“Passage in a Time of War”

by Jonathan Latimer

Time was when everything he did seemed right,
when no one was better at life, no one was better
prepared; shining youth had no better example, no
more successful exponent of good ol’ American
exuberance and ability and ingenuity to conquer
anything life put in his way. But then after high
school he enlisted and disappeared for months, then
years, and we all went on, living our suburban lives,
doing what was expected, passing the mileposts and
driving through the goals set by the orderly patterns
of a familiar dance: romance, first job, engagement,
marriage, promotion, first children, and so on, And
we imagined that we overcame difficulties by
facing our challenges, getting ahead at work, paying
our bills, making the mortgage, credit cards, the
insurance, education for our kids, taxes, the
occasional emergency. And life was damn tough,
but we made it through; we worked hard and paid
our debts and seemed content, if not exactly happy.
Little doubts were easily pushed aside. And we did
not hear of him until he came home from the war.
And we all noticed how rigid he seemed, stiff and
unsmiling, his eyes scanning an area before he
moved. And he talked less, not just about the war,
about his medals, but about anything, everything.
When he did speak, it was only in a monotone,
without affect or inflection, just steady on and keep
moving forward, low-keyed and angry. Even when
he had drunk more than expected, taken more pills
for pain and anxiety, his old self wasn’t there. Time
having been ripped away, life seemed to follow
after. He’d become a new man and one day he was
gone, without explanation or goodbye to his
parents, his friends, his town, but no one took notice
at first. As awareness set in, we slowly realized he
was missing. The odd space he filled was empty
until he was found by accident outside of town, his
car out of sight in a brush-filled gulch, a small pistol
next to a body slumped over the steering wheel. No
warning, no note, no nothing, just another casualty
of war whose loss will never be counted,just another 
shadow blotted out in a time of peace.