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Patriot

Anna loved fireworks.


Every year, she looked forward to the Fourth of July and New Years Eve, especially New Years Eve because she got to stay up later and at midnight the sky went crazy with lights and booms and whistles everywhere.


It was like magic.


However, she was only able to watch the fireworks because of the courtesy of her neighbors, or because her mom brought her to a show. Her dad never bought any fireworks and when they went to one of the shows, he never went with them.


She often asked her mom, "Why won't he come?" followed by "Does Daddy not like fireworks?" but her mom would never give her a straight answer.


Anna's father was a patriot, with stickers of his service to the USMC proudly displayed on his truck, and an American flag flying high on the flagpole he had installed in the front yard when her parents built that house. He always stood for the National Anthem, even when watching from home, and he placed his hand over his heart until a recent law changed, allowing Veterans and active duty not in uniform to give the proper salute. Yet, he would never come out for the fireworks, and she never could understand why.


One Forth of July in particular, she wasn't feeling good, so she had to watch the fireworks from her bedroom window.


Her mom was in the kitchen making her some soup, while her dad sat in front of the T.V. with the volume blaring in an attempt to drown out the noise outside.


Then, coincidentally, the neighbors next door and across the street happened to light their fireworks at the same time, and the walls of her room trembled with every boom as the sky exploded with bright lights. Anna longed to be out there, but even the sight from her window was magical. However, her excitement was short-lived.


There was a blood curdling cry from the living room, and she heard loud footsteps as her father barreled down the hallway and slammed the door of his bedroom. She could hear her mom calling after him, banging on the door, but he would not answer.


Finally, at around 11PM, the fireworks began to die down. The night sky was no longer alight with bright colors, but was full of a smoky mist that bore the overpowering scent of gunpowder that would linger even until the morning.


Anna ate her soup and crackers, and she drank her juice, but she could not shake the sound of her father's scream.


Her mother had somehow managed to get him to calm down, but he never came to kiss her goodnight, and when she heard the sounds of the T.V. again, only this time the volume was much lower, she tiptoed from her room and went to her parent's bedroom. He wasn't on the bed, so Anna figured he was in the bathroom, but the door was wide open and the light was off. She heard a whimpering sound coming from the closet, and when she opened the door, she found her dad curled up in a ball, with his hands clamped firmly over his ears as tears streamed down his face. His eyes were shut tight. He didn't see her, and she backed away slowly and closed the door again. Her dad was the strongest man she knew, and seeing him like that turned her world upside down. She went to find her mom, who was watching the news, and she climbed into her lap, crying, "What's wrong with daddy?"


Finally, her mom told her the truth, a truth that stuck with her for the rest of her life. Her father had served for many years, and he saw horrors they could not even imagine. He lost friends that he had called 'brother', and whenever he hears the fireworks, it takes him back to those horrors, and the memories of his fallen brethren haunt him.


Anna never asked her mother why her father wouldn't watch the fireworks again. Instead, as she got older, she researched it and learned about something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. She bought signs to put out in front of his house saying, "Combat Veteran Lives Here. Please, Be Courteous With Your Fireworks", but her neighbors didn't care, and her father even scolded her saying, "It's tradition! Let them celebrate!" Later on, she saved up the money from her part-time job and bought him a really nice set of noise-canceling headphones so he could watch the fireworks with her. He tried, and he smiled as he had not seen fireworks since before his time in the service, but after about half an hour went by, the noise was still too much for him, even with the headphones, so he went back inside. However, he kept the headphones on until the fireworks ceased for the night. Several years later, her father passed away. She was an adult now, and on the Fourth of July she drove to the cemetery, and set the headphones she had bought for him on his headstone.


"Happy Fourth of July, Daddy." She said with a smile, as tears streamed down her face, "Enjoy the fireworks tonight. Those memories can't haunt you anymore."

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