S & W
by Michael Drake
“Shut the fuck up,” Tommy thought.
Some kid at The Dwelling, a local dive bar, was rambling on and on to Tommy about his cousin, a hard-charging Marine.
“These kids seem to live through their veteran acquaintances” Tommy thought, “Must be nice.”
“And he told me that this one time, they popped some guy who tried to ambush them. He told me his brains were like pouring out of his skull” the kid laughed. “That’s really fucked up. But I mean they deserve it, right?”
“Yea, definitely,” Tommy responded in between drags of a Camel filter.
You see you can still smoke in bars in Missouri. Unlike those states that ‘care’ about their residents.
“It’s like their own fault. Don’t fuck with America, right?”
“Yea, man, I agree.”
“Anyway, thanks so much for serving. I really respect you.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Tommy.
The bar was dark and mostly empty. Just the way that Tommy liked it.
Tommy wasn’t always so cynical. He used to love being alive. He used to be a fire team leader in 10th Mountain. He was good at it. His men respected him and his superiors acknowledged his ability to lead soldiers. After his second tour, during reintegration, it was discovered he had sustained a traumatic brain injury while in Afghanistan. No matter how hard he tried they wouldn’t let him stay in.
“Life’s going to be cake, Adams.”
You see, in the Army he wasn’t an overweight, unemployed nobody; he was Sgt. Adams, or Adams, depending on who was addressing him. NCO of the month, May 2010, a great leader with a bright future. These days he’s just Tommy.
“Man, Sgt. Adams gonna be collecting that disability, getting drunk and high every day, fucking college girls, Sgt. Adams is gonna have it all. Meanwhile we’ll be freezing our balls off this whole winter.”
College hadn’t worked out well for Tommy. He planned on going back eventually, it was just too hard right now.
The worst part was when he walked into the platoon office right before his early separation was final. He found himself in the middle of a conversation about him.
“Adams is just a lazy shitbag. Sick of these weak ass NCOs always trying to squirm out of the army and get disability. I been blown up 4 times and I’m still in.”
Tommy will always remember the awkward silence that followed when they realized he was in the room.
Tommy lit another cigarette.
Tommy had always heard of people having a hard time reintegrating to society. He had thought it wouldn’t be too hard for him. He was only in a little over five years. He wasn’t that militarized. Every time Tommy was on leave he would have a blast; those great times would make Tommy question his ambition to be a lifer. Maybe it would be different if he had a choice in the matter. Maybe it would be different if he had someone who understood.
He tried to explain it to his ex-girlfriend, Marie, at one point. The words just wouldn’t come out.
“I’m not weak or anything” he stammered. “I just can’t sleep without drinking or Ambien. And, I mean, sometimes crowds make me nervous. It’s no big deal. I’m not that fucked up. I know people way more fucked up than me.”
Tommy had given Marie a first class show a couple weeks after that conversation. They were grocery shopping and the grocery store was packed with people. Everyone just kept bumping into him. Tommy started breathing heavily.
“I’m gonna go look for something over there,” he told his then-girlfriend.
“Hold on, I’m almost done.”
Tommy just walked away. When Marie asked him about it when they got to the checkout lane he exploded.
“I just had to get out of there. What’s with all the fucking questions? I fucking hate shopping anyway. I’ve told you this. Who’s paying for the groceries anyway? Just mind your own fucking business.”
Tommy’s detachment and random violent outbursts turned out to be too much for Marie. She ended it after 8 months.
“Gimme another Jack,” Tommy told the bartender.
“It’s not like I’m suicidal or anything” Tommy told his father earlier that day, right before he walked to the bar. That wasn’t completely true. Two weeks after Marie broke up with him he polished off a fifth of Jack. He picked up his loaded Smith and Wesson .45 and began to point it at random things. Tommy had always liked holding a loaded gun. Halfway through the cigarette he was smoking he decided it would be his last. He put the Smith and Wesson to his head and cried for five minutes straight. After he wiped his tears he set the gun down and passed out on the couch. The memory was a drunken blur for him. He didn’t think about it too much.
His dad wanted him to talk to someone.
“I’m not a pussy, dad. I don’t need to pay some glorified High School counselor so I can feel like my life is special.”
“Last call!” the bartender yelled.
Tommy got another Jack and two shots of Grandad whiskey. The kid and his friends came up to him as they were leaving and all shook his hand.
“Thanks for your service, man.”
“I always wish I would have joined out of high school. Thanks a lot, man.”
“I seriously respect you so much,” the kid said. “You’re a hero.”
They began chanting “USA” as they left the bar.
Tommy got home and lit a cigarette in the kitchen. He pulled up his plenty of fish account to see if any women responded to his messages. They didn’t.
“Maybe I’ll call Marie,” Tommy said out loud.
He knew he wouldn’t. He was too drunk and she was probably with her new boyfriend. That charming, smart, funny guy Tommy used to be just like. The kind of guy who could go to a grocery store without screaming in her face. The kind of guy who could go to a county fireworks show without getting shitfaced and end up covering his ears while smoking a cigarette behind a row of porta-potties. The kind of guy who could look at her, not through her. He poured another drink and took out his Smith and Wesson. He always loved the feel of a loaded gun in his hands.
Michael Drake joined the Army right out of high school as an Infantryman. He was stationed in Vilseck, Germany and did one deployment to Afghanistan with Bull Company 1st Squadron 2nd Calvary Regiment.