My ears are still ringing from the IED; I think I hear a woman crying, but far away. A big lump of cold metal rests on my chest, makes it hard to breath.
My mother was so proud when I joined up- she was full of small-town ideas and ideals about duty and country. I never had the heart to tell her it was the best job I could get without spending a lifetime in a mill (and even that was probably a fool’s dream- since most of the mills had been closing ever since I got out of high school). That doesn’t mean I don’t love my country, or my freedom, I just don’t think I’d die for either on their merits.
My hands tingle as something in the metal becomes familiar. The sound of crying was gunfire, closer than I’d have imagined; my fingers remember before me, slide the safety off. I don’t feel my legs, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to stand- even though I know it’s going to make it trickier.
I’m up on one knee, telling gravity I’ll win even though I won’t when fingers grab my own, soft but strong. Her words come out in a burst I hear as automatic fire; I understand her second try enough to get “You must help me.”
I crawl to her through a puddle of blood, which is the first time I realize I’m bleeding, but it isn’t all mine- our blood is pooling between us. I try to pull her drapery away, but she fights me with all the strength she has left. I wish I could explain the virtues of chastity and modesty versus self-preservation, but all I can manage is “I must, to help.” She shakes her head furiously.
I feel the article, following the flow of blood in reverse to the hole. It’s wide- too wide for a bullet. I tear the hole wider, and it doesn’t surprise me to find a damn masonry nail sticking out of her. I fight every natural urge to tear it out- because my training tells me to leave it there and put pressure around the nail instead.
Her eyes are soft, and rolling around; her eyelids drop. I take one hand off her wound and I reach for her jaw. I miss; I’m woozy, and gravity almost wins before she reaches out to me. Her hand finds my pelvis, and I hole I knew had to be somewhere. Her head bobs, and this time I catch her jaw. Her eyes shoot open and she stares at me with deer eyes. “You’re not going to goddamned die on me,” I tell her in English, but if she doesn’t understand the words, she understands my eyes.
She smiles at me, a broken tension smile that comes with tears. “I love America,” she says in a harsh accent, but still in English. I laugh, and it’s light- no force left in my chest- and reply, “Me, too.”