Bull came home today.
As soon as he walked in the door, he swept me up in his arms and in a nanosecond I was spinning over his head. I looked down at his face from that great height and my heart simply shattered.
Where was the serene face that belonged to the young man who hugged me goodbye when he left more than a year and a lifetime ago?
Gone... lost somewhere in the brambles and brushes of an unfriendly foreign land...
Where were the exuberant chuckles that marked his enthusiasm for whatever life had in store?
Gone... lying on the ocean's floor where his closest friend had been buried at sea.
What happened to the twinkle in his eyes when he hugged me?
Gone... lost in the desert sand...
Afghanistan... the Pacific...
Did I say a lifetime in that year? I should have said lifetimes and then some.
"Bull..." I whispered when he lowered me to the floor. "I need a hug."
"I'm afraid of hurting you," he whispered back, his voice belonging to a man I wasn't sure I knew. "I'm not me any more, Sar - can't be sure of my strength. Don't want to hurt you."
"Then let me hug *you*," I said. "I know my own strength and I promise not to hurt you."
If anyone seeing us thought my words were odd... Bull is 6 feet 8 inches tall. As thin as he is, he still outweighs me by a lot more than 100 measly pounds.
I put my arms around his waist and felt the tears prick my eyes as I hugged him as tightly as I could; he was so thin. I didn't want him to feel worse so I hid my face in the center of his chest but he felt my tears and picked me up again. When my face was even with his, his eyes welled up but he gave me a watery smile.
"I've missed you, Sar," he said simply.
"I've missed you, too, you overgrown hayseed," I said as gruffly as my tears allowed. "Now put me down and let me get you something to eat."
"Not much appetite," he admitted when he set me on my feet again but his hands lingered at my waist.
"You think I did all that cooking and baking so you'd turn me down?" My hands went to my hips. "I don't cook special for just anyone," I informed him. "Be a shame for the pups to eat all that."
"Have I ever told you I love you, little girl?" he said with just a hint of the old Bull.
"Just don't say it in front of my husband," I admonished him. "He'll think I want you to stick around because I don't want to give up driving your Hummer."
"That's the reason you gave me," my husband said as he walked into the room and then did his best to catch Bull up in a bear hug but Bull backed away from him, instantly standing ramrod straight and saluted Cowboy with as much formality as I've ever seen.
Cowboy nodded, returning the salute with the same grave formality - one warrior to another - and then softly welcomed the young man home. And then he hugged him and whispered words I didn't hear. Bull nodded his head several times and I knew whatever passed between them was the kind of thing that should be shared only by warriors who have lived through bloody combat and in the act of survival, have much in common, but have somehow lost something precious.
I wanted to wiggle between the two of them and hug them both but instead, I left them alone and while they talked, I put dinner on the table. I didn't think Bull could eat as much as he usually ate but there was enough food to feed a Seal team and he could take as much as he wanted.
David had brought Bull home from the base and had said little when they arrived except to tell me that he was starving and to serve up the food before he fainted from hunger. He retreated to the kitchen while Bull and I were talking, hoping my presence would help Bull regain some of his old self. From past experience I knew that Cowboy and David would be there to talk Bull through whatever it was that had him subdued. I wasn't concerned about the more serious side I was seeing of the young marine, but I didn't want to lose the funny and more spontaneous side of him, either.
I remember when David came home from the Gulf war - his body battered and broken in so many places I wasn't sure they were going to be able to put him back together again. But they did. Cowboy had warned me that David's personality would seem different now but I didn't believe him. Unfortunately, Cowboy was right and when I saw David at Bethesda all those years ago, all bandaged here, there and everywhere and splinted with casts on both legs and tubes and IVs and surgical dressings, I remember going to his side and taking his hand in mine... "You son of a bitch!" I told him with tears in my eyes. "I am so angry with you for getting hurt! You're a marine! You're not supposed to get hurt."
His soft laughter followed my words, the first smile he had shown since being shot and torn apart. He told me he loved that I was there and that he was happy to see me and that I had better make him a Boston Creme pie before he met his Maker and I knew then that he'd heal, inside and out.
Cowboy had hugged me tight that night, telling me that David needed me to keep him sane. He came to live with us while he recuperated and I nursed him and fed him and badgered him through all his down times and hugged him and made a lot of Boston Creme pies along with his favorite meals. Cowboy was there when raw memories of war consumed him and between the two of us and some other friends, David healed just fine.
Now Bull was home.
He'd been stateside for three weeks - one week with his Special Forces unit while they were debriefed and two weeks with his mama and sisters in Arkansas. He had called from his childhood home and though he had seemed subdued when we talked, I thought he was just tired. When I saw him I knew he was more than tired; he was worn out and just plain weary of war. Cowboy assured me that after enough rest, Bull would return to duty ready to follow orders and fulfill his missions but he'd be stateside for a while. I hope it's a long while.
He ate dinner and while he talked with Cowboy and David, I made up the guestroom for him, placing a basket of some of his favorite snacks on the bedside table - my homemade double decker brownies, cherry coconut bars, Chinese chews, and oatmeal/peanut butter cookies. I put a cat pillow and DomTom, the large yellow tabby on the bed. The cat doesn't tolerate too many other living creatures but Bull is the exception. He likes sleeping on Bull's chest and Bull likes having the scruffy cat there.
I gave Cowboy a surreptitious nod that the guestroom was made up and that I had pulled the Murphy bed down in my studio in case David planned on spending the night. I was pretty sure he was going out later and would stay with one of his lady friends but a bed was available if he decided to stay put for the evening. I asked if anyone was interested in Key Lime pie and Irish coffee and was greeted with a trio of "ayes."
I sat beside Bull while he ate my pie, a confection he said he'd been craving since he went to sea. I asked him what else he'd been craving and he gave me such a sad smile.
"Just be you, Sar," he said so softly I barely heard his words. That's all I need to get my head on straight."
Well, just break my heart and stomp on it.
The big lug has always been the sweetest guy but now there's a hard edge that has surfaced... and he isn't handling it well. Cowboy and David will be there when the demons attack, the ones with automatic rifles and machine guns and Kevlar vests and snap grenades. They'll be there when body parts invade his dreams and he questions his place at the right hand of God's flaming sword.
I'll pick up the rest of the pieces and make life as normal as possible. Bull is mine and I intend to do all I can to make him whole again.