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Post Road Magazine #35

All Americans

Ryan Ridge

Hastings had his repeater leveled at my lungs. I said, “Elevate your aim, son.” He was actually older but I had him smoked by rank. “Those hills scare me,” he said. “The shadows are strange. Let’s light them up and see what’s what.” I said, “Hey, have at it.” The sunlight was fading fast. We were outside a city with a name I couldn’t pronounce. It was one of the ones with the word “-bad” at the end and this place was worse. It had a name, too. Our translator told us. “Here’s some local talent right here,” he pointed and said. She stumbled out of the mud hut in robes and tears, holding her child aloft like a prized bass and jabbering away in Pashto. I asked the translator to figure out what she wants. He translated this: “She says that her son is doomed and so is she. She wants you to take him to America.” “No dice,” I said. “Tell her the 10th Mountain boys are many things, but we aren’t a goddamn adoption agency.” The translator translated, but who knows what he said because, next thing I knew, Hastings was holding the kid and the mother was pedaling an ancient ten-speed up the dirt road and into the sunset. It was snowing in the mountains and we stood there feeling stupid and cold as nightfall fell all around. “Ideas?” I said. “Anyone?” Hastings rocked the kid to sleep in his arms and said, “I bet I can teach him to shoot. He looks like a stone cold little dude, a sniper in diapers.” Hastings had an understudy now. All winter, he taught the toddler to volley and aim. The tutee was a crack shot, too. In Kandahar that spring, he blasted a boar between the eyes one afternoon and later that night shot our translator in the neck by mistake. I was openly surprised and secretly pleased because I never liked that guy. “Each beginning comes from an ending,” I said to the team after the translator died by the dugout of our makeshift softball field. Back then, I was always plagiarizing the great philosopher Seneca in conversation because I’d never had any original thoughts, and so when our tour ended, I stayed on for another. I thought, “Maybe we’ll catch that rotten cocksucker who took down the towers this time around.” I thought wrong. Meanwhile, Hastings took leave. He resumed life and wife stateside and assumed custody in an Oxford, Mississippi courtroom; then he quickly set to work teaching his adopted son everything he knew besides firearms, which wasn’t much, and so he sent the boy to school. There, he excelled at recess. On the playground, he learned the physics of the crossover dribble and an unblockable rainbow from the deep perimeter, and all the while Hastings and his wife raised the boy as their own. Now he’s all grown up into an All American at the University of Kentucky, a true freshman at the two guard. Man, he can shoot. He could always shoot. He takes after his adopted dad. They say he’s a lock for a lottery pick. As for me, I fell out of the Army and into the private sector. Contract work in the Middle East. Mostly Iraq. For someone like me, it’s easy money and a lot of it, too, and despite the exaggerated reports, I am possibly half-nuts but totally alive. I guess you could say that I’m out here living the dream very far from home.

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