Would they be able to see it? Would they be able to tell? Sometimes he felt that it would be easier if his scars were visible. If he walked with a limp or was missing a limb, maybe then people would understand when he moved a little slower, or needed a helping hand. Instead, he looked like any other young man attending his first day of college.
Unless you looked a little closer. Unless you were the type of person that looked with your heart. Then you might notice the quick flash of hesitation when another student extends a hand in greeting. Or you might sense the anxiety building as people crowd the door in casual conversation before the start of class. You might understand why he would suddenly yell at everyone to sit down, then turn red in the face after he realizes what he’s done. It doesn’t matter that they are blocking the only way in and out. This wasn’t there. This was here.
He tells himself to relax. An impossibility in a crowded room, he knows. But he repeats it to himself anyway. Relax. The teacher walks in and he feels the panic subsiding as the other students choose seats and stop the chatter. The door is free and clear now. Relax. He lets his back rest against the wall behind him and surveys the environment from his vantage point in the corner of the room. He automatically sizes up the biggest threats in the classroom, looks for potential weapons and reads body language for indication of attack. His heart races. Relax.
The teacher is asking everyone to state their name and some interesting fact about themselves. Was this some sort of test? A power play? A way to single out the weak? Relax. Suddenly all eyes turn to him. He tries to restrain himself from standing at attention. No one else stood to introduce themselves. Relax. But he can’t. All those eyes on him. His body springs into action. He rises from his desk, legs shoulder length apart, hands clasped firmly behind his back, “Christopher Williamson, sir! Interesting fact: I’m a soldier.”
A titter rises from the students, which dissolves when the teacher lifts a hand for silence. “How old are you soldier?”
“I’m twenty-two years old, Sir.”
“Did you see any action young man?”
“Yes, Sir. Afghanistan three years, Sir. More action that I ever cared to see…Sir.”
He watches the teacher out of the corners of his eyes while giving the illusion of staring straight ahead. After all, he is still standing at attention. He senses the embarrassment of the other students. He can feel that they are unsure of how to respond to the unusual behavior of the man-child announcing himself as a soldier in the midst of poly sci 101. Relax. He knows that he should probably sit down now. But he doesn’t have permission. He needs permission!
Then, slowly, the teacher raises his right hand in salute. “Five years, Vietnam….Thank you for your service, soldier. At ease.”
And he can sit. And he can breathe. Relax. He is here now.
He was there, so that they could all be here now.
Thank You to Our Troops for Their Service!
Photo credit: Jayel Aheram / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)