In that moment, her eyes reminded me of the ocean
So full of life, and twinkling a light blue
So I couldn’t bring myself to disagree
With her youthful excitement at the prospect of joining the USAF.
In my heart I was worried, as any friend ought to be,
As I thought this decision rash and unwise
But who would I be to distinguish that flame?
The day she left for training is one I’ll never forget,
All dressed to the nines in her uniform
She waved goodbye to everyone as she boarded,
A beaming smile that promised of adventure
Showing proudly on her face.
I stood there wishing she was back already.
I remember my heart almost stopped the day we entered the war
And her letters told us that she was being sent into combat.
Many days I paced the floor of my apartment thin,
Waiting for her next letter, to say she was okay and safe.
I remember the day her letters stopped coming
And her parents and I averted our gazes when we saw each other in public
Each afraid to voice the possibility
That the day she left was the last day we’d ever see her.
One day when I got home I was accosted by her parents,
Who had finally received word of what had happened.
She and her crew had been shot down over one of the enemy countries
And taken as a Prisoner of War.
It wasn’t the best news, but at least she was alive.
Years later the fighting stopped,
We had won.
She would come home.
We waited for her at the airport,
With posters and signs welcoming her back,
And a huge crowd of relieved friends and family.
She stepped off the airplane, and we waved her over.
She grabbed a small suitcase and walked down the ramp
And started towards us, a tired smile on her face.
When she got close enough, I could tell
She just wasn’t the same.
I had never thought about how war would change her,
Or how that last time I saw her
Would have been the last time I saw her as I remembered her,
Until she came back.
She was given a month to relax –
Or re-acclimate, as that was really what it was –
And so I had plenty of time to hang out with her.
But I was caught off guard every time she’d say something
Or get that look in her eyes that reminded me
That she had been a soldier in war.
Small things had changed,
Such as her laugh.
It was small and hesitant,
As though she was afraid to be too happy,
When it used to be able to fill a room up with joy.
Every time we entered a smaller room,
I noticed her guard went up, and her shoulders tensed,
And she would become hyper-alert,
Aware of every small thing.
She nearly took my head off one time,
When I caught her unawares from behind.
Where she used to jump slightly and laugh,
She tensed and her fight-or-flight instinct
Chose to fight as if her life depended on it.
It frightened me slightly,
When I would lay awake and think about the changes,
Because I couldn’t understand how
A confident young girl who laughed at the world
Could come back so broken and scared.
And when I asked anyone about it,
I would get the same answer,
“War changes a person,”
I just find it unfair.
War robbed my friend of her life, and
Of whom she was.
Because war changes a person.