All rights reserved Kim Cong 2017
The restaurant was exactly as described, expensive and plus. Well, except for one small detail – Karaoke. The upmarket place was hilariously pretentious, apart from the karaoke booth in the corner. Lil and I were three sheets to the wind, egging on Jack as he made his way to the stage.
“ABBA!” Lily yelled at him. “Dancing Queen!”
“Like a virgin!” I screamed, laughing uproariously as he gave us both the finger.
He selected a power-ballad by Journey. Whimp.
The track ended to polite applause, the man sounded like a drowned cat. Lily and I were in tears, barely able to breathe through our laughter.
“Your turn.” He tapped me on the nose. “I expect brilliance.”
I shook my head, smile in place. “Oh hell no.”
“I’ll do it!” Lil headed for the stage, yelling, “Make way! Drunk driver!” As she wheeled through the tables.
I rested my head on Jack’s shoulder. “This is nice.”
He tilted his head, smiling down. “Only nice?”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine, I’m glad you guys dragged me out.”
His shoulders shook with a quiet chuckle. “My arse doesn’t thank you.”
I raised an eyebrow, lifting my head.
He hesitated. “I clench my butt when singing.”
Laughter burst from me as Lily started, an ABBA hit triumphantly spilling from her lips.
“Oh god.” We both groaned, sliding lower in our seats.
“She’s not with us.”
“Never seen her before in my life.” I agreed, hand raising to my brow to cover my face.
“Get off the stage cripple!” The belligerent shouting came from a corner booth. Lily’s voice faltered, her smile dropping.
“Yeah, that’s right! Retard!”
Jack and I surged up, heading straight for the shadowed booth.
A bunch of guys sat, nursing beers.
“Jesus fucking Christ.” Jack spat, his hands going to his hips. “Wagner?”
Sure enough, a guy I hadn’t seen in months sat with his cronies in the booth.
“You!” He pushed up from the table, shaking a finger at me. “You fucking bitch!” He leapt at me, scrambling across the table top, drinks and glasses and food smashing to the floor.
I stepped back, moving away from him as Jack snatched at Wagner’s shirt collar, halting his progress.
“What the fuck man?” Jack asked, giving him a shake. “You drunk?”
“Bitch!” Wagner spat, his eyes on me. “Larry would still be here if not for you fucking up!”
I recoiled, hands automatically adopted a sparring position. “What?”
“they’re dead because of you!” He screamed, his face mottled, his hair standing on end. The Karaoke music shut off, the restaurant quiet as they watched the scene.
I lifted my chin, desperately trying to ignore the millions of cuts inflicted by his words. “I did my duty.”
“And left us!” Wagner raged. “You fucking left us to die!”
I flinched, desperately trying to ignore his accusation. “I ordered air support. I did everything I coul-“
He scoffed, shaking Jack off, straightening. “You saved your own arse.” He spat on my shoe. “You don’t deserve those medals.”
Guilt twisted my gut, sobering me.
“That’s enough. You’re out of here.” Jack shoved him, pushing him towards the door. “And the rest of you!”
Wagner’s party quickly disbursed, helping Wagner to walk.
I stood frozen, my eyes on the spit on my shoe.
He was right. People had died and I was being rewarded for that.
“Don’t listen to him,” Jack said, dropping down to wipe my shoe, the napkin snatched from a nearby table. “He’s bitter and angry.”
“I want to go home,” I whispered, suddenly tired.
The restaurant slowly returned to their meals, chatter discussing the confrontation. Lily and Jack helped me out, pouring me into the car and took me home.
“You want me to stay?” Jack offered, having dropped off Lily already.
“No.” I offered him a small smile. “I’m fine.”
He hesitated, then nodded. “Okay. See you Monday.”
I waved, turning to enter my house.
No one tells you medals won’t keep you warm. They don’t tell you they have no power to fight demons. They don’t tell you that they’re steel and cold and full the memories of choices that plague you.
The panic attack happened as I tried to strip off my uniform. Breathless, frightened, unable to move as fear dragged her dark claws across my mind.
It wasn’t until I spoke to a psychiatrist months later, the panic attacks occurring nearly every day that I was diagnosed. PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She assured me I wasn’t weak, I was strong. I was powerful, I just needed the right tools to overcome it.
In my darkest moment, I wanted to it all to end. Lily and Jack listened, supporting, pulling me through.
But I knew. Deep in my soul, no matter how much I wished it otherwise.
I knew I’d never serve another tour.