Slipping away I feel the tension ease throughout the length of my body. I catch a final glimpse of the television and decide I'm too lazy to switch it off. I let go of my right hand as the shaking subsides. My mind plays a mental tape of children running in the sunshine with their hands raised in the air as if playing a game of cops and robbers. My dream tells me it must be a serious game, since no one is laughing. From somewhere a dull ring penetrates my dream. I think it's part of my dream and try to ignore the sound, but the ringing continues to become louder and sharper until I bolt upright in the bed thinking I somehow overslept and committed my own cardinal sin of being late. But the alarm clock reads just after three in the morning. I've only been asleep for about eight minutes. Though the ringing from the telephone continues, I become entranced by the television set displaying my dream. I can't seem to understand why children are being marched outside in single file with their hands thrust in the air while an army of police officers have seemingly quarantined the entire area. The commentator dispels my ignorance. "Oh my God!" I whisper. "I can't believe it!"
As I shake my head, denying the tragedy in front of my eyes, I stretch to grab the phone. Before I can place the receiver to my ear, the voice of my fiancée, Marsha, screams, "Thank God! I've been trying to reach you! Have you heard?" Marsha, a lady of absolute grace, who directs the entire operation of our frantic, hypersonic-speed office, and who keeps everything under control, is now on the verge of panic. "Where have you been?! I've been trying to reach you.... Have you heard?"
Turning back to the catastrophe in front of me, I nod my head up and down. Still mesmerized by the television, with every ounce of my being depleted, I reply in stoic short sentences. "Um, sorry. My cell-phone battery ran down. I just came in a few minutes ago. I didn't want to call you and wake you up.... Yeah, I'm seeing it on TV now. My God, I ... I can't believe it.... How could this have happened?"
"No, it's not that! I'm not calling about the shooting...." Her voice then softens to a whisper. "You don't know. You haven't heard?" I can hear the pace of Marsha's breathing pick up. "Are you sitting down?"
My heart jumps to marathon speed. My vision is suddenly clear and my mind wide awake. The receiver of my phone strikes the side of my head from my trembling hand. I think it, but can't form the words. Shutting my eyes, my worst nightmare has come true. With perfect clarity, I picture Stephen's bright eyes and wide smile.
One step ahead of my terror Marsha calmly states, "It's not Stephen. Stephen's fine. He's okay. And I know you're exhausted, so please, just tell me you're sitting down." My brain now tallies a long list starting with my oldest brother, Ron, whom I haven't seen or spoken to directly in over eight years. I fear that Ron, a police officer of over twenty years, had been shot in the line of duty. My first thought is to throw everything into the rental car and race back to the airport, catching the first flight to...
"Dave," Marsha interrupts, "Dan Brazell passed away."
With my free hand I pound my knee as I slowly rock back and forth on the side of the bed. "... should have known. I should have known. It's not like it's my first time with this ... I ... I should have ... have known."
"I'm so sorry," Marsha cries. "Dan, he was like a father to you, wasn't he?"
"Yeah," I choke up. "Dan's the kind of father any kid would have wanted for a dad."
"Was he that sick?"
"No! He was sick, yeah, but, uhh, last time I saw Dan, um ... was the day he went to the doctor to get a clean bill of health. At least that's what he told me when I called later that day. I can't believe it. I just saw Dan right before Christmas. He looked, fine, so good...." As my voice rambled on, I kept repeating in my mind that it seemed only yesterday that I had just seen him.
Reprinted from The Privilege of Youth by Dave Pelzer by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Dave Pelzer, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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