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Thoughts on a War

Part I

A midafternoon tromp through the mall
That will deter the ominous thoughts for a menial hour or two
A mother holds her son’s hand as they stand in line
After her husband’s deployment two months ago, she is able to ignore the loneliness and solitude
Waiting is no longer all she can do
Instead she is strong for her son

Hoping his uplifted spirits remain, the woman steps closer to her son
The line is beginning to dwindle, and she can feel the agitation in his hand increasing
Her son is next, and he steps up with purpose, sitting on the actor’s knee
She watches with anticipation, hoping she can hear what he says
Believing she has bought and wrapped in shiny paper everything he wants this year
– her cheeks flush with fear as her son begins to weep.

There is something she cannot give him this Christmas
No amount of ribbon and brightly colored paper can reduce his pain
Her thoughts turn quickly to her husband, separated by water
She wants the same gift her son aches for
She understands her son’s pain and wishes to repair his broken heart
– and then the air catches in her throat

An ominous chill runs down her spine
Endless thoughts running through her head as she stands crying
It is 4:48pm

Part II

Prayer has carried the boy for two months
“Don’t let anyone call me ‘son’ until my daddy can’t do it himself”
This is his final request before he crawls into bed, pulls the covers up, and claps off his lamp
This is what carries him day-to-day
But hope is a fragile thing
Easily shattered if one is not careful

The boy holds tightly to his mother’s hand as they wait in line
He is jumpy, eager to tell the familiar stranger what would make him happiest this Christmas
The line decreases, placing the boy that much closer to the front
He is just old enough to understand why his dad is not and cannot be here
He is just young enough to not understand why his dad is not and cannot be here
– he is a soldier at six years-old

It’s finally his turn, finally time to request what he knows only God can provide
He plants himself on the jolly man’s lap
“What do you want from Santa for Christmas, son?”
And that one word, the boy deflates, all preparation for this moment becoming moot
“My d-“ he falters, choking on his breath
– and then he begins to cry

His prayer has been answered
Endless thoughts running through his mind as he sits sobbing
It is 4:48pm

Part III

I want my childhood back, he thought
Back when war was just a game
Played among brothers with wooden swords and pop-cap guns
Crying “Uncle” made everything stop
No gray lines, just right and wrong, the bad guys always losing the fight
Taken down with a perfect shot from behind dad’s La-Z-Boy.

Now war dances to a different tune
With real metal and gunpowder
Lives can be erased, families ruined, futures shattered
With the pull of trigger or the pull of a pin
Gray lines are evident in the pregnant mother, the young child
– and sometimes those lines must be ignored.

He pulls a photograph from his breast pocket:
A beautiful woman, his wife, a beautiful, 6 year-old boy, his son
This is enough for him to pull the trigger on his riffle, walk another mile, suffer another night
But as they say, Freedom Isn’t Free
The battlefields demand blood
– his blood.

A box along the roadside noticed too late
Endless thoughts running through his head as he lay dying in the street
It is 16:48