The Value of Sacrifice

Sabrina - Missoula, Montana
Entered on April 21, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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We were at the dinner table. My brother was home. There had really been nothing to be afraid of — it was more of a political war, I’d been told. He looked different from when I’d seen him last, though.

I remembered the day he left. His shock of brown hair kept falling down into his face, his hand would sweep it back, the hair would wait and then jump back to his forehead like it couldn’t stand to be away from him. His sunglasses were missing an earpiece – they hung crooked off his nose. His t-shirt was un-tucked; I don’t even think his socks matched. The only sign my brother was headed to war was his plain Army issue duffel. It looked awkward with him. We carefully avoided the subject as we waited for his plane. He easily caught us up in his contagious laughter — we laughed at his sunglasses and his socks and his broad smile made us feel better.

He took off his sunglasses and hooked the lone earpiece onto his shirt. He brushed his hair out of his face and clutched my cheeks between his strong hands and kissed my forehead with a loud smack. “Maybe I’ll find something good enough for you,” he said.

He kissed my mom and brothers with the same loud smack, shook my dad’s hand, and my brother’s blue wrestling sock and black dress sock nonchalantly strode away down the boarding ramp.

That was the last time I had seen my brother and sitting at the table, I wondered if he had brought me anything. I found myself searching for scars, wounds, proof of his heroic service. He looked different.

When he spoke, the table fell silent. He told how he couldn’t decipher between his screams and those of the dying. He said he felt like he was a mother who had let her babe slip from her arms to smack the floor — not knowing whether to shut his eyes and clap his hands to his ears, or to make himself watch what he had done. He told of the stench, what happened when the hot, rich smell of blood rose into his nostrils to damage his mind. I wondered why he didn’t cry.

My brother was different. The shock of unruly hair had been tamed; all that remained was coarse stubble bristling from his head. His crooked smile was now a thin slash across his face, slow to spill its wound. His clothes were starched and stiff, his mismatched nonchalance had been obliterated by severe angles and unyielding rigidity. His tone was no longer generous and teasing. His fingers were lined with deep painful cracks – tenderly reminiscent of his damaged spirit.

I knew my brother hadn’t — couldn’t have brought me anything. He barely brought home what was left of himself.

I believe in the double-edged sword of sacrifice. I believe in the sacrifices we make for one another. Uncertainty surrounds them. Costs are exacted. Rewards are so understated they are barely perceptible.