by Jace Daniel (b. 1969)
The television’s calling this the Summer of Love. The biggest load of horseshit I’ve heard in a year. And I’ve only been home an hour.
There she is, or so they say. My seven-month-old daughter, in a crib, under a dangling party of giraffes and butterflies. Nice to finally meet you, baby girl. All I see is a soft pink blanket with a little person wrapped up in it. I wish I could see more. Your eyes are closed. I wonder what they see.
I walk down the hallway towards the bathroom, dragging my fingertips along the wall. Deja vu. The whole place looks so small. So clean. I can smell her cooking up something in the kitchen. A far cry from the three square meals of Excedrin and Jack Daniel’s I’ve lived on since last summer. Smells delicious. I wish I was hungry.
It’s quiet. So quiet. All I can hear is the busy ruckus of the pots and pans getting drowned out by the ringing in my ears. That ringing. It doesn’t stop. It was the fucking bombs. You have no idea. You don’t know what loud is. You had to be there.
The bathroom, first door on the right. Spotless. Fresh towels and washcloths, hanging symmetrically on the wall. My welcoming committee. I close the door behind me. Why? I don’t know. She put up new wallpaper, like she wrote. I turn on the light. Fluorescent overkill. Too bright. I smell soap. She told me to shower. I’ve forgotten how. She told me to nap. I already am.
The sink. I turn on the cold water, letting it repel off my calloused hands. In the mirror, a man I knew last year. Twenty years older, thirty pounds lighter, forty brothers richer. He doesn’t recognize me. Nothing to offer but an empty stare. He won’t even smile. I’m nothing but a stranger in his boat.
I feel the cold water splash against my face, wiped away by the the sandpaper of my palms. And again. I drink a gulp from my ten-finger goblet. Then more. And more. Funny how you forget how thirsty you are until you’re halfway through.
I barely see the man looking back at me from the mirror again, his blurry image rippling through the drying pools of sweet American tap water clinging to my pupils. I realize something I’ve never noticed before:
I CAN’T CLOSE MY EYES.