by rugal b.
Monica knows all too well that everything must come to its inevitable end.
|I hate having to get Grampa from Sunset Hills.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s got nothing to do with him. Grampa’s the most amazing person I know. Most people call him Sarge, even my parents call him that some times. But to me he’s just Grampa. Great-grandfather, technically, but that’s splitting hairs. Grampa, or just Sarge or Sergeant Joseph O’Reilly, it doesn’t matter to me.
Grampa’s a great man, someone who served his country well. He’s an American hero but he’s also my hero. He’s always got some kind of amazing story about Korea or Vietnam and he’s the kind old man who always smiles whenever he sees me and calls me his “favorite little Bratt” before kissing me on the cheek. He’s always loved that dumb little joke and I love it too. And he deserves better than wasting away the last few years of his life in a retirement home.
Close to thirty years in the Marines, decorated with all kinds of honors, and he’s going to spend his last days in some creaky old building playing shuffle board and watching bad daytime television with some rude nurses? I hate it, I really do. But there’s nothing I can do about it.
The most I can do for him is to try and make him proud. That’s why I’m going into the military after graduation. I’m on the basketball team at Eastman but I’m not good enough to where it can be a serious thing and I don’t really have anything in mind as to what I want to do after high school. I don’t want to be one of those people who just floats around for four years and gets some stupid, pointless degree.
Grampa wouldn’t want that; that wouldn’t make him proud. But I’m not tough enough, or brave enough, to go into the Marines or the Army so the Navy sounds as good a place as any for me. It’s perfectly fine and respectable and the idea of being on a ship and going across the world’s oceans is kind of neat. So I hope he can hold out because Grampa might be, as he’d say, a tough old bastard but not even he can fight off the reaper forever. If he’s able to see me graduating from the academy and in uniform before he goes, then I think he’d like that.
But I don’t know if Sam would like it. She’s already pretty upset about Amber going to school in California after graduation. I am too, we all are. We’ve been together for so long that it’s really hard to imagine being apart. I know it’s probably getting to Amber and I know Penny and Ashley are worrying because there’s a good chance they go to separate schools too.
But Sam… she’s a very sensitive person. She’s very sentimental. I think she likes to think of life like it’s a 1950s poster where Wife bakes the pie and Junior’s playing in the yard and the picket fence and the neighbors are there and everyone’s just getting along without a care in the world. She has her comfort zone and doesn’t deal well when it’s disrupted. I can’t blame her though. Even I get upset at the thought and I’m the one who’s usually regarded as emotionally neutral, or I have a good poker face or something. Some times Ashley and the others will take a shot at me and give me a little “beep boop”, I guess because I’m like a robot or something.
I feel like I have to be like that however. The others definitely wear their hearts on their sleeves. Someone has to be the emotional anchor though and if that falls on me then I guess I don’t really have a choice.
I don’t mind it though. I hang back, I’m quiet and I observe. I like to think that I’ve got good observational skills. If someone’s upset, I know them well enough to know what’s eating at them and maybe just being the quiet, poker-faced emotional anchor means people are going to open up to me easier. I guess if I put it like that it sounds like I’d make a good therapist but I don’t have any interest in doing something like that.
No, I’ve got one goal and I want to do it while Grampa’s still here to see it with his own eyes. I know he can always look down and see it like I know Nana does but… I can’t explain it. I just feel like it would mean more to him if he could see it while he was on Earth than if he was up in Heaven. Or maybe it would mean more to me if he could see it. I hate it but I know Grampa will be going there soon and he can see me any time. Heck, he and Nana can watch me together.
So kind of selfishly maybe it’s my own desire to see him see me. To hear that he’s proud of me straight from his mouth. I know when we visited Nana this afternoon Mom told me that she knows she’d be proud of me, that she is proud of me. It’s not that I don’t believe her but I guess there’s a difference between feeling that it’s true and having actual affirmation.
I hope Sam and everyone will be proud of me too. I know I’m not as athletic as Ashley or as smart as Penny. No way would I ever be a doctor or anything like that but if I can serve even a fraction as good as Grampa did, well that’s something, right? They all think that I’m the strong one and that I’m the one that has everything together so I want to show them that they’re right.
I’ll just have to figure out a way to break the news to them.
Jeez, it’s so hard to think that in another couple of months it’ll all be over. I don’t think our relationships with each other will be over… or at least I hope not. We’ve spent so long building them and they’ve defined us for as long as I can remember. But the days of getting together at one of our houses every day after school to play basketball or talk or just enjoy each others’ company? If we’re all going in twenty different directions obviously we can’t do that anymore.
Just like with Grampa I don’t like thinking about it but it’s inevitable so I have to. To be totally honest it makes me want to cry. I’m a lot more sensitive to this kind of stuff than I’d ever care to admit to the rest of them because I can’t admit it. But it’s been occupying my mind for the last few days.
Even while I’m getting dressed in my best clothes. Even while I sit in the car with the rest of my family on the drive to church. While I dip my hand in the baptismal water and make the sign of the cross and while the Father is giving his sermon and all of the other Christmas liturgy is going on it’s not something I can shake from my mind. I actually worry for a moment that I’m disrespecting Him by having other thoughts bouncing around in my head during this time, of all times. But I realize I’m definitely not the first and definitely not the only one so I’m sure He understands.
“You never did anything else did you, Grampa?” I ask as I walk him out to the van after the service. “I mean, like, you were always in the military right?”
“Well I was good with my hands. Probably coulda been an electrician or mechanic I suppose,” he answers. “But loved the Marines too much to get out ‘till it was time to retire.”
“You’re proud of your service, right?”
“’Course I am.”
“Are you proud of me?”
“Proud of you? Of course, I’m proud of you Monica. You’re a beautiful young woman with a good head on your shoulders. I know ya can do anything. You put your mind to it and you’ll succeed.”
“What if I joined the military?” I asked. “I’ve been thinking about the Navy.”
“A real military Bratt, huh?” he chuckled. “Sure, I could see you doin’ it and I’d certainly be proud. But I’d be proud of you if you were pickin’ up garbage too. Long as you stay the same girl I don’t know how I couldn’t be.”
“I’m just worried about my friends,” I admitted. “I mean I don’t think they’re going to hate it or anything but we’ve been together since we were all really little. They might take it a little hard.”
“Listen, I saw friends go off all the time. I watched some of ‘em fall right next to me. But bonds like that, the real thick ones? They don’t break. Until the reaper started callin’ for ‘em I saw plenty of the old crew. Good men I’d known for a long time. I know your friends, they’re good girls. They ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
I hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks Grampa,” I said.
“I’ll tell ya this, though, Monica. You do it, or anything else you do, I want you to do it one hundred percent. I don’t want to hear that you gave up part ways through ‘cause I know your parents didn’t raise ya like that.”
“I’ll come back here in full dress, sir.”
“I’d like that.”
I think Sam and the others would like that too. Like usual, Grampa’s right
Our bond is strong enough that no matter how far apart we pull it’s not going to break. We can still keep in touch and we’ll all come back here in four or five years and see each other again just like old times. Grampa too. I really want him to see me in that uniform before he goes but even if the reaper gets to him before I can get back I don’t just believe he’ll be able to see me from up there with Nana, I know it.
I guess that’s all the affirmation that I need.
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