|The Man from Swift Current|
|© 2011 Russ Nielsen
All Rights Reserved
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|Chapter 62: Rick On Active Duty|
Rick lay awake in the barracks, listening to the measured breathing of his fellow Marines. He’d been giving a lot of thought to his relationship with Glenn since he’d left Atlanta. The weeks had flown by since he was kept so busy during the day; but the nights had been very long and lonely. All of the other guys showed off the photos of their families and girlfriends; but he had kept silent when these exchanges began. He often would walk away from them to avoid the questions that inevitably come his way if he didn’t join the “show and tell” event.
He knew the guys were homesick and were trying to make themselves feel better; but it only made it harder for him, because he didn’t want to talk about the relationship he had with Glenn. It was quite by accident that he’d shown Glenn’s photo to his best buddy. His thoughts went back to that event.
Rick’s wallet had fallen out of his pocket onto the floor of the barracks. His friend, Sam, had followed him inside to change into some fresh fatigues before going to dinner at the mess hall. Sam bent down and retrieved Rick’s wallet from the floor. Before handing it back, Sam had opened it and noticed Glenn’s photo.
“Who’s this?” Sam asked, glancing up at Rick.
Rick looked to see what Sam was talking about. “That’s my roommate. We share a condo in Atlanta where we go to school.” Rick tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice.
Sam took the photo out of its protective cover and read the back. “To my favorite guy,” it said. “You two must be pretty good friends,” Sam commented.
Rick’s mind raced as he tried to think of what to say in order to avoid revealing just how close he and Glenn had become. Then, he remembered that he also had a photograph of Keith and Kerry. “Yeah, he and his cousin, Keith, are my best friends in the whole world. There’s a photo of Keith and his wife in my wallet as well.”
Rick took the wallet from Sam’s hand and pulled the photo of Keith and Kerry out to show him.
Sam examined the photos. “Wow! They sure look a lot alike. They could be twins!”
Rick laughed, “Yeah, they like playing tricks on Kerry. Sometimes, she’s not sure who is who. Of course, as soon as they start talking, you know which one you’ve got.”
“Why is that?” Sam asked.
“Their accents are so different because Glenn grew up in Canada and Keith’s from North Carolina.” Seeing Sam’s confused look, Rick further explained, “Their moms’ are sisters. Glenn’s mom married a guy from Canada and moved to Saskatchewan.”
“Where in the heck is Sask…whatever you said?” Sam asked.
“It’s a western province of Canada called Saskatchewan,” Rick said repeating Saskatchewan slowly so Sam could catch all of the syllables. “Don’t worry, Sam! I couldn’t say it before Glenn educated me!” Rick said, laughing.
“Good. I was beginning to feel pretty stupid,” Sam said. Sam looked at Rick for a moment. “You miss them a lot, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do,” Rick replied, hoping Sam would drop the subject.
“What about your family? You haven’t mentioned anything about them since we got here,” Sam said.
Rick’s face contorted into a grimace that reflected his inner turmoil about his family. He wanted so much to reach out to them; but after their attempt to physically harm him and Glenn, he wasn’t ready to open himself up to being hurt again. The silence in the room brought Rick back out of himself, “I’m sorry, Sam. What did you ask me?”
Sam gave Rick a strange look, “I asked about your family. If I remember correctly, you told me they live in Selma, North Carolina. See, I haven’t forgotten!” Sam smiled. “It’s just that you haven’t seemed like your normal self since we deployed. You used to brag so much about your exploits with women that we got tired of hearing about them. This time, we haven’t heard one word. In fact, we haven’t heard much from you at all. It’s like you’ve become part of the furniture!”
“I’m sorry, Sam. My parents and I aren’t on speaking terms anymore. My father is in jail for attempting to kill me,” Rick said with great bitterness. His face hardened into an inscrutable mask. “I really don’t want to talk about it Sam. I’ve been deeply hurt by them and I don’t ever want to see them again.”
The venom in his voice hit Sam like a bucket of ice water. He blinked and said, “Wow! You’ve got some serious issues with them then. I’d say it borders on hatred.”
Rick responded, “Yes, Sam, it does border on hatred. How would you feel if your parents not only tried to kill you; but rounded up a posse of relatives to do their dirty work for them?”
“You can’t be serious. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore,” Sam said.
Rick laughed, “Then you are totally out of touch with reality, Sam. There’s a lot of hatred out there and people aren’t as nice as they seem. I’ve lost faith in people. I don’t trust them.”
Rick thought to himself, “I can’t even trust you Sam; because if you knew I was in love with a guy, you’d turn me in a heartbeat, and I would end up in the brig.”
“Sam, can we talk about something else?” Rick asked, looking over at Sam as he finished dressing and returned his wallet to the pocket of his pants.
Sam nodded, “Yeah, sure. Just remember, I’m still your friend. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk about it, okay?”
Rick smiled, “Thanks.” Rick put his fist out to be dapped. Sam did the same. “Are we good?”
Sam replied, “Yeah, we’re good!”
They left the barracks and headed across the compound to the mess hall.
Later that evening, Rick lay in his bunk, hoping that Glenn would send a text message. After a while, Rick decided to send one instead of waiting. He climbed out of his bottom bunk, pulled his pants on, and stepped outside. He sat down in one of the chairs that sat next to the side of the building. He took out his phone just as it beeped showing that a text message had arrived. He flipped open his cell and saw it was from Glenn, “Can u talk?”
Rick hit the speed dial and waited for Glenn to pick up at the other end. His pulse had quickened at the thought of talking to his lover.
“Rick, I’m glad you called. I need you so badly and I’m falling apart here,” I said.
“What’s going on, Glenn?” Rick asked. Rick wondered what was so serious that Glenn would say he was falling apart.
“I’m trying to decide whether to put all of our stuff in storage, or just leave it where it is until we both get back. Rick, I feel like I’m drowning. I’ve become so dependent on you to keep me going that I’m just not coping; even with the little things. Ben says I’m a basket case,” I said, trying to lighten it up a bit, but not succeeding.
“Slow down just a bit, Glenn. Let’s go back over what’s bothering you before we go any further,” Rick said.
I took a deep breath before starting again, “I’m missing you so much I can’t function. Ben says we need to head north to Minnesota, because being here without you is driving me crazy. When we first got back from our road trip, I thought everything was going to be okay. I didn’t feel so lost. But today, everywhere I turn, I’m reminded that you’re not here with me. Am I going crazy?” I asked my guy.
Rick didn’t answer for a few minutes, “No, you aren’t going crazy. I’m feeling that way myself. Today, Sam tried to get me to talk about my family and why we aren’t on speaking terms anymore. I’m trying not to offend him, because he’s a good friend. I know that if Sam knew, he’d turn me in to the MPs in a heartbeat. I hate not being able to trust anyone, Glenn. These guys are like family to me. You don’t know how hard it’s been these last few weeks to hold back; always remembering one of them could be the one to betray me. I didn’t think it would be this hard.”
“I’m sorry, Rick. I know I’m the one that’s caused this mess,” I said.
“Stop right there, Glenn. You are not the cause of anything! We’ve been over this before so don’t even go there. We are going to get through this together, okay?” Rick asked.
“Okay,” I replied.
“Now, as for the condo, leave everything where it is. I want you and Ben to leave tomorrow for Minnesota. You will be much happier than staying there at the condo. Promise me you’ll do it,” Rick said.
“I promise. I knew that talking to you would solve all my problems. I love you so much,” I said.
“I love you, too, Babe. I’ll talk to you tomorrow if I can,” Rick said.
“Okay, I’ll text you and then you can call if you’re able to do so,” I said.
“Good night, Babe,” Rick said.
“Good night,” I said.
Rick flipped his cell shut. He started to get up when he heard someone approaching. He waited to see who it was and relaxed when he saw it was Sam. Sam sat down next to him.
“Rick, you’ve got to stop trying to hide from me. I know that you’re not happy in the Marines, anymore. Your heart is not in it like it used to be. I need you to talk to me. I’m really worried about you,” Sam said.
Rick looked at Sam, thinking, ‘can I really trust this guy or is he like every other guy here.’ He had heard so much homophobic talk from his fellow Marines; it made him almost physically ill. It seemed that the entire Marine Corps was filled with the same kind of people as his parents. He hadn’t seen it that way until his parents turned on him and tried to do him in because he didn’t fit their neat little mold. All the gay bashing going on in the barracks set his teeth on edge.
“Sam, I’m very disillusioned with the Marine Corps. It seems to me that many of my fellow Marines are just like my parents and can’t be trusted,” Rick said.
Sam asked, “What do you mean?”
“Sam, I can’t trust them anymore. I feel like I’m in the middle of an enemy encampment; surrounded on all sides by people who will do me in,” Rick said.
“That’s some pretty serious stuff you’re laying on me, dude. I knew you had changed; but I didn’t think you considered us your enemies,” Sam said, his amazement showing in his voice.
“I don’t consider you my enemy, Sam. It’s just that I don’t know who I can trust anymore,” Rick said.
“Well, let’s start with who you DO trust,” Sam said, waiting for Rick to answer.
“I trust my roommate, Glenn, and most of his family,” Rick replied.
“Okay, why do you trust them?” Sam asked.
“I trust them because they have stood by me in good times and bad. They are paying for my college education. They are always there for me, and they have embraced me as one of their own. When my parents disowned me, they were there to keep me from completely falling apart,” Rick said, looking intently at Sam.
Sam reached over and patted Rick on the shoulder, “You’ve had a rough time since we last took time to chat. I’m sorry that your family has treated you so shabbily. Who else do you trust?”
“That’s about everyone,” Rick said.
“I’m sorry you don’t trust me, Rick,” Sam said with sadness in his voice.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s just that I don’t know if I can trust you,” Rick said.
Sam said, “Well, I think I can put your mind at ease on that account. I’ve already put two and two together. I don’t want you to confirm anything or say anything. I’m just going to say what I think is bothering you, and you can decide whether you can trust me or not.”
Sam paused for a moment and then continued, “Rick, I know that you’re in love with Glenn. You don’t have to confirm or deny it. In fact, it’s better that you don’t. It’s okay with me, and I won’t turn you in; but you need to be much more careful than you have been. If I figured it out, there are others who will, as well. You need to come out of your self-imposed exile. The guys are beginning to wonder what’s going on.” He put his arm around Rick’s shoulders. “Rick, I want to help you, okay?”
Rick sat stunned at Sam’s statements. He had been so careful; or at least thought he had been. He knew Sam was right. He needed to try to return to a sense of normalcy, in order to stave off any further speculation about the subject.
“Okay, I guess I can trust you. Thank you for being there for me, Sam,” Rick replied.
Sam responded, “Join us tomorrow for a game of poker and a few beers. It will be like old times, and the guys will be put at ease about you. Your mental state is what has all of us worried. We don’t want you to snap at a critical moment. We’ve got to be able to count on you. Will you come tomorrow night?”
“Yes, I’ll come. Thanks, Sam,” Rick said.
“No problem. That’s what friends do for friends. Now stop trying to hide things from me and let me help you. My brother is gay and has a life partner. My brother is all I have since my parents were killed in a car accident last year. I’ve changed my position on gays since I’ve gotten to know them better. Our parents’ death really shook us both; so we agreed to stop feuding over his lifestyle, and we’ve begun to put away a lot of the hate that had arisen between us. I’m not totally there, yet, but I’m making an effort,” Sam explained.
Rick smiled for the first time during the whole conversation, “Sam, thank you for talking to me tonight. It helps to know that I’m not completely alone here.”
Sam pulled Rick to his feet, “Let’s get some shut eye. We’ve got a lot of things to do tomorrow.”
Rick followed Sam back into the barracks. He was grateful for Sam. Some of the pressure he’d been feeling had lessened. Maybe things would work out after all.
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