“War changes men”

I sit alone in the front room of my house by the window sill.

Waiting.

Excitement fills my hopeful eyes as I scan the street for the lively boy I have always been proud to call my brother. Ever since I was informed of his return some months ago I have pictured him sprinting up the drive way into my arms. Soon we could once again throw the baseball around in the park for a while. Just like old times.

About three years have passed since my brother, Vincent, waved us farewell from the train. I’ve missed his laugh, the mischief we used to get up to and most of all his kind heartedness. It pains me that I can no longer remember the timbre of his voice but at least I know he will be by my side soon enough.

“Today could be the day,” I repeat in my mind over and over again for the hundredth time since I was told of his return. Suddenly a car pulls up outside our house. I see an unfamiliar military officer step out from the driver’s seat and open the passenger door for a figure in the back seat. The officer hurriedly unfolds a wheel chair and reluctantly helps a weary looking man to the seat. My first reaction is utter excitement. If this soldier has returned home, Vincent mustn’t be too far away, but then it hits me.

The truth consumes me.

It comes crashing down on me like the unpredictable nature of the ocean’s waves in a storm. In a whirl pool of emotion I dash outside towards what seems like a middle-aged man as opposed to a mere teenager, my brother, Vincent.

There is a crowd of neighbours surrounding him, welcoming him back as if nothing was wrong. I glance around but there is no sign of the officer. Determined to see Vincent without a sheet of glass shielding him from my direct field of vision, I push through the swarm of people and come face to face with this stranger. He greets me with a sigh as though relieved to have escaped from the chaos of the crowd. Although his mouth is curled to form a smile, his eyes give away some kind of concealed emptiness as though they have witnessed death as commonly and as effortlessly as one would breathe. He seems to have aged at least ten years. I wheel him inside to be reunited with the rest of the family.

Everyone is making a conscious effort not to mention his injury and avoid staring at his motionless legs. I fill him in on everything important he’s missed in the past three years. Nothing we say seems to be processing in his mind. He looks tired and uninterested to focus on our ordinary lives.

He is much more reserved to what he was like before. He avoids eye contact at all costs almost as if he’s always on guard. Suggesting playing baseball is completely out of the question and so I attempt to make conversation with this ghost of a brother. I ask him something about the war and he becomes wildly aggressive. He begins screaming at me, ranting on about how I don’t know anything, how I don’t understand. After that instance I decide to keep my distance.

I am still waiting for the young boy who never missed an opportunity to play baseball in the park with me. I am waiting for my brother who always made me laugh. I am waiting for the boy who I always looked up to, whose military uniform I was so envious of wearing. I am still waiting by the window for my brother to come home, for he never truly returned.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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