His dad used to tell him that people don’t change. Who you are is who you stay, no matter the circumstance.
It felt like an excuse.
His mom used to tell him that places don’t change you. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you, no matter the circumstance.
It felt like a warning.
Football changes him.
The Army changes him.
He learns discipline, and respect, and routine.
He learns he can be good at something, that he can put the work in and become better.
But sometimes, it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, things just don’t change.
The war destroys him.
He doesn’t come home.
At least, not to any home he recognizes. He wonders if he ever will again.
He should feel grateful.
Most of his brothers don’t leave at all.
He leaves the war whole. But he comes back broken.
His parent’s house is suffocating. They’re strangers.
The beach welcomes him back, an old friend.
It feels vast and endless and healing.
Kids scream happily, building castles in the sand. His wires cross and he hears bombs blasting. Kids fall, screaming, bleeding in the sand.
The sand feels different beneath his feet.
It feels endless.
The beach rebuilds him.
He’s 26. Determined. Healing.
He can listen. He can lead. He can protect and serve. He wants to help.
He thinks he can.
It’s different, carrying a gun in his hometown.
It’s not like war. But it still tries to destroy him.
He wants something he can’t name.
She’s 25. She laughs easily. He’s not used to having that power.
His smile comes back. He hadn’t realized it was gone.
It’s heady, fast, a first love.
He’s a cop. A husband.
It feels right.
It feels like high expectations.
It’s good, until it’s not.
Isabel doesn’t come home.
He leaves a light on. Just in case.
He’s changed. He’s angry.
He still shows up. He still serves. He still protects.
It’s the only thing that makes sense.
(It just doesn’t really make sense.)
(Isabel comes back, not home. He doesn’t get his wife back.
He makes peace. He turns the light off.)
A natural born test taker. Optimistic. Trouble.
She rolls her eyes. His smile comes back. (He knew it was gone.)
He shouldn’t care.
He does. Too much.
She disappears. He might too.
He finds her.
She saves herself.
She saves them both.
He needs something he can’t name.
It feels familiar. Heady, fast, a first love.
It’s grounding, slow, a last love.
It’s a dog.
And mIdnight trips to the beach. (The sand feels familiar again.)
It’s her laugh, bright and happy.
And his smile in the crook of her neck. (It’s never gone.)
It’s leaving a light on, and letting her turn it off when she comes in.
And being aggravated, and never quitting. (It’s caring enough.)
It’s kissing her in the dark, again and again.
He can name it now.
He’s finally come home.