The smell of coffee percolating wafted into the bedroom before the alarm went off. Jenny rubbed the hair out of her eyes and slowly climbed out of bed, one body part at a time. A curly haired princess pranced into the bedroom. Oh, no. This was going to be difficult.
“Mommy, what are we doing today? Can we go to the park?”
Her dark curls bounced in time to her excitement. Clearly, the child had no memory of the day’s plans. It pained Jenny’s heart to think that it would be a very long time before she saw those dimples again. Her husband walked into the room, tousling the little girl’s ringlets.
“Daddy, why are you home?”
“Remember, honey we talked about this. Mommy is going away today.”
The tiny mouth twisted into a frown. Big eyes filled with water and threatened to spill over.
“She’s leaving today? I thought it was tomorrow.” All the energy drained out of the room like water in a bathtub.
“Your father and I discussed this with you, remember? I’m sorry.”
The other children suddenly appeared in the doorway, their faces somber with truth. Jenny gave each of them a quick hug before kneeling down to the little one.
“Why don’t we have some chocolate chip pancakes and then you can help me pack? Ok? Maybe after that we’ll stop by the ice cream parlor before I leave.”
“Ok.” It was said without eye contact. Heavy feet dragged out the door and descended the stairs.
Hardly a word was spoken while breakfast preparations were underway. Jenny’s husband, Carl watched her from the dining room table, his morning paper perched sternly in his lap. His eyes scanned the classifieds, as he stole an occasional glance in his wife’s direction. How long would it be before he stroked that beautiful auburn hair again? He tried not to think about it.
“Ok, everybody come and eat!”
Plates and cutlery clanged and rattled as the food was served. Two adults and three children sat at the table. Nobody moved. Nobody ate.
“Listen, I’m sorry it has to be like this. They need me. You understand, right?”
The older one, David piped up.
“Yes, Mom. We understand and we’ll help Dad. It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry ok? Right guys?”
The older children nodded in agreement as they slowly shoveled food in their mouths.
Such a brave little soldier, she thought. How she would miss him. She put her plate in the sink and watched out of the corner of her eye. Her youngest was sitting in her father’s lap, no longer interested in the melted chocolate. Her middle daughter was reading the comics section of the paper. She would cry after her mother was gone, a seemingly hereditary trait in this house.
Jenny quickly turned her head before they caught her staring. It was time to dress and pack. She headed to the bedroom unnoticed. A green canvas bag met her at the foot of the bed. Carl must have taken it out while she was in the restroom. She fingered the tan coat. Her last name was stitched across the right side of the chest, the American flag on the right shoulder. Pride mixed with trepidation welled up inside her. As much as she loved her job, leaving was always the hardest part about it.
She opened the bag and filled it with the standard gear. Green and tan would be her primary colors for the next 15 months. Her M16 rifle would accompany her after she got on the bus. Once dressed, she studied herself in the mirror before heading downstairs for the last time. Pliers, a couple of knives and a screwdriver adorned her vest. Her hair was pulled up and off her neck, hidden under a round, digitized hat. It was explained to her in basic training that the digital pattern actually reduces the threat of enemy attacks, compared to the old style of camouflage that was once prevalent. Her tan combat boots made a thomp, thomp, thomp sound on the hardwood floor. She kissed her family and said goodbye.
Lady Liberty’s torch angrily burned in the night sky. Jenny watched from her seat on the airplane and bowed her head.
“Father, please keep them safe while I’m gone. Help them to know that the others I join are standing with me in prayer for their protection and uninterrupted freedom. Remind them how much I love them. Amen.”
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