Monday, April 14, 2014

30 Days: "Going Home"

By: T.J. Reed

Brent’s dusty boots thumped on the hardwood floor of his father’s home; the same boots that Brent had stood on the streets of Baghdad in. He carefully closed the door behind him and shifted the cardboard carrier that held his and his dad’s coffees back to his strong hand. He had practiced this scenario every morning for the past two months since they had called a nurse in to take care of him. Every morning, at 7:30 am, Brent would arrive with their coffees and that day’s copy of USA Today. The coffee needed to be black for his father which matched his personality; strong.
He had served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, then had spent several years working as an armored truck driver after that, and that is when the cancer came. It had hit him quickly, much more quickly than Brent had anticipated. He had always assumed that he would have more time with his dad, one more day, one more hour, a minute. But, that all changed when Orville called and told him that they had found cancer, “running all up in me,” as he had put it.
“He has been waiting for you this morning.” The short nurse in the kitchen said.
“Yeah, I am a couple minutes late. The lady at the coffee house tried to put sugar in dad’s coffee. Had to wait while she brewed a whole new pot.”
“He has been talking to Big Tiny again. He says that he is going home today.” She said with a smile.
Over the past week, Brent’s father had been telling him stories about a young man that had been coming to the house to visit him that went by the name Big Tiny. The doctors had told Brent that he would slowly start to slip into this sort of state; speaking to people that was not there or forgetting who people was all together. Brent had just gone with it. He would sit with his coffee and listen to Orville tell him about the glorious things that Big Tiny would tell him of Heaven. Brent had decided that if this was how his father was going to lose his mind, he was ok with it.
Brent slowly opened the door to his father’s bedroom to find him staring at the ceiling, his eyes bright and wide with excitement.
“Good morning son!” His father tried to shout hoarsely from the confines of his bed.
“Hey old man. I got your coffee. You sure look happy this morning. You feeling better?”
“I don’t feel a thing son. Big Tiny said today I get to go home. He told me I get my retirement papers for my service here.” The old man tried to laugh and began to cough. Brent pulled a napkin from a box next the bed and handed it to his father which he then used to dab the speckles of blood from his lips and then just stared at his son.
“Big Tiny says that he has a job for me.” His father, though his eyes were bright with excitement, Brent came to the quick realization that his father was telling him that he was slowly slipping away. He could see it in the color of his skin and in the way he labored for breath. They had assumed that this would have happened a week ago, but Orville had proved too tough for death, as he did in Vietnam, and had fought it out for one more week.
“He does?” Brent said as he fought back tears.
Orville looked up at the ceiling again as if staring into Heaven itself, tears of his own slowly cupping the corners of his eyes and then streaking down the many creases and wrinkles on his face.
“Yep. Says my service is requested. Feels good to be wanted again, to be able to serve again, you know?” Orville smiled and looked at his son. “He says that you don’t need to worry about me and we will meet again.”
“He said all that, huh?” Brent said smiling now as he took his father’s hand. In the moment that his fingers touched his dads, it was as if a lightning bolt had struck Brent. The room flashed white, his hair stood on end, and then everything was as it was. Brent blinked his eyes several times and looked at his father.
“Can you see him now? He is talking to you.” Orville said to his son.
Brent looked at the foot of the bed and seen a soldier standing in his desert fatigues, full body armor, and his helmet held in gloved hands as he smiled a goofy smile that Brent knew all too well. The man possessed the face that had been in his dreams for the past 7 years since he had been killed in an ambush in Iraq.
“Hey buddy.” Tony said. “You got one heck of an old man. This guy will talk your ear off if you let him.”
“Tony?” Brent repeated.
“Yep.” Tony started laughing.
“Why does he call you Big Tiny?” Brent said laughing as a mixture of tears of joy and sadness flooded his eyes.
“When he first asked my name, I said Big Tony. The old man is hard of hearing, I guess he heard Big Tiny and I just haven’t had the heart to correct him.”
The two laughed. They laughed like old friends do when they have not seen each other in a very long time and Brent noticed that his father was not laughing. The grip on his hand had lightened and his fingers were slipping from his grip. Brent looked at his father, his eyes nearly closed but he was smiling.
“Don’t worry Brent. I got this. I will make sure your old man gets where he needs to go. That is my job now. I am a courier; a courier for the poor tortured souls that is us. We give everyone a gentle welcome into their ever after and bring them to their families.  Remember how we always joked that we would be guarding the gates of Heaven or the streets of gold. Apparently, those things don’t need any guarding brother. What they need is us collecting up our brothers and sisters and bringing them home.” Tony smiled again.
Brent used his free arm to wipe the tears from his face. “He said you had a job for him.”
“Well, I don’t. The old man upstairs does. He is going to make him a courier too. I already have a man to train him up for the task.”
Brent turned his head to look back at his father and found that his eyes were now closed. The weak grip that he had held on his hand was now gone but his body was lying with his arms stiffly placed alongside his legs as if he was in the position of attention. There were two young men now standing at the far side of the bed dressed in an older style of military uniform that Brent recognized from a few pictures that his father had shared with him of Vietnam. The dark green uniforms looked like they were fresh out of the box; crisp and clean without speck of dust on them.
“Brent, I would like you to meet Bryan Meeks. I haven’t seen this young man in fifty years!” Brent’s father said as he laughed and hugged his long lost friend, a friend that he had lost in Vietnam and had worn a bracelet every day of his life to remember that friend. Brent looked down at his own wrist and stared at the thin metal bracelet he wore for Tony. A bracelet that he never took off and that was a constant reminder of a friend he had lost in a foreign land. Brent looked up and all of his new friends were gone along with his father.
He cried.
He let the tears for his father fall to the floor along with the tears of closure for a friend that he had always hoped that he could see again someday. He knew that whenever it was his time to go, there would be a young man in uniform prepared to escort him to the other side and he hoped that his name was Big Tiny.

Written for the memories of my fallen brothers:
Pfc. Alva L. Gaylord May 5th, 2006
Spec. Matthew F. Straughter January 31st, 2008
Staff Sgt. Bradley J. Skelton February 6th, 2008
Sgt. Denis D. Kisseloff May 14th, 2010

Rest in peace brothers and I hope you enjoy your new jobs. I cannot wait to see you all again when my time comes and I hope that you all show up to escort me home.


Julie Daines said...

TJ, this is so beautiful! I didn't read it before I posted it, but it brought tears to my eyes. It reminds me of that short piece you wrote that was featured on some online magazine about the yellow flowers in the desert and your wife. I loved that one too! Thanks for sharing with us! You really have a talent for bringing out emotion. And thank you for serving!

Michelle said...

Very touching... ❤️great story..

T.J. Reed said...

Thank you for the kind comments and I really like that story as well. They were both stories that I really wanted to tell and just needed the right time to tell them. Thank you for allowing me the chance to participate in this writing project.

Scott said...

Very nice. I think this might be our first military story. A moving tribute, indeed. Thanks for sharing!

Marion C Steiger said...

This grabbed my heart. So tender.

Yamile said...

This story brought tears to my eyes too. What a wonderful comfort that there's another side of the veil where life continues. Thanks for sharing!