By Frank James
George Clementson lived a freewheeling life until he joined the Army. Upon enlisting, he discovered a new chance to change something bigger than himself. Mesmerized, he stepped on his bus to basic training and never looked back. He learned and performed all tasks, even in the Gulf War. When the Platoon Sergeant requested volunteers, he didn’t step backward. He bravely marched into the future.
His unit swept vast swathes of Kuwaiti desert to root out insurgents and rogue militia. One day, they found a band of refugees huddled in a charred building. The Platoon Leader kicked in the door to find families cowering in a tiny room. Fear and war smothered their faces.
The Platoon Leader hollered, “Get these people provisions!”
All froze but one toddler who ran to George. The child latched onto his leg like his son always did.
The child cried, “You saved us!”
George leaned down, “Everything’s going to be alright.” He handed the child a chocolate bar.
The radio squawked, and Platoon Leader took orders. He yelled, “Move out! Incoming!”
“What about these people?” George asked, “They’ll die!”
“Move out, soldier!”
George wanted to help, but he followed orders. Darkness consumed his soul as a rocket destroyed the building.
Returning to base camp, another missile exploded over the convoy. Shrapnel wounded George and killed his buddy. George collapsed, asking, “Why not me?”
Medics dispatched him for surgery.
George awoke to doctors conferring. He sat up, and one said, “Woo, boy! Lie back, shrapnel shredded your calf. Just keep it elevated.”
The doctor said to the others, “The patient is conscious. Has strength, too.” They departed, but George had to urinate. He swung his feet out of bed, planting them on solid ground. Pain sliced through his leg, grabbing his balls. He gagged and leaned on his other foot hobbling to the commode. He murmured as he relieved himself, “Life’s over. I pee sitting.”
Later, a physical therapist gave him crutches and taught him to plant and swing. He asked, “How long will I need these?”
She replied, “Not sure, therapy will tell.”
He growled, stomping a crutch.
“Are you done?” The therapist crossed her arms.
He nodded and they walked down the hall. She guided him as he practiced his new gait.
This repeated every day, until one doctor asked, “How are you?”
George replied with a dismal response: “Empty and conflicted. I watched an enemy kill innocent civilians and my friend.”
“People die in war, but you survived,” the doctor said.
The good doctor also prescribed therapy. It lured George from the lair of survivor guilt. George was released after a year. The Army additionally discharged him.
George strode into a nebulous future with images of Kuwait haunting him. His emotional quagmire strained his homecoming and marriage. He spiraled into depression. He tried everything to wash away his flashbacks, but they flared with simple moments. The elusive episodes punched him with shakes, terror, or hyperventilation. Reminiscences of bombs or bodies raced through his mind. George felt trapped.
One time, jets flying over slapped George. The event dragged him back to King Khalid Military Base in Saudi Arabia. It was a boneyard to requisition vehicles with raging red sandstorms. George realized he landed in a combat zone, and his turn was next.
Poof! George found himself at a drinking fountain washing hot sweat from his face. The cold water soothed his racing heart. He peered into the shimmering water to see how Kuwait injured his body and soul.
Rose, his wife, saw he needed help. She called his service officer, requesting further treatment. A new therapist gave him a bicycle. “Use it. Remember you control reactions not emotions.”
“Really?” George questioned. The therapist nodded.
George detected concern and thought: wow! Someone cares. He followed through, and it galvanized his undaunted love for his wife and son, Johann.
Picking up his son from school gave him joy. Children frolicked, screamed, and played. He observed all as the cool breeze placated nerves. His mood flipped as a child ran toward him. The incidence vacuumed his mind back to the charred building, during a rocket attack! Bodies and buildings erupted.
Frozen, his rapid breathing swirled a cool white heat around his brain. A throbbing pulse constricted his vision to pinholes. Ten seconds lasted ten days. His heart pounded against his temple, and he dug his nails into his pants legs. His mind flurried, until Johann tugged on his pant leg. “Are you okay?” George snapped to present. He felt ashamed.
“Yes, of course, just thinking,” George said.
“Awesome! Can we get some ice cream?” Johann giggled.
George licked last drop of ice cream. He returned home and to ride. The faster and harder he rode, the less anxiety strangled his gut.
Riding his bicycle became therapy. He pedaled so fast and hard that he upgraded. He procured a high-performance purple machine and named it Monster.
The melancholy never disappeared, but he controlled his reaction to his emotions. He hoped riding would one day redeem him. He rode to live and respect death.
He, at forty-nine, learned to race. The opportunity revived his self-worth. He hoped to show Johann different ways people change, and the rewards of hard work.
George never faltered on Monster because he wanted to see the next day. The freedom exhilarated him, except when car drivers didn’t yield three feet.
One time, a driver in a sports car jabbering on the phone blazed through a school crossing. The driver veered into a schoolgirl’s path.
George tracked down the offender and passed along evidence from his camera and a description to police. He gained a sense of deliverance by thwarting that driver’s future negligence.
The next day, he hammered out his workout in a remote area.
A farmer found his mangled body and bike in a ditch.