In the year 2017, we will have been engaged in a war that has lasted almost sixteen years. That’s almost half of my adult life. Technically, it ended in 2014 but let’s not pretend otherwise. I crumble every time a video montage of families welcoming home their soldiers shows up on my feed. I seriously can’t handle it. Just this week, the reminder of PTSD and mental health in the military is present as I witness an active shooter who is formal military. Suicide rates for soldiers are rampant. I could go on and on. The bottom line is this is a problem, it’s not going away, and it needs to be discussed not as a taboo topic but as a real one. In the author notes, Watkins says, “Great Falls is for all the families of those who have served. We owe them far more than we are giving them.” Ain’t that the truth.
Watkins puts a lot into such a short story. Jeremy Dupree is home from his third tour of Afghanistan. He should be staying with his wife and two children, but he’s at his childhood home, holed up in the basement, avoiding them and the rest of the world. His younger brother Shane picks up the slack for his brother’s wife- helping her watch the kids, chores around the house, and pretending that his brother is okay when deep down he knows he’s not. The pretense is comfortable until Jeremy picks up Shane after an epic disaster at his football game. Instead of going home, the two embark on an impromptu rafting journey down the Potomac. Shane goes along with it because he can’t say no to Jeremy and Jeremy needs it to outrun the demons in his head. This story is fraught with tension as Jeremy’s moods, behavior, and actions all point to destruction. It doesn’t help that his constant source of security is his M16 and 9mm that he puts together and takes apart repeatedly. Jeremy refuses to go back even when Shane tries to reason with him, and as their journey comes to an inevitable end, Shane knows he’ll never truly understand his brother’s struggles but wants so badly to save him from them. The question is, will he alone, be enough?