“If you don’t mind, I don’t really want to talk about fighting.” Olivia said with a shrug.
“That’s perfectly all right. What would you like to talk about?” Dr. Bradley asked.
“Well… not fighting. I’m thinking about walking away from it.”
“From active duty, you mean?”
“Yeah, my time is up. Why not start a new chapter in my life?”
This came as a surprise to Dr. Bradley. Her drive to rise through the ranks was one of the few constants in Olivia’s life; it was something he had often pointed to during her treatment.
“In the past, we have talked about goals you had set for yourself. Are you willing to stop without reaching some of them?” He asked, point blank.
“Well, I don’t know; it seems like sometimes you think you want something, but then you find out it’s not really what you thought it was.”
Dr. Bradley shifted in his chair a bit. “Tell me about a time where you experienced that.”
“Like… I’ve gotten some medals and promotions. They have a little ceremony and tell you how proud you should be, but I’m not sure if it really means anything. I thought I would hear this triumphant music in my head and everything would feel... right.” She tightened her hands to fists as she murmured, “...But it doesn’t. There’s nothing there.”
“Olivia, you should think about what you’re saying, and compare it to the other issues we often talk about. You’re chasing something you can never attain. One of the hardest things in a person's journey through life is figuring out what makes them happy. I want you to hone in on some of the experiences you have had that met or surpassed your expectations. Start small, be mindful of little moments where you were satisfied; let them inform some of your decisions for that day, the next week, the next month.”
He gave her time to respond, but Olivia just sat there, gazing off at nothing. He switched gears.
“How do you feel when you think about leaving the military?”
She thought for a moment, and took a deep breath as she furrowed her brow. “It feels like I’m trapped.”
“For a split-second I feel a sense of relief ...but then it feels like I would always be a disappointment.”
Olivia kept the doctor’s advice in mind when she got home. She was getting ready for a block party she and Ella were going to that night, and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to pinpoint those joyful moments like Dr. Bradley had asked. She toggled between a few different things to wear, but landed on a blue sundress with a white floral stitched pattern. She liked showing, from time to time, that she was in shape. The muscles in her back and toned biceps would be on display in a dress like this. She sometimes got the impression that she intimidated men, or that they were turned off by such a physique. She couldn’t have cared less; though, she knew Ella liked it.
“You are killing me!” Ella yelled at her partner as she played a game of bags. “I never lose and I’m losing with you.”
Olivia looked on as the young car salesman struggled with the pressure from the little firecracker. He whiffed on another shot and they lost the match. Ella groaned and shuffled her feet over to Olivia, collapsing in her arms.
“I can’t work with these amateurs.”
“I know,” Olivia responded, patting her on the back. “It’s tough being you.”
Ella played along and replied sarcastically. “You know what? It really is. When you’re on top of the mountain, you gotta turn around and pull everyone else up. It’s a hard job.”
The two of them laughed at their skit as they moved on from the bags game. There were many familiar faces at the block party. They grabbed drinks and settled in with a group of friends. Olivia wanted to take it easy on the alcohol; the last time they were at a party with this same group she had too much to drink and felt like she embarrassed herself. She looked on as Ella, opinionated as ever, argued with their friend, Mike, about the gender pay gap.
“All I’m saying is that if you look at the careers men typically choose versus the ones women do, it accounts for the discrepancy.” Mike volleyed with his hands raised as if to tell Ella to stay calm. She did not.
“The discrepancy is between your brain and your mouth because I know you’re not this stupid. What would your wife say if she were here instead of taking care of your kids at home?”
“My wife proves my point! She chooses to be a stay at home mother while I work.”
“Yeah, yeah, next you’re going to tell me women aren’t as athletic as men because of… bone structure or something.” Ella crossed her eyes in a mocking fashion.
“Alright, jerkoff!” She shot to her feet and stepped toward him menacingly. “I’m shutting you up right now.”
A couple of the others in the group stood up in case they needed to get in between them, including Olivia.
“What are you gonna do, Ella?”
“You’re gonna lose… to a woman… in a competition.” She said it as if she was making it up as she went.
Mike laughed. “What, we’re gonna play HORSE or something?”
“No!” She searched for a solution. “Arm wrestling.”
“Ella, I’m twice your size. I’ll crush you.”
“Not me. Olivia.”
The group oohed and ahhed; one started clearing off a cooler and saying, “right here, right here.” It was clear that everyone was curious to see the proposed match.
Ella wrapped an arm around Olivia’s waist and leaned into her. “You can do it, he hasn’t done a pushup since high school gym.”
“I’m not worried about that.” Olivia said with a shrug.
“What’s the problem then?”
“He’s going to be really pissed if he loses. I don’t think he’ll want to talk to us anymore.”
“Yeah…” Ella thought about it. “Fuck it, he’s an asshole anyway.”
Olivia looked into her eyes and the two of them laughed quietly.
Mike was readying himself next to the cooler. “I’ll just be here waiting for you two to be done making out.”
They both glanced at him, then back to each other now with stern looks on their faces. Olivia crouched down next to the cooler; both she and Mike were on their knees shifting their elbows about the surface, searching for a comfortable spot. Someone had designated himself the referee and was holding their clasped hands in a neutral position. Olivia was staring Mike in the eye, sizing him up. He was of average build, she figured he was probably not particularly strong, and hadn’t participated in much physical activity other than a softball league.
Olivia tensed up and gritted her teeth. Mike was trying to twist her wrist back in order to gain leverage; she fought it off. Blood and acid started rushing to her shoulder and bicep. After a deep breath, Olivia pushed with all her strength; he was starting to give way.
Mike was hanging on to the last forty five degrees, Olivia’s arm ached for oxygen. She surged, again, for the final push. All of a sudden, Mike shifted his elbow out to the side and regained some ground. Olivia, distracted, looked to Mike with scrutiny, but with her focus compromised, lost control. He pushed her arm over, and the momentum was too great for her to slow down. The back of her hand hit the surface. She lost.
Mike got up, his hands in the air, and started gloating. No one had noticed the bogus move he pulled in order to win. Olivia looked to Ella who was shaking her head in disappointment. Olivia hated losing, and she hated it even more when it was to a cheater. Anger boiled up inside her. She pinpointed a spot on Mike’s chin and rose to her feet. Then, in a single, graceful movement, threw an uppercut that landed flush. Mike’s head cocked back as his legs gave way; several people in the group caught him and held him up. Ella, along with the rest, got in between the two and pushed Olivia away from him.
It was in that instant, among all the chaos, that a siren began to sound.