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by Rick Arnold
   "I can't continue living like this. I simply can't!" she

threatened, as he was entering the door. "It's after 19:30 and I had supper prepared over two hours ago," Renee complained. Glaring at him defiantly, while not wanting to be a typical irritating nag, like his mother, she knew, she must initiate action – soon.

   His repeated lateness caused a recurring problem for her;

she was unable to dismiss it conveniently, because it could be an indication of other difficulties, which she refused to accept. She would re-heat supper, but hated to do it – her mother never required doing it for her father, he was always sitting at the supper table, punctual and waiting – like a real family. She admonished herself on each occurrence; it had happened too frequently during the last year.

   "Renee, you realize I feel the same way. I'm sorry I

have so many responsibilities, but the Army is like that. Some locations, where we get stationed, are short of personnel; someone has to assume those leadership positions," Chris explained.

   Chris had used the same explanation numerous times in the

past, different words, but similar stories; she didn't accept it then and wasn't going to concede now. He knew, but always repeated it regardless; giving explanations to Renee had become an every day occurrence.

   "Get out of the Army so we can create a life together. This

is not a life together, I never see you and I detest these neighbors. It's nothing like home, only acquaintances are here."

   Chris thought, _"Here it comes, the tears; this is going

to be time consuming, she won't drop it, till exhausted."_ Chris reached out to embrace her, more to silence than comfort her and she abruptly turned away, standing with her back to him in defiance.

   He studied her and considered himself lucky to have a

wife, who, at thirty, still looked no more than twenty, while Chris looked his age, but acted ten years younger. Whenever they met his superiors, she always left them with an excellent impression of him, from this, he knew she was instrumental in advancing his early career and by always helping with unit functions, until her operation.

   "Please resign from the Army," she sobbed.
   "I can't.  It's my career; I've got over eleven years in

and only have nine credits for college. If I get out now, I won't have education benefits, no retirement, nothing."

   "We'll have a life together. You're intelligent, we can do

something else."

   "Only eight more years and then retirement, besides, I have

two years remaining on this enlistment, you know I can't get out. It's the Army and I can't just leave, even if I wanted to," he quickly added, "You know I would like to."

   Chris went upstairs to shower while Renee prepared supper

for the third time. After undressing, he examined his underwear.

"Damn!" he mumbled. He rolled his underwear into a ball, then entered the spare bedroom.

   Quietly opening the closet, he decided to hide them in his

backpack until he could dispose of them, he stuffed his briefs into a side pocket. He entered the shower, lathering his body to ensure the lingering aroma disappeared – completely.

   As he washed, he reflected on the enjoyable time he had

with the nineteen-year-old soldier, earlier that afternoon, and started to become aroused, again. Getting with the red-head again would be a high priority, "Almost a virgin," he mused, "God, I love what the Army provides me." He was glad he decided on the custom van, it was convenient with the built-in bed and bar, besides, he might even take Renee camping sometime.

   Stepping out of the shower, he heard Renee coming up the

stairs. "I'll be right down," he shouted to her. After he heard her stomping down the stairs, he grabbed his deodorant and sprayed a little on his backpack, to be sure, then went down to eat.

   Renee complained during their meal and he nodded in agreement

every so often, but he was concentrating on the new private, Star Burnfield, her freckles, long red hair and their planned meeting for tomorrow afternoon. As soon as he finished eating, he turned on the new big-screen television, he indulged himself to an action-adventure movie, which Renee detested.

   Renee joined Chris, but, at the opposite end of the couch,

she stared vacantly at the screen, and reflected on their past. Planning their first child after their fifth year of marriage, she became pregnant, she wanted children as much as he did, then Chris spent thousands on furniture, clothes, toys, and a college investment fund for the baby. During her seventh month of pregnancy, she experienced complications, lost the baby and had to have a complete hysterectomy. It was a devastating blow to Renee, she felt compelled to provide all she possibly could for Chris.

   Renee knew he had an unspoken contempt for her, after the

operation, he never spoke of children, especially adoption. Renee couldn't regain her former shape, exercising and dieting for the past four years still hadn't allowed her to eliminate the fifteen pounds, which she had gained. Chris always told her, "I married a smaller girl. Who are you?" He used those words frequently and they hurt deeply, Renee knew, he silently denounced her for not providing the three sons he desired.

   "You could get employment with dad's construction company,

right?" she asked. He didn't respond.

   Startled, he abruptly turned to look at Renee. "What did you

do that for? I've been listening. You didn't have to throw your shoe at the television." She received his attention. He raised his hand as though he were going to slap her, then lowered it quickly, for he realized striking a woman, especially Renee, was reprehensible and abusive.

"Look Renee. Maybe you should get a job, then you'd have plenty to occupy you," he offered.

   "You know I can't hold a job because of my fainting. They

would fire me within a week. She thought of their future, "_I'll have to do something myself – he won't_." Who do you think keeps our home completely spotless?" she asked.

   "That's not what I meant; you do a tremendous job around the

house, but part-time employment would be good. I still have time left before I can begin thinking about getting out."

   He turned back to the television, but Renee continued and

Chris would nod and grunt on occasion. He got up, "PT in the morning, physical training, I dislike it, but I need some sleep. Rough day today and I'll probably have to work late tomorrow too, so don't start supper till I give you a call. Okay?"

   "Sure. The Army needs you more than I do," she shouted at

him, as he climbed the stairs. She added, "Whose vows are more important, ours or the Army's?"

  • * *
   The next morning she awoke on the couch, sounds from the

television loudly invaded her thoughts, gently removing her cat, Tobi, from around her neck, she got up to start her day. The noise grated her nerves, she turned off the television. As she entered the kitchen to make coffee, she discovered it already made. "After 06:00 hours already," she muttered to herself. Chris wouldn't be returning until late evening – again, and he departed without kissing her – again.

   Renee was a non-drinker -- but decided to start making

changes as of today – a martini would help her begin a new direction in life, discovering there were no olives or vermouth, she poured some gin into her coffee cup. Disgusted with how Chris, and the Army, had treated her for the past few years, she knew she would have to make changes to save their marriage.

   She went upstairs to take a shower and change. "I've got to

change this situation. If he won't – I will," she said aloud, defiantly downing the rest of her martini.

   Renee had just finished putting on makeup, which she rarely

wore and when she did, only a modest lipstick. She heard a knock on her door and glanced at the clock, 08:05. She hurried downstairs to answer the door. "I wonder who that could possibly be. I pray nothing has happened," she pondered, as she grabbed the railing to halt her near fall. She opened the door.

   "Good morning," the tall woman exuded enthusiasm.
   "How are you?" Renee asked her new neighbor, Barb.
   "Deplorable, Kenny's unit is on the way to the field and he

won't even tell me where he's going" Barb said, grinning.

   "What could I do for you this morning?" Renee asked.
   "I just wanted to talk while the kids are in school and

you're the kind of person I could talk to. Do you have any coffee or would you like to come to my house?"

   "Come on in, the coffee's still fresh."
   Renee served Barb a cup of coffee and while Barb wasn't

looking, Renee slipped more gin into her first cup of coffee. _"Barb is okay, but I simply don't trust these Army wives. I wonder what she really wants,_" Renee thought.

   They exchanged small talk and stories about where they had

been while accompanying their husbands. Fifty-five minutes later, Barb got up, "I better get going. I've got to finish some of the packing chores, it takes a long time, but this will be the last time."

   "What, are you getting a permanent station?" Renee asked.
   "I thought you knew, Kenny is getting out, he can't take the

Army. We're moving to Florida. There are numerous jobs down there," Barb answered, smiling, "He will come back early from the exercise, then we'll out-process the Army. I'm so glad." Renee listened to Barb explain more of the wonderful details she had heard about Florida. Renee felt a painful tugging deep within her.

   "I'm sure it'll work out well for you," Renee said,

weakly attempting a smile. She would do something – today.

  • * *
   Several weeks had passed since Renee had her tantrum over

Chris getting out, he was glad she dropped it. Chris nervously made his way to where the First Sergeant was vigorously chewing out another soldier. The First Sergeant dismissed the soldier and turned to Chris, "Sick call again? How many times has it been in the past six weeks, eight?" he demanded.

   "First Sergeant, they can't figure out what's wrong. They

mentioned, if I come back again, I may have to go to another hospital for testing. I've got headaches and always an upset stomach, they suspect ulcers, and gave me a prescription, but the medicine didn't help."

   "OK. Let me know what happens.  Is this why you failed the

Physical Training test?" the First Sergeant grunted.

   "Yes, First Sergeant. But, I will pass the next one."
   Chris went to sick call, where the medics recognized him and

decided he wasn't malingering, so they directed him to the hospital and a doctor. He stopped at the barracks, while on the way, hoping to meet the new blonde, another private, but couldn't find her.

   At the hospital, he took a seat in the waiting room, along

with twenty other people and after only two hours, was able to see a doctor, a different doctor, of course.

   "So, what is your problem soldier?" the doctor asked.
   "Well sir, I keep having these headaches, pain in my

stomach and nausea, when I was here before, they gave me a prescription, but it didn't help. I took all the medicine and received no relief."

   "Take off your shirt and sit on this table." He applied a

stethoscope to Chris's back and chest. "Lie back on the table." The doctor pressed on Chris's lower abdomen, "Any pain?"

   "Yes," Chris gasped, "It's coming from higher up."
   The doctor pressed two fingers into the area just a few

inches below the center of Chris's chest.

   "That's it," Chris grimaced with pain as he spoke.
   "Are you eating three meals a day or have you changed your

eating habits?" the doctor asked.

   "I sometimes skip breakfast, I eat lunch, but always have

dinner, because my wife makes a big dinner and gets upset if I miss it."

   "Have you had personal problems that cause you any worry?

You may be having problems triggered by nerves."

   "Well, I failed the recent Physical Training test."
   "I'm going to write a couple of prescriptions and I want you

to stay away from spicy foods, cut down on your salt, then follow the directions on the prescriptions. Do you smoke?"

   "No. I tried it as a kid, couldn't stand it, but I chew all

the time though."

   "I can see that. I'll want to see you in two weeks, when

the prescriptions are gone and if no improvement, we'll send you to a larger facility, where they'll do special tests to ensure it is nothing more serious than gastrointestinal distress."

   Chris decided to go home after he got the prescriptions.

Renee greeted him at the door, "I didn't expect you till tonight."

   "I just got back from the hospital and they still think it's

a minor stomach problem, but it should go away after I take this new medicine," Chris said.

   "I'm sure everything will work out exceptionally well for

us. You do look like you've lost weight, want something to eat?" Renee asked, with an unusual air of confidence.

  • * *
   He knew he was getting worse, but certainly didn't expect

anything like this. Everything started to spin, as the chants from the cadence echoed in his ears, the soldiers in front of him were moving in slow motion. He fell head first and couldn't remember what to do with his arms to break the fall, then his head made a disgusting thunk as it hit the pavement. Several soldiers gathered around him and stood there looking.

   The sergeant, in charge of the formation, ran over to Chris.

He turned to a private, "Go call for the ambulance now!" He then formed the troops to leave for the morning run. As the formation marched past Chris, one of the last to pass him said, "Yep. Physical training is good for what ails ya."

  • * *
   Chris was having a strange dream, where several senior

officers, in dress uniforms, were standing over him, as he lay on an operating table. They all held shovels and were arguing over which one got to dig into his stomach first. Suppressing a scream, his eyes popped open, as he bolted to an upright position.

   Looking around, he discovered he was in a hospital, but he

didn't know which one. Examining himself, he noticed he was wearing pajamas, and something was written on the right breast of the shirt, but he couldn't make it out. He removed his shirt enough to read it: F A M C, HOSPITAL, AURORA, CO. It wasn't an easy task, with his arm connected to an IV-bottle.

   "Fitzsimons, how in hell did I get here?" he asked himself,

"The PT formation, I remember passing out, but how long ago?"

   "Over twenty hours ago," answered a voice, near the door.

"While you were unconscious, we conducted tests on you. I came on duty a short time ago, so I'm not familiar with all the details, but the test results are done by now. The doctors should be coming by in a few hours," said the male nurse.

   "What is wrong with me?" Chris asked.
   "I just got on duty, and don't know the details, but you're

in stable condition, when the doctors get here they'll explain everything. Get some more sleep and you'll feel better."

   "Good morning, and how are we feeling today?" the doctor

asked, with a cheerful for-the-patient smile.

   Chris awoke and saw six people standing around his bed,

including the doctor, who just spoke. He wondered who the other people were. "Hmm. . . I'm okay. A little dizzy. My stomach still hurts," he explained.

   "You're probably dizzy from the sedative. We need to conduct

more tests, but you'll be fine. We've concluded you have lead poisoning, so we'll determine how severe and go from there," the doctor explained, then asked, "Have any ideas on the possible way you came in contact with it?"

   "Well. I don't know. How can you get it?" Chris asked.
   "You can get it from ingesting lead paint, that is how most

children get it, or working in lead mines and factories that use lead in certain processes. It can also leech from certain types of dishes and glassware. You think about it and I'll be back later today after you have more tests."

   "OK. But I couldn't have lead poisoning, I never worked in a

factory and have never eaten any kind of paint," Chris replied.

   "You contemplate on it and I'll see you later."  The doctor

and his entourage moved to the next bed.

   Chris felt sick to his stomach again and his head started to

pound, as he tried to get out of bed, he slipped to the floor from dizziness. He blushed as he got to his feet. The doctor and his entourage stared at him, while he walked to the latrine.

   Chris meet with the head nurse later that day. "What time

will the doctor be here to see me? Are any of the results from my tests back yet?" he asked.

   "The doctor has left for the day. You'll have to ask him

about test results. I'm the nurse, he's the doctor." she quipped.

   Chris spent the next two weeks in virtual limbo.  During that

time, his doctor would leave for a day or two, then return, while Chris received extensive tests in the interim. While he was having his eyes examined, a nurse accidentally revealed what was actually taking place.

   "Have something lined up?" the civilian nurse asked.
   "Huh? Lined up for this afternoon?" Chris responded.
   "I mean, what are you going to do after you receive your


   Chris gave a vacant look, as his mind raced, pondering the

words he had just heard. "I'm not planning on getting a separation, I'm a career soldier. What do you mean, discharged?"

   "These tests you have been taking are a pre-screening for a

medical discharge, surely you know that?"

   "You've made a mistake.  I'm receiving tests because I have

lead poisoning, that's all."

   The female nurse examined the paperwork in his packet.  She

then realized, no one had informed him of his doctor's decision, blushing slightly, she said, "You are probably right, an error on my part."

   During the doctor's evening-rounds, Chris confronted him.

"What is my status, Sir?" Chris asked, as he seethed with anger.

   "You should be home within a week."
   "But, what is my status and what are all these additional

tests I've been taking? Am I receiving a discharge?"

   "Yes.  Didn't they inform you?"
   "No one said a damn word. What the hell is going on?"
   "Due to the nature of your condition, we find it necessary

to separate you with a medical discharge. They should have given you an explanation over a week ago, your discharge will be effective within a week. You'll probably receive compensation, but I don't become affiliated with that aspect of the process. It's conducted through a medical-boarding procedure," the doctor concluded.

   Chris could not comprehend what he was hearing, mesmerized

he stood there, mouth agape, as the doctor walked away.

  • * *
   "I'm so high-spirited that you're back, now that we aren't

in the Army, you are mine again, to do with as I please. I missed you tremendously, while you were in the hospital. I really wasn't positive it could be accomplished, but here we are, on our way to reality, the outside world. We're civilians now, as soon as we leave this installation, all our military responsibilities will be gone, aren't you ecstatic, I am? " Renee asked.

   "Yes, I'm happy to be back with you, but I feel they denied

me full retirement, which I would've received, perhaps I should fight to stay in. But, I do feel very weak physically, I don't have the strength, compared to what I used to have and I don't have the slightest idea how or when, lead ever entered my system."

   "Chris, just be happy we'll be receiving a monthly check,

along with hospitalization benefits, then you'll be able to work at an occupation you like, while collecting your medical retirement pay. Doesn't that make you happy?" she asked.

   "Yes, it could be a lot worse, I guess, but it still

confuses me about the lead and how I ingested it."

   "People will be telling you, `To get the lead out.'" Renee

said, then started laughing. "They will tease you about having too much lead in your pencil." She continued to laugh, and it quickly became hysterical laughter. After a few minutes, she sobered, grasping Chris's face between her hands, she looked into his eyes and said, "I fed it to you, so we could be together."

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= # # # =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Copyright 1993 Rick Arnold

Rick is a disenchanted student of life, who has failing grades; and is still undecided on a major. But, keeps studying. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=–=-=-= 

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