I parked in a small lot behind the building and paused to compose myself. The rhythmic thump of my heartbeat in my ears grew louder as I stepped out into the heat. The ramp to the double glass doors was a tunnel collecting the roar of traffic and distant construction. A fine sheen of sweat collected on my forehead and the small of my back. The distant sound of guns filled my mind, and for a moment, I stood at the door with one foot in reality and the other in a distant past.
The sound of heavy doors and winding engines assailed me as I stepped inside. Down a long hall was the elevator. I headed for the stairway to the right of the elevator. I didn’t like confined spaces anymore. Pictures and tall potted plants sailed by as my stride opened up. Click, click, click. My heels sounded on the stone tiles. The smell of wet earth from the planters and the fresh wind on my face from the air-conditioned hall eased me into the scene that welled up from the depths of my memory.
Choking sand swirled up under the churning blades of the chopper and poured into the open door like a gritty waterfall. I lay on the floor nauseated by the smell of blood and fuel burning. The odor of sand, smoke, blood, and now the hot oil and hydraulic fluid in the chopper cleared out as we gained altitude.
Hank’s hand grabbed my arm and squeezed. The pain of his grasp brought me around, and I looked over at him. He smiled at me as the medic worked like a madman to get an IV in him while the other one cut off his pants to get at the stubs that were left of his legs.
My vision narrowed on Hanks teeth where blood had collected in the spaces. The grinding hum of the chopper blades continued as the blue sky twisted and spun with each maneuver of the Blackhawk. Another hard bank pitched my gaze back to Hank. His hand found mine, and he lifted our arms up like a referee does with a winning boxer. I looked at him as the world faded.
“You’re gonna make it,” he mouthed to me. He smiled again showing his red-rimmed teeth. Our arms fell limp to our sides. He spits out a blood clot and cursed. His chest shuddered and then he was gone. I could see his dirty face and smell the bitter stench of our bodies. His clear blue eyes pierced the monochrome tan of sand, sweat, and salt that coated our tattered uniforms and skin.
I don’t know how long I was standing in front of the doctor’s office door. I checked the name to make sure I was at the right place. It was time for my appointment. Hank was right. I’m gonna make it.