The Death Card

My friend was a former Navy SEAL officer, and you would never know it. He was proud of his service, but humble, mild-mannered, polite. We worked together in the office. He drove across the country following a breakup with his would-be wife, and showed up in the lobby of our office saying he wanted a job, needed to talk to somebody.

I organized a group of guys to go drinking every so often, half of us were gay. It was an odd sort: me and the SEAL, two gays, and a third who didn’t know it yet. The five of us had alcohol and our employer in common. We were all mystified by the SEAL and the history behind him.

He told me some about his time there, how he was the guy who boarded the boat first when they were taking possession of it, applied explosives to the outside of the hatch and got down on his stomach when it blew open, felt the hot wind of gunfire over his back from the snipers behind, then got up and charged the cabin. He specialized in close quarter hand-to-hand combat and favored the sawed-off shotgun as his weapon of choice.

We were never comfortable talking about his stories because they were special, secret, and dark. And he wore the weight of death upon him: those he killed, and friends he lost. His stories were his, and what little I know I won’t repeat.

I didn’t know it then, but I had a crush on his girlfriend. I knew I had a crush on her, I just didn’t know she was his girlfriend.

I was moving to France and leaving Seattle. We had lunch plans my last day, and she drove us to a restaurant in West Seattle. We held hands in the car on the ride over the bridge and didn’t say anything, just looked ahead. We both needed something small and sweet, non-sexual, and I guess that was it. Long smiles over lunch, a good hug, then long letters from me to her, from France. The days before email.

She mailed the letters back to me several years later in a large envelope with a Post-it on them saying something like, “Your writing is delicious,” and I filed them away. I took a look at them and thought, what if her SEAL husband read them, what would he think? And it doesn’t matter, I’m sure. He’s too wise to worry about me.

We worked out for a couple months together, and he would pick me up at my house before work, early in the morning. We never used cell phones or texts about running late; he was always on time. That was the plan, and I knew he’d always be there.

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4 replies

  1. I like that SEAL has no name. He needs no name.


  2. I’ve got one word: “gripping”.
    The glimpse into the SEAL, and his girlfriend, is short and effective.


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