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CURVED: A Brother’s Lie

Max Wagner, Columnist

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My brother enlisted nine months ago, on his seventeenth birthday. He never told our parents or me. He never showed an interest in joining, he never talked about it. It wasn’t until we searched his room three days after he left, that we found the shoebox filled with pamphlets and enlistment papers. I never thought my brother was the kind of person that would join the military. Yeah, he was pretty active, frequently running into the woods right after school, I always wanted to follow but my mom never let me, she would say, “I was just too young.” My brother was distant with our parents, he would eat dinner in mostly silence, only talking when asked a question. A few somber words is all that we’d get after a generic, “How was school?” kind of question. It was different with me though. He’d talk to me about things, usually about the Mets, sometimes about movies or music. He’d pat me on the back or give me a wink as he rushed out the door for school, he’s my older brother. This is all why I was so confused when he left without telling me anything, without telling anyone anything.

1941 was a tough year, not knowing where in the world he was, not knowing if he was still alive. It wasn’t until a fateful snowy Wednesday when we got a letter from the U.S. Air Force Personnel Office that we realized we might never see Roger again. The letter explained that his plane was shot down over enemy territory and the crew along with my brother was most likely dead or POW’s. My parents reactions were eerily calm as if they had made a conscious decision to disown Roger for leaving us. They barely showed emotion while reading the letter. I didn’t let them see it but I sobbed into my pillow that night and later after finally falling asleep I had a dream that made me realize something very important.

I saw my brother sprawled out next to the burning wreckage of the plane. Everything around him was burning, the broken pieces of the plane, the surrounding forest, and the bodies. His was roughed up, looked like he may have broken his arm during the crash. I could see him struggling to move, crawling to the other bodies to find anyone still alive. I woke up after that and couldn’t fall back asleep. It might’ve been a fever dream but I just had a feeling deep down inside me that my brother was still alive. It was too real, like I was sitting in a tree watching it all happen.

***

That was two weeks ago, now I stand in line waiting to sign my name and enlist into the military. The line ends at a table and at the head stands a large muscular man in military garb. He’s very intimidating with a buzzed almost bald head. He asks each man a few questions, fills out some paperwork and moves on to the next.

“Name, age, branch enlistment?”, he says to me without looking up from the clipboard.

“Travis, 17, Air Force.”. I just turned 16 which isn’t old enough to enlist in New Jersey but, at the state the war is now I doubt they’ll look at my birth certificate. They need bodies overseas, any man that can hold a gun and pull the trigger. I sign some paperwork and move on through the building peering into the various rooms where others are getting physicals and signing different types of paperwork.

 

I’m not the kind of person that survives this, I’m the kind of person that goes to college and sits behind a desk. My parents don’t know I’m here, I’ve followed in my brothers footsteps. It’s like I have two of me sitting on my shoulders tearing my thoughts in half. One is telling me to go all in to find my brother, even though I’m risking my life based on a gut feeling and the other is telling me to stop now and forget everything. It’s eating away at me every second that I know my brother could be out there somewhere still alive. I have to find him no matter what, even if it gets me killed.

        ***

It’s been 5 months since I enlisted and I’ve just finished basic training. Today I’m being sent to France with the 48th U.S. Air Force unit. Along with me, the rest of the unit sits in the personnel plane waiting to lift off.

“What’s your name kid?” the man sitting next to me says.

“Travis” I say.

“Where you from?”

“Jersey.”

“Jersey, me too. Whereabouts in Jersey?”

“Redbank.”

“No shit, I’ve been there with my folks when I was a kid.”

He says this and it resonates with me because the man sitting next to me is probably double my age.

“How old are you kid?” He says.

I hesitate for a second, “17.”

“God damn, you look like you just got out of junior high, they’re accepting em younger and younger every day. What’re you doing in a place like this at 17?”

“I’ve got someone to find.”

“Someone to find? Well I don’t think you’re gonna find em where we’re goin. Who the hell are you trying to find kid?”

“Listen man, I’m just trying to relax before we take off, do you mind?” I say while turning my head towards the window.

“Yeah, sorry kid.” Only about a minute or two passes before he starts again. “This is my second time going across the big one, fighting for a second time in the same war.”

Even though I don’t really want to talk to him, he’s sparked a question that I needed to ask him. “Why do you do it?, why fight?”

“I believe in destiny kid, everything happens for a reason, I saw my brother go off to war when I was a kid and I realized it was in our blood to defend this country.”

“Your brother’s in the military too?”

“He was, he’s probably sitting up there smoking a cigar with the big guy right now.” He says as he lifts his head up to the sky.

“I’m sorry,” I pause for a moment, hesitant. “The person I’m looking for is actually my brother too. He’s been gone for a long time now.”

“Well shit kid,” He paused for a few moments. “Ya know, when I learned my brother was killed I wish I could have seen him one last time, one last dumb baseball conversation would have been a dream. That’s why I come back to fight, so just maybe I can save someone else’s brother or father and give a kid like you one last chance to see them again. I think it’s fate kid. The big guy sat us next to each other for a reason. How do you think you’re gonna find your brother?”

“I hadn’t really figured that out yet.” I say.

“Well I’m gonna help you kid. This is why I’m here sitting next to you and why you’re sitting next to me, it was meant to happen like this.”

I really don’t know what to think of any of this. If I was in any other position I would think this guy was absolutely crazy, but the thing is, what I’m doing is even crazier than the way this guy sounds. Maybe he’s right, this is fate, this needed to happen if I wanna find my brother.

“Thank you, sorry I never asked your name.” I say with a hopeful smile on my face.

“Leonard, but call me Leo. I’m gonna help you find your brother Travis.” He says holding out his weathered hand.

“Thank you Leo.” I say as I reach to shake his hand.

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CURVED: A Brother’s Lie