I drove to west virginia when the weather was warm | Matthew Dettmer

They never ask me where I served my hair’s too long my gut’s too big I don’t ever say I’m a doctor from cleveland I’ve worked in places like st louis and camden and I hate guns and I’ll be real honest if I didn’t have a few in me already I probably wouldn’t have walked a mile from my hotel down battered sidewalks into a bar that’s filled with marines on what turns out to be the birthday of the corps

but I bet it would feel good to walk into a bar and say the rank I retired at and hear ten congrats and one guffaw about what a pussy I was to be an E-3 that didn’t happen to me but this guy josh paid for my beer anyway and shook my hand he said this one’s on me but the next one is your fault and I’m thinking about driving the half hour to antietam tomorrow where thirty-five hundred men died in a day and

josh is telling a story about wearing night vision goggles in afghanistan and “I’m proud to be an american” is playing for the second time maybe the third time on the speakers in the bar and I realize a guy in a camouflage eli manning jersey has control of the touch tunes he’s army but he’s there with his friend

I buy a round of shots for everyone and the bartender who used to be a marine asks what do you want I say what would you buy these guys he says I won’t pick anything that’ll kill you (I think he means the cost) and he pours all these jamesons and there’s one left over and

first they say this’ll be for the guy that bought them all (that’s me) but then they say this one’s for the unknown soldier and then they ask who are we cheersing to and I say to you guys and they either don’t hear me or they pretend like they don’t and they all say to the unknown soldier and the shots disappear except for the extra one it sits there

like a candle lit for someone sits on the bar could still be there for all I know and for the rest of the night it doesn’t matter who the president is there are black and white people here there is a family here it’s the first time I’ve shaken someone’s hand in nine months and if I can stumble forward and if they can all drive straight I don’t think anybody’s gonna die tonight.

Matthew Dettmer is a physician, writer, and musician in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out his band The Dole at https://thedole.bandcamp.com.