Thursday, March 17, 2011

An American History Writing Project

Here's a little 10 page writing project I did for my American History class a month or so ago. I got some good feedback and figured it might be worth posting so here it is. It's quite a lengthy read, so thank you to whoever takes the time. Click below for the whole story.

Chapter 1: The Empty Bucket

“Hello? Dan? Dan, Christ, it’s one in the morning. Mom is worried sick about you. No, no, I know where you are. I’ll be there soon.” I place the phone back on the receiver and breathe a heavy sigh. This is the third time this week he’s done this.

I grab my jacket off the couch where my mother sobs into her hands and tell her I’m off to get Dan. She looks back at me with eyes dewed over and blood-shot and thanks Jesus that he’s okay. You would think she would begin to see a pattern in his absences. I throw my jacket over my shoulders and grab the keys from my pocket as I walk out the front door and into the family truck. We had recently our small car to help pay for the rent since my father passed. Daniel has yet to do much to contribute.

The truck starts with a sickly grumble and I rub my eyes to make sure I’m awake enough to drive across town. I pull down the driveway and do my best to keep focused on the road, but find myself thinking about all that has led up to this. Since Dan graduated high school two years ago, he’s become a pile of dirty laundry on the exhausted cushions of the couch. Once my father passed away he found solace in the bottom of a bottle and that’s where I was heading to fish him from.

“Come on, man. Get in.” I yell to Dan from across the street from The Empty Bucket, the local bar in town, as I swing open the door to the truck and he stumbles across the road. You can’t be serious, I think, as he almost falls flat on the pavement. He grapples his way up to the cushion of the passenger seat and settles himself in, sinking down on the chair and staring at the roof of the rattling truck.

“Thanks little bro.” He says with a sloppy grin.

“What the hell are you doing with yourself, Daniel?” I say with the angriest tone I can conjure.

“What d’you mean? I’m clearly sloshing myself up for a little weeknight fun!” He nearly cries from laughing.

“You know what I mean. Your life – what are you doing with it? This is the third time this week I’ve scraped you from the bottom of the bucket and not once have you showed remorse in the morning. Do you have a plan? Do you have a strategy for what you’re doing with your life?” I take a sharp turn and he hits his head on the passenger-side door. I get the smallest of smiles from this.

“Oh, piss off with that talk! I’m just having a bit of a gas before I sign up for the Army, that’s all. Yep, your big bro’s gonna go fight them German’s once they decide to rally up again. Everyone knows they are, ya know? Buncha sore losers if you ask me!” His tongue rattled around in his mouth, slurring his words and occasionally drooling on the seat.

“You’re not fit for the Army, Daniel. Do they accept drunks into their ranks? How do you even get in the bar? You’re only 20, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know the guy who runs the place. Old friend of the old man. Says a man who has felt a loss like me deserves a stiff drink every now and then, ya know? He’s a chipper ol’ fella.”

“You’re getting booze from Dad’s death? How low can you sink, man?”

Before he could answer I was pulling into the driveway and turning off the truck. For a minute I could almost imagine my brother as a soldier. He was brave when he wasn’t stumbling around, often sticking up for me when I was a freshman – but when I saw him puke on the hood of the truck, my mind changed a little.

For the next two years this would become a frequent occurrence, but for my sake he limited himself to the weekends. Somewhere deep down he wanted me to get an education and follow my dreams; unfortunately that wasn’t whom I met on two A.M. every Saturday night. The night of my graduation from High School we had a party at my house. He showed up drunk and puked in my hat. I punched him in the nose.

As awful as he became at some points, he still held the dream of becoming a soldier deep down. Once word spread that America would be entering the war, he rushed to the enlistment building with the widest smile I’d ever seen on him. He wanted me to join him, but I respectfully declined. Somebody had to stay home and take care of Mom or she would go crazy. We both agreed on that it should be me, for I wanted to attend the local University. So, my brother, the soldier, leaves tomorrow for boot camp. Tonight, he drinks in celebration.

Chapter 2: The Perfect Soldier

“Here he comes! Is that him over there? Oh, God, where is he!”

“Mom, please, calm down he’ll be here just give him a minute.” I say quietly as my mother jumps up and down trying to find my brother who should be coming off the plane. He returns from his position in Texas for a week of visiting time and my mother could not be any more excited. She has done nothing but talk about him for the past year since he left and I can’t say that it’s a bad thing. She’s not the sorrowful mess of a woman that my brother last saw before his departure, and I’m proud of her. She’s seemingly gotten over the death of my father, while I could not. The house no longer feels the same as it did. Perhaps it was the babysitting of my brother that forced me into maturity or the insanity of my mother at times that drove me to locking myself in my room to try to keep my studies in check.

“Oh my God, there he is!” She squealed and sprinted up the runway to meet the new man that came from the plane. He no longer looked like my brother, but rather what I always wanted my brother to look like. A tall, strong, and confident looking man who stood with perfect posture and walked with the stride of an accomplished soldier – the picture of perfection. As soon as my mother was done kissing him and commenting on his new haircut and giving him tight hugs, we met eyes. He gave him a small grin and walked up to me for a tight handshake, followed by a laugh, and then a cheerful hug where we both laughed. We both looked entirely different from last we met and we acknowledged it – pointing out every little difference about each other.

“Didn’t drive you too crazy, did she, Frankie?” He said with a clever smile.

“No more than I expected! Man, she wouldn’t shut her yapper about you! Let’s get out of here, man. This place is too crowded.” He agreed and my mother grabbed all his things and ran to the truck, not allowing me to help.

Later that night we all sat in the living room, listening to all of his stories of his strict drill sergeant and all the friends he’s made since he left. He only had a week here with us, so my mother was soaking up all the time she could, but soon she couldn’t keep her eyes open and we moved her to her bed where she reluctantly slept the night away.

My brother and I sat in the living room, listening to the radio and talking about my schooling and everything that’s happened with me. He walked to the kitchen while I explained what I’m studying and opened up the cupboard next to the fridge, and hiding behind an old box was a bottle of Scotch.

“I can’t believe this is still here after all this time! How about a drink, little bro?” He said as he poured himself a glass.

“Dan that’s illegal and we both know it. Need I bring up what happened before you were shipped off?”

“Oh, hush you, it’s just a little celebration fun is all.” He collapsed himself back on the couch and sip with a bitter grin on his face, switching off the radio and looking at me.

“You know, Frankie boy, there’s something that’s been eating at me for a while…” He said, moving his eyes to the wall.

“What’s that, ‘Danny boy’?”

“I don’t think I can do this, Frank,” he moved his eyes back to mine, and I could tell he’d been mulling over this, “nope, not at all, Frank. Being all alone out there, man, it’s too much. Sure I have the friends I made, but every night I lay there and think about Dad. Would he want me doing this? He never liked us fighting, what makes me think he’d like me fighting the world? Am I speaking nonsense here?” He spoke with a hushed intensity, and took another drink.

“You seemed so happy out there, though. When you stepped off the plane, you were smiling so big. What happened, man?”

“I missed mom. I missed you. I’m a mess without you two, and mom’s a mess without us. I wasn’t meant to fight, man. This wasn’t what dad would have wanted, Frank! I’ve spent the last year of my life working my fingers to the bone for this, and I could die within minutes of stepping into a combat. When will I ever need to know how to use M1 Carbine if my damned plane gets shot down!” He gulped down the last of his drink, his breathing like that of an exhausted dog.

“You’re… just a little homesick is all, Dan. Mom has never been so proud of you before, and we both think this is what our father would have wanted. No, he wasn’t a fighter, but he was an American. He loved this country and he loved us, and seeing you suiting up to go defend us would have made him the proudest father in the nation. These are just…doubts, man. Every soldier gets them – just cold feet, Dan.” I adlibbed everything I said, with no real sincerity in my words. How was I supposed to calm down a drunk, nearly crying soldier with a bad case of homesickness?

“I don’t know, Frank. I don’t know a damned thing.” He slammed down his glass and walked out the door. I almost got up to stop him, but realized that there was no point in trying to babysit him now. Whatever decision he just made would be final, and hopefully it wouldn’t come back to bite us. I didn’t see him again after that night. I told my mother he got called out early in the morning. He would write to us. I made a fake promise he would write to us.

Chapter 3: A Letter from an Old Friend

“Mom! There’s a letter here for us, Mom! It’s from Dan!”

“What! Daniel finally wrote us? Give it here, Frank! Come on!” My mother dashed from the garden she had planted in the back yard for us and snatched the letter in my hand. She ripped it open and I watched her eyes bulge as she read the addressing, her smile soon drooped and she looked up at me and handed me the letter. “This isn’t for me,” she said, “It’s addressed to you, Frank.” I gave her a curious glance and grabbed the letter and read it. It was indeed sent to me.

“Dear, Frank.

I write to you in hopes that you have forgiven me by now. The decisions I made that night have haunted me to this day, but as we both know I decided to stay in the army, and today I believe I have the most important news a soldier could ever get. I’m being sent out, Frankie. I’m being sent out to storm the beaches of Normandy, and if Mom has read this letter then tell her I’m sorry. What I’m about to say is not meant for her eyes. Please keep this letter to yourself, Frank. I know you can handle it, and I know that you will know the right time to do the right things.

I fear I may not return from my trip, Frank. Our plan is to send as many men on that beach as we can. We will be charging them with the entire force of the U.S. Army, but I fear that may not be enough to stop them. I’ve heard the stories of the German’s brutality and I’m aware of the dangers. I want you to know that if you don’t receive a letter in the next month, that I will be dead. I took this responsibility upon myself and I intend to face it. I love you, brother. Tell mom I love her. Tell her I’m sorry.


The pain in my gut was something of a chill that lasted for weeks. I never showed my mom the letter. I kept it in an old shoebox that holds my fondest memories of Daniel. We never received a letter, and I fear that soon I will have to tell my mother what that means. Sometimes I lie in bed and tell myself how much I hate him for putting this responsibility on me. Sometimes I love him for what he did for the country. Sometimes I think about what he said the last night I saw him about what my father would have wanted for him. If he knew what would come from my brother leaving, then he would have never let him leave - that I am sure of.

Chapter 4: For Daniel, Forever Ago

“Right, you’ll just sit back here and observe Mr. Mathews for the remainder of the hour and that should be just about it for today.”

“Alright, sounds great.” I say with a smile and place myself at the table in the back of the room covered in maps and globes, buzzing with the sound of teenagers talking about the end of the war.

“If you need anything, just let me or Mr. Mathews know.” The man says and walks out of the room. I pull out my worn notebook and title the top of the page History. Mr. Mathews speaks for nearly half an hour and I note the way he involves the class in the discussion and several other things that happen during the speech until he allows the class to do their assignment. He scrapes the white chalk across the board with the specifics and then comes back to sit with me.

“Hi there…Mr. Rose, was it?” The tall, balding man asks with a smile on his face.

“Yes, yes… Franklin Rose. Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Mathews.” I give him a firm handshake and glances at all my papers.

“I know this pain! Just getting started into teaching, yeah? What made you become interested, Frank? If you don’t mind me calling you Frank.”

“Not at all, sir. I’ve always enjoyed the classroom atmosphere, and needless to say I didn’t have the greatest high school experience, so I thought it would be fitting for me to reenter myself into it, and maybe teach some kids a few things.”

“Ah, yes, fitting reason indeed. Any particular subject you’re hoping to teach, or just playing the field at the moment? I can’t even count the number of times I changed subjects myself!” He talks with a humorously geeky tone, I note.

“Well, like yourself I’m looking into History teaching. I’ve written nearly fourteen research papers over the war and I think I could be able to teach it effectively. With all the new reports that keep coming in from Germany, it seems I won’t ever run out of material to teach.”

“The war, huh? Not even in the history books yet and you’re writing about it! Yes, I believe we all know a fair deal about the affairs of Germany, but I look forward to seeing some of these papers of yours. Have you read some of the accounts from the American soldiers? Absolutely brutal!” He says with a slightly dreary smile.

“Yeah… yeah, I’ve read one or two…” I say, not noticing the way my voice trails off.

“Something wrong, son?” He’s suddenly sporting a much more serious tone.

“Oh, no, sir. Sorry, just get caught up thinking about it all, you know? All the thoughts still fresh in my mind. Anyway, what are you teaching today? Need to get that down in my notebook” My attempts to change the subject surely go noted.

“Right, right! Well, today we’re discussing the actions of the abolitionist John Brown. Surely you studied him in university. Might want to write down we’re specifically studying the Pottawatomie Massacre. I must be getting back to my desk now. All these grades are something you never get used to as a teacher, remember that.” He pats me on the shoulder on his way back to his desk, where he gives me a quick glance and a grin before burying himself in his papers.

After writing down all my notes and talking to some of the kids, the three-o’-clock bell rings and the kids exit promptly, and so do I. On the way back to the same old family truck that has somehow chugged its way through all these years, a strong breeze hits and a few of my papers scatter across the parking lot. I run to pick them up, but a young man has already done the deed for me. I look up from the pavement and see Daniel holding my papers. He smiles and holds them out. “Here you go, brother.”

“You there, man?” I blink hard and suddenly he’s gone and a nervous young man has taken his place. Without saying a word I grab the papers from him and stare at him for a good while before he calls me a name and walks away with his friends. I stand in the same position, mouth open like a fool and stare at the ground before regaining my composure and making my way back to my truck.

I step inside and start the engine, staring at the wheel and then over to the empty passenger seat. My mind drifts away for a moment as I contemplate all that happened today. Maybe he’s still here with me, I think, and maybe he’ll always be here. I reach into my pocket and pull out his dog tag, which was given to us by a soldier that visited our front door the day my mother found out. I give it a small kiss and place it back in my pocket, where it has been for the last two years. A memento of the man who I will never forget.

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