When he entered the war he took along his youth and vitality.

“You’re gonna need it,” they said, so he packed them along with his rifle.

When the car bomb attacked the wheels of his Humvee, his youth sheltered him from the force of being thrown out the window. When the fire of the explosion slobbered on his legs, his vitality drove him to crawl through the desert sand to safety. When he collapsed from pain and exhaustion, his rifle was nowhere to be seen.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” they said, but his pack was now empty.

His friends do not recognize him, and his family claims he’s changed. With a much smaller gun, he shoots freedom into his veins while they all sing the “National Anthem”.

He learns to do tricks with his wheelchair to entertain his brother’s kids. They clap with glee and admiration; his fake smile cracks his lips. His brother then takes the kids to the zoo where at least they pay admission. He prefers they go without him.

Hidden under his bed for years, the rifle bleeds dust. The corpse of his youth tattoo the barrel, and what’s left of his vitality kindles in the chamber. He smiles, thinking his family will appreciate the fireworks.

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