From the story, When Murray Met Helen

At nineteen, on Guadalcanal, Murray learned to harden his heart in order to protect his psyche. It was not as he imagined it would be. It was not the same as the willingness he knew he possessed to fall on a grenade, or to perform an emergency amputation in the absence of a combat medic. To those imaginable acts there were at least actions where he would command the major muscle groups.

To the hardening of a heart there is something less than an act and something as much as the collapsing inner loss of innocence. One dead soldier from Osaka kept handwritten poems with pictures of his wife and a young daughter.

‘Could this be my enemy? The mortar that destroyed young Jimmy McNeely from Schenectady. Could that bloody mess have anybody’s name on it? Even mine? Especially mine? And now I walk with who is left in this hell hole with an ocean in between me and the airy laugh I used to hear from the other person who used to live inside of me. It is not of what I want, only of what I need.’

He wrote it up, about like that, to send to his mom. But then he thought of her reading it and the pain and fear it would bring to her. So he tossed the letter into the cook’s fire.

That could have been yesterday, instead of 25,000 yesterdays ago. But the reinforced result is that nothing scared Murray any more, at least nothing he could imagine. There wasn’t a weapon, wasn’t an insult, wasn’t a bad day that could penetrate through the re-bar laden embankments he’d installed in 1942.

It just hadn’t dawned on him that he could lose Helen.

September 13th.

He could sense the trouble just by the look on her face when she came to the door. He remembered taking the deep breath when she told him, and receiving her hug, before she, herself, had to leave, because she, herself, was too proud to cry on the doorstep of an 87 year-old ex-Marine.

For some while it seemed that the fortress had done its work. His pulse had been pounding when her message sank in, but now it returned to normal and he cradled his mind in a silence interrupted only by the ticking seconds of the case clock on the wall. Then, with no warning, it was like he was looking down into a small waterfall, a line of tears splashing onto the oak floor and the blue corduroy slippers below.

sky slice

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