John and I were best friends until I made it clear that I wanted nothing more to do with his crew. Our band of seven guys followed him around and grew angrier each day we were on lockdown. Nobody could take leave. Not even officers. Some of us would go to the desert to die. Just a matter of time, they told us.
Münster-Dieburg had forever been an ammo storage facility and was currently housing nuclear warheads. Until recently we worried about the overworked guys who worked downrange, 24/7. It was only a matter of time until some dumb-ass newbie dropped a load of Lance missiles from his fork. But these days we feared each other more than the nukes. A sideways glance was all it took to start a scrap in the mess or a full-on bench-clearer on the basketball courts during PT. We chomped at the bit for a fight. We had that in common. And alcohol too.
When I told John I was out he wasn’t having it. Said I was in for life.
My bedroom suite was connected to John’s by a shared bathroom. Its walls painted fire orange. After my announcement, I started bolting my door. And when I did, the sound was unmistakable. Like cocking a charging handle on an M16. A soft sound. Comforting. But you don’t pull that thing back unless you’re going to hold your breath and squeeze the trigger.
One night I fell asleep drunk and forgot to turn the lock. John sneaked in and woke me up with a shove. He stood beside my bed dressed only in his OD briefs. His fists were clenched and his face was red. He told me I fucked up. Big time. He asked me if I changed my mind. When I told him no, he said I don’t exist. Then he unleashed.
He pounded my half-asleep face with his fists while I struggled to unwrap myself from the sheets. When I did, I jumped out of bed and tackled him to the tile. I ran out of the room looking for help. Sergeant Vines was just a few doors down the hall. He returned with me to my room.
When Vines gave me the all-clear, I entered and could smell John’s Paul Sebastian cologne. Vines went through the bathroom into John’s suite. He doubled back and told me to come over. I asked if John was gone and he said he was, kind of. Inside it was musty and lit like a greenhouse. John lay passed out on the floor. Two empty Amaretto bottles near his head and a pair of scissors in his hand. His body covered in trash.
But Sergeant Vines told me it wasn’t trash. Told me to look closer.
John had stolen my photo albums. He and I had been on many trips together – Italy, France, the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, the newly fallen Berlin Wall, Frankfurt and more. John had cut himself out of every photo, leaving behind an empty space. He lay on the floor surrounded by hundreds of paper dolls. It reminded me of a book I had as a kid. On my favorite page was an etching of a shipwrecked Gulliver after he washed ashore on Liliput. His wrists and legs tied down with rope and cable. He’d been taken prisoner by the six-inch tall Liliputians. I would look close so I could see the expressions on the captors’ faces. I loved that page.