Silence. It wasn't the peaceful kind of silence like in a library or when you're home alone. This was a different kind of silence, the deafening kind. It was the kind of silence that makes little children cry out for their mothers in the dead of night, the tormenting silence right before the killer jumps out in a scary movie. This was the kind of silence that you would give anything for it just to end.

It was Tuesday, September 5th, the day before Jillian Drier was scheduled to return home after completing her third tour in Afghanistan. For once, there wasn't much for her to do on the base. As Sergeant Major, she was prone to being the person that everyone came running to whenever something went wrong. Since it was her last day on the base, the only responsibility she had was to go on her last patrol with Brent and Kyle, her two closest friends. They were scheduled to patrol the outskirts of the city of Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan and home to one of the largest airports in the country. Kandahar is also where Jillian has called home for the last eleven months and twenty-nine days.

Home. She hated that word. Unlike most people, Jillian never quite had a home. Her mother left when she was very young, and her father died from a sudden heart attack a few years before she joined the Army. Without any immediate family or close friends, Jillian became a nomad. She drifted from city to city until the day she decided to enlist. As bizarre as it may seem, the only place that Jillian could call home was Afghanistan. All of her closest friends were stationed there, and she had a job that she loved. Most importantly, she finally felt something that she had never felt before: a sense of belonging.

As much as Jillian loved serving her country, she knew it was time to leave. The military lifestyle was taking a toll on her both physically and mentally. She just couldn't keep up with her duties anymore. When she returned to the United States, she would finally have a chance to create a life of her own. Maybe she would get married, buy a house with a white picket fence, have a few kids, and buy a golden retriever. Just maybe. As two o'clock neared, the Middle Eastern sun made the air around her stifling. Jillian decided to walk to where she was scheduled to leave for her patrol. As she made her way to the convoy, her gaze wandered across the Registan Desert. Although she did this daily, the desert was unlike she had ever seen it before. The physical characteristics were the same, but there was an odd peacefulness skimming along the sand. As Jillian approached the Humvees parked in the middle of the desert, she saw Kyle and Brent preparing to depart on their final patrol together. The three had met during basic training five years ago and had been inseparable ever since. Brent jumped in the driver seat as Jillian and Kyle followed. Usually she preferred to man the M2 machine gun precariously perched atop the vehicle, but today she decided to take it easy. After all, it was her last day on base.

There were only seven minutes and thirty-two seconds left on the patrol when the Humvee began to shake violently. Loud explosions filled the air as it bounced across the desert sand. Land mines. Brent immediately lost control of the massive vehicle, swerving across the road and steering into a ditch. Shrapnel bombarded the steel shell one after another. The Humvee began to crumple, losing its shape and morphing into an unrecognizable mound of steel. Jillian lay motionless inside the wreckage, her legs pinned between several sheets of metal, trapped. A steady crimson waterfall flowed from the creases of her forehead down to her chin, leaving a dark pool of shiny liquid on her chest. Shock filled her body, causing her mind to wander. She counted as the mines went off. One. Two. Three. With each explosion came an earth-shattering quake, accompanied with a never-ending cloud of smoke and dust, making it impossible to see. Four. Five. Six. Dirt and sand rushed in the broken windows, scalding the open wounds in Jillian's legs. Seven. Eight. Nine. Her labored breathing and blood loss made it difficult for her to speak, but she found herself screaming for Kyle and Brent. She was frozen. Slowly losing consciousness, Jillian counted to ten as she drifted away.

Three weeks later, Jillian woke up alone in a sterile hospital room. The steady beeping of the monitors echoed through the silent room. Through squinted eyes, she noticed the New York skyline looming outside the window behind a carefully arranged display of ugly plush teddy bears and decaying flowers.

"Where am I?" Jillian thought to herself. Soon enough a doctor explained the gory details of her attack; she was the only survivor. He explained that the head trauma she suffered was severe and would leave her with memory loss for the rest of her life. The puncture wounds from the contorted Humvee left her temporarily unable to move her left leg. As the doctor rambled on about her treatment, all Jillian could think about was herself. She hated hospitals, yet here she was, stuck with no one to talk to other than a balding doctor who spoke too quietly and smelled like a mortuary.

After four months of grueling rehab, Jillian was released from the hospital with full mobility of her left leg. Veterans Affairs helped her find a temporary apartment that she could live in until she got back on her feet. For the first few months, they helped her find different job opportunities across the city, each one filled with empty promises. Eventually, Veterans Affairs disappeared. They stopped returning her calls, emailing her perspective employers, and in time, she was kicked out of her apartment. With no food and no roof over her head, Jillian had no choice but to turn to the streets. New York homeless shelters became her personal safe havens. They were dry, warm, and safe, but there were tens of thousands of homeless people in New York. More times than not, Jillian was forced to spend the night on the streets. She hated these nights. They were a constant reminder that she had never had a home, and she probably never would.

Jillian's favorite hideaway in the city was a secluded area under an overpass in Brooklyn. The water in the river lapped against the cement walls surrounding it. As she curled up on the damp ground next to her powder blue Jansport backpack, she wondered what her life had come to. Not too long ago she was a brave, respected Sergeant Major in the United States Army. Now, none of that mattered. She was alone, cold, and stranded on a New York sidewalk under a weathered bridge. There was no one to save her and no one who cared enough to lend her a helping hand. Amidst her thoughts, a black and white cat with one green eye and one blue eye meowed and lay across her tattered combat boots. It purred loudly as she gently rubbed its neck with her dirt-caked fingers. The world turned around her, forever changing, despite the misfortune that had disrupted her life. Mindless pedestrians scampered by, too caught up in their own lives to care about hers, even for just one second. Cars barreled past her, each one going faster than the last. The sounds and colors of the city blurred together into a kaleidoscope, twisting into beautiful distortion. Although she found herself living on the streets of a bustling city, still, all Jillian could hear was silence.

Ashley Borda is a junior majoring in Business Administration and English.She enjoys long car rides, cookie dough icecream, and purple lipstick.