sang to me as I waited for him to answer. “Let it Rock” was unofficially our song, that’s why he made it his ring back tone, to find subtle ways to say I love you to me when we knew that often one or both of us couldn’t.
“Hello?” He answered.
“I’m here,” I replied, I knew he could hear the smile on my face.
“Awesome! I’m just outside the door by baggage claim,” he told me, unable to hide his excitement.
I flew in from Missouri, not even supposed to be there because I was attending a military school. I considered it a risk worth taking because the army pushed up Nick’s deployment and this was my last chance to see him for a year before he left for Afghanistan. As I rode up the escalator, we made eye contact and our smiles grew even bigger. I barely stepped off before he had in me in a tight bear hug and whispered into my ear, “I missed you so fucking much.”
“I missed you too,” I replied, and planted a kiss on his cheek; no one we knew was there to witness our public display of affection. We headed for the car for the drive back, holding each other’s hand and stealing kisses from each other. On the drive back, we held hands and sat listing to the radio, comforted by the other’s presence.
When we arrived home, it was late and we had to pack his bags. I sat in a chair and called off items while he stuffed them into his duffel bag. Between items we would kiss and confess our love to each other. I would tell him not to go because I wouldn’t know what to do without him. He laughed it off, as did I, because we both knew it was out of the question. I told him that I would wait right here for him to come back and it had better be sooner rather than later. He promised me he would, and we kissed and held each other some more. We finished packing and laid down in bed.
We made love.
Afterwards we laid naked in silence, listened to each other’s heartbeats and enjoyed the company. I wished the night would never end, but we drifted off to sleep entangled in each other’s arms.
The next day we woke up early and spent the day finishing up his last minute packing, holding each other, kissing, and getting in our final I love yous. Before we knew it, the time came to take Nick to the base where we would have to hide our love and say goodbye to each other.
I looked around at the crowd gathered in the parade field, all holding back their tears as they sat with their husband or wife in their final moments before boarding the bus destined to take them to the airplane going 7,000 miles around the world to Afghanistan. I watched the lovers hug, kiss, and hold hands silently enjoying each other’s company. I saw the fear in the eyes of those leaving and the impending loneliness of the ones staying. Children played around me, pretending to be their dad in combat, holding sticks as rifles and yelling war cries as they rushed an imaginary enemy’s position, no doubt destroying the target and becoming a hero. I watched a couple close by, a woman in pink shorts and a white t-shirt wiped tears from her face as her husband draped his hands around her neck swearing, “I will come home to you.” Another couple sat close by in silence watching their daughter roll down a hill and giggle, blissfully unaware that her father would be leaving her to grow up for a year without him.
Nick and I sat as close together as we could without raising any eyebrows, chain smoking Marlboro Reds in silence. Occassionally he and I made eye contact and mouthed the words, “I love you,” to each other, after checking for witnesses. Then we went back to our cigarettes and silence. On the outside I showed no emotion, I was just a friend here to see him off because no one from his family made it. I wore sunglasses so no one could look at my swollen, red eyes. Nick did the same. He wore his hat too high on his head because it was too small and perched his rifle over his left boot so it would not get dirty. He had on a pair of my pants, the ones with a small hole in the knee, which were a little too big on him. Somehow, though he still looked like a professional Soldier, and every time I looked at him, my love grew deeper. With that my impending loneliness and my resentment for the couples around me that were allowed to hug and kiss grew. The lovers allowed to publicly cry and bemoan the absence of their loved one. The lovers who did not have to hide their hatred for the army at their fate. The lovers who were allowed to beg the other to come back to them in one piece. I had already done that with Nick, behind closed doors, several times, but I wanted to tell him just one more time in person, “Come back to me. In one piece. I’ll be here, while you’re there, waiting… For you.” Instead, I smoked and silently mouthed I love you while I held back the tears that I’m not allowed to show the world.
Buses crept up to the loading area. “Ten minutes,” Nick told me, though I already knew. Couples around us began to stand up to say their final goodbyes. I watched a couple pull each other into a tight hug, kiss, and just hold each other tight as their tears spilled into each other’s shoulders. Understanding fell on some of the children and they ran up to hug their daddy’s leg one last time before he left. Husbands held their uniformed wives and assured them that they would hold down the fort until they came back. Around Nick and I, hundreds of people said their I love yous and goodbyes. Hundreds hugged. Hundreds kissed. Nick and I mouthed, “I love you.” Then we shook hands. And he boarded the bus. I snapped a picture of him and walked back to the car.
When I turned on the engine, Lil Wayne sang, “I wish I could be as cool as you…” That’s when I lost control and the tears finally came. I drove home, missing Nick.
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