Tracking Pixel

Jefferson Community College Website

Emergency Leave

Paul David Adkins

SGT Robinson heard a knock on his door. It was two a.m. He always slept light in the CHU, and he jumped immediately. He knew it had to be bad news. His father had been ill lately. Maybe he had had a heart attack, his mother succumbing to a stroke. One of his soldiers' family members had died. All these thoughts crossed his mind as he stumbled to the door. He pulled on a shirt. "Hang on."

His first sergeant, commander, and chaplain stood outside. He ushered them in, squinting as he flicked the light switch on. "Who's dead?" His voice still croaked of sleep.

"No one's dead," the commander soothed, "but your wife is in the hospital. She tried to kill herself."

"Okay," he blurted. "Is she alright?"

"She's in the psych ward at Samaritan," the chaplain sighed. "She's not in physical danger. She took some pills, the doctor said. But not enough to kill her, thank God."

"When can I leave?

*****

He flew to Kuwait that day, changed into civilian clothes, and waited in a special room for soldiers flying home on emergency leave. Plastic chairs, like the ones you'd see poolside, lined the wall. They were full with other soldiers, all dealing with some sort of catastrophe, all flying home, all lost in their own thoughts. No one spoke. Their assault packs and rucksacks surrounded them like sandbags on a bunker.

A chaplain came in and made the rounds. "Why are you here, son? May I pray for you?" The chaplain spoke in a low tone. It reminded SGT Robinson of a confessional. "Sir, I don't need anything. Just pray with the others." The chaplain touched his shoulder and moved on to the next man and bent his creaking knees.

SGT Robinson wasn't embarrassed his wife had tried to commit suicide. It just happened with her. A lot. He kept it hidden from the unit, his friends, his church. No need to tell anyone. He didn't want sympathy, and what could they do? Not much more than wince, as far as he could tell. Issue some convoluted apology.

It was mostly little things she did: sawed a butter knife against her wrist, downed a couple too many Tylenol. And thoughts, and thoughts, and thoughts. She had them all the time. He asked her what they were like, the thoughts she had. "Think of them as fantasies," she explained one day. "Sometimes they're like I'm a prisoner daydreaming that I'm free, just strolling out of jail. Other times it's like I'm in a burning room. There's a door, a window, stairs, and a ladder in the room. The question is, which one is safest, which one is quickest, which one leads to the way out. It's not a sin, is it, to run out of a burning house? Is it?"

"No. It's not. But the house isn't burning."

"It can't be a sin, to run," she insisted. "It can't be a sin at all."

*****

The nurse led SGT Robinson to the room. "Joanie? Sit up and look who's here," she chirped. SGT Robinson swung the door fully, gently, and slowly.

Joanie turned and smiled. "Hey, babe." She patted the bed and slid over for him to sit.

"Hey," he answered. "How're you feeling?" He tried to sound casual, as if it was no big deal to be here, as if this was part of the plan, a regular day. The nurse walked off.

"I tried again," she sighed.

"I know."

"I knew you'd come home."

"Yeah, babe, I'm home." He touched her arm. Her gown was loose. He could see her breasts as he looked down on her. He felt dizzy at the sight of them.

Joanie turned. "Forgive me, Rhonda. This is my husband. He flew in from Afghanistan to see me. Isn't that nice?"

Her roommate smiled and waved. "Hello, husband. I have a son your age. He works as a teacher down in Syracuse. He said he'd visit yesterday, but I guess the snow was too bad for him to drive."

SGT Robinson nodded. "Yes, ma'am, the snow was bad last night." He glanced out the window, saw the green trees and sunlight outside. "It was really bad."

"Rhonda, would you excuse us, please? We'd like to talk, if you don't mind."

"Mind? Mind? Of course I wouldn't mind. They're starting a game of cards in the rec room, I'm sure. Always looking for another player. Of course I wouldn't mind." She sashayed out the door, mock-dancing as she sang "I Could Have Danced All Night."

Joanie rolled her eyes. "Crazy," she laughed.

"Look who's talking."

"I'm not crazy. I just wanted for a minute or two, to die."

"Well, where I come from . . . "

Joanie shushed him with a finger to her lips, swung off the bed, and fluffed the pillows. She lifted the sheet and settled back onto the mattress. "Lie down with me," she said.

SGT Robinson kicked off his loafers. They fell to the tile. He lifted his legs onto the bed and leaned back onto the pillow beside her. She pulled the covers completely over them both.

"Barely room for one," he sighed. He couldn't sense the mattress beneath his shoulder. He turned to her. She turned to him.

"There's room," she laughed. "Tell me about the war."

"We're winning. Let's talk about something else. Why'd you try again?"

"I'm losing. Let's talk about something else."

They lay silently. His arm curled around her. A nurse on her rounds warned, "Joanie, you need to pull the covers down before I come back, or your husband has to go. Sorry." The nurse padded off on her flats.

Joanie snorted, "Shove it." She didn't move.

Her husband sighed. "Babe, c'mon."

"I'm serious. She can."

"I didn't come here to get kicked out for feeling you up. And I didn't even do that yet."

"Well, you better grab them quick, Mr. Man."

*****

Joanie pulled the covers down just beneath their noses, curled their fingers on the seams. The nurse returned, peeked in. "Kilroy was here," Joanie laughed.

Beneath the sheet, SGT Robinson grinned widely.

"Joanie, does it have to be complicated?" The nurse sighed.

"Alright, alright." She snapped down the covers to their chests. "Is that better?" But the nurse had already moved on.

*****

The intercom announced, "Visiting hours will end in five minutes. Please gather your belongings and move to the hallway exit. A nurse will escort you from the ward. You may visit again at seven p.m. tomorrow. Thank you."

Rhonda, who had slipped in unannounced after the Kilroy incident, sat up on her bed.

"Time to go, young man."

SGT Robinson sat up and cursed. He glanced at his watch. "An hour and a half a day to visit. It's ridiculous."

Joanie slipped her hand between his shoulders. "At least you made it here. I feel so much better that you're here. How long do you have left?"

"Two weeks. Do you think you'll be out before then?"

"Sneak me out," she whispered.

"What?"

"You heard me. Put this blanket on your shoulders. Pretend you're cold. I'll ride you from behind. Tell the nurse you have a swollen back from the mattress."

Rhonda laughed. "Sounds like a plan."

"Please?"

"I'll tell you what. I'll give you a ride to the door, then you're on your own from there."

"Here." Joanie climbed on his back. She snapped to Rhonda, "Help us out."

"Yes, ma'am," Rhonda mock-saluted. She threw the covers over SGT Robinson's back and head.

"We're not ghosts," Joanie laughed, then moaned like Marley on Christmas Eve.

"I can't see," SGT Robinson complained.

"Hang on. Hang on." Rhonda pulled the covers down, made sure Joanie was hidden. The women laughed as the intercom announced visiting hours were over.

"Shhh," Rhonda warned.

SGT Robinson took a step, glanced in the metal mirror. He looked like a hunchbacked Biblical shepherd. "Here we go, ready or not."

They stepped into the hall. The blanket followed behind them, sweeping over the tiled floor like a white train. One patient looked at SGT Robinson and Joanie on his back, then glanced at his wife as they, too, trudged slowly towards the door. The door opened and closed pneumatically, swooshing back and forth like a heart valve. The visitors waved as they swept out the door. The patients turned away and slouched against the tide of people pushing forth to leave. A nurse guarded the exit. As the two approached, she unfolded her arms, set down her clipboard, and reached up to gently tug away the sheet, as Joanie laughed.