Seventeen

July 7th, 2023
1135 Z
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
United States of America
After their first meeting at McLaren's, the next day Daniel and Sana made their way to the trails of Shenandoah National Park. Its hundreds of thousands of protected acres sheltered wildlife unimagined just 75 miles away in Washington DC.
It was their first date and he and Sana had first shared their hopes and dreams with each other. As the two scrambled over rocks with Daniel leading the way, Daniel found himself looking back over his shoulder at her as they climbed. There was something about Sana that he couldn't resist; maybe it was her dark hair, maybe it was the way she laughed, but whatever it was he knew that he wanted more. He stopped at the peak of a massive rock and surveyed the area. He was happy to take a break and enjoy not only the view of the landscape in front of them, but of the beautiful woman beside him.
After hiking deep into the wooded Piedmont trails, they reached the Pinnacles Overlook and rested on the rocky outcroppings. The granite was firm, yet bore markings of many other weary hikers. The view took their breath away. Dark evergreens staggered among bare deciduous trees filled the valley. The sun had risen to its full height for the day and warmed their resting place.
"This looks like a good place for lunch," Daniel said, running his fingers through his hair as they sat.
Sana moved to sit next to him, crossing her tone and tanned legs. "I've never been here."
"This one my favorite places to be, aside from my native Tennessee," Daniel started to explain, looking out over the terrain. "That's why like it. It reminds me of home.” He turned and looked for a spot in the far distance, then continued. “I have a cabin not far from here, but my real home I haven't seen in years. No time in between deployments. That, and it’s not the same. The opioid epidemic has taken its toll on the people and my hometown. Conscious he had taken the conversation in a dark direction, he tried to recover “Where is your home, Sana?"
The woman paused at his question, taking in the breathtaking scenery of lush forest. She sighed heavily before responding. Home had never been a favorite topic of hers. "I don't have one, Daniel.”
There was a pause as Daniel waited for an explanation. Sana reluctantly continued.
“I was born in the United States when my father was working on an engineering degree. He returned to Lebanon, but we had to leave the Levant when I was just an infant. It was not safe to be Greek Orthodox then…So, I grew up in DC, went to college there, everything." There was sadness in her voice, a loneliness that Daniel could relate to.
"A lot of people nowadays don't have good thoughts about the capital," he mused.
Sana nodded her head solemnly, running her fingers through her silky dark hair. "It's just politics. Do you follow it?"
"I used to, but now I don't care," Daniel admitted, shrugging his shoulders apathetically. "I don't have any hope of influencing the direction of my country.”
Now was time for Sana to wait for the story.
“My entire adult life, all I've done is gone from war to war, and warfare is the only trade I know. I've done what my country asked me to do.”
Daniel was cautious about oversharing, but he decided that this person was someone he could confide in. “If you think about it too much, it makes you too angry. Too many of my friends have found that the hard way. Suicides, DUI's, domestic assaults. So, I stopped thinking about it. Now I just do my job, try to survive. Just like most Americans, now." He paused for a few moments and then turned to catch Sana's gaze, realizing that she had turned to look at him while he spoke. "We can't just let things work out naturally. Politicians don't get elected with that message."
"I understand." She replied.
Daniel wasn't sure if she did understand, but he couldn't help but give her a half smile at the response. He turned his attention to the plains and cliffs in the distance. The two had sat in silence for a few more moments before Sana spoke again, this time with an optimistic tone. "The CPC will change that. A single world government will provide stability. It will end the inequality that causes wars and stop bubbles in the economy. When the CPC takes over the healthcare system, care will be free! There will be a guaranteed job and minimum income for everyone, and no one will ever worry about poverty! Education will be a right; we will arrest climate change and end unjust incarceration.”
She paused for a moment before continuing. “I truly believe we are on the brink of humanity's greatest moment!"
Her earnest enthusiasm was what had attracted Daniel to her. She wasn't jaded like the rest; yes, even like himself now. She still believed. She was different, and even if he wasn't sure he believed her philosophy, he knew that he wanted to. He wanted to believe in something, anything, that would give him hope for the future again.
Daniel kept his eyes on the horizon, bringing his knees to his chest. "Well, I hope you are right. I'm tired of fighting. I've seen my share of bad guys though, and I'm not sure they share your sentiments."
That afternoon with Sana was now just a memory, a daydream he replayed over and over to remember happier times. Daniel was overcome with intense sadness as he slipped into sleep.

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