You heard him crying like a dog in pain.
The constant activity and excitement of the day before brought you into a deep sleep. Nothing could wake you. That is until his tears and voice suddenly brought you out of it.
The hotel room was dark and cold. Too cold. It made you shiver. as though you were outside on a snowy evening. Your feet ached still from the day and your legs felt heavy from the night. Blinking awake, you first saw the outlines of his uniform and your wedding dress hanging on the door of the closet like ghosts watching you.
Turning your head, you could see his pale form and the outline of his beautiful red hair. He kept continually tossing and turning.
“’ Gene, Gene?” you hissed, poking his forearm.
He immediately lurched, still asleep, crying, and grunting something violently.
Panicked, you switched on the light next to your bed. Garish yellow made your eyes water and you grimaced briefly in the pain of sudden bright light. Reaching for him, you shook him harder.
“Eugene, wake up!” you half-yelled.
Gasping through his nostrils, he shot up. He turned around and looked at you with wide eyes. He then drooped his head with guilt.
“I’m so sorry” he apologized.
“Darling, it was just a nightmare. Nothing you could choose” you insist.
Curling downward, his posture began to slouch with shame.
“it’s just…remember when I kept insisting I wouldn’t stay the night with you?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm” you replied, recalling how he curled up on your couch far away from your room last month. Now thanks to the rings on both of your hands that was unavoidable.
“Well, …this is why. I keep having them and… I didn’t want to…scare you….” He confessed.
He clutched the blankets and his lower lip was shaking. Badly.
You noticed that your evening robes the hotel gifted you were crumpled on the floor. You handed him over his and put on yours. Sighing at how warm and thick the white cotton felt against your bare skin, you hurried to the little kitchen and returned in a heartbeat. Handing over a small glass of tap water, he nodded as thanks.
The mattress squeaked beneath your weight. You sat up on your knees on the bed and looked at him softly.
“Was it about the war?” you asked tenderly.
Sipping the tepid water, he nodded lightly and held the glass in both hands, staring at how it swirled around.
“It’s always about the war. Just different every time.”
“Can you tell me what it was tonight?” you query.
He hesitated, then took another sip of water and spoke darkly, eyes still down.
“Every time I…I killed someone in the dream, I kept bleeding. And the general was there, yelling at me for not killing enough. But every time I there was…more blood…”
“Eugene, that’s horrible…” you assure, you wheedle his free to place it in yours.
He downed the water, grimacing as if it was vodka, then set it down on the bedside chest and continued.
“And every time…” tears began to fill up his eyes, “the person I killed was different. One was just this little kid. I begged the general not to. Then he screamed at me, said I wasn’t a man…”
You let his head rest on your chest, and you smoothed his hair as he sobbed it out.
“I just…I try to be a perfect soldier for them, but…when I killed someone I…” he kept crying so hard he was shaking.
Hot tears stained through the white cotton of your robe leaving large dark circles.
“I’m…I’m a coward. I’m no man. You deserve a man. A perfect man” he said.
Hushing him, you placed both hands on his face. There was no resistance when you gently wiped the cooled tears from his cheeks.
“You’re the bravest person I know, Eugene,” you said. “I don’t want a perfect soldier. I don’t want a perfect man. I want you.”
Taking one of your hands, he began to kiss it tenderly. He smiled for the first time since waking up.
“You don’t have to kill anyone now. You don’t have to be a perfect man or soldier or whatever. And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good” you assure him.
Settling back, you let him rest his head on your chest as you hummed him a lullaby. His arms wrapped around you and you could feel his pulse slowing down.
“I’m so sorry you have to put up with this…you may have to every night…” he said with sleepy slowness.
“I’ll stay awake to keep you from them every night if I have to. I don’t care. I want to help you, Gene. We’ll get through it together.”
As you reached over to turn off the light, you felt him move a little upwards to guide your face to kiss your lips.
Smiling, you cooed “I’m glad to have a good man for my husband.”
A warm forehead pressed against yours and you felt him murmur into your ear.
“I’m glad to have an angel for my wife.”