A boy enters manhood as he experiences a change in the dynamic of his family.
| The boots in the middle of the basketball court held my attention. Flanked in the rear by a metallic teepee of rifles that wore a camouflage helmet, the boots held me in a trance. The gymnasium was empty, save the faces beside me in the bleachers that were equally bewitched by sight that their eyes beheld. The rituals of the uniformed men and women standing before us permeated the atmosphere with the sounds of solid voices and stern footsteps. The rituals ceased at the formation of columns and rows by the uniformed faces. The echo of silence filled the gymnasium with the occasional cough or sniffle from the young and the aged.
The uniformed stood still stationary. Their legs set apart as if no force could move them. Their hands held behind their backs as if daring that same force to trespass. The leaders of the columns and rows gave speeches that quickened the death of the silence in that room. They spoke of strength. They preached on patriotism. They talked of the journey there, that they would take together. They talked of the journey back, that some would not take at all. The idea of non-return freed my eyes from the trance. I scanned the columns and rows for the face of my father.
I caught his stare. Maybe he had noticed my searching eyes or maybe he was looking at us all; my mother, brothers, sister and me. I looked up at my mother. The rosacea in her face always gave the misleading appearance of perpetual blushing, but the color her face this time was different. Her face held a darker shade of red and it was streaked with tears. My siblings’ were youthfully ignorant of the moment’s sublimity, I was willfully ignorant. The fear had gripped me when I realized that my parents were staring at each other, it was not my eyes that my father found; with such intensity it was as if they were reading each other’s minds. What if I don’t make it back? What will we do without you? What about the kids? What about our plans? His stare said everything that I did not want to think about. Everything that I wanted to ignore was at the threshold of that stare, beating up against the door to my mind. My willfulness was wavering. My fortitude was faltering. My faith was failing. I stared back at the rifles.
As I stared into that pensive of steel a memory marched into my reminiscence, “You'll have to take care of everybody while I'm gone, okay? No matter what happens, you are my right-hand man. You always will be.” I looked back up and, this time, he was looking at me. I could feel his breath as if he were whispering those words into my ear again. I could feel his arms hugging me as he always would do at the most random moments, which were in those moments that I needed a hug the most. I felt the temptation to cry, but I resisted that somber instinct. If that memory was true then I could not afford to be weak; I could not afford it for myself or anyone else. I captured that emotion and I held it at bay. I resisted it when he hugged us. I resisted it when he kissed us all goodbye. I resisted it after he got on the bus that took him away. I resisted it after we turned our backs and returned to the basketball court. We walked in and the rifles were gone; the helmet and boots had disappeared along with the columns and rows. I turned to my mother, buried my face into her shirt and cried like the child used to be.