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TITLE: My Hero
By Kaylee Blake

I wrote this for the WC a while back. My father was friends with the man I dedicated this too, and I'd really like some good strong, hard critiques to make this piece excellent before I give a copy to his widow. So please, don't post a one-line comment "I thought this was really good." This is the critique circle, so critique it! I'm not sure I like the last line. Sould I leave it out or does anyone have an idea how to re-word it? Thanks.
[i] Gone…just like that, he’s gone. Now, I have to raise our daughter alone. Oh, how am I going to live without him? [i]

Numb, Faith sat in the first row gazing at the closed, mahogany casket that held her cherished husband. She was only half-listening to the speakers. They all said the same generic phrases everyone repeats at funerals: “We come to celebrate this man’s life…” “Even though we grieve, we rejoice in knowing we will see him again one day…” “God called him; it was his time to go…” “He’s in a better place…”

Faith shut her eyes and her ears. The speakers weren’t comforting her at all. They painted him as a perfect man who lived a perfect life. She didn’t want her husband to be sugar-coated. She wanted him to be remembered for who he really was: husband, father, soldier.

“Husband…” It echoed in her head, triggering a memory of their life as newlyweds.

He rode up to her on a gorgeous white horse and extended his hand. “May I have the pleasure of rescuing this lovely young maiden from a dull day of chores and whisking her away on an excursion through the Tennessee mountains?”

“My hero!” she exclaimed, placing her hand in his. He pulled her up behind him, taking her arms and wrapping them around his chest. “Hold on tight,” he said, tracing the small diamond ring on her left ring finger with a smile. And they were off, once again, exploring the wooded Appalachian Mountains. Together.

“Father…” This word brought to mind, a sad, fresh incident from the day before. Unconsciously, Faith held the sleeping bundle in arms, just a little closer to her heart.

Just before the wake, direct family gathered in the room with their dead. Faith was crying on her father’s shoulder when she heard her daughter, Mallory chattering away. “Da da da ma…” Everyone watched as Mallory wearing, under her pretty white dress, a onezie that said “My daddy is my hero”, pulled herself up and began patting her father’s casket. She looked at Faith “Ma, da da da…?” Bursting into fresh tears she scooped her baby up in her arms and hugged her close, rocking back and forth, in front of the gleaming mahogany coffin.

“Soldier…” Ah, yes. He was proud to be a soldier. Faith never had been fond of his part-time job in the National Guard Special Forces, but he had always told her, “Someone has to do this. Without heroic, patriotic men and women to fight for freedom, we’d all be speaking French and sipping British tea, under German occupation!”

Faith tried not to think about her husband’s last moments alive. Who would have notice the small dead animal by the side of the road, in Baghdad? Who had any idea that it was planted with a roadside bomb? Certainly not her husband. She could only hope that he had been killed instantly. It was simply too much to think of her beloved husband lying on a dusty road, in some foreign country, dying slowly. And without her there to comfort him.

Tears crept to her eyes and she struggled to keep them at bay. Forcefully, she shook her head trying to chase away the unwanted thoughts and tears.

Suddenly, the chapel grew still and quiet. Faith opened her eyes to see the police chief from the department where her husband had worked full time, salute smartly to the casket. Then he turned once more to the podium to give a final, parting word. With a husky voice, but a face set in stone, he spoke, “Zero-eight-one: out of service.”

There was not a dry eye in the whole chapel.

An ending note: I would like to dedicate this story to S. F. C. Daniel B. Crabtree, a Special Services Ohio National Guardsmen who died from a roadside bomb in Iraq on June 8, 2006, leaving behind a wife and a 17 month old daughter. I never met you, sir, but I want you to know that you’re my hero.
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