There was a spark that the pilot saw as we landed, on the left wing by one of the stabilizer flaps. The engines are still going, which does not make this ideal for me. However, when you are ordered to do a touchdown, unload and load, and take off in a short period of time, you work with what you have.
I hear a whistle but don’t react to it. I’m focused on the wire I see pinched and still sparking. As I crawl on my hands and knees towards the culprit, a blast hits so hard that I find myself flying through the air and landing hard on the tarmac. The force takes my breath away. There’s smoke and fire and screaming. The screaming. That’s the part I can still hear to this day.
I roll to my side and see the man who is like a brother to me, Bryce. He’s using his forearms to crawl. The pain on his face makes my chest hurt even more. Then I notice him. Jon, our commanding officer. There’s something sticking out of his stomach. I try to pull myself up to go to them, but I feel hands pulling me away from the plane.
“Let me fucking go! I’m okay! I need to get to them!” I scream to no avail.
That was the last time I saw any of them. My unit, my family. The ones that made me feel like I belonged somewhere for the first time in my life.
I had superficial scratches, a bruised back, and a few cracked ribs. But the pain I felt in my chest, seeing two of the men who were like brothers to me, broken and bleeding on that tarmac, never went away. The vision never leaves me. Every time I close my eyes I see it. The night I lost a piece of me I never thought I’d get back.
So, let me step back and give you a bit of history. I went into the Air Force as a means to escape my home town. My parents are pretty awesome, but growing up, I didn’t have any friends. I was the strange one everyone always picked on. I didn’t have a filter and said exactly what I was thinking. Being picked on sucked but it helped me grow thick skin. I think my brain just didn’t work like everyone else’s. I could remember names, dates, useless facts, and pretty much anything that I read or saw. Early in life, I was known to spout off this knowledge, which as a young child, I would get accolades on how smart and cute I was. As I grew though, it made me stand out in a negative manner. My peers started looking at me weird, and I found that I couldn’t relate to them or vice versa. That began my downward spiral into social awkwardness.
I received full scholarships to some of the most prestigious colleges, but I didn’t want more schooling. I didn’t want to have to endure more people not accepting me. So, I enlisted. I received a lot of flak from teachers and my guidance counselors, saying I was throwing away my life. My parents supported me in my decision, knowing my desire to get away. Knowing my passion to serve. I wanted my life to mean something other than just the big quirky guy with no social skills.
I enlisted and forged my own path. It wasn’t easy, though. I may be big, but I was not in shape. I had spent my early days reading and studying, so I thought I was going to die the first mile I ran. I was determined though, and gradually, I worked up my stamina as well as my body.
I was the low man on the totem pole in my unit. Airman First Class sounds important to civilians but, believe me, it’s anything but. I’m not the youngest guy, but I’m a guppy compared to the rest of them.
I finally got assigned to the C-5 crew under Second Lieutenant Jonathan Holmes. They called him Porn Star. Think about it and you’ll get it if you are old enough, or you like seventies porn.
The day that I was given my nickname was the day that something in me changed. I am secretly proud that I was important enough to be named “Spanks” by my brothers in lieu of Kaden Alec McIntyre IV. I got an unfounded sense of confidence. This didn’t stop my awkwardness outside the group of my brothers though.
The most awkward thing I tend to do is spout of useless facts. Like, did you know that a C-5 can carry 25,844,746 ping pong balls, or 328,301,674 aspirin tablets, or 3,222,857 tortillas? Yeah, you should see the strange looks I get when I pop off that gem. Women are the most taken aback and just look at me like a deer in headlights. If it wasn’t for the fact that I work out all the time and am pretty well built, I don’t think I would have ever gotten laid. The best advice I ever got was from Bryce, known as Beast. He told me to just shut up and smile. It works, too. I’ll get approached by a hot girl and then my lips start moving and their face takes on an instant look of horror. Beast then smacks me on the back of the head and I stop and smile. I let them talk and usually end up in their bed by the end of the night.
I miss those days of spending time with Bryce. Hell, I miss him and all my brothers. I sat in a hospital bed in Germany for a few days and was given very little information. All I knew was that there were lives lost. One of them being Jon. I went through the usual psych-analysis to ensure I was ready to be released. That was fun. Explaining that I was always a bit awkward took some convincing. Eventually I received new orders and was shipped stateside once again.
None of the guys answered the few emails I sent. The worst was when I received the monotone message that the number I was trying to reach was no longer is service. It was Beast’s number. The silence was sickening. I withdrew inside myself again.
I eventually bonded with the new unit I was assigned. But I never forgot the 167th. Every deployment I would search the faces of the other units trying to catch a familiar face. It didn’t seem it would ever happen.
During our morning debrief, my commanding officer informs us of our next deployment. They don’t seem to ever end. But this is the life I signed up for, to serve and protect. We are granted a week’s leave prior to our departure. For my new team, it was welcomed. Time for them to get their affairs together and spend time with their families.
For me, I didn’t have anyone. I still lived in the barracks. I could go home and visit with the folks, but instead I feel a pull. Something telling me to just drive north. So, I do just that and meet her.
Alyse, the spunky little owner of a diner that I almost missed driving through a little Maryland town. A speck of a place that I will find myself never forgetting.
Having to use the restroom, I take the next exit. I still have no idea where I’m going. I see a little gas station nestled back behind a few stores. It reminds me of those little mom and pop places in the middle of nowhere that proudly display “Eat and Get Gas Here.” I chuckle, thinking how someone really didn’t think about marketing when they came up with that one.
Walking in, I glance around and smile. It’s like a mini convenient store slash diner with only three tables set up off to the side. I walk past the front which holds a cash register next to a glass deli-like display case. There’s several different hot food items on display and each one looks homemade.
Spotting the sign for the restroom, I head to the back. I’m amazed at how clean it is. The walls and floors actually sparkle. I quickly relieve myself and wash my hands. Glancing in the mirror, my brown eyes look tired, and my beard could use a trim, too. I shrug. I’ll have to shave it completely off in a few days anyways.
Making my way back to the counter, I see a woman swinging her hips to the music being played through the store. A smile forms on my face. I can almost feel the happiness that seems to be pouring from her. She has an assembly line of subs going and she’s slapping down the deli meat to the beat of the bass drum.
“Welcome to Millie’s! I’ll be right with you,” she says, not looking at me as she continues to assemble the sandwiches. Her voice is melodic and upbeat. The way her body moves is almost mesmerizing and hypnotic. But the moment she turns around and I see a bright smile and sparkling green eyes, I’m lost.
“Wow, you are a big one, aren’t you?” she says like it’s a compliment, looking me up and down with a smile. “What can I get you?”
I’m literally standing unmoving, unable to speak. I’m probably smiling like a fucking idiot, too.
“Um okay. Qué puedo conseguirte? Cosa posso portarti? How about que puis-je te faire?” she starts rambling.
“What?” I ask, finally finding my voice.
“Okay, so you do speak English. Good. Would you like to order something to eat? I recommend the chicken. Although it’s deep fried and you don’t look like someone who eats anything fried. But it’s really good with a side of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese,” she says, pointing to each one as she says them.
“That sounds really good actually. I’m starving. What was all that you were saying before?” I ask as I watch her grab a container and start loading it with food.
“I wasn’t sure if you spoke English, so I asked what I could get you in Spanish, Italian, and then French. I was going to ask in German, but I’m still learning. Are you eating here or do you want this to go?” she responds like it’s no big deal to know so many different languages.
“Umm, here,” I say, looking over and seeing there isn’t anyone else in here. I’m not ready to stop looking at her.
“Great! Here’s a cup for a soda. Go ahead and grab a seat and I’ll bring your food over to you,” she says as she piles a mountain of potatoes into the container.
I fill my cup up with ice and soda and walk over to a table. I sit down facing the front so I can continue to watch her. She continues to load up the food container with way too much food. I’m going to be on carb overload. Yet, I can’t wipe the smile off of my face.
“So, I’m taking it you aren’t from around here? I’m Alyse, by the way,” she says as she rounds the counter and walks towards me.
Just as she gets to the table, she trips. I’m able to reach out and grab the container of food in one hand and Alyse around the waist. Unfortunately, I’m not able to stop the full cup of soda from tipping over and covering the front of my shirt and pants.
“Jiminy Cricket! I’m such a klutz!” Alyse cries, pulling from away me and running to the counter. She disappears for a brief second and comes running back with a fist full of dish towels.
She starts pressing the towels against my stomach and starts to go lower. I quickly grab her hand before she reaches below the belt.
“I got that area, thanks,” I say, laughing.
Her face is a bright shade of pink when she realizes how close she was to my crotch.
“I’m so sorry,” she says, using another towel to wipe down the table and floor. “Let me get you another drink.”
I move to a clean table and set down the Styrofoam container that feels like it weighs ten pounds, continuing to wipe off. I have clothes in the car I can change into, but I can’t get myself to leave. Even if I’m coming back, I feel like I may miss something.
Alyse comes back with another cup of soda and points to the top. “Lid. Always use a lid around me. I really am sorry. Food is on the house.”
“It’s fine. Believe me. I’m too hungry to care anyways, and I don’t want to get you in any trouble by giving me a free meal,” I say, sitting down and raising the container lid.
An incredible smell hits my nose, and I close my eyes as my stomach grows.
“I won’t get into any trouble,” she scoffs. “I don’t want to brag, but I know the owner. Eat. Let me know if you need anything.”
I pick up a piece of chicken and take a bite. The breading is crispy and has an incredible blend of seasoning. It’s got to be one of the best pieces of fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. I usually eat one thing at a time. It’s a weird OCD thing, but I can’t help myself as I try the mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Just as I anticipated, they are from the Gods. The potatoes are real and creamy. The macaroni and cheese is thick and cheesy. I’m in carb heaven.
I glance up and see Alyse wrapping up the subs she made. She’s watching me like she is anxiously waiting for my approval. I give her a thumbs up and a smile and dive into the food. The smile she returns lights up her whole face. It has to be one of the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen.
I want to continue to stare, but this food is too damn good. I practically hunch over like a starved cave man and continue to devour fork full after fork full. My shirt and pants are starting to feel sticky, but I ignore it.
I then notice Alyse cleaning up and turn the open sign off in the window.
“Am I holding you up? I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how late it was,” I say as I start to stand.
“No, it’s okay. Please finish eating. I just don’t want anyone new coming in. I have to do some prep for tomorrow. I wouldn’t mind the company,” she says as she wipes off the tables and puts up the chairs around me. She disappears into a room off to the side and comes out with a mop and bucket.
I watch as she cleans the floor. The way her hips move along with the mop is just like the way she was moving when she was making the subs. Her movements are mesmerizing. I continue to eat as I watch her.
This incredible feeling comes over me. I’ve never felt anything like this before. I’m comfortable. I feel at peace. There’s a hum of energy that takes over me and has me standing. I hear the music change to a slow song and I can’t stop myself. I walk to Alyse and take both her hand and the mop into my hand as I wrap my other arm around her waist.
She gives me a weird look but after I smile, she throws back her head and lets out an amazing laugh. With a shrug, she wraps her arm around my neck. We try to mop and sway along with the music at the same time. The song is about a girl who is beautiful crazy and the words seem to capture this girl I’m holding even though I know nothing about her.
There’s a familiarity about her that I can’t grasp, but I can’t seem to stop the emotions rolling over me. The next thing I know we are full on kissing. No words pass between us. She walks us backwards and I willingly follow. We are out the back door and maneuvering up a set of steps. By the time we get through the door of what I realize is her place, every last piece of clothing is gone.
Our bodies are seemingly on auto pilot and before too long, I’m deep inside her. It feels like I’m home. I know her body even though I’ve never felt it before. I know the exact moment that she falls over the edge. The orgasm that over takes me is the best I’ve ever experienced.
I lay with her until she falls asleep. A tremendous feeling of guilt washes over me. I didn’t use protection. I feel like I used this girl. Even though the connection is unlike anything I’ve ever felt, I can’t stay. I can’t put her through a life of being with a man like me. I’m married to the military and I’ve seen what spouses have to go through. She has a whole life here. I know how to find her to check in. I’ll face the responsibilities if she does become pregnant, but I can’t think of that right now. It scares the shit out of me. I have a hard enough time keeping my own head straight these days.
I shake my head at my stupidity. Why was I even thinking of a future anyways? It was nothing but a one-night stand. I quickly get dressed into my now dry and stiff clothes and walk out into her living room. I see a note pad laying on the coffee table. I can’t just leave without saying something. Fuck, I feel like such a tool.
I’m sorry for taking off like this. Thank you for the amazing meal. Thank you for the dance. Thank you for taking my mind off things and making me feel something I’ve never experienced in my life before. I’m shipping out for an eighteen-month tour. Please know I didn’t mean to take advantage of you. I think you are incredibly beautiful, and I’ll never forget this night we shared. I wish you all the best.
I take one look around and sigh. I get into my car and head back out onto the road. I find a little motel about an hour away from base. I don’t need to be back for another three days. So, I take those days to just relax and try to get my head back in the game. I see her smile, hear her laugh, and feel her body underneath mine as I fall asleep each night. I haven’t had a nightmare or flashback since meeting her. It was the best three nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time.