My brother's voice reverberated in my head as I drove through the back roads and geological wonders of central Oregon, racing towards my first home. My weekend plans for a run with my BFF in Bend, shopping, and picking up our anniversary project from the ceramic shop cut short by a 7 am phone call. A night in the ER, seven stitches total, missing teeth, possible jaw fracture. The Flag didn't drop to the ground and neither did he.
The story I had heard played over in my head, despite Safe Haven audiobook on level 15 volume trying to drown out my sobs. A night with friends, two beers, visiting with the bartender who used to be our neighbor, leaving at 1 am for home. Hearing a crack as he left, turning the corner to see what was going on. Then it happened.
My brother, full of righteous anger, grabbed the Flag from the ground, drenched in urine, started folding it, and asked the guy who the f *ck he thought he was pissing on the American flag. The "kid" rose to the challenge and asked Bobby what he knew about the damn flag. My brother told him he was a Marine for six years, fought for the flag, had friends that died for the flag, that he almost died for it, so who the hell was he. He was one of the Army guys, young, just returned from Iraq. Then the kid charged.
My heart caught in my throat again as I remembered that part of the story. "You know what the worst part was? He was one of the Army guys who just got back." My brother and I had started sobbing three hundred some miles apart. "I couldn't hit him. He was my brother. He was wrong, but he was my brother. I took three to the face like a champ, never hit the ground, and had a death grip on the flag. I should have killed him, and I would have gone to prison and I'd be okay with that, but I couldn't even hit him back."
At first, in the confusion, the crowd had held my brother back, but when the fourth punch landed they realized there was only one aggressor in that "fight." The kid walked away and Bobby went back inside to wash his hands. Then he caught his reflection.
Three missing teeth, one barely hanging on, seven stitches total, possible jaw fracture and oral surgery, liquid diet. And one heck of a swollen lip. He never raised a hand to the kid who obviously had war demons of his own. The Flag didn't hit the ground and neither did he.
***Author's Note: I wrote this post a number of ways on my four hour drive on Sunday from Bend to Baker. I cried a lot and I cried more remembering the pain in my brother's voice as he told his story. In the end, I decided to leave out the commentary in my head on lack of veteran support and reintegration and tell the story simply as it played in my head. What struck me the most on the drive home was until this point my brother's war scars had been mental. Now, a civilian for a month, he received some very physical war wounds on the street of his hometown, from a fellow soldier and veteran. That is the part that hurts all of us the most.