How to Grieve for Hyacinths

Clayton Bradshaw

Step 1. Go Online

You find out about the friend’s death through social media. Usually Facebook, since these deaths come from old Army buddies, most of whom have never enjoyed much human interaction while sober. It is lucky that they have any online presence at all. The details remain about the same. The bullet bounces inside the skull, mimicking the ricochets of rounds inside mud-walled rooms. Sometimes, it’s strands of paracord, crimson staining the green nylon where it cuts into the throat. Or, on occasion, little white pills can be found scattered across the wool carpet leading to a VA-prescribed bottle missing a cap.

Your frontal lobe blanks as the death creeps into your consciousness. To come back to reality, blink twice. Then, click to expand the post: This is terrible. He was such a good man. Check on your buddies. Talk to someone if you feel like killing yourself. Always the same. The comment section: What happened? When is the funeral? I’ll make it down from such and such place. 

Don’t say anything. Just stare at the screen as each comment appears and wonder if you are even allowed to feel sadness in your gut. None of these people like you, talk to you. They abhor empathy, so why even bother feeling bad when one of them dies. To them, you are a traitor for throwing off your uniform and questioning why you ever wore it. You know this because they troll posts on Facebook and Twitter. 

Close your laptop, sit on your bed, and pull on your shoes. Stop midway through tying the laces of the left shoe to sit up straight, your back as rigid as when you sat in the Stryker sandwiched between the Kevlar pates in your body armor. The deceased appears in a flash of memory on the other side of the room. Usually, he wears full battle armor with his helmet unstrapped while taking a break in the living room of an Iraqi mansion. On occasion, the ghost, this time in jeans and a t-shirt, drinks from a beer bottle in his hand. You feel a tear, sometimes two, warm your right cheek. 

Finish tying your shoes. Your eyes seem a bit red as you pass by the mirror, so splash a little water on them to cool off. They only redden further, but you should at least make the attempt to look normal. Walk outside and sit in your truck for a moment, hands welded to the steering wheel. The blue infantry cord hangs from your rearview mirror and anchors you to some memory of the deceased. This outdated symbol is all you have in common with the dead. Perpetual loneliness serves as the toll for moving on with your life, away from the restricted thought patterns implanted by the Army.

Turn the key in the ignition and watch the round light attempt to permeate the shadows between the trees in front of you. Back up, then roll slowly down the street. As you turn left at the first stop sign, the oversized concrete barriers you have built behind your eyes burst as the tears detonate like five thousand pounds of homemade explosive. Allow the tears to fall from your cheek and stain your shirt as you pass through the intermittent lamplight on each street. 

Step 2. Memorialize the Dead

Pull into the parking lot of the classiest drinking establishment you currently frequent. Ignore the greetings of everyone you know as you sit on a stool at the loneliest end of the bar. Don’t worry about intruding on their good spirits. After all, you don’t need their sympathy. Your friends shrug and assume you are just having one of your grumpy moments. You know how to get over this. It happens once or twice a month. You have the routine down.

The bartender double-checks to see if you are drinking the same thing. A Shiner Bock, of course, but request two this round. The bartender asks who it is for, so respond that the beer is for an old friend whom will be stopping by this evening. When she returns with the beers, ask for an extra napkin. Pull out the pen you keep in your pocket, another old Army habit, and write the usual note on the napkin. 

RIP _________

The Wolf is the strength of the Pack.

The Pack is the strength of the Wolf.

Ghostriders for Life.

‘Til Valhalla.

Place a coaster on the top corner of the napkin and the beer on the coaster. You know better than to place the beer on the napkin itself. It gets too soggy too quickly, and, as a result, the note does not make it to the end of the evening. Your tribute must be built to endure, or you risk failing the memory of all-night drinking sessions in Germany.

Take a shot. You don’t normally drink liquor, so start with something weak. Drink your beer. Drink a shot with the next beer. Repeat this process as your shoulders slump closer and closer to the bar and your head leans into the crook of your elbow. 

Wipe the tears before the bartender sees you. You still have a few hours until close, so sit up straight and open your eyes. Focus on the music. If a jukebox is around, play some Johnny Cash or Muddy Waters. Maybe some obscure song that the deceased always enjoyed as you rolled down the streets of Baghdad. He always had terrible taste. This applies to any buddy that has died.

The barback yells out Last Call. Close out your tab and leave a generous tip. Ask the bartender for a favor. The beer with the note is for a dead friend, you explain. No, don’t cry. This happens all the time. She will agree to let you pour the beer onto the ground outside. Walk to the back of the bar, toast the deceased, and dump the beer onto the ground. Let the dirt soak up the alcohol. The dead must have their fill too. The ghosts request unceasing appeasement (quite frankly, it’s annoying). Drive home. You know this part is a bad idea, but you have only ever been pulled over once in this process.

Step 3. Pay for the Memorial

Wake up. Wonder how you made it home. Check your phone to find a message from your boss asking if you are coming to work. Message her back to explain that a friend killed himself and you forgot to set your alarm. She feels the need to apologize but asks you to hurry so she doesn’t have to write you up. Your usual timeliness saves you here. 

Rush to the shower. Nearly slip as you fumble with the soap. Sit on the toilet for fifteen minutes and ask yourself if you should say fuck it and not go in. Comb your hair half-assed because your hand is shaking, likely due to the nausea and slight headache. Dig through the hamper to find a shirt because you never folded your laundry after pulling the clothes out of the dryer. Walk outside and remember that you hit a curb on the way home and the front driver’s side tire is flat. Call a Lyft.

Walk into work. Your boss pretends to empathize with your loss. She asks you to let her know if you need more time off. Say no. You have been through this before. You just forgot to set your alarm. She asks you to not let it happen again. Nod your head. As she turns and walks away, narrow your eyes and consider quitting because you don’t appreciate her fake smile or vague threats. You prefer to be surrounded by authentic people, but you can rarely find any these days. 

Sift through your email for the hour and a half you have left in the workday. There are only one or two new ones for shipping confirmations from packaging suppliers, but you still have 997 older ones that you never delete. Plenty to pretend to look over. Check your phone for Facebook updates on the funeral that you know you will not attend. Same comments as always: The wife announces a funeral home in some obscure town. The funeral will be at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Six of the nine who were planning on making it won’t be able to get off work. The other three will try and make it for the service, but they will have to head back quickly. 

Stash the phone in the desk drawer every time you hear your boss’s footsteps. Clock out five minutes early and duck out before she sees you. Get a Lyft home and take a nap. The truck’s tire can wait until tomorrow.

Step 4. Remember the Dead

You wake up to darkness inside your house. Place your fingers between two window blinds and open them to look outside. There will be more darkness. Pull up Netflix on your laptop and watch whichever funny TV show you are currently invested in. You laugh through three half-hour episodes, then find yourself bored in the middle of the fourth.

Look through your closet for your old dress uniform. Try it on and feel depressed; the years have not been kind to your waistline. The beret will still fit, at least. Stare at the rack of ribbons over the breast pocket. Remember the respect with which young privates once looked at you as they doubled over gasping after trying to keep up on a run. Take off the uniform. Curse your physique.

Pull out an old shoebox. Play with the mini Ka-Bar you carried to break open locked drawers in Baghdad. Peek inside small cases with shiny medals in them, medals that were awarded for little reason and less fanfare. All flash with no substance. Dangle your dog tags between your fingers before unraveling the strand of paracord. Close your eyes.

This is the piece you tied to a satellite dish on your house in Copperas Cove. Fresh out of the Army in a house with a new girlfriend and the child gate that once kept your son out of the kitchen, you flipped the couch onto its side and texted your mother goodbye. Over Skype, your ex-wife read the message you left for your son and called the Copperas Cove police from Germany. Red and blue lights flashed against the side of the ladder you were standing on as you tied the paracord to the satellite dish.

The paracord whispers your former rank and last name. It remembers the glory days, when the First Sergeant was priming you to be a Sergeant Major. When you hopped out of helicopters and led your machine gun teams into remote villages as Iraqis fired AK-47s over your head. When you silenced the firing of a sniper in an alleyway from the back of a Stryker. When you held your son as he greeted Big Bird at a USO show.

Shake your head, open your eyes, and snap out of it. Go to a cheaper bar. Drink and remember you can never be a soldier again. You have gotten too old, too broken, too educated.

Step 5. Forget

Do not roll onto your side while lying in your bed to face the old poster of your company from shortly before deploying to Iraq. You will be tempted to mark each one that has died, either in combat or in remembering combat. This will only cause the ghosts to haunt you further.

Do not roll over and face the other side of the bed where a picture of your son sits inside your diploma from college. You will only want to call his mother and ask to speak to him. She will remind you in German, then in English, that you are not allowed to speak to him. She will have him write a note saying that he does not want to speak to you because you could not afford to send a birthday present two years ago.

Do not get out of bed and check out Facebook. You will see more comments and memories of the deceased. It will frustrate you enough to start lashing out at political posts from other old buddies who refuse to abandon old habits.

Do not open the refrigerator and pour water in a glass to drink. You will end up completely sober, crying over
memories of death and loss. Grab a beer instead. Pour whiskey in a glass to pair with it. Drink until you are numb.

Step 6. Recover

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Get a Lyft home. Drink a beer. Pass out.

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Get a Lyft home. Drink a beer. Pass out.

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Get a Lyft home. Drink a beer. Pass out.

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Get a Lyft home. Drink a beer. Read Hemingway. Pass out.

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Get a Lyft home. Replace the flat tire with the spare. Drink a beer. Read Tobias Wolff. Pass out.

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Drive to the tire shop. Replace the tire. Drive home. Drink a beer. Read Kurt Vonnegut. Pass out.

Wake up hungover. Make it to work on time. Finish out the day. Pass out.

Step 7. Repeat

You will find out about the friend’s death through social media. Usually Facebook, since most of these deaths come from old Army buddies whom have never enjoyed much human interaction. Any online presence becomes a marvelous oddity. The details remain about the same. The round bounces inside the skull like the ricochets of bullets following the walls inside round guard towers. Sometimes, these men hang themselves from the satellite dish mounted to the roof of their house with a five-foot strand of paracord. The blood soaks into the nylon and turns the green thread dark. Family members find the more self-aware ones lying next to an empty pill bottle recently picked up from the VA pharmacy.

Your brain ceases to function for a moment. Blink twice to snap back to reality. Click to expand the post. Read the comments. They are always the same. 


Clayton Bradshaw served in the US Army for eight years as an infantryman. He deployed with 3/2 SCR to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. He graduated from Sam Houston State University with a BA in English and currently participates in the MFA Creative Writing program at Texas State University. His work can be found in The Deadly Writers Patrol, Second Hand Stories, War, Literature and the Arts, and r.kv.r.y. He is currently working on a novel, Quietus, which looks to create agency within the veteran narrative.