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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Ranger - 7. The Suicide

July 2020

 

“I can sleep on the recliner, Paddy. You can have my bedroom. After all”—a grinning Brad patted his legs“once I take these puppies off, I’m kinda short, and I’ll fit.”

The Saturday after Georgetown’s commencement exercises, Patrick had come to visit and planned to spend a few days with his brother.

“Don’t be a jerk. We’re sharing the bed. We’ve slept together aboard the PP before, and it was on a smaller one.” That had not happened since before Brad enlisted.

“Speaking of the cat, how was it taking it out by yourself?”

The PP was a 2001 Lagoon 42 Catamaran owned by their fathers, Tom and JP. The name was derived from the two men’s nicknames, Pope and Potus. It had played a part in the brothers’ high school experience, with them hosting regular outings with their friends.

“It was good. A little chilly at night, but we’ve been out in colder weather.” Patrick finished drying their dinner dishes and stored them in the kitchen cupboard.

“Did you have any trouble handling it alone?”

“Nah, it was pretty easy. Sailed downstream since there was a decent breeze and motored on the way back. Anchored overnight in the same inlet we’ve done before, right by Mason Neck State Park, and spent a couple days fishing and riding the jet ski. I just needed a little quiet period to pray and meditate. Have you noticed it’s impossible to find solitude at Dad’s place? Someone’s always looking to do something.”

Brad shook his head and chuckled. “It’s funny how you’re trying to get away to be alone, and part of our purpose here’s to make sure residents don’t feel isolated.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t have to go through the crap you guys have. I don’t carry the baggage you all do. If I did, maybe being alone wouldn’t be the best idea.”

Patrick had two weeks between the end of classes and the start of his summer job with the Bruins, Boston’s National Hockey League team. The first he spent in and around Washington with his parents and friends. During the second, he volunteered at Heroes Haven. Once the ground thawed, work had begun on new houses, and Patrick strained and sweated next to the residents and other volunteers. Now proficient using a pneumatic nail gun, he joked he had hammered in a million nails.

“When do we see each other again?” Brad held the hug as he and Patrick said their goodbyes.

“I know you can’t come up to Boston this summer because of the documentary. Mom said something about heading down Labor Day Weekend to see you. If they do, I’ll tag along.”

“You heard CJ and Owen plan to throw a housewarming party that weekend? I plan to be in Washington. Maybe you, Mom, and Mac can pick me up on the way down from Boston.”

“Sounds like a plan. I love you, Bradley. Don’t forget that, okay? Take care of yourself.”

“Love you more, bro.”

 

 

The weekend after Patrick’s visit, Carson Sawyer stopped by on his way back to D.C. He arrived carrying two ice chests full of food. “Mom thought you looked like you’d lost weight when she saw you at the graduation. She spent the last couple of days making and freezing casseroles and who knows what else.”

Brad peeked inside one of the coolers, licked his lips, and chuckled. “Oh, man, this looks good. I’ll have to call her and thank her.”

“I’ll text you her number.”

“This better be a one-time thing. When she met me at the beginning of the year, I was at my heaviest. It’s taken a lot of work to shed a few pounds, and she’s about to set me back.”

“Didn’t you say something about starting to run again?” Carson carried in the Igloos while Brad held the door open for him.

“I’m hoping. My next appointment at Walter Reed I’m getting fit with blades. Once I learn how to use them well enough, I’ll give running a try.” Brad opened his refrigerator and stored the food containers Carson handed him.

“So, how have you been losing weight?”

“Mostly diet. Trying to avoid junk food, and I barely drink alcohol since I moved here. And when I do, it’s a glass of whiskey instead of a six pack.”

“I’m gonna have to give up the beer busts myself. Since rowing season ended, I’ve barely exercised. I’m gonna end up with a gut.” Carson patted his very flat stomach. “You said mostly diet, what else have you been doing?”

“Learning how to ride horses and sweating up a storm at the gym. Mostly weight training, but I spend a lot of time on the rowing machine. You, better than most, know what a great aerobic workout that can be.”

“Yeah, you look solid on top, bud. Those shoulders and biceps didn’t just show up. I’ve seen pictures of you in high school and you were skinny.”

“Hey! I played lacrosse, so I was lean. ButDAMN! Your mom sent an entire tray of brownies?”

“She made two batches. Dad and I put a serious dent in the other one.” Smirking, Carson again patted his stomach. “They’re awesome.”

“Dude, I can’t keep these in the house. I’ll sit in front of the TV and eat the whole thing. Come on. Let’s walk over to the barracks, and we’ll share them with the other guys.”

Henrik Green, Brad’s next-door neighbor, had staked and roped a six-foot perimeter around his place insisting no one associated with the documentary cross the demarcation line. As the weather warmed, he planted a vegetable garden in the space between his house and Brad’s.

“Hey, Henk. Want a brownie?” Brad lifted the aluminum foil from the pan and held it out towards his neighbor.

Squatting at the edge of the planted area, the man raised nicotine-stained fingers to his face and took a deep drag from his cigarette. “Nope. Too much damn sugar in those things. You know they’ll kill you, right?” A coughing fit made his entire body shake. Henk spit, wiped a hand over his mouth, and dried it on the stained, crimson hoodie covering his bony shoulders. He returned to pulling weeds without another word.

“Your loss, man.” Brad considered making a comment about the cancer sticks but decided not to. He wanted to engage his neighbor, not alienate him. “I’m taking Carson over to the barracks. If you change your mind, come over. Hopefully there’ll be some left after the gang attacks them.”

Carson waited until they were far away enough not to be overheard. “What the heck’s his problem?”

Brad chuckled. “Henk’s okay. You get used to the acerbic personality.”

“He’s a dick, is what he is.”

“Give him a break, Carson. Henk hasn’t had it easy since he was discharged. He’s the perfect example of the people this place’s trying to help.”

“Sorry…” Carson sounded contrite.

“It’s okay, bud.”

Before leaving, Carson had met and befriended several other residents, and the brownie pan was empty except for a few crumbs.

 

 

CJ, Owen, and their daughter, Liebe, were Brad’s next visitors. From the day CJ joined Heroes Haven’s board of directors, he had traveled to Delaware at least once a month, spending the day with the residents. Sometimes he pitched in if there was construction or maintenance going on. During other visits, he simply sat with whoever was around and bullshitted with the veterans.

“Come on, guys. Let’s walk over to the stables.” Brad gently ran a hand over Liebe’s nearly-bald head. “Mark should be there. I want him to meet Liebe.”

“How come?” Owen adjusted the two-month old girl in the carrier around his torso.

“I found out he likes babies. You should have seen him with Carolina after Cristina brought me back from your graduation weekend.”

“He’s older than us, isn’t he?” CJ asked. “Does he have kids of his own?”

“Nope. And he said he probably never will. After his wife cheated on him, he decided he was never getting involved with anyone again.”

“Never’s a long time.”

“Mark!” Brad’s shout made the man turn around, still holding the horse’s reins he was guiding around the arena. One of the newer residents was atop it, learning to ride. “Take a break.”

After helping the novice rider down and asking him to unsaddle the horse, Mark walked towards them with a hand stretched out. “Hey, CJ. Good to see you again, bro.” Turning his attention to the man with the baby, his smile grew. “You’re Owen, right? Good to officially meet ya. Mark Strong.” His eyes zeroed in on Liebe. “She’s adorable.” He ran a hand over his shaved head. “She has a little more hair than I do.”

“Nice to meetcha, mate. And give her a break, she’s like two months.”

“Could I hold her?” The yearning in his voice was clear.

“Sure thing.” Liebe’s eyes were wide open as her father removed her from the carrier. “You have to support her head, okay?”

CJ, Brad, and Owen watched as Mark cradled Liebe in his arms as if she was the most precious and fragile thing in the world. “I’m impressed she’s not crying. I guess she doesn’t know not to trust strangers yet.”

“Dude, she’s had so many of our family and friends hold her since she was born, this is her normal,” CJ said. “Hang on, let me take a picture, and I’ll send it to you.”

A handful of residents stopped them as they walked around to say hello; most had met CJ before. Liebe was a hit with all. When Owen said she needed to be fed and changed, they returned to Brad’s place. Afterward, he walked them back to their car, hugged both guys, and gave Liebe a goodbye kiss.

Returning to his place, he found Henk sitting on his own stoop smoking a cigarette. The corners of the man’s mouth had ticked up a smidgen when CJ approached him in the stables to say hello with Liebe in his arms. He even stopped brushing down the horse for a moment.

“Isn’t she one of the cutest babies ever?” Brad squatted by his neighbor so they were at eye level. The motion still caused him discomfort and part of his physical therapy was designed to deal with the issue. The smoke and smell of stale sweat assaulted his nose. Borderline offensive, Brad resisted the urge to say something. His continuing goal was to engage his neighbor, to break down the barriers Henk had built around himself.

“Wouldn’t know. You’re the one with the experience. Not many people have let kids near me since I got back.”

“Jesus, Henk. Not everyone’s a dick, you know? That’s twice now my friends have tried to engage you with their infants in their arms. Can’t you see they’re trying to be friendly?”

“Fuck that. I didn’t ask them to talk to me. I bet all your goddamned visitors wouldn’t even give me the time of day if they met me anywhere else.” Even though there was nobody else around at the moment, the shouting was uncharacteristic. Henk did nothing to attract attention to himself.

Brad thought he sounded frustrated. He suspected there was also a touch of jealousy in the rant.

When Henk spoke again, it was in at a much lower volume. “You’re the only one around here with anyone coming around. You flaunt your damn friends and contacts and how do you think that makes the rest of us feel? Anyway, I’m sure the only reason they fake being nice is ’cause you’re around. I know their type.”

“You can be an asshole all you want, Henk. You’re not pushing me away no matter how hard you try. You can go fuck yourself if you think your rudeness’ gonna stop me from talking to you.”

That night, after thinking about the conversation, Brad sent out a text message to The Squad, the family, and a few others. He explained the parade of visitors might be making some residents jealous and uncomfortable since they had none. He asked them not to come by unless he asked them to.

 

 

Warm, rain-free days in June allowed for significant progress in the construction schedule. Henk’s garden inspired others, and homegrown vegetables began appearing at group meals.

Brad missed the frequent weekend visitors; CJ came alone for his monthly visit and spent very little time with his fellow Squad member. Henk became Brad’s special project. Determined to crack the man’s protective shell, he spent as much time around him as possible.

“Hey! Wanna get the dogs and play a little Frisbee with them?” Brad had realized his fellow veteran was more at ease while connecting with nature. His garden, the horses, and the chickens wiped the usual scowl off his face. The effect was amplified when around Bon and Jovi.

In November 2019, Jon Bon Jovi released “Unbroken.” A musical tribute to veterans written to raise awareness about the plight of returning military personnel, and the service animals helping with their recovery. The following year, when Heroes Haven was given two service dogs, the residents named one Bon and the other one Jovi.

“Yeah… Let me get a handful of treats for them.” Henk folded the newspaper he was reading and stepped inside his house.

The dogs did not belong to any one individual; everyone pitched in to care for them. However, the impact they had was obvious. A couple of residents had subsequently asked for their own companions. Bon and Jovi could be found near the stables when not running around the property, and slept there or at times inside one of the houses.

“How come you haven’t asked for your own dog, Henk?” Brad had to pick up his pace to keep up with the other man. “You tend to smile when you’re around them.”

“Wouldn’t be fair to the pooch.”

The reply confused Brad. “What do you mean?”

“It would bond with me and then be lost when I croak. Better it go to someone who’s gonna be around for a long time.”

“What makes you think you won’t be?”

Henk came to a sudden stop, turned, and stared at Brad. “Dude, I may be sober for now, but I’m a junkie. It’s only a matter of time before I use again. Last time, the EMTs used Narcan and CPR to revive me. That won’t happen again. I signed a DNR last time.”

“DNR?”

“Do Not Resuscitate. I don’t want anyone to revive me again.”

 

 

Steam rose from the popcorn bag as Brad ripped it open, dumped the contents into a bowl, and turned off the kitchen light. On the couch, he rummaged between the cushions until he found the remote control and turned the television on. Time to relax and enjoy the ballgame.

Sometime later, as sunshine streamed through the retractable roof and bathed the inside of T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Brad yawned. He put the popcorn down, stretched his arms, and yawned again. It was common whenever he watched a West Coast game. The Red Sox and the Mariners were in a pitching duel. Neither team had scored, and he was unsure he would make it to the end of the game.

On the East Coast, the sun had already set, and darkness enveloped Heroes Haven. Brad enjoyed the nighttime peace and quiet. Thanks to the mild weather on the last day of June, his windows were open and the few sounds filtering through the screens were cricket chirps. Faint barking could be heard in the distance.

Yawning again, Brad decided it was time for bed. He turned the television off, stood, and carried the popcorn bowl to the kitchen. The leftovers he would pour into a bird feeder the next morning. Before he made it to his bedroom, the silence was broken by a dog barking nearby. When the racket faded, Brad assumed either Bon or Jovi were chasing a wild animal away from the houses. Once his legs were off, he was in bed and asleep before midnight.

 

 

“Morning, Henk. What’s up today?” Brad waved at his neighbor from the doorway. Breakfast over with, he planned on grocery shopping that day. “Mark and I are going to the supermarket this morning if you’re interested in coming with.”

Sitting on his front stoop, Henk tore his sight away from the ground at his feet and slowly turned his head. Smoke ribbons curled upwards from the ever-present cigarette between his fingers. “Nah, thanks.”

“Dude, you okay?” Brad was worried; the soft-spoken, polite response was uncharacteristic. As soon as he took a few steps towards his neighbor’s place, Brad realized why Henk looked and sounded morose. “What happened?”

The in-between-houses vegetable patch Henk had carefully planted and tenderly cared for was in shambles. Uprooted stakes and plants littered the ground. “Deer got in there last night. The dogs chased them off, but the damage was done by then.”

Brad’s heart ached for his fellow veteran. He knew how hard Henk worked on the garden. “I’ll help you clean it up and replant stuff.”

“Why bother? They’ll just come back.” Henk tossed the cigarette butt into an old soup can he used as an ashtray and stood. “I’m gonna go take a nap. I’ll see you later.”

With what he thought was a solution to the problem in mind, Brad went in search of Mark. A couple of hours later, returning from their trip to the supermarket, the result of a side trip to Home Depot lay strapped to the roof of the car. After unloading their groceries, Mark carried the roll of metal, deer fencing to the ruined garden.

“Henk! Come out here.” Brad banged on the front door. “We got you something.”

His hair was a mess and his eyes were red and puffy. “What?” He sounded as defeated as when Brad left him.

“We bought some fencing to keep the critters away. Mark went to get some wood strips and a nail gun to attach it to our houses.” Brad hoped the move would improve Henk’s mood.

“You shouldn’t have bothered, but thanks. I’ll be out in a bit. Need to use the bathroom.” The politeness, the lack of cussing or complaining was jarring. This was not the man Brad was accustomed to dealing with.

Although he worked on his small plot over the subsequent couple of days, even allowing Brad to help, Henk was quieter and more solitary than in the past.

 

 

With the Fourth of July approaching, one of the counselors working with Heroes Haven residents held a community-wide session to discuss fireworks. Brad was present along with the cameramen. Loud noises and explosions were a trigger for some of the men, bringing back memories of their time on the field. There were not many places in America one could avoid the Independence Day celebrations though.

Firecrackers, bottle rockets, and all types of aerial consumer fireworks were illegal at all times in Delaware; their sale or use was prohibited. However, just a few miles down the road, across the border in Pennsylvania, the law had recently changed. The pilgrimage into the neighboring state to purchase items banned in their home state was the subject of reporting by the news media. Heroes Haven asked everyone not to bring pyrotechnics onto the grounds.

As a result of the gathering, indoor activities in the riding arena and the community center were planned for the residents on Independence Day. Brad showered after spending time with the dogs and horses and headed over to the building housing the communal kitchen, dining room, and living space. He and Mark planned to sneak outside once it was dark to watch the display put on by the town.

“So, they don’t bother you at all?” Mark scooped more dip with one chip that Brad considered possible. It was a gift. “Even though you lived through a real explosion?”

“Nope. One of the first things I did when I was discharged was a visit to a firing range with my dad. I wanted to figure out if the noise would bother me.”

“I guess it didn’t?”

“Nope. But my shooting was fucked up. I went through the first clip without even hitting the target. Second round was better. By the time I came here, I was close to being a good shot again. What about you?”

“Noise doesn’t bother me, but I haven’t held a gun in a while. Part of my job requires me to carry one, so I’ll be firing a lot of rounds in practice when I get out of here.”

Brad looked up when a string of firecracker explosions was heard not too far away. He was surprised when he realized both cameramen were filming his conversation. “That sounded close. You think some of the town’s kids snuck over to set them off?”

Mark nodded and stood. “I’m gonna take a walk around the place to see if I find anyone.”

“I’m coming with you.” One of the camera operators followed them outside.

The three men approached the small houses but did not hear anything until one loud bang rang out. “Shit! That’s a gun.” Mark turned and ran. “I’m gonna check up on Henk, I haven’t seen him in a while.”

Brad raised a hand in front of the camera operator. “Stay here. No filming allowed near Green’s place.”

“Come on, man. Just this once. I promise not to film his face.”

“No way. I promised Henk no cameras.”

“Well, I didn’t promise shit.” If he had anything else to say, he was unable to.

A pissed off Brad drew his fist back and smashed it into the man’s face. “I… said… no… cameras!” While the man staggered back with a hand clutching his jaw, Brad grabbed the camera and threw it at the nearest house. It shattered against the wall.

“HEY! You can’t do that!”

“Send me the bill.” Steps away from Henk’s place, Brad came to a halt. Mark stood in the doorway, shaking his head.

“We need to call the cops,” Mark said as he sank to the ground. “He’s gone.”

Copyright © 2020 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for reading. Your feedback in reactions and comments is welcome and appreciated.

And thanks to @dughlas and @Mann Ramblings for their help in making my scribbles make sense. Any errors remain mine.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Story Discussion Topic

US Army Rangers Sergeant Bradley Thomas Kennedy lost his legs when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. Ranger chronicles the first couple of years following the IED incident. Will he recover sufficiently from his physical and  mental wounds to lead a fulfilling live? Will he get the girl in the end? Here's a little look at the story.    
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Chapter Comments



5 hours ago, Butcher56 said:

This was a great chapter as everyone seemed very happy with everything they were doing. I hope that the other veterans at Heroes Haven don’t have any setbacks to Henks suicide, I have a feeling that the deer destroying his garden may have been the tipping point for him. I wish Brad had been able to get through his walls and make a real connection with him. I think Brad punching the camera man was the only way to get him to not follow him to Henks house after all Brad made a promise to him that he would make sure no cameras were to be around him. 
 

Henk found solace in planting and animals, I agree the trashing of his garden was the final straw in his case. I'm not sure Brad could have done anything else to help the poor man.

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1 hour ago, dughlas said:

I was privileged to read this chapter in it's early stages and I cried. The addition of the damage to Henk's garden is excellent. The change in Henk's demeanor from that point suggests a life that has lost purpose and dammit, I cried. There was an enormous amount of love expressed in this chapter. There was the obvious in the interactions between Brad and Patrick and again with Carson, CJ, Owen and Leibe but what struck most poignantly was Brad's refusal to give up on Henk despite every obstacle. We talk about what a remarkable group of young men the Squad is and yes they are blessed ... but dammit we too can each of us refuse to overlook the Henks of this world. They and we are souls of equal value in the eyes of God. My my mum and grandmother before her taught me ... there but by the grace of God go I ... it is time I/we remember that ...

My apologies to those who might not share my beliefs but my faith is too much a part of me to keep it from you. It would be like keeping the fact I'm gay from you. It's who I am.

No need to apologize. Faith, whether in an all powerful being, in ourselves, or in others, is a requisite of life. In some ways, Brad's led a charmed life even after losing his legs. I wanted to contrast his experience with someone not quite as lucky. I'm not sure why the plight of veterans gets to me.

The trampling of the garden came about when Mann pushed me to provide an event that would push Henk over the edge. Most chapters he looked at once, this one it was three times. Even after I wrote the scene with the deer and the dogs, he helped polish it.

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On 4/10/2020 at 2:14 PM, dughlas said:

I remember your note of warning and our subsequent conversation. I remember telling you I thought your handling of Henk's suicide was well done and your readers would see it that way too. You are a thoughtful and caring man or as Gov Cuomo might say you're a tough enough guy to be tender.

You're gonna ruin my reputation!

I believe when this is all over, Gov. Cuomo will be remembered as a bright star in the darkness. Like him, I don't believe in sugarcoating issues.

Edited by Carlos Hazday
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13 hours ago, tor200534 said:

Excellent chapter Carlos 

Thank you for helping me start the day smiling because of all your reactions!

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34 minutes ago, WolfM said:

From the title and the focus on Henk, I knew he'd be the one. Though with a writer like you it could have just as easily been anyone at Heros. It's a powerful chapter and very well done. When you're living on the edge of that abyss, it doesn't take much to step off the edge. And there were a lot of things here that pushed him.

You want to hate the camera man at the end, but in reality it's his job. Just like every story in the news where they shove a camera in the face of a person who is suffering. Their actions are detestable, but they do serve a purpose.

Thanks, Wolf.

It sounds cruel, but I created Henk just so I could kill him. I tried to set the stage by introducing him early on and showing he was damaged.

Intrusive cameras during hard times are a fact of life. Mostly due to the public wanting to see others' misery. As I mentioned before, that little scene was rougher in my first draft. Mann suggested I mellow it out so the cameraman would not come across as a complete douche, but a man thinking about his job instead.

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2 hours ago, dughlas said:

I read both the earlier version and the one posted here. I think the cameraman was an insensitive ass, job or not. He was not filming for the evening news. There were rules in place regarding how residents were to be treated and Henk was to be left alone per his request. Henk's suicide does not negate his right to privacy. Death does not erase a person's human worth. For the camera guy to think he could violate the sanctity of Henk's home merely to get sensational footage was beyond acceptable. I feel the same way about the looky-lous who slow down at accident scenes so that they can gawk in morbid fascination.  

I assumed there were multiple camera operators so I did not feel bad about making one of them an ass. Because it's a documentary, I went with the idea of him working on one of those reality shows like wives of wherever who thrive on conflict. And I'm with you on the rubbernecking, If I see something as I drive by at normal speed, fine. Otherwise, I'm not interested in seeing gore.

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This was a very powerfull and and impacting chapter and is possiblely one of the best and most impacting of its category put on here.

  I am a little surprised about the comments of loneliness. I  have had that challenge all my life because of family other reasons. Once it bothered me greatly but now  it doesn't much even with having bipolar disorder so the issue of social distancing isn't a problem for me . I only go to town once every two weeks to shop and the rest of the time l stay home and talk to no one nor do l care to as l Don't trust them after what my family and some others have done.

When it comes to vets issues l to support them and am in total awe of what they do for us. I am not in favour of war generally but l am not blind to the reality that it sometimes has to be done to get rid of a great evil. The soldiers do a great job for for us the many would never do. And many treat them bad afterwards  and trample over them and forget what it is about . The scenario of war is grim and is foreign to the average person colonel  Ludlow in the movie in which he has three sons going if to well says it best never talk about war and being civilised in the same breath. It is all to easy for those who don't go to war to make value judgements and impose them on something that is separate to anything we would call civilisation.p

Edited by Bushman60
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