Starting Over — Inspired by Julie Weber

If you’re just reading about the September Challenge Contest, please check it out here. You can read yesterday’s post, Good-bye, George. Check back each day to read the different stories and make sure you vote on Sunday! 

Today’s story is inspired by Julie Weber, one of my friends from college. Here was her idea…

“Character: Hudson analytical hilarious artistic quiet slightly judgmental handsome but insecure
Setting: large college in the Midwest 1960s
Conflict: married adult male going back to college trying to juggle dream and young family”


Starting Over

Hudson woke, sitting rail straight in bed. Soaked in sweat and tears, he heaved and gulped air. It seemed that his feet couldn’t get him into the bathroom soon enough. Fortunately, he made it to the toilet before he vomited.

It was another one of his dreams. Him. In the jungle. An M14 rifle held so tightly in his hand his knuckles were white. A line of men, identical in uniform, gun, boots, fear. Like ants marching along.

That’s when the bomb explodes. And then another. Then the ambush. And he’s left all by himself. Everyone else is dead. He turns the rifle toward himself.

He always woke up when the dream got that far. It was his brain’s way of protecting him.

“Hudson,” his wife Sandy said, standing in the doorway. “Are you okay, dear?”

“Just a dream,” he answered. “Don’t worry.”

“Okay.” She didn’t ask for details. He’d made it clear that he would never talk about it. “Breakfast?”

“No. I’ll just have coffee.” He stood, splashed water on his face. “I need to grab a shower before class.”

She walked away. He closed the door. She’d never understand, he thought.

The water in the shower cleaned off his body, reset his mind to function for the day. At least that’s what he hoped.

The campus of the University was crawling with students. Hudson swallowed his nervousness, pushed away the anxiety as he walked through the halls of the art wing. It seemed that all of his classes were in the most populated buildings. Apparently, art and education were very sought after degrees. But he hated crowds. They made him nervous.

Why am I so afraid? He wondered. This isn’t a war zone. There are no Viet Cong here. I’m safe. I’m okay. 

He looked at the other students. They were kids, really. Only six years younger than he, but none of them had seen their best buddy get his arm blown off.

He shook off the memory. Those flashbacks always seemed to hit him at the worst times.

He’d been home from Viet Nam for just over a year. So much had changed while he was gone. His family, his hometown, even the government. It seemed that everyone hated the war and took it out on the soldiers. Most of his friends were wearing bell-bottoms, smoking marijuana and talking about peace.

And Hudson felt left behind. Set back because of his time in the war. It seemed that everyone his age had a career, money, a life. But he was just starting at college. He had no idea how he would support his family working part time for his father-in-law.

“Hey,” a kid said, bumping into Hudson, jostling him out of his thoughts. “You a professor here, man?”

“No,” Hudson answered. “Just a student.”

“Whoa, man. You look too old to be a student.” The kid looked like a hippie. The kind that would protest. Hudson wanted nothing to do with him.

“Yeah, I was in Nam. I had to put college on hold.”

“Nam? Man, that’s so not cool.”

“No, it was really hot as a matter of fact.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry about it.” Hudson walked away. “You wouldn’t get it.”

“So, did you, like, have to kill anybody?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

The man followed him. Hudson felt his breath on his neck. The man smelled. Probably a marijuana smoker. He thought.

“You know what that means, man? It means you killed somebody.” He was yelling. Drawing a crowd. “You killed somebody’s baby. Somebody’s dad. Or mom. You know that, man?”

“Listen, I was drafted. It wasn’t my choice to go over there.” Hudson pushed the man away. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to class.”

“Baby killer!”

Hudson shoved down his rage and went into his art class.

I should have never come back to school. He thought. What was I thinking. It’s a totally different world now. I don’t belong here.

“Honey, I’m home!” Hudson called as he opened the front door. A thick aroma of rich food calmed him. Here he was loved.

His wife came around the corner. She wore one of his flannel shirts, baggy blue jeans, her hair pulled back.

“Hi, Hudson. How was class?”

“Well, I think I surprised all the hippies with my sketching ability. They had no idea someone could actually draw without the help of LSD.”

“Oh, honey. They can’t be that bad.”

“Ha. Well, you don’t know them.” He took off his jacket. “Something smells real good in here, Sandy.”

“Just a roast. Nothing special.” She kissed his lips. “You have to shave that beard off. Feels like I’m kissing shredded wheat.”

“How’re the kids?”

“Cindy’s still napping. I forgot how long newborns sleep.”

“How about Jeremy? Where’s he?”

“In the living room.”

He kissed her again. “I’m going to say, ‘hi’.”

Jeremy was on the floor. Belly down. Feet in the air. Head up. Coloring on a pad of paper.

“Hey, Champ,” Hudson said, admiring the talent of his five year old.

“Hi, Dad.” Jeremy didn’t look up. “Did you have fun at art school?”

“I did,” Hudson lied. “Did you have a good day at home?”

“Sure. I caught a frog and fed it worms.”

“That’s great.”

“What did you draw today, Dad?”

“Just a few faces. Nothing special.”

“Yeah, me too.” Jeremy pulled a piece of paper from his pad and handed it to Hudson. “You wanna draw with me. Mommy likes it when I make pictures for her.”

“That would be great, Son.”

They sat, drawing dogs and clouds and trees.

“I’m proud of you, Dad.”

“You are, huh?”

“Yup.” Jeremy looked into Hudson’s face. “Because you’re doing a hard thing and going to college. That’s what Mommy said. And we’re proud of you.”

A part of Hudson’s soul began to mend.

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