My mood changed instantly, ice shooting through me. My hand was still outstretched to grab the pot and put it on the stove. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. Between her not wanting to get to the point and the fact that Jace had been deployed in Afghanistan for the last six months I knew there was no way it could be good news.
A thousand different scenarios flew through my mind. Valid scenarios, pulled directly from my own time in Iraq. Dead soldiers. Young men the same age as my brother. My brother who I was sure enlisted in the Army at least in part because of me.
“Is he dead?” It blurted out, my voice shaking. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to think about whether she might consider it callous. But the line was silent for way too long – long enough for my legs to work again – and I crossed to the counter, picking up the phone and taking her off speaker. “Mom.”
“No, he isn’t dead.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding, my lungs burning from the strain of it. I couldn’t even think about what I’d do if my baby brother had died over there. It just wasn’t a reality I wanted to face and I was still shaking as I adjusted to the fact that I wouldn’t have to. Not yet.
“Tell me what happened,” I said, slumping into a chair.
“Oh, Eric.” The sobbing came finally, erupting from the phone and flooding into my ear. “He can’t walk. My baby can’t walk.”
My hand dragged over my mouth, palm scratched by day-old stubble. Paralyzed. I knew how independent he was. Just like the guys I’d served with who were discharged with the same diagnosis. I remembered another infantryman in my unit saying he wished he’d just died; that it would be easier and leave him more dignity. And the thought of Jace having to suffer with that depression – that utter reliance on Mom and Dad – broke my heart.
“Where is he? The VA?” I’d already pushed myself out of my chair, grabbing my keys and wallet.
“No, he’s… he’s home. He’s been home for a month.”