No More War Redux
By: Walter Giersbach
Kyle got back from Afghanistan on Friday, but he didn't call his grandmother till Monday. "I'm home," he announced. "Army said my war's ended. I could go home."
"Kyle?" He wondered if she was trying to remember his visit before he was redeployed. Or she was thinking about the first time he was sent to Iraq.
He interrupted before she blurted something that might embarrass her. "Could I stay with you? Till I get a job, get my feet under me?"
Granny Kate knew homecoming was tougher than war. After her two years in Korea, she told him, she was shocked to encounter civilians encumbered by wheelchairs and overweight people huffing along breathlessly.
"You're always welcome here! You know that. Now, how are your folks? You saw them, didn't you?"
"Dad's coughin' up blood from the lung disease. He's gonna need a lawyer more than a doctor. Doctors want cash. Mom said she'd rented my old room to a college kid. Said she thought she'd told me, and that I'd like the kid when I came to visit."
"Oh, Kyle," she said. "I know things have changed. It was different when I was a donut dolly, driving my truck and taking coffee to soldiers in the detachments. We had benefits then. So did your uncle, after Vietnam. There was an insurance policy when he didn't come back."
Her words sounded hollow against the reality of layoffs at the mill, home foreclosures creating a ghost town, the grim looks on his friends' faces.
"Where are you staying?" she asked. "Since you came back."
"Remember my old place on County Line Road? Been stayin' there. Roof leaked last night, but it ain't worth the trouble to fix. Bank's gonna come and change the locks when they take over. Who needs a roof if no one's home?"
"Guess we're plain foolish going to war all the time," she said before they ended the call.
Granny Kate's letters had been a lifeline when Kyle was in Ramadi and Basra, Kandahar and Kabul. His sergeant and platoon were like brothers, a family to rely on. They ate dust and MREs as they walked through valleys of death single file. He would come back from patrol knowing Granny Kate understood what soldiering was all about and why death had meaning in war-time.
Then Kyle told a captain at the hospital in Kabul there was static in his head, like a radio that wasn't tuned right. The doc ordered him to stop goldbricking and haul his ass back to his unit. Now, the telephones and car horns, the fire sirens and yak yak yak from friends were really getting on his nerves.
It was time to start his own war.
He wiped the oil off his .38 Smith & Wesson and sighted through the chambers. Funny how people listen when you have a gun pointed at them. Didn't matter if they were some Afghan wearing a sheet or a banker saying, "Sorry, we're taking your house away." They always listened when you had a gun.
Then his cell phone rang, "Yeah?"
"Kyle Callahan? This is Caroline Kennedy."
"I know you?"
"I don't think so. My father was Jack Kennedy President Kennedy and I've been calling some of the American troops who've come home. You know, just to say thanks and make sure everything's okay. Bunch of us Alec Baldwin and Cameron Diaz and others we're calling veterans."
"Much appreciated, Mrs. Kennedy, but you know times are tough."
"I know they are. I see the news and, you know, I talk to people. Senators and such."
"Fact is, I'm going to shoot some self-righteous bank manager."
"Oh, please, Kyle, don't do that. I know tragedy. My father was shot, and Uncle Bobby, too. I could go on and on. There was Mary Richardson Kennedy who just hanged herself."
"I was telling you about the curse of the Kennedy family. Mary was Uncle Bobby's daughter-in-law. She got fed up with everything and simply checked out. My whole family is under this dark cloud."
Her words confused him. "It's just that the static in my head gets so bad sometimes. I think I've been cursed too."
"Have you tried this thing that works for me? You close your eyes, breathe in through your nose, hold it, and then breathe out through your mouth saying, 'Everything's under control.' Do that a few times and it'll slow down your brain."
Kyle was intrigued. "That really works? It's yoga or something?"
"It sure works for me. Sometimes, with the kids and all, I get so down in the dumps I'm ready to quit."
"Don't quit, Mrs. K. You're an important person. And that Kennedy curse? That's crap. It's like saying there's some kind of supernatural conspiracy."
"Do you really believe it's all coincidence? The curse?"
Anger colored his voice. "I don't believe in curses. I just said that about me and why I was going to shoot some S.O.B. Everybody's equal in America. Opportunity always knocks. Else what was I was fighting for?"
"Thank you," the voice said. "Your words have helped me. Now, I have more calls to make, so just remember to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth."
"I know. And say 'Everything's under control.' Got it."
Later that night he wanted to call Mrs. Kennedy back and tell her the breathing trick was working. Tomorrow, he was going to wake up, shower and shave, and go look for work again. Then he noticed Mrs. K's area code and telephone exchange were the same as Granny Kate's upstate. He suspected that wasn't Caroline on the phone.
He wasn't sure who he'd chatted with, but he did feel calmer. And if it was her, he could believe he'd helped her shake off this family curse nonsense. He just wouldn't tell anyone about their conversation or how close he came to going ballistic.