Tender Carly Sachs
Time Commitment: 2 minutes
Originally Published In:
NPR's Selected Shorts

You are wearing your army fatigues in a Park Avenue bar. You’ve served two tours of duty in Iraq and order a shot of Jack Daniels and a Bud Light. “I had a cat named Jack Daniels when I was a little girl,” I say. “My father named him and we had this game we’d play where I’d ask, Dad, what’s Jack Daniels? It’s a whiskey, he’d say and so I’d say no, it’s a cat and if he said it was a cat, I’d say no, it’s a whiskey.”

You tell me I’m pretty and ask for my name.

Before I open my mouth, you say, “I’m over there for people like you. So you can make money, ride the train home safe, get married and make babies.” You point at the men down the bar in dark suits. “Not like them. We LOVE America,” you say a little too loud.

Outside the trees are all lit up and I stare at the cars and the people and wonder how you stumbled into this place. When I take away your empty bottle, you grab my hand. You’re talking about the mothers and babies over there. I take my hand back when you start talking about another terrorist attack.

You take a swig of your third beer and ask, “could you marry someone like me?”

In the dim light of the bar, I can’t tell if your hair is blond or brown.

Last semester, I had a student who had been in the army. He wrote about nightmares and how things had changed with his wife after he came back. I try to picture myself running my hand along your chest, my hair falling across your face.

I wink at you as I open beers for the suits, and say, “I’m a handful, just to warn you.”

You’re not listening. “Any day I could be gone. Uncle Sam could call again.”

I try to imagine that, one day, I’m teaching Freshman Comp, then bartending. Next day, I’m called for service. I don’t know if I love America. I don’t even know if I know your America. “One of my good friends married a Navy guy,” I say, but my voice trails off.

What I want to tell you is that my grandmother fell in love with my grandfather through his letters from the war. She had met him only once and dated his friend while he was gone. When he came home, my grandfather proposed under a baby grand piano.

Night after night I get hit on by lawyers and bankers. I want to believe in something else, someone who has seen more than I have, someone who knows what sacrifice means. In my version of this, you’re telling me about the war. You pull out the postcards your family has written to you. You want me to know where you’ve been. Your hands are warm and gentle. I do not think of blood when you kiss my knuckles. In your version, you tell me you want my phone number.