Monica L. Murphy

THE SLEEPING BAG

He always sleeps in that sleeping bag. Whether he’s on a bed or on the floor, he’s in that bag. There’s not really anything special about it, just an old green standard military-issue sleeping bag. But it belonged to his big brother.

He had gone to Louisiana to say goodbye to his brother, Joshua. War had just started in Iraq and Joshua’s unit had been called over. Everyone expressed their emotions out loud; his grandmother, his aunt, his little sister, his granny’s sister. His mom was kind of quiet – a little anxious, but he knew she was worried. He didn’t say anything. No one really knew what he thought about his brother going off to war.

On the last day before his brother left, he gave him a sleeping bag. “Here you go, Jeremy. It’s still in pretty good condition but the Army is giving me a new one for my deployment.” When his brother handed him that sleeping bag, something happened to Jeremy. He grabbed his brother and held on tight. Neither one of them had to say anything, yet everything they ever wanted to say was in that hug. “Take care of Mom and Julia for me, kid. You’re the man till I get back.”

That night, his family stayed at a relative’s house in Lake Charles before heading back to North Texas. There were plenty of covers, plenty of room to sleep. Still, Jeremy slipped out to the car and returned with that old sleeping bag. He could smell his brother’s aftershave and sweat mingled together in that bag. In his head he carried on a conversation with his brother, who was already on his way to the Persian Gulf.

As the weeks passed, people asked him about his big brother. His friends thought it was cool; his teachers called him a hero. At night Jeremy could hear his mom watching the war coverage on television when he was supposed to be sleeping. She wouldn’t watch it around Jeremy or Julia, mostly because it upset his little sister so much.

He woke up one night and saw his mom watching the news. He could tell she had been crying. She tried to get him to talk about his feelings, but he couldn’t. He went back to his room and got an assignment he had written for English and showed it to his mom. His teacher had told him to write about telling his brother goodbye. She said it would be cathartic for him. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but he felt good as he wrote the paper.

He still sleeps in that sleeping bag. When he misses Joshua, when he hears about another soldier being hurt or killed in Iraq, when someone asks about his brother – he goes to his room and wraps himself up in it for a little while.

His family hasn’t heard from his big brother since he left, but he finally knows the meaning of the words, “No news is good news.” If anything were to happen to his brother, it would be all over the TV and newspapers. Someone in uniform would knock on their front door.

So Jeremy goes about his life, playing basketball with his friends, going to school, noticing girls. And at night, when he knows it’s daytime in the Middle East, his thoughts turn to his brother. He can still smell the aftershave and sweat, though not as strong now. His mother has never offered to wash it – he thinks she understands. Once he walked into his room and she was holding it, then she quickly started folding it. He knew she was trying to get a sense of his brother.

He still sleeps in that sleeping bag. He will till his brother comes home.