The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 27, 2010

Chapter 5, As the Small Town Turns

By Jennifer Adair
CNHI

— Buck waved as Raquel and her dad pulled out of the parking lot after Coffee Call. Buck had opened up more to Mr. Traubenkraut in those few minutes of conversation before Coffee Call than he had to anyone about his last days in Iraq.

Even though all he said was that his unit was involved in a long, heavy fight with enemy combatants and he had lost a lot of friends, he knew that Mr. Traubenkraut understood from the look in his eyes. It was the look that only another soldier could know.

Buck never had to ask the number of casualties in his platoon. To him, they weren’t just a number. He could recite the name, rank, and background of every soldier lost that day. He knew their hopes, dreams, and fears.

He could still hear the excitement in their voices when they were able to talk to their children on the phone. He could still see how proud they were when they showed off the newest pictures of their families that came in their care packages.

When the Army doctor diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, Buck politely told him he was wrong. What kept him up at night weren’t the memories of what happened in Iraq; it was the memories of what was lost over there. Buck grieved for every family that had to bury a child, spouse, or parent because of that day. In his mind what he was dealing with was normal.

They were already heavily engaged in battle before he even noticed Bobby Tom.

At first, Buck thought his mind was playing tricks on him because he knew how much Bobby Tom hated weapons. After the terrifying childhood Bobby Tom had survived, Buck couldn’t hold it against him. Yet somehow, there they were fighting next to each other again. Only this time they weren’t fighting their cross-town rivals for the county championship. They wouldn’t celebrate their victory at a school dance surrounded by crowds of adoring girls in leggings, each wanting the first dance with Buck and Bobby Tom. Their reward for this fight would be living to see another day.

Only Buck didn’t know if Bobby Tom had seen another day. No matter what Buck did to try to find out Bobby Tom’s fate, his efforts were always strangled by bureaucratic red tape.

Thinking again about the familiar look he had seen in Mr. Traubenkraut’s eyes, Buck wanted to talk to him again. Mr. Traubenkraut knew what it was like to return to civilian life after war, not like all of the other people who kept offering their unsolicited advice. How could anyone who hadn’t walked in his shoes possible think they knew what he was going through?

Maybe Raquel’s dad would be at the concert on the square tomorrow night. Buck knew he needed to talk to someone about Bobby Tom, but he didn’t think Raquel could handle knowing the truth. There are some things a civilian should never know.