April 6, 2008
By Adam Johnson, Winnetka, IL

It is a chilly New York afternoon in the middle of December. A woman, Mary, is sitting on her living room chair, staring at the phone.
“Mom,” her son Chris shouts at her, “when are we going to the store to get our presents?”
Yet Mary is lost in thought. “What?” she replies.
“When are we going to get our presents?” Chris is becoming frustrated. He wants the new remote control helicopter toy for Christmas, and he can’t figure out why his mother won’t take him to the store.
“Not now,” Mary answers. She still is not fully paying attention to Chris. “Why don’t you go play on your computer for a while? I promise we’ll go, just not now.”
“But you promised we’d go!” Chris screams, at the brink of a meltdown. But Mary does not do anything. She just returns to staring at the phone.
Chris goes to his room, eventually realizing that his mother would not take him to the store at that moment, and Mary is left alone to think and stare.

Minutes pass, and Mary is concerned. ‘He should have called an hour ago. This isn’t like him,’ she thinks to herself. Indeed it isn’t. She has known her husband for fifteen years, and he is the most punctual person Mary knows. He has always called on time, but not today.

Hour pass. Her son is now in bed, and Mary is still sitting in her chair, watching the phone. It has rung a few times. Since starting to wait by the phone, she has received calls from her bank, her son’s school, her mom, and one of her friends. When Mary was on the phone with her mom, her mom noticed something unsettling in Mary’s tone, but could not quite place it. Mary shrugged off her mom’s concerns, unwilling to divulge into her present worries.
Yet her husband, Ted, has still not called. For a moment, Mary thinks about trying to call Ted, yet she realizes that this would be quite impossible. Ted does not have his cell phone, and she does not know any other practical way to reach him. As it is quite late, she decides to go to sleep and try to contact Ted first thing in the morning. Falling asleep proves difficult, and she thinks up dozens of rational reasons that explain why Ted has not yet called. Attempting to not let her worries consume her, she dozes off, sleeping in the same chair next to the telephone.

As the winter light beamed through her living room window, Mary awakes and instantly checks the phone. ‘NO CALLS,’ it reads. Mary is now in a state of panic. She begins to truly worry that something terrible has happened to Ted, and she remembers her meaningless goodbye to him a few days prior.

“Mary, I love you. I’ll be back soon,” Ted told her, halfway out the door.

“I love you, too.”

The brief exchange was not romantic, just forced goodbyes. They loved each other, yet Mary could not feel love at that particular moment. Neither could Ted. As soon as Mary finished uttering those words, Ted was pacing down the front walkway towards the cab with his back fully turned. That was their goodbye, and it ended up being the last words they ever spoke to one another.

Mary and Ted both knew the risks. They both knew the possibilities. Yet Ted was resolved. His brother died in the World Trade Center attacks, and he was unable to put that behind him. He joined the army, not because of the money, not because of the learning experience, but because when those towers fell, with his brother trapped inside, he was forever linked with the impending fight against the terrorists.
Ted went to Afghanistan three times, yet only returned home twice. During his last tour of duty, he was killed by friendly gunfire. No heroic death, just an unfortunate accident.

Mary received the news that morning. Her son was off at school, and Mary, still patiently waiting in her chair, finally got a call. Her caller ID read, “INTERNATIONAL CALL,” and her hopes were raised for a fleeting moment. She answered, but the call wasn’t from Ted. It was from his commanding officer.

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