Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)
TITLE: Flags of Courage
By Lynne Eliason
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The winter wind wasn’t kind as it invaded Eddie’s lightweight jacket. He broodingly shuffled quickly into the near dark alley. Ah, good, he thought as he reached the back side of the garbage dumpster and saw that Joe was already there. That meant more body heat. He squeezed in beside the frail little man, patted him and laid his head on his tattered backpack. Their bed for the night reeked a little, but at least the freezing wind couldn’t get to them. Besides, Eddie liked the fact that he could peek out first thing in the morning and see an American flag waving proudly across the street. It somehow gave him the push to get “out of bed” and live another day.
He fingered the brown bottle in his bag. It had actually cost him a bed in the homeless mission that evening, as the old biddy in charge had spied it and promptly booted him out the door, so this was pretty precious stuff. He took a slow swallow of the really cheap whiskey. That first drink gave him warmth and the courage to get through the night, or so he thought.
The second sip gave him the desire to remember. His photograph in his military uniform beside a regal American flag still hung above his mama’s fireplace. She had been so proud of his service to The USA. Images of being in battles in Iraq moved in slow motion through his mind. His unit was so courageous. It was their duty to keep family and friends free from the terrors that lurked. If only…
His next drink of that rotgut amber fluid made him ponder as to what had ended his mission for America. The roadside bomb had been ruthless. Two of his best buddies now laid under another U.S. flag in a cemetery not far away. Eddie had been spared. He couldn’t imagine why. When he finally returned home with his own injuries, he was empty in heart, but full of bitterness. Countless hours of rehabilitation couldn’t seem to bring him back, as he felt he had failed many. His pride couldn’t be found. Heavy drinking seemed to be his only strength. He eventually lost his wife, his twin sons, his savings and his zest for life.
Eddie clutched the bottle as if it was his salvation. After a few more drinks, it was easier to remember his wife, Alice‘s, loving smile and the cherub faces of his kids. They became blurred after a couple more swigs. Somehow he needed to get Alice’s final words out of his head, “We need you, but don’t come home until you are sober.“ Tough love, she’d said. Yah, it was tough. As he finished off the bottle, he was a long way from sober, but at least now he had the means to sleep. And, it helped dull the fact that Joe snored like a locomotive.
Eddie awoke when the sun came up. He was stiff and his head pounded, but he was warm. Nice and cozy. He realized he was covered with a red, white, and blue fleece blanket. Under the blanket, a heavy parka was laid over him. A miniature American flag was pinned to the collar next to a tiny gold cross. Eddie touched them gently. The edges of the blanket were tied in knots and a note was attached to it saying, “Hello, friend. We, here at Hometown Mission House care about you. As each knot was tied, we said a prayer for you. You are a child of God and through Him all things are possible. God loves you and the United States of America loves you.” Tears came to Eddie’s eyes. Someone actually had the courage to reach out and care about him on behalf of his country. He must repay that act.
He made sure he was early to arrive at the Homeless Mission. He’d been tempted to have a stiff drink to get through this, but decided against it. He didn’t want to be turned away. After a rousing rendition of “God Bless America” and “Amazing Grace” sung by the gathered people, there was an ominous silence. Finally, Eddie stood up, taking a deep breath. The American flag next to the wooden cross in the corner gave him real courage. “Hello, my name is Eddie. I am an alcoholic. With God’s help and my country’s help, I want my life back.”
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