The Veteran

The local paper interviewed his parents. A reporter with a deep chocolaty voice and kind eyes came to their house and sat down right in the living room and asked them questions about him. She asked how it felt taking care of him. How they handled the commitment to him. She spared no detail, poking her pen into everything, from the way they’d dealt with him being in a coma to how long it took before they could stop changing his diapers because he’d managed to get to the bathroom on his own for the first time.

“It wasn’t even a question,” his mother said.

“Paul was always our first concern,” his father said.

In his room, bedridden, Paul listened. He had asked them not to let the reporter lady see him because he was tired and wanted to sleep. If they can lie, so can I, he thought, listening to the words seeping through the walls.

When the reporter left, his parents spoke softly and hugged one another. “We’ll get through this,” his mother said. “We’ll get him back on his feet in no time,” his father said. When they came in to check on him, Paul pretended to be asleep. He’d gotten to be even better at it since waking up from his coma. It was a skill he’d always had. His friends in service always made fun of him for sleeping so much – by military standards, of course. But he wasn’t a big sleeper at all. He’d never needed much of it. If he hadn’t had such disdain for anything that sounded even a little bit spiritual, he would have said that he was into meditating. He remembered long, sleepless nights when he was a teenager and obsessing over a girl. He’d lie there, hand still sticky, completely still but for the involuntary fluttering eyelids and muscle twitches that characterize slumber. When he bounced out of bed in the morning, his parents never suspected he hadn’t slept a wink.

Of course it was a question, Paul thought as his mother shut the door and his parents went off to do whatever it was they did on Sunday afternoons. He was basically an adult now, twenty-four, and he knew that parents weren’t perfect. He refused to believe that his mother hadn’t wondered what it would be like to have him recuperate at some rehab center for vets like him. She must have thought about everything she would lose from her life, keeping him at home and caring for him around the clock. She didn’t go to her chess club anymore, and he hadn’t heard of her meeting a friend out for coffee since before he’d gotten half his head blown off. He didn’t think his dad could have been so blase about the whole thing either. Paul knew about the woodworking shop his father had begun to assemble in the unused half of the garage, and he knew that the shelves and the chairs and the tables his father had planned on building would never come to fruition.

They’d also told the reporter that helping Paul achieve independence was what they wanted most in the world, because they knew he wanted to be a useful member of society. His muscles convulsed and he clenched his fists, practicing the movements his physical therapist wanted him to do. He wanted to tell his parents that they were sweet idiots. He didn’t want to be a useful member of society. He didn’t want anything. He wanted to have been left on the battlefield to bleed to death so that he wouldn’t have to ruin his parents’ retirement plans. They’d planned to learn how to take naps. They’d planned to take a cruise to Alaska. They’d planned so many things that didn’t involve him.

His only motivation for getting better was giving that back to them and getting the hell out of their life. The only society he wanted to be useful to was theirs, the society of two people, by removing himself as the third wheel.

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