The bullets echoed off of the stone walls as the war raged on. Distant shouts of General’s orders filled the air, drifting in and out of each soldier’s ear. Both sides fought with the instincts of a rabid animal, lost in the frenzy of violence surrounding them. Their eyes were filled with fury as they advanced on their opponents. Every step they took was intentional, mapped out in their brains to advance the battle toward victory. Suddenly a bullet tore through the air, penetrating the flesh of a young soldier. His body convulsed, falling backward onto the cold ground as blood began to flow from his shoulder.
Aaron shot up in bed, sweat covering his bareback. He ran his fingers over his shoulder, where the faint scar had begun to form. His head proceeded to pound as he swiftly swung his legs off of the bed. His bare feet traveled along the cold wood floors of the apartment he shared with Ava. As he made his way into the kitchen, his mind replayed the nightmare. Every time he blinked he heard the shot, the hollow sound echoing through his eardrum. His shoulder throbbed as if the bullet continued to tear his flesh piece by piece until every fiber shattered like glass. He leaned over the sink, running cold water through his callused hands and splashing it on his pale face. The sun was beginning to rise now, its copper and fuchsia rays bringing the sky to life. Aaron stared out the window as his nightmare continued to torment his mind.
The steady beat of a heart monitor filled the dull room. Ava laid in the curtained cubical examining the polystyrene tiled ceiling. The room had an undertone of disinfectant, almost smelling too clean as if the air was artificial. Her auburn hair was the only color in the room. Its walls were simply cream, not peeling or dirty, just cream. The limp curtains separating each patient from one another had the slightest hint of color. It was perhaps once the kind of green that reminds people of spring-time and hope, but it had faded so much the hue was now insipid. Ava’s eyes traveled to the door as it swung open to reveal a middle-aged woman, her mulberry scrubs brightening up the room already.
“Good morning Mrs. Collins, how are you doing today?” The nurse asked as she glanced down at the clipboard in her hand.
“I’m doing good, although I do feel a headache starting to come on,” Ava replied as she rubbed her forehead.
“That’s perfectly normal, you suffered severe trauma to your head during your accident. I’ll bring you some painkillers to dull the headache if you’de like.”
“That would be great, thank you,” Ava replied as the nurse headed for the doorway.
Her eyes met the pristine tiled ceiling again, examining the grid-like pattern until she heard a knock. She glanced towards the sound to find Aaron leaning against the doorframe.
“So, how’d you sleep?” He asked as he made his way over to the bed, intertwining her fingers with his.
“I slept alright, but I’m so tired of laying here in this stupid bed,” Ava replied. Aaron let out a light chuckle, shaking his head back and forth as he stared at her.
“You’re not going to be here much longer. I’m bringing you home tomorrow.”
“I know,” she replied with an exasperated sigh. ” I just want to be home with you.” She took in his appearance, noticing the faint bags under his eyes. He looked tired, his face drained of his usual bright complexion.
“How have you been?” She asked as Aarons gaze drifted away from her.
“I’m fine,” he answered quickly glancing back at her “just happy to be home.” He leaned down giving her a soft kiss on the cheek. Ava smiled, as he sat down on the side of the bed and they continued to talk until visiting hours were over.
The front door slammed shut, the sound echoing off the walls of the apartment. Aaron shuffled through the foyer, his head beginning to pound as he made his way to the couch. His mind continued to travel back to the battlefield, no matter how hard he tried to focus on something else it found its way back to the war. There were moments when he could see every detail, and feel every feeling as if he was there again. When it had started he had hoped it was a way for his mind to wipe out the bad memories, but now he could barely go a day without having an attack. His heart began to race as the memories resurfaced, the sounds of the bullets ringing in his ears.
As the pain tormented his body he reached for a bottle eyeing the golden glow of the glass. He swirled the drink, watching the amber liquid’s gentle vortex as he breathed in the aroma only years spent in an oak barrel can achieve. Wrapping his callused fingers around the glass he tilted it back and felt the keen burn on his tongue and throat, a burn from which his younger self would have recoiled. Yet now it was a feeling he longed for. The numbing of the pain that threatened to plague his body for the rest of his life was gone as the whiskey met his lips. He closed his eyes, dwelling on the flavor, savoring the lapse from the pain. His eyes got heavier with every sip he took, soon he was lost in the darkness and he drifted off to sleep.
The morning sun shone through the windows, its warm rays resting on Aaron’s face. His eyes squinted from the burning light as he sat up on the couch. Instantly he felt a headache, his hand instinctively traveling to his forehead and rubbing tight circles to try and relieve the pain. Once on his feet, the room swayed almost causing him to lose balance as he reached out for the wall. His forehead rested on the cold wall as he composed himself. He slowly inched his way through the living room towards the door, and out into the morning air. The fresh gust of wind filled his lungs, giving new life to his fatigued body as he made his way to the hospital.
Ava sat in the passenger seat staring out the window as Aaron drove to their apartment. Her thoughts strayed to their conversation last night, how Aaron’s mind seemed to be in a different place most of the night. His eyes, usually so full of color, held a dull undertone as he stared out on to the road. She couldn’t help but notice the tense air that surrounded them in the vehicle. As they pulled into the driveway and made their way inside Ava decided she would get to the bottom off it.
“Aaron, what’s wrong?” She asked as she closed the door behind them.
“There’s nothing wrong.” He stared at the floorboards.
“Please, talk to me. You know I’m always here for you.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong, okay? I’m just… really tired.” His fists clenched at his side.
“No, tell me what’s wrong, and don’t try lying to me again.” She placed her hands on Aaron’s shoulder.
He quickly pushed her hands away. “I’m fine. Stop asking.”
Aaron let out a shallow breath, and that’s when she smelled it, the pungent aroma coming from his breath.
“Have you been drinking?” The air hung silent as she awaited his reply.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Ava I…” he hung his head low as he sat down on the sofa.
“I don’t know exactly how-”
“Aaron, how long?!”
“It’s been about a month,” he glanced up seeing concern written across her face as she sat down beside him, “it started once I came home.” His words drifted off as he turned away from her.
“Were you ever going to tell me?” She questioned as she let out a trembling breath.
“Aaron, you have to let me in. Please just let me help you.” She pleaded.
“I don’t need help. I just want the pain to stop!” He shouted, causing her to flinch from the sudden outburst.
“I’m sorry, I just…” He took a deep breath and sat in silence.
“You can’t keep this all inside, you know? Bottling it up won’t do you any good.” She replied as she gently placed her hands on his shoulder.
His breathing began to hitch, as the walls he’d built up finally came crashing down. Sobs racked his body as they sat together on the sofa.
“Hey, I know you’re hurting, but you’re not alone.” She answered as she rubbed her hands along his back.
“Do you know what it’s like to be tortured by your own mind?” He questioned, “It’s the memories of the gun in my hand, bullets whipping past my face. I keep telling myself the bullet did it. The bullets killed them. But my brain knows I pulled the trigger. Every time I close my eyes I hear the shots. There are nights I wake up confused to be in my own bed because the dreams are so vivid. I just want it all to stop.” He pleaded glancing up to see Avas tear stained eyes staring back at him. She rested her forehead against his as tears continued to trickle down their cheeks.
“It’s okay to be broken,” she whispered, “if there’s one thing you’ve taught me it’s that you don’t have to be strong all the time.”
Aaron sighed, as she rested her head on his strong shoulder.
“I love you, and we are going to get through this,” she said, “there’s no challenge we can’t overcome if we face it together.”
“I love you too,” Aaron replied, finally realizing they could win this battle together.
Ava stood in front of the mirror her mind running a million miles a second as she waited for the timer to go off. Her heart raced as the shrill sound erupted in the quiet air of the bathroom. She glanced down to check the test, instantly her breathing faltered as tears of joy began to flow down her cheeks.
“Oh my gosh,” she whispered in shock, “I’m going to be a mom.”
Her thoughts were jumbled as she raced out of the bathroom, frantically searching for Aaron. When their eyes met a look of panic crossed his face.
“What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” He quickly asked.
Ava stood in front of him trying to compose herself, “I-I’m fine, I-I have something t-to tell you,” she gasped out as she regained her breath. “I’m pregnant.”
Aarons eyes instantly fell towards her stomach and back up to her. “We’re going to have a baby?” He asked in disbelief as Ava nodded in response. Aaron wrapped his arms around her placing a quick kiss on her lips. The young couple stood together ready to face this next chapter of their lives head-on. Both had learned from their scars. They now wore them as reminders of how far they had come, and how far they were willing to go to make their love work in the vast battle we call life.