of the End
June 1, 2006
I leave the Humvee running and step out into the hot street. The intense sun beats down on the back of my neck. Even with sunglasses on it seems obnoxiously bright. Fucking Iraq. Miserably hot, and here we are in the middle of the damn day, out in the worst of it.
My M-16A2 rifle feels like an old, familiar lover in my hands. The strangest sense of déjà vu washes over me. “Weird,” I mumble to myself, prying my eyes off of my rifle.
I quickly scan the traffic circle, soaking in all of the details. There is no traffic coming through; there’s a Humvee at each intersection, blocking off everything. No way in, no way out.
I glance up to Mike in the turret, manning the .50 caliber machine gun. I have known him for as long as I can remember. Mike was my next-door neighbor when we were kids. His mom used to babysit me while mine went to work, and she’d make us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then send us right back out to play. She always kept strawberry jam on hand because she knew it was my favorite. Hell, she was practically a second mother to me.
He is my best friend. He is more than that— he is my brother.
Mike’s back is to me as he watches the Iraqis, making sure none of them try to get into our perimeter. A horn honks and a driver gestures impatiently at the intersection. Mike quickly swivels his machine gun toward the car, silencing both the horn and the driver. I smile. We survived basic training together, then jump school in the stifling Fort Benning heat. We somehow got lucky enough to be stationed together. A sympathetic first sergeant then assigned us to the same squad.
I wipe the sweat from my brow. It is instantly replaced as the hot sun beats down on me. One bead of sweat forms on the scar on my hairline and runs down my face, following my jawline down to my chin, where it hangs on stubbornly.
I reach up and wipe the sweat from the scar under my helmet, and shiver. My mind drifts for a split second to Mike. I close my eyes and swallow back the lump rising in my throat.
Another small shiver runs down my spine despite the heat. I have that feeling you get when you know someone is right behind you and then you turn around and no one is there. When I turn around, I see a car parked on the high overpass we usually cross.
My heart starts to beat a little faster and my palms start to sweat more than usual in this awful heat. “I don’t like that fucking car,” I say.
“What?” Mike yells over his shoulder without taking his eyes off of the cars impatiently waiting for us to allow them through.
“I said I don’t like that fucking car over there.” This time I point at it with my left hand and hold my rifle tightly in my right. “I mean, I have never seen a car parked on that bridge. We almost always cross that bridge. That would leave us nowhere to go but right next to it,” I yell with a frown. “Doesn’t that seem weird?”
“Yeah, it is weird,” Mike agrees with a shrug.
I glance up at Mike for a moment, just a split second and then back to the car.
“I’m telling you I have a really bad feeling—” The car explodes with a deafening roar, shattering the peaceful silence of the afternoon.
The blast lifts me off of my feet and throws me backward into the Humvee. My head slams hard into the door behind me, my helmet bouncing off with a thud. The world spins for a moment and goes dark.