When the war was over and I was sent back home, I was on all sorts of watch lists. Likely to go full-on PTSD nutjob, likely to be suicidal. They didn’t think I’d ask to be sterilized, but they should have expected something like that out of us. They should have known we’d be crazy in ways no one else had been before.
Anyway, I came back home. I was dischaged honorably at the base in Fayetteville, my duty fulfilled. I didn’t want them to watch me so closely, didn’t want them to take me away when I was so close to regaining my freedom. I sucked it up, held in the flashes of gore and terror, and just hoped to get home. I didn’t know, didn’t care, what I would do after. My body was intact, so there was at least that.
I saw Mom, Dad, and Victoria waiting for me when I came out. There was a whole slew of people, waiting for beloved family members to come back, waving American flags in celebration of victory and the terms of the convention. The flags reminded me of the cookies in our MREs, of the choking levels of patriotism I’d had to endure while simultaneously watching my friends get brutally slaughtered. I just cried, hugged my parents, and told them how much I loved them. I remember the scent of lavendar on mom’s hair, the musk of dad’s cologne. Victoria was fresh as a daisy. “Take me home,” I asked.
“Oh, yes, sweetie. You want to stop at Mickey D’s? Get a burger?” Mom asked. Something about her cheerful tone made me cringe – she didn’t understand what I needed.
I nodded anyway. “Sure.”
She held me at arm’s length. “You ok, sweetie? Did you get opportunity to say goodbye to your friends in the army?”
I forced myself to smile, then picked up my bag. “I’m fine. Just happy tears.” I marched toward Stacy and the exit, hoping not to get sent back. I marched fast enough that Mom, Dad, and Victoria couldn’t catch up. I bent down and picked up my favorite little girl, then twirled her in a circle while she waved her sickeningly red, white, and blue flag.
“Antigen!” she cried out, her child-voice so high pitched and deafening.
’Auntie Jen,’ she was trying to say, but I felt worse. It made me feel like a disease to hear that. I heard the screams of my friends. I saw the ape men in my mind.
“Antigen, welcome home!” She pulled back from my face after giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“You going to take me to McDonald’s? Eat some nice black beans?” I asked. I focused on good, American food, hoping to get the thoughts of the war away from me.
She nodded. “Yeah. Black bean pattie and fries.” She scrambled down, getting out of my grasp and back on the ground. “I brought my friend, too!”
“Uh-huh.” She held my wrist with one hand and pointed with the end of the flag in her other hand. “This is Dani, my friend from basketball. Oh, and school.”
At the other side of her flag was a monster.