A/N - Just to clear up confusion: this takes place during the Vietnam War. Hope you enjoy.

When things get tough, leave. That's what I was always told to do. Don't fight, don't ask why, just go. For some reason with Brent I was never able to apply this rule. It had helped me so much, kept me alive when others had died. When my father died and my uncle came to take his place, bringing violence and fear to my mother and sisters, I ran, ran straight into Brent's arms, an out of wedlock baby, and a young marriage. When the protests had first started, I hadn't joined in, realizing the danger and the implications of standing up for what you believed in. I had always been smart; that's what my mother said.

Brent beat me. He had beaten me since our second night together. He had always been a heavy drinker, something I had known when I first dated him, when I was a young sixteen in the early fifties, full of ideals and hopes. I had known I could change him. He was so wild; pale hair slicked and combed back with grease, leather jacket, and the crappy pseudo-Harley he had spent his entire savings on. I suppose he blinded me with all the risks and loud music and rebellion.

He joined the army as soon as the war began. I was relieved, and had a low enough opinion of myself to feel bad about the tension that left the house. We had three children together, Ben, Maura, and Robert, ages twelve, ten, and six. The children were angels. I don't know how they did it, Brent getting drunk nearly every night, me smoking a drag on my cigarette every moment and doing my share of drinking. They didn't get in more trouble than was normal for children, and their grades in school were average.

Each day I fought with myself, paying enough attention to household tasks to not light the laundry on fire with cigarette sparks and give the children meals, but all my other energy was spent debating in my mind. If Brent was killed, I would have the house to myself, I would be able to get a job and raise the kids right, and I wouldn't have to worry about covering up bruises so people wouldn't ask where they had come from. But did I really wish death on him? I had loved Brent, I even loved him when he hit me.

There was something sick inside me, that had began when my Uncle came, maybe even before, something that made me think I deserved everything he had given me, a rose tinge that colored everything Brent had ever done as good and in a deserving nature.

I waited each day at the mailbox, in my bathrobe, eyes dead, once beautiful dark hair a frizzy, peroxide-colored mess, taking yet another drag on my cigarette, the smoke clogging my senses. The mailman, surprisingly, was always polite to me, and each day told me that No, there was no word form Brent, and that when there was he would be sure to tell me. I would walk back to the house and see the kids off to school, then lie down on the couch and watch t.v., maybe take a shower and make myself coffee later in the day.

"Mom, why don't you have something to eat?" Benny would say, looking at me carefully and trying to gauge my mood. I knew he would fix me dinner whether I wanted him to or not, that he would force me to eat it, our roles reversed entirely. Sometimes I wondered when he had become the parent and me the child. Maybe from the first time he had been aware of the beatings. I didn't know. He took care of me more than anyone. He forced me to get up each morning, to make coffee, to get them something to eat, to get food for myself.

One day, I got up by myself. Benny wasn't there to force me up, to egg me along with his high pitched, squeaking-with-hormones voice. I did it myself. It was early, about 5:00 a.m. I took a shower, rejoicing in the hot water pouring over me. When I stepped out, I felt cleaner than I had in years. Brent wasn't there; he was far away, gone. I put on makeup, not much, but it was such an unfamiliar gesture that I got mascara all over my face. After cleaning that up, I put on some real clothes, not my bathrobe, but an actual dress. I curled my hair at the edges, and put on a matching headband. My hair looked good; it was full and dark like it had been when I was young, shiny soft naturally, without any products.

For some reason I still went down to the mailbox. I wanted to liberate myself from Brent, but somehow, the mailbox called to me. I waited. Today it was taking a long time. I looked at my watch: 6:30. I had spent exactly three minutes waiting. Where was he? 6:31. Why was this bothering me? I had waited fifteen minutes for the mailman before. Today was no different. I waited. Then I saw him.

He looked at me like I was a stranger when he first saw me. Then he smiled and said, "Good morning." He handed me the normal mail and then gave me a package. His smile this time was weak, forced, and his eyes held sadness. "I'm sorry," he said and continued on. I ripped open the package and found a bag. Was it the Bag? The one they sent when he died? I opened it. There were his things. Nothing. A dog tag. Nothing important. A letter? Still sealed? Didn't the army look through all the letters? I looked at the hastily scrawled note in a daze.

Dear Chloe,

I'm leaving you. I can't come back to the US and be with you. I've met a nurse. We're staying Vietnam. Don't try to contact me. I don't want you.


For a minute I wanted to cry. He left? With some nurse? At least he wasn't dead, as the frightening bag had led me to believe. Then I stopped. I had gotten up this morning, made myself beautiful and had taken care of the house and the kids for months. Without him. I ran down the street and kissed the mailman.