There was a creak and a thump as Hudson swung himself out of his bunk. He dashed out into the hallway, in only his socks and skivvies, and ran toward Hicks and Spunkmeyer. “Let him go, man!”
Hicks turned around to punch Hudson in the stomach. The wind rushed out of his lungs as he fell. Spunkmeyer, fueled with fear and anger, socked Hicks in the side. Stunned by the blow, Hicks reeled before grabbing Spunkmeyer by the neck, and began squeezing. The anger quickly faded into panic.
“What is going on out here?!” Apone demanded, grabbing Hicks by the shoulder. “Let go of him, Hicks.”
Hicks’s eyes were lit with rage.
Apone remained calm, maintaining eye contact with Hicks. “I said, let go.”
Hicks’s grip loosened, and Spunkmeyer collapsed on the floor, gasping for breath.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?”
“Sir. I was getting our powerloader operator to re-organize the ordinance back here. That would never pass inspection. There’s no discipline. It’s worse than Sergeant Travin’s-”
“Hicks, I explicitly told you, that when you start feeling this way, you go right to your therapist. Now, I understand if you feel like you can’t control it, but, this is an order. When you follow orders, that shows discipline, and that’s what you want, right?”
“Good. Go on down to sick bay. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” As Hicks performed an about-face and marched out, Apone looked down at Hudson and Spunkmeyer. “You two okay?”
“Yeah,” Hudson breathed. “What the hell just happened, man?”
“Hicks isn’t feeling well. Come on, get up, and go back to bed.”
The unit was gathered in one of the smaller briefing rooms after breakfast the next morning. Their medtech, Corporal Schmidt, sat on a desk, facing the rest of the Marines. “Alright, I think some of you… figured out that Corporal Hicks has some issues-Hudson, get your feet off the desk-and Sergeant Apone gave me orders to give you a little information on what you’re dealing with. I know you guys don’t really hear all that much about mental health. It’s not something they cover in-depth at boot camp or your specialty training, but at the same time, it’s there. Some of you might be dealing with problems you don’t know about, and if you think it’s gotten to a point where you can’t handle it, you need to come forward so we can get you the help you need.
“Corporal Hicks is dealing with bipolar two disorder, or manic depression. Basically, this means he has alternating periods with extreme high and low moods. In bipolar two, these moods tend to be milder than with bipolar one.”
“So, when he flew off the handle and punched me, that’s fucking mania?” Hudson asked.
“Yeah. ‘High’ doesn’t necessarily mean happy. ‘High’ can mean… a lot of energy.”
“Hicks was just transferred from a unit where there wasn’t any structure or discipline,” Apone interjected. “Not to mention, he didn’t take General Paulson’s suicide very well. He knew the general personally.”
“So, he’s taking his grief out on us?” Drevis asked.
Spunkmeyer’s thoughts turned to his former training partner, Falsson. Falsson took his own grief out on him, but he wasn’t suffering from a mental problem.
“Everyone deals with loss in their own way,” Apone said. “What we’re trying to say is that I did not deliberately sign on a nutcase. This wasn’t recorded until after I submitted a response to command. Hicks is getting help from somebody, and it’s not fair-or helpful-if I pack him up and send him back to General Russell.”
Schmidt nodded. “Hicks doesn’t hate any of you or wants to see you suffer, okay? Try to be nice, be helpful. Let him know you care.”
“Easy for you to say. You didn’t get sucker-punched in the fucking belly or nearly choked to death, man,” Hudson said, glancing at Spunkmeyer.
“Hudson, knock it off,” Apone said.
“I’m just saying, Sarge; I ain’t holding back next time Hicks decides it’s a good idea to drag Spunkmeyer outta bed at midnight for some shit he and only he thinks is outta place.” Hudson’s eyes were narrowed to icy gray slits as he looked around the room. “You people shoulda heard Spunkmeyer crying. I know we’re trained with the hardest discipline on the planet, but there’s a difference between that and outright cruelty.”
“You don’t need to do this, Hudson,” Spunkmeyer whispered.
“Hudson, we get it,” Schmidt said, only slightly raising his voice above Hudson’s. “No one’s getting kicked out or punished or whatnot. Next time, don’t fight Hicks; go down to sick bay and get Doctor Ranelli.” He got off the desk. “You all are dismissed.”
Hudson didn’t seem too keen on being nice to Hicks after what happened the previous night. Spunkmeyer was a little embarrassed over Hudson trying to defend him, but at the same time, when had that ever happened before in his life? It felt mean-spirited, even selfish, to just let Hudson be his defender-in the eyes of a regular person.
As winter slowly made its change to spring, the unit had become used to Hicks’s presence. When he wasn’t maniacal or depressed, he was incredibly competent. He made an effort to bond with each Marine-including Spunkmeyer.
While getting out of the powerloader one morning, Spunkmeyer saw Hicks approaching him, putting a lighter in his pocket. Naturally, Spunkmeyer was a little anxious, but he didn’t want his guard up too much.
“Danny Spunkmeyer, right?” Hicks asked.
Hicks was clearly trying to appear relaxed, but his tension was visible a mile away. “I know I shoulda told you this a long time ago, but I am sorry about what happened when I first came here.”
Spunkmeyer struggled to come up with a good response. On one hand, Hicks did try to choke him, and punched Hudson, but he was also suffering internally. In a way, Spunkmeyer understood how Hicks was feeling, but he was afraid of what Hudson would say if he told him that he partially sympathized with Hicks.
“I think we should try to start fresh. We’re teammates, and even though I’m your corporal, I think seeing eye-to-eye with you is important.”
Spunkmeyer nodded, and let his guard down. “Okay.” He leaned against one of the legs of the powerloader. “I accept your apology.”
Spunkmeyer took notice of how soft Hicks’s voice was. He didn’t seem to be that good of a “people-person,” which was what unit leaders are supposed to be.
He also had a variety of nervous habits. When he wasn’t smoking, he was playing with the tassels of a black and dark-scarlet scarf. Spunkmeyer could tell that Hicks felt inferior; instead of making eye contact, he looked down at his scarf. How on Earth did he become a corporal?
“You don’t mind I talk to you, do you?”
Spunkmeyer shrugged. “Don’t see why not.” And I thought I was a little odd. ”I gotta use the restroom, so, wait here.”
Hicks looked like he had just been scolded. He continued looking down, but would glance up at Spunkmeyer as he left the hangar.
Wierzbowski was standing in front of one of the urinals when Spunkmeyer came in, and Spunkmeyer abruptly realized that he shouldn’t be saying anything about Hicks’s nervous habits. I can’t go when someone else is in the restroom. Even if it’s bad, I just can’t do it.
“You alright?” Wierzbowski asked. “You know there’s seven other open urinals.”
“I know. I just… can’t… go.”
“Not feeling good?”
“No. I just can’t go in front of other people.”
“Ah. That’s alright. I’ll make this quick.”
“Has Hicks talked to you at all?”
“Last week, yeah. He came up to me when I was taking some of the mail shipments out of the delivery truck. I asked if he needed anything, and he said he just wanted to talk to me, man-to-man.”
“Did he act nervous?”
Wierzbowski nodded. “He’s not a talker, which I can understand.”
“Yeah. You’re quiet, but you’re not balls-out awkward.”
Wierzbowski smirked. “I’m also not depressed.” He finished up his business, and then walked over to a sink. “Hicks isn’t someone who enjoys small talk. If you can ease your way into a conversation one level deeper than small talk, I think you and Hicks can get along, no problem.”
“How do I do that without being weird myself?”
“If he asks about your family, that’s a fairly easy opportunity for you to access that deeper conversation.” Wierzbowski gave Spunkmeyer a somewhat sad look. He knew most of the details of Spunkmeyer’s past.
“You’re right.” Spunkmeyer walked up to a urinal. “I feel like I’m just going to get upset, though.”
“Well, then, be honest. Tell him you’re not ready to talk to him about your past.”
“That’ll probably make him feel bad.”
“Again, be honest. It’s not his fault you don’t like talking to people about it.”
Spunkmeyer left the restroom to find Hicks standing in the doorway between the hangar and the hall. Hicks’s whole demeanor made Spunkmeyer wish he didn’t have to be honest. No. I’ve spent my entire life stooping down and putting my own feelings beneath me. I’m not letting him soften me into submission.
“Everything okay?” Hicks asked. He sounded a tad more confident.
Spunkmeyer nodded. “Yeah. What’d you wanna talk about?”
“Just wanna get to know you a little better, beyond your papers and stuff.”
Oh. So, he already knows I’m adopted, and that I have no relatives, no next of kin.
“You grew up in New York?”
Spunkmeyer swallowed past a lump in his throat. “I don’t… want to talk about it.” Do I? Or am I just saying this to spite him? I don’t know. I don’t know! In a panic, Spunkmeyer whirled around, and walked briskly down the hall. He broke into a jog halfway, and immediately turned to dash into the armory.
I thought I got past this. I thought I could talk about this without exposing just how . . . how much it’s fucked with me. Resting his head on his knees, Spunkmeyer sighed before sobbing. He then felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see Ferro.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” she asked.
“I can’t tell Hicks about my past. Not the details, anyway. Why? I should be over this by now. I should be able to calmly say to people, ‘Yes, I’m adopted, and here’s my story.’ Why won’t it stop annoying me?”
“In all honesty, it’d be weird if it didn’t bother you, even a little bit.”
“I mean, it doesn’t make me sad anymore, but it does make me angry sometimes, and I don’t know why.”
“I don’t think any of those feelings will truly go away, Spunkmeyer.” Getting on the floor next to him, Ferro hugged Spunkmeyer tightly, and rested her head on his shoulder.
Without much hesitation, Spunkmeyer put his arm around Ferro, gently resting his head against hers. “Are you cold?”
“Want my jacket?”
“But then you’ll be cold.”
Spunkmeyer took off his jacket anyway, draping it over Ferro’s shoulders and rubbing her arms while holding her tighter. “I’ll be warm if you’re warm.”
Ferro was quiet for a moment, letting Spunkmeyer keep her warm. She looked up at him, and smiled. “Thanks.”
Spunkmeyer really did feel warmer inside seeing Ferro happy. He grinned, wishing they could drag out this moment for as long as possible.
They couldn’t. After only two minutes of sitting, they had to get up and get back to their day. Spunkmeyer had to resume his conversation with Hicks. I can be the bigger person by telling him my story. He’ll understand why it hurts sometimes. I won’t look like a coward if I tell him.
Spunkmeyer found Hicks in the gym, and put on a brave face as he approached him. “Corporal, I’m sorry I ran. I just needed to… think. I can talk now. I can do it.”
Hicks nodded, and didn’t say a word as Spunkmeyer told him his story from start to finish-leaving out the part that he enlisted underage, of course. Not once did Spunkmeyer get the impression that Hicks wasn’t listening. In fact, he felt like Hicks was actually thinking about every word he said.
Part of Spunkmeyer was expecting a lengthy response from Hicks when he finished. Instead, Hicks nodded a little, and spoke softly. “Be proud of yourself, okay? I know there are a lot of people who would’ve quit, simply because they were alone and hadn’t developed a sense of purpose. You worked from nothing, and that’s something you should remember next time you ever feel empty or alone.”
The weeks and months continued onward, and Spunkmeyer observed that Hicks had talked to every member of the unit, trying to improve their bonds. Well, every member except Hudson.
It was mid-July when they were relocated to Algiers. On a cliff overlooking the glittering Mediterranean Sea, Hudson and Spunkmeyer sat by themselves, relaxing in the uncovered sun.
“If we could get one of those tiny grills, some burgers and sausage links, a big chocolate pie, and a six-pack of beer, this’d be a good picnic, man,” Hudson said.
“And what am I drinking, genius?” Spunkmeyer asked.
“I’ll get you a pack of juice boxes.”
Smirking, Spunkmeyer flipped Hudson off. “Listen, I legitimately turned eighteen this year. I’m getting closer and closer to really being an adult.”
“Are you?” Hudson laughed as Spunkmeyer playfully pushed him. “In all seriousness, man, you’ve been an adult since you enlisted. I don’t know of anyone else who woulda did that at sixteen.” He patted Spunkmeyer’s head. “You’re a real badass, man.”
Spunkmeyer resisted the urge to smirk. There were several reasons why he didn’t feel like a badass, even though he really wanted to. He thought about what Hicks told him back in February, about how he needed to be proud of himself for coming so far with very little support. “I gotta ask, did Hicks ever talk to you?”
Hudson shook his head. “Not the way he did the rest of you.”
“I dunno. Guess it means something, and that sucks because I was the first one to offer him a hand of friendship.” Hudson flicked a pebble down the cliff. “I know what it means. Means I’m not the kind of person somebody with mental health issues is gonna turn to for help.”
“That’s not true. I go to you when I need help.”
“I didn’t push you away and dismiss you as a nutcase.”
“Well, I also didn’t punch you in the stomach that night. You’re not wrong for being mad at Hicks.”
“There’s something else it means, and I dunno how to explain it.” Hudson looked down at his lap, trying not to appear as though he wanted to cry. “I’m not good with relationships. I’m not good at reading people’s emotions. I can’t even read my own emotions.”
“You’ve been able to figure out when I’m upset. Hey, just because Hicks didn’t give you a man-to-man talk, doesn’t mean you failed at something.” Spunkmeyer moved closer to Hudson, who had finally broke down in tears.
“Yes, it does, man. If that was true, why’d he leave me out? I did something wrong! I am something wrong!”
“Don’t talk like that. Look, you’ve made me happy. Come on, just because Hicks doesn’t think you can doesn’t mean no one else will. You’ve given me a brotherhood I didn’t think I was ever gonna have.”
Clearly, his words weren’t penetrating. Hudson continued to look down, sighing quietly.
Spunkmeyer opened his mouth to speak again, but he paused, suddenly getting the impression that Hudson didn’t want this conversation to continue. Someone must’ve said something to him that pushed his buttons.
Hudson went back to being himself not too long after the two returned to base, but his behavior still bothered Spunkmeyer. It made no sense. Hudson wasn’t telling him something.
I’m not good at reading people’s emotions. I can’t even read my own emotions. Spunkmeyer pondered that for some time. How could he and Hudson be friends if Hudson didn’t understand how he was feeling? There’s something he’s not telling me.
A part of Spunkmeyer wanted to feel guilty, but he was convinced this was purely Hudson’s problem. He decided not to let it drag him down. He’ll come to me when he wants to. I won’t force him.
He couldn’t predict that communication between them would start to stagnate. Within a month after Hudson’s outburst, they stopped having those deeper conversations late into the night. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were full of really dumb jokes. Spunkmeyer was truly “one of the guys,” but that deeply-rooted brotherly relationship he had with Hudson was beginning to unravel.
At least he would always have Ferro. They had started sneaking out of their rooms at night and sit in the hangar, talking about anything and everything. Even though they might never have the romantic relationship Spunkmeyer frequently found himself fantasizing about, nothing could ever change the bond of friendship they shared, and Spunkmeyer was grateful for that.