“Last thing I wanted to see was someone else dying,” he thought.
He had seen enough over in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, this time, things were different, for the person dying was his father. His father, who he had barely spoken too in almost ten years. His father, a hard, bastard of a man. His father, who wouldn’t know love if it hit him with it upside his head.
There he laid in a room at the local hospice, John David Winston, Sr., and there standing over him was his only child, John David Winston, Jr. They had been estranged for years. The elder John retired from the Army, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, and was a soldier through and through. He ran the household like he ran a battalion of soldiers, which in turn, alienated him from his son. The younger John had always believed that his father loved the Army more than he did his own family.
High school graduation was the greatest day of John, Jr’s. life because it meant he was free. He enlisted in the Army the next day, Airborne Infantry just like his father.
His father scoffed when he told him the news, saying, “maybe you’ll finally learn to be a man, I couldn’t get you to be one.”
John Jr. was hurt by that. He yelled, “that’s because you were never around to teach me anything,” as he stormed out the house.
Just like his father, John Jr. was deployed multiple times; actually he volunteered for deployment to keep from going home. He had accumulated so much leave, his commander finally ordered him to use it. He took his leave, but didn’t go home, but stayed a local motel near the base.
John Jr. loved his mother and they talked often. He loved her phone calls, but always hated it when she would give the phone to John Sr. Neither ever had much to say to the other, and most conversations lasted less than a minute.
John Jr. had known his father was ill from cancer, for his mother had told him. His mother would ask him to come home many times, but his anger was too great. It was the call two days prior that finally brought him home. His mother informed him that his father was being taken to the hospice, and the doctors had said death would come within a couple of days. John Jr. came home more to comfort his mother than to say goodbye to his father. When he finally arrived at the hospice, his mother begged him to go in and say goodbye, but he refused at first. Then, he thought to himself that he had a couple of things he wanted to say. He did not want to hurt his mother, so he asked to be alone. His mother and the rest of the people left the room.
The younger John stared at his shell of a body that was his father. He was so small, John Jr. thought. The cancer had eaten the elder John through. The look of his father began to bring back memories of his buddies dying on the battlefield. John Jr. told himself this is not the time or place to think of such things. John Jr. had waited his whole life for this moment, yet the scares of combat began to take precedence in his mind.
John Jr. closed his eyes to help clear his mind, yet the more he found the memories, the stronger they become.
“No,” John Jr. heard himself say, “no…no…NO!”
John Jr.’s mother waited anxiously outside in the reception area. She was strapped with fear for both her husband, and her son. Mrs. Winston, new the truth that neither her husband or son could see, that they were one in same. John Jr. had grown up to be like his father. Mrs. Winston looked her son and saw her husband when he was young. The younger John looked just like the man she fell in love with all those years ago.
“I needed you,” John Jr. said to his father. “I needed to talk to you.”
John Jr. could no longer fight back the tears. He had tried to be strong, but the horrors of combat driven him to be so weak.
“Whenever I called home, I wanted to talk to you. Every time one of the guys was killed, I would call home. I wanted to talk to you. I felt so alone. I wanted you to tell me what to do.”
John Jr. fell to the side of the bed and grabbed the feeble hand of his father.
“They want to discharge me. Said I can get 100% for PTSD. They keep wanting me to see a bunch of head doctors because they say I need help.”
John Jr. stared at his father, still alive, but mostly dead.
“I was a good soldier, just like you. I became a man you would be proud of.”
John Jr. reached in his pocket and pulled out a medal.
“See, I was awarded the Silver Star. You got the Bronze, but I got a Silver one. I beat you in something for once. Was planning to shove it in your face.”
He placed the medal neatly on his father’s chest. Mrs. Winston comes back in the room.
“Is everything alright,” she asked?
“No,” said John Jr.
“What is that,” Mrs. Winston asked, pointing at the medal.
“Your father will be so proud of you.”
Mrs. Winston wiped her son’s tears away.
“He was always proud of you. He would brag about you all the time. Your father did love you.”
John Jr. stood up and hugged his mother so tightly.
“I loved him too,” John Jr. whispered in his mother’s ear.
“I’m scared, so scared.”
Mrs. Winston looked her son in the eyes. “I know baby. We will get through this baby. I know.”