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Those sparkling blue eyes and that perfect wide smile stare back at me from the photograph in my hands. The white dress illuminates her body, the way it clings to her torso and hips then flares out above her knees. I can’t wait to see my wife of almost three years again. Behind the picture of my wife is another photo but of my, now, 11 month old son. I have only seen him once and that was when he was born. After his birth, I was called back to do my job as a U.S. Marine. Finally, after eleven seemingly endless months, I can be with my small family that I love so much.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we descend, please make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and….”Those were the words I have been waiting to hear for the past three hours on this plane. After the plane lands, it’s only two hours before I’m home. “I’d like to thank you for joining us on this trip, and we are looking forward to seeing you on board again. Have a nice evening!” Hurriedly, I grab my bag from the overhead storage and get off the plane.
In the airport there are many family members and friends waiting to see their loved ones. I know my family and friends will not be here though. Seeing people's facial expressions and the way they react to surprises has alway amused me. When scrolling through Facebook I sometimes come across those homecomings of veterans, and I want to surprise my family like that. I just hope my wife reacts nicely to me coming home unexpectedly.
When walking past the baggage claim area, I see people who look like they have been waiting forever just to claim their bags. I mentally thank myself for not packing a big bag that I will have to wait for. I make my way towards the exit to find a cab that is not occupied. As soon as I walk out the doors I spot a yellow taxi waiting with a tall black man holding the door open for whoever wants to get in. I rush to the car, greeting the middle aged man and shaking his hand.
“ Hello, sir.” He greets me in return, and I get in the back seat of the car throwing my bag in before me. The man, whose name I have not yet learned, opens his door and says, “You can sit up front if you’d like.” He seems friendly, so I take the offer. Besides, with all my excitement, I’m going to have to talk to someone, and it’s a two hour drive, so I reopen my door, close it and get in the passenger seat.
“Where you headed?”
I give him my home address, and we start on our way to my house. Five minutes into the ride I remember that I still don't know this man’s name.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s William, but Will is what most people call me.”
“Nice to you meet you, Will. I’m Dawson.” I hold my hand out for him to shake, then draw it back, forgetting he is driving.
We both fall silent and within the next ten minutes I am dozing off. I guess all the excitement I’ve had these past couple of days has exhausted me. For the forty-five minutes I am napping I dream of my wife and son--the different ways they may react to me being home. It could be happy and joyful or it could be filled with tears. If tears are involved, I hope it’s happy tears. When I wake up from my nap, Will informs me that we are a little over an hour away from my destination. My stomach flutters with butterflies and a smile grows on my face, knowing in just an hour I will be with my family.
Will notices the smile on my face and asks, “So, what’s at the end of this car ride that’s got you all happy?”
When he asks this, I start with when I joined the military and how I only get to see my family a few times a year. I tell him that I have only seen my son once because I got deployed right after his birth. I also talk a lot about my wife and how elated I am to see her. This goes on for the next half hour, just me talking about my small family.
After I am finally done talking, I look out my window and realize that it was raining pretty bad. It is coming down so hard on the windshield that you can hardly see out of it. We are on a road with a mountain on one side and the ocean on the other. I am starting to get a little worried, so I ask Will if it will be okay to pull off to the side of the road. As soon as I ask, he informs me that it is only more dangerous because we are in the middle of the curve.
We keep driving up the mountain with caution, making sure to slow down even more when a car is coming the opposite way. As the rain is clearing up a bit, we round a curve. The only thing I can see are headlights to what looks to be a semi-truck. Faster than a second, Will turns the steering wheel to keep from getting hit, but it is too late. We collide with the front end of the truck and everything goes black.
I wake up minutes later still in the car. I am so confused. Where am I? Looking straight ahead, all I can see is the dark sky. Will’s terrified face comes into view, but it is very distant. He is saying something, however I can’t understand. I try to look down but the car shakes. It is then that I realize that I am hanging off the side of the mountain with only the car to keep me from falling into the deep ocean.
I know that the chances of me getting out this situation are very slim. Will has somehow found some rope and is lowering it for me to grab so he can pull me up. The rope is almost close enough. I carefully pull myself up a little and reach out to grab the it. I can feel the tips of my fingers brushing the frayed ends.
I pull myself up a bit more. The car slips. In the distance I can hear Will shouting. The last thing I think before I hit the water is I was almost home.