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Patricia wakes up during early evening to an odd sight. She is lying down on the couch, with a wet rag on her head. “What happened? Why am I lying on the couch?” Herbert looks at his wife, and then at George. “Honey, well George told us some great news. He’s joining the army!” Patricia looked at George and yelled “Are you crazy?! You are throwing your life away, George. Don’t do this honey! Please, stay with me and your dad and your sister. You will be happier here!”
George started sweating a little bit and paced around the room. He finally stopped, looked at his mom and said quietly, “Mom, listen. I want to go to college. I want to do something with my life. The army is what is right for me. I went to the recruit center down town a few times. The man there, a friend of dad’s, Braden Young, told me that I would be a perfect fit for the army, and that I was in great condition for it. He also told me that after I gave them my service, they would give me a college education. I need that money, mom. I’m sorry.”
Herbert looked up with a smile on his face, as he gave a sidelong glance at his wife who sat sobbing in the corner. “George, don’t be sorry. This is the greatest decision you have ever made! The army is the best thing to get involved with, and will make you into an even better man than you already are! Trust me, this is something you won’t regret!” says Herbert.
The truth about George is that he didn’t feel the same way his dad felt. He was actually doing this to get away. When he joined the army, he would not have to be living in his little sister’s big shadow. His sister was popular, a straight A student, and George believed she was her parents’ favorite child. He would be his own person, fighting for his country. George had never picked up a gun before, and didn’t ever want to either. He could not imagine killing a person. Even the thought of seeing a friend or companion die destroyed him. Deep inside, the thought of killing another person destroyed him.
Dinner time at the Mathews’ house had always been a peaceful time. Herbert arrived home from work in a flurry, Randy took a break from texting her friends, and Patricia was finally able to talk to her husband for the first time that day. Herbert’s work as a delivery man means he is tired by the end of the day, but enjoys his family’s company. The last one to arrive at the table, as usual, is George.
As a typical senior, George is more interested in playing video games, and playing the guitar, instead of doing his homework. At 18, he’s in his senior year of high school. He is big like his father, 6’3” with wide shoulders, but does not participate in sports. His crew cut and pierced ears makes him look even scarier than he is. His younger sister, Randy, is 15 and a sophomore. George, although he would never admit it, is jealous of Randy.
When George gets to the dinner table on that night, he is in the same mood he normally is. This seems like it will be the typical Mathews dinner where George will scarf down his food as quickly as possible, and leave the table without saying a word. But tonight, George is taking his time. He is eating slowly and his hands are shaking a little bit as he picks up each utensil. Tonight, after all, does seem like it will be different. Little did the Mathews’ know, tonight’s dinner would change their family forever.
Patricia looked over at George, and noticed his anxiety. As her eyes made contact with his, he slowly put his utensils down again and said the words she always feared.
Herbert had been a commander in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He is 60 years old now, and will let everybody he meets know that he fought for his country and help kill a few bad guys at the same time. He has his uniform framed in his home office, and pictures of his war time effort all over the house. His wife Patricia hates war. She let him know this when they were dating, that she was completely against war and hated the idea of it. It almost broke the couple up, but they decided, despite their differences, to get married and forget about the bigger conflicts that ultimately had little to do with them. The couple would soon find out that this problem that almost broke them up 25 years ago might soon break up this couple again.
After a few hours, Patricia had faced the fact that her son had made up his mind: He was going to part of the United States Army. This broke her not because he had made this decision, but that her husband supported, and encouraged the idea. But, aside from this, he encouraged his son because this was the first decision of his son that he supported. Herbert did not want him to learn guitar, pierce his ear, or get the fohawk. The army, he feels, will be the best for George.
Patricia realized that they hadn’t seen Randy since the announcement. After Herbert went to get a drink, and George went to his room, she decided to find out how Randy felt about this decision. As Patricia slowly opens Randy’s bedroom door, she is surprised to realize she is not in there. She desperately asks George if he knows where Randy is, and he said he has no idea. She then frantically asks Herbert who said he hasn’t seen her all night. Patricia looks all around the house, and there is no sign of Randy. She calls Randy’s cell phone, and she gets the answering machine. Randy had run away.
“Herbert, you take your car and look North and East. George and I will go look to the South and West,” said Patricia. The whole family put aside the shock of George entering the Army to try to find Randy. Herbert rushed off in his big black Hummer H3, while George drove him and his mom in her Acura TL. They knew that they had to find Randy, because bad things can happen to a 15 year old girl out by herself at night.
Patricia and George had been driving for close to an hour by now. It is close to Midnight, and neither they nor Herbert has found a glimpse of Randy. They had been in silence most of the time, but now Patricia decided to break it. “Listen, George. You’re old enough to make your own decisions now. You know that I hate the army, and I do not support war and all that mumbo jumbo. But, this is your decision and I’m going to back you up on this. If this is what you really want to do, then do it.”
George was shocked by what his mother had just said. He always tried to p*** off his mother, being a teenager and all. But for the 1st time, that did not play a role in his decision. He joined the army for the education afterword, and the respect he felt that he would finally earn. “Mom, thank you. You know why I’m doing this. I’m not doing this to p*** you off, or make dad proud, or even be the macho man. I’m doing this for me. This is what I have to do for my future. I love you.” “I love you too, George,” said Patricia.
Just as she finishes saying that, George turns the corner, and Randy is sitting outside of a closed pizza place. The car screeches to a stop while Patricia jumps out and hugs her daughter. George calls his father and tells him to go home; they found Randy. They get in the car and head home. While there in the car, Patricia decides to not punish Randy. “Listen Randy, I know why you left. This has been tough for all of us. But this is George’s decision and we have to respect that.” Randy immediately starts crying. “George, although most of the time it doesn’t seem like I love you. I don’t want you being killed. Please stay home and don’t go. I need you here. I only have one older brother, and I want you to be home. Please!”
George had never seen his sister cry for anything other than a bad hair day or a broken nail. He knew that this actually meant a lot to his sister. At this moment, George wondered whether that he might have to put his family before him for once. But, he decided that joining the army was what he had to do. “Randy, I love you, too. I’ll write or call as much as I can. You barely see me now except at dinner, so just pretend I’m at work during dinner time. I will always be your older brother and be there for you. If you need me, I’m only a call away.”
Randy’s crying slowed down a little bit and they finally got home. Herbert hugged Randy and said that this was the scariest hour of his life when she was missing. Everyone went to bed, knowing that in just 2 days George would be leaving for boot camp.
The day had finally arrived. It was 5 am when George had to be at the airport, and the whole family was there to support him. He hugged his sister, and she started to cry again. He promised her that he would call her and make sure she was doing well, and just check in on her. He gave his mom a kiss, and said he loved her, and he would send her as many pictures they take of him. Finally, he had to say goodbye to his father. George stuck out his hand for a handshake, but his dad pulled him in for a hug. This was the first time they had hugged since George was 5 years old. That showed George how proud Herbert was of him. As George boarded his plane to Georgia for boot camp, he began to cry for the first time in as long as he could remember.
Six months later, the family had not received any news from George in two weeks. No phone calls, letters, photographs or anything. At around dinner time one night, the doorbell rang. Normally, no one bothers them during this time. Patricia goes to answer the door and screams. The whole family rushes to the door and sees George there on crutches and a cast on his left leg. Randy immediately breaks down crying and Herbert is in shock. “Oh my god, honey, what happened?” asked Patricia. “Well, I tried to call you guys,w but I forgot my cell phone charger and my phone was dead, and I didn’t have any stationary to write you,” George said with a smile on his face. “No, to your leg silly!” said Patricia. “Oh, well I was running through the forest with my huge back pack, and I tripped on a buried tree stump. I tore my ACL. But of course, there comes good news with this, I’m home!” The family went, sat down, and ate dinner together, the first time they have had a happy family meal in a long time.