Max sat in his room, eyes puffy and red from crying. It had been a week since he returned home from all the chaos: the hospital, the war in Vietnam...the fear.
He sat on the cold, hard mattress and wondered when it would end. Or if it would ever end.
"What are you talking about, Max? You aren't fighting anymore. It is over."
"Not that, Luce..." Max answered bitterly, feeling as if Lucy was completely ignorant to what he was going through. And she was. She couldn't help it, but how could his little sister understand the torment that he went through? "That man stared me in the eyes and begged for mercy and what did I do? I closed my eyes and shot."
"It's a war, Max. That's what you were supposed to do."
Max looked up at her, eyes full of pain. "When does the guilt go away?"
Lucy looked at him sadly before averting her eyes. "I don't know, Max. But you can't stay guilty like this. I mean, it was either shoot or be shot at. You did what you needed to do."
Max pursed his lips and looked down at the white bed sheet that protected him from the cold. The feeling that Lucy was a complete and utter hypocrite grew with every word that came out of her lips,
How could she be against this war yet support Max killing so many in Vietnam?
Max looked up at the ceiling and thought back to those days when his mother used to drag him to church. She'd lick her hand and pat Max's hair flat to his head, making sure her son looked 'respectable'. His mother knew the moves like it was some sort of choreographed dance: Stand-sit-kneel-sit-stand-sit-stand-kneel-sit-stand-sing. He envied her for knowing what to do and when, because, let's face it, Max felt dumb having to watch his mother for the cues.
But watching all this had also made Max an atheist. In Catechism class, the teachers would always say in a sing-song manner that, 'God does so much for you; the least you can do is sacrifice one hour a week to worship'.
Max didn't buy it. It was so much more than one hour. It was watching your ass every second of every day to make sure you didn't sin. It was confessing those sins to a priest who then told you to pray and ask for forgiveness. It was the endless praying of endless prayers that had gone unanswered.
After all the years of neglecting God, what were the chances that the guy would even listen to a sinner like Max?
But he figured it couldn't hurt.
He lowered his head and did that sign of the cross that his mother had always done so perfectly. A touch to the head and a touch to the chest followed by a hand on the left shoulder and a hand on the right shoulder. And when it came time to speak, he was speechless.
"...I don't even know where to start, God. I know there was that Our Father thing that everyone says before they pray, but I couldn't remember that if my life depended on it. The Hail Mary is worse...I never learned it to begin with." Max began regretting his decision to pray. Was there even a wrong way to pray? But, even as that bored child in church, Max always felt that once you did the sign of the cross, you were talking to God. And that conversation wasn't over until you said something worthwhile.
"Anyway...I feel like I need a priest to do this, but if it's okay, I'd like to cut the middleman. I mean, if it's okay. Feel free to give me a sign if it isn't."
Max opened one eye and waited for a noise, a movement, anything that could be considered a sign from God. Nothing came.
"Okay then. Just...forgive me. Please. Looking into that man's eyes and...killing him was the worst moment of my life. I wasn't thinking about that Goddamn war, I wasn't thinking about saving my life...the only thing I thought about was how his family would react to never seeing him again."
He took in a deep breath and shuddered. "I don't understand why that man was considered my enemy. He wasn't my enemy...he was just another man that wanted to live as much as I did." Max shook his head and took his praying hands and ran them through his blonde hair. "He just wanted to live."
Feeling he had nothing more to say, he muttered an 'Amen', did another sign of the cross and opened his eyes. And surprisingly, he felt better. It wasn't as if his sins were 'cleansed', as the priest would say. They were still there.
But God forgave him. And if God could forgive him, so could anyone else.