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They came just a few days before he was due home. For some reason, unknown to her or anyone else, she knew they were coming, long before the car pulled up in the driveway. Not that that helped the situation any.
The car pulled up midmorning, though she had already been up for hours. She had never been the type of woman who worried or cared about “beauty sleep,” as so many people liked to put it. So when the car pulled up, she was fully dressed, far past the “morning-cup-of-coffee” stage, and waiting. She had planned to do a lot of things today, mostly errands, but when she woke up that morning, she knew she had to stay close to home. Intuition, that’s what they called it, and she was a true believer in it, through and through.
She was at the door before the men were able to step out of their vehicle. As they made their way up the driveway, she stood on the porch, waiting. Waiting for what she knew was coming next.
“Ma’am, I’m afraid we have some bad news,” one of the men said, and she led them inside to the living room.
When they told her the news, she didn’t cry. She didn’t break down like others. She just nodded her head, the only thing she could think to do.
She looked down at his face, bruised and battered, a map of all of his struggles over the past four years. He had decided to go, was more than happy to leave, and she didn’t stop him. Even in his letters, he never once hinted at regretting his decision, and she never regretted letting him go, even now.
She sat in the chair next to his bedside and stroked his hand, finally opening the floodgates to her emotions. The tears streamed down her face, at first only one or two at a time, gradually leading up to a mass torrent of tears even she couldn’t control.
After a while the tears began to subside, pulling her back into reality. Just then the doctor knocked lightly on the door, poked his head inside, and asked her if he could have a word. She silently stood up and followed him into the hallway.
The doctor’s words had more effect on her that the other men’s. She slowly walked back into the room and sat back down in the chair. She took hold of her son’s hand and let everything on her mind out.
“I just finished talking with the doctor. He says you aren’t in too good a shape. I could have figured that out on my own, though, the way you look right now. Uhh…I don’t really know how to say this, so I’m just gonna say it. The doctor says you’re in a coma, the bad kind, the kind people usually don’t come outta. He says that right now you’re hooked up to a whole buncha fancy machines and that they’re the only thing keepin’ ya on this earth.” She paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts.
“Remember back, almost four years ago? When you decided you wanted to join the army? Man, you knew what you wanted to do and no one was gonna stop you. I don’t regret letting you go, hun. Some mothers hold on to their kids for dear life, sheltering them from everything. I hope you realized that I never did that with you. I could tell, from the moment that you told me your plan, that you wanted to go fight, and I wasn’t about to stop you…I’m so proud of you. The guys who came to tell me what happened, they said that you got one of those purple heart things. Lots of guys get that, though. Just the military’s way of making a mama think that her son was a hero. I don’t need no metal to let me know you were a hero. I always was proud of you, and always will be.
“You remember what you told me, those last few days when we were getting’ you ready to go? You said, ‘Ma, there’s somethin’ I want you to promise me. I know it will be kinda hard, but you gotta promise me you’ll do it. See, I’m a person, a man, not no vegetable. If I come home like a vegetable, not able to do nothin’ for myself, havin’ to live on those big machines you hear about on the TV, promise me you’ll let me die. Promise me you’ll tell those doctors to pull the plug. ‘Cuz I ain’t no vegetable, okay? I’m a man.’ And I promised, and you know I ain’t the lyin’ type, so today I’m gonna honor that promise. I’m gonna honor that promise because I’m proud of you, for suddenly growing up and being a true man when you decided to go fight in the war….I love you.”
And she walked out of the room.