Puffs of air kiss his face as he walks along the sidewalk.
Even at night, the city keeps busy. Rambunctious music from distant bars fills the air, cars speed by, and several people walk about in the streets and alleys under the ever-present lights of the city. An ambulance siren whirls in the brisk night.
He retreats farther into his coat and continues walking, increasing his pace.
He doesn’t look at the people who pass him. They are just a sea of faces among a sea of other things to worry about.
Finally—after a few minutes—he reaches the bridge.
Nothing stirs in the river below. Other than the reflection of the city lights, blackness dominates. He leans over the edge, catching a glimpse of his own reflection. He doesn’t know how much time passes as he stands there, feet crossed at the ankles and arms causally resting on the concrete barrier.
He doesn’t count how many cars and pedestrians pass by. There’s no use anyways.
His mind conceives no new idea or thought. The only thing that occupies the blank space is one snip-it of one particular moment in his life. It plays over…
…and over again.
His own senses assault him. The crack of guns and bombs deafen him, and the sight of men falling around him besiege his eyes and twists the few contents of the lunch he just abandoned moments ago. The smells of sulfuric gunpowder and metallic blood clog his nose so much that he can taste them. His fingers feel the smooth edge of the gun in front of him, a contrast from his rough, calloused fingers. His pointer finger rests gently against the trigger.
Time slows down as he forces his finger forward, swinging his arms back and forth as his enemies in front of him fall down at his feet. He sees out of the corner of his eye his partner and best friend fall from the impact of a bullet. Quick as lightning yet feeling as slow as molasses, he turns on the source of the bullet and again pulls the trigger, giving no mercy to the assailant. His stomach twists yet again as he looks upon the felled men, and then his partner.
Still breathing, still clutching at the wound in his thigh. Eyes wide with shock and glassed over.
He wastes no time in kneeling by his partner’s side, submitting to the shower of bullets flying past his head. Slipping an arm across his shoulder, he pulls him up, supporting most of his weight as they both retreat.
“Cover us,” he screams to the guy on his left. The sounds of battle nearly swallow his command.
“Sir, yes sir!” The man screams back.
His senses still assault him. Bullets rush past him, but he and his partner escape the striking force of one. Reaching a makeshift shelter, he sets his partner down, immediately working to evaluate and tend to his wound as best as he can in the situation.
It plays over…
…and over again.
Now, fingers numb from the cold city night, he reaches into his jacket pocket, pulling out a worn, gray cloth. Fingers shaking, he gently tugs at the edges, pulling them back to reveal a shiny gold medal attached to a purple cord at the top. A purple heart enclosed around George Washington’s face rests in the middle of the gold surface.
A medal people say he deserves. A medal that defines him as a hero.
A medal that means nothing but shaky fingers and a blank mind for him.
And with that, as he continues to stare at the tiny treasure, his mind stays blank…
…except for that one snip-it.
She looks at him from her apartment window, wondering why he’s lingered on the bridge for hours.
His face stays expressionless. He pays no heed to the sounds and sights around him. His gaze remains fixated on the back of his eyelids.
Closed eyes. Closed ears. Closed mouth.
What goes on in his mind?
What goes on in that secret room behind closed doors?
He stays at the side of the bridge for a while longer, never so much as moving an inch. So she stays, too, watching him with amazement and curiosity.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, he moves. He walks away from her apartment building, his gait stiff, rigid.
Closed heart. Closed soul.
She’ll never know.