The Warrior and the Ballerina

Chapter 1: GI Joe

Here I am, a man of action; been everywhere, done everything, and now I'm back home again, living with my parents and my irritating, kid sister. What a revolting development this is. I'm a GI Joe, an action figure, who's no longer in action. I'm glued to this damn recliner, letting my mother wait on me hand and foot.

On my third tour in Iraq I got blown up. Now I'm a God damned cripple! I probably shouldn't complain too much, I still have my arms and legs attached. My right leg should have been amputated, but Doctor Gill thought I might be a good candidate for him to experiment on. He said if his experiment worked I would get to keep my leg, so of course, I volunteered. Who wouldn't?

'We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better, stronger, faster.' Hah—you've heard of, Steve Austin, the six million dollar man? Well, I'm more of a six dollar man, and I'm overpriced at that value. Right now I'm not worth a shit.

I just popped another pain pill, so I should soon be floating above the pain. That's what they tell me anyway, but I don't think I'm getting above any pain, and I'm sure as hell not floating. The pill makes me lethargic and dopey—dopier than usual—I mean.

There's this God awful contraption fastened to my leg, with all kinds of attached pins and rods screwed into me, probably some of them go all the way through me, in order to hold my leg together. I'll probably fall apart when they remove this apparatus, if they ever do. I might as well try to doze off. I'm getting too dopey to think rationally.

We have company. Mr. and Ms. Something or other and their daughter just came in. Mom says they live next door. I just give what passes for a wave when Mom makes introductions. To hell with them, I'm floating. Hey, the daughter is cuter than a bug's ear, small, trim, with black hair, pinned up tightly to her head like a cap. She——sparkles! I must be dopey. With that thought in mind, I float off into—wherever.

-----

I'm back, still glued to this recliner. I don't know how long I was gone, but right now, somebody's trying to get my attention.

"You despicable bum; the least you could have done was gotten up off your lazy ass and acknowledged my parents presence!"

What the hell is going on here?

"How could you be so impolite, so disrespectful?"

I think I'm being chewed out—by a girl. She's all fired up and spitting sparks. I glance around the room. She and I have the place to ourselves, and she's letting me have it—with both barrels. I don't recall doing anything wrong.

"You should have stood up and acknowledged my parents when your mother made introductions, but you just laid there like a drunken bum! You're despicable! I'm sure Ms. Carson taught you some manners when you were little."

Damn, she's cute as hell. - "What have I done to piss you off?"

"You didn't do anything! That's the trouble! Haven't you heard a word I've said? Or are you incapable of understanding?"

She's pissed because I didn't get up. I'm allowed to get up for a few minutes when it's absolutely necessary, provided I'm real careful. Getting up is a major operation, but if that's what she wants. . .

"Don't bother getting up for me. It's too late now, my parents have already gone."

I flip the blanket off my legs and start the getting up process, using my hands to swing my dead leg off the recliner.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Her eyes are locked in on the apparatus. She's in shock. You can't blame her. This apparatus looks like some kind of torture device with all these rods screwed into my leg.

Planting my left foot solidly on the floor, I keep the right one off it. I'm not supposed to let my right leg support any of my weight. Now, where did I put those damn crutches?

"Oh—I—didn't know—you were . . . I'm sorry—I'm so sorry."

Her face is turning fire engine red.

"Please don't get up on my account."

She puts her hands against my chest to stop me—steps closer—and bumps her knee against the apparatus!

"AHIIIIIEEEE—" I fall back in agony.

"Oh—No—I'm sorry—I'm so sorry! I didn't mean . . . Did it hurt?"

No, of course it didn't hurt, you dumb ass. I only cry out and writhe in agony for fun. Damn her! I'm not supposed to bump this contraption. I don't have much feeling in my leg, but if I bump this damn thing against something, I get a ton of feeling. These rods are pure torture!

Her face turned white when she bumped her knee against the apparatus. Now she's turning scarlet again. My face might be red too, but not due to embarrassment. It's all I can do to hold back a burst of foul language—suitable for the field—not suitable for my mother's living room.

What the hell is this? Damn, I kept the burst of foul language bottled up, but something had to come out—tears! Damn it to hell, I don't cry when I get hurt. I get mad! I'm mad as hell now, and I have tears running down my face. Talk about an embarrassing predicament—this is way beyond embarrassing. Maybe she hasn't noticed the tears?

"I'm terribly sorry."

She hands me a tissue. Damn! She noticed alright. I need to escape, but I can't. Not only am I a lazy, impolite, disrespectful bum—but now I'm a crybaby! And I'm despicable too!

"What's going on in here?"

My sister, Hurricane Hannah, comes blowing into the room, asking dumb questions.

"What did you do to him?"

She's asking Miss Scarlet Face? I quickly answer for her. "Nothing, I just bumped this contraption against her knee. It hurt me more that in did her."

"Good, you should be more careful."

That's my Hurricane Hannah, always blasting me. I was perfectly happy being the only child till she came along and made me the big brother. She's been blowing me off ever since.

Miss Scarlet says, "It was my fault, I bumped into him. I'm terribly sorry."

Enough already, she needs to knock off the sorry shit.

"Are you still in pain?"

What's wrong with her? Of course I'm not in pain. I always grimace like this.

Hannah asks, "Do you need me to get you a pain pill?"

"No, I just took one about an hour ago, and I'm still dopey from it. I can't have another one for five more hours."

"Too bad, would you like a cup of coffee or an RC?"

"No, I'd just like for you to go away, and quit bugging me."

"I'll bug you all I want. You can't tell me what to do."

"Yeah, you always do the opposite of what I tell you."

"Not always. I'm going back to my room, not because you want me to—but because I want to."

Miss Scarlet says, "I'd better go too."

"No—you stay. Pull that chair over, sit down, and talk to me. I haven't had the opportunity to speak with a pretty girl in a long time."

Hannah blurts, "Hey, what about me? Most guys think I'm pretty."

"You don't count. You're a sister."

Miss Scarlet hesitates—then decides to humor me. Her face is still scarlet. She feels guilty about chewing me out and bumping into my leg. I'm taking advantage of her guilt feelings.

She sits down, close to me—takes a moment to compose herself—and asks, "What shall we discuss?"

"Let's start with your name."

"Natasha Kiev"

"Hah, that's a made up name if I ever heard one."

"Sort of—our last name was difficult to pronounce, so my father shortened it."

"Okay, I'll buy that—Natasha."

"Your mother called you Butch. That's a made up name if I ever heard one."

"Touche, it's a nickname, but I've always been called Butch."

"What's your real name?"

"I was named after my grandfather who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. That was in World War II."

"I know about the Battle of the Bulge. My father is an historian." She pauses—then queries, "You still haven't told me your name."

"It's Jerome."

She smiles—amused—her eyes sparkle, and she says, "Okay—Butch."

She really is the prettiest girl I've seen in years. That smile coupled with the sparkle of her eyes is devastating. She must have dozens of boyfriends.

"What do they call you—Gnat?"

"No"

"Tash?"

"No, my name is Natasha, and I don't care to have it shortened, and I don't want a nickname."

"Okay, Gnat." She doesn't smile, so I quickly correct it to, "Natasha."

"How long do you have to wear that apparatus on your leg?"

"I have no idea and neither do the doctors. What was left of my bones has been screwed into some composite material that I'm supposed to grow to. If it works I get to keep my leg. If not, they cut the damn thing off, which is what they should have done in the first place. They wanted a volunteer for this experiment and I volunteered. Nobody told me there would be this much pain and suffering. I've had three serious operations. I'm Doctor Frankenstein's monster, an experiment that isn't going well. If they had amputated and fitted me with a prosthesis I'd be walking now."

"But if the experiment is successful, you get to keep your leg. That should be worth some extra pain and suffering. It would be to me. And I'm sure learning to walk with a

prosthesis would be difficult and painful, not to mention the bother of having to deal with a prosthesis for the rest of your life."

"You're probably right. I'm just depressed."

"A few years from now you'll look back on this and be glad you persevered."

"You don't know how bad it is. I've always been active. This is like being in prison, only worse."

"I do too know how you feel. I suffered through a very difficult time in my life."

"Really?"

"You look doubtful. I didn't just lose the use of a leg, not that I'm making light of your injury, but I lost everything! It took me three years to overcome it. Now I can glance back on those three years and feel good that I managed to persevere. I may not be completely back on track, but I'm happy to be back as far as I am."

She smiles brightly. Three years—I've only been laid up five months.

"Life is good. Pull through the bad times and be happy during the good times."

"That's a good philosophy. What kind of injury did you have?"

"I don't care to discuss it. It makes me sad, and I prefer to be happy."

"I do too, but I can't really be happy as long as I have this."

"How were you injured? Or would you rather not discuss it?"

"I was in a Humvee, on patrol near Falluja. That's in Iraq."

"I know that."

"We got blown up by an IED. That an impro—"

"I know what an improvised explosive device is."

"Okay, anyhow that's how I ended up like this. The doctors have done their work, so now it's up to me. They decided I could mend better at home, so they kicked me out of the hospital. I haven't lived at home since I was eighteen, but here I am, back as an invalid."

"I see you have crutches."

"Yeah, but I'm only supposed to use them when I absolutely have to get up and only for a few minutes at a time."

"And standing up just to be polite isn't absolutely necessary. I'm sorry I got so angry with you."

"That's all right. I need somebody to fuss at me now and then. Let's change the subject. Tell me how your life is going now that you're back on track."

-

Natasha and I talked for quite a while. She's a senior at Midfield High, same as Hurricane Hannah, so they car pool together.

My little pest of a kid sister is a high school senior? How can that be? She isn't old enough. Let's see, she must be—eighteen? That can't be right. How did she grow up so fast?

Natasha's father is a professor at Midfield College, which is where Dad wanted to send me for a business degree, in order to prepare me to eventually take over the family business from him. I ducked out on that and joined the Army. I'd always wanted to be a GI Joe. In light of how I've ended up, maybe I should have gone to college? No, I wouldn't trade my Army life for anything. I've enjoyed every minute of it, except for the past few months. I like the camaraderie of being with a bunch of grunts, and there's nothing that compares to the thrill of combat.

Mom and Dad came back and ended my pleasant evening with Natasha. Evidently they went over next door with Mr. and Ms. Kiev, while Natasha stayed behind, in order to chew me out for being such a disrespectful, lazy bum.

Mom says, "Natasha, your mother said for me to send you home as soon as I got in."

"Oh, okay, it's getting late, so I'd better go. Goodnight Butch."

She flashes me a bright smile.

"Goodnight Natasha."

As soon as she's out the door, Hurricane Hannah bursts into the family room and announces, "I can't believe it. She stayed in here with him the whole time. She doesn't do things like that."