Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Calls of Duty: Part One

          The ring of the phone was so soft, and his sleep so deep, that Dylan had managed to work the sound of it into his dream. In his dream, he was back in high school. He had just managed to coax Faith O'Donnell to his locker under the guise of showing her his new letterman jacket. He was proud of his letterman jacket with the thick embroidered volleyball on the sleeve, CAPTAIN in big block letters just below it. He was proud of it to be sure, but the truth is that he would have said just about anything to get her to have a one on one conversation with him, even stand in his general vicinity, for that matter. Right now Faith was so close to him that he could smell her strawberry lip gloss. He was astonished by how much more beautiful she was at this distance. He showed her the jacket and watched her smile widen. He added with pride that he had just won an academic scholarship, and that college was definitely going to happen. Dream Dylan was doing incredibly well – Faith was suitably impressed, hanging on his every word.
            He watched her run her fingers over the stitching of his name, tracing the cursive letters, her shiny pink fingernail tracing each letter. “You are so amazing, Dylan.” He raised an eyebrow. She continued, “I mean, you’re an incredible athlete, you’re smart, you volunteer, you play the piano.”            
            “And guitar,” he added quickly, so as not to interrupt her flattery.
            “And, you’re not so bad looking.” She felt her cheeks start to warm – getting hotter with every word – but she continued, “You’re sort of the perfect guy.”
            Dylan felt like he was floating. Her litany of compliments gave him enough nerve to finally ask her out. He drew a deep, calming breath to try and steady the quiver he knew he would have in his voice. “Faith, would you like to go to the homecoming dance with me?”
            Before she could answer, the third period bell rang.
            And rang.
            And rang.
            Faith began to vaporize before his eyes as the school bell gradually morphed into the pestering ring of his phone. He begrudgingly left Faith behind, standing at the locker and about to say yes (he hoped). With any luck, he thought, they would meet again soon.
            Dylan glanced at the clock, 3:25am. He answered the phone without even looking to see who it was. He knew that a call at this hour would probably not be good.
            “I don’t know what to do, Dylan. . . she’s my world. . .she can’t go yet. . . I love her so much. . .” Henry’s voice was barely recognizable through the sobs.
            “Henry? What? Wait. Slow down. What happened?”
            He spoke in fragments, the long pauses where he was obviously trying, with little success, to gain composure. “It’s my Eva. . . she got out of bed. . . complained she didn’t feel well. . .they say her heart stopped. . .what if she dies, Dylan?”
            Without even realizing it, Dylan rotated the brass switch on the hurricane lamp that sat on his night table. The mechanical click reverberated off of the old knotty pine walls with such force that he was certain he woke the whole house. He threw off the covers and began to dress himself as Henry shared more details of what had happened to Eva. For Henry, just saying it out loud was cathartic, and he calmed a little with each sentence. As of yet, no one had given Henry an official diagnosis, but it was clear that they were incredibly lucky that Henry insisted on calling 911.
            “She’s going to be okay, Henry. I know it. Is Junior there with you,” Dylan asked, squeezing the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he wiggled himself into his jeans. The old wooden floors moaned loudly under his shifting weight. This cabin only has one volume –  thunderous, he thought.
            “You’re the first one I called. I knew you’d know what to do. Can you come over to the hospital? They’re getting ready to take her there now.”
            Dylan hesitated. He realized Henry had forgotten about the family reunion. This week was the first in three years that the whole family was able to get together in the same place at the same time, and it was usually Dylan’s schedule that was the problem.  He recalled the tense phone call with his parents earlier in the summer.

            “I can’t get vacation right now, mom. We’re in the middle of a huge project.”
            “But, Dylan, you’re the only one who can’t do it. Please come, Dyl,” she begged.
            He heard his father in the background, “Is he coming?”
            The sound became muffled as his parents began their own conversation as if he weren’t there – sidebars, Dylan called them. He pictured the scene as he listened: His mom held the phone against her chest in one hand, the other (barely) covering the receiver as she yelled into the family room to his dad, who was firmly rooted in his recliner for the evening.
            “He says he can’t get vacation. Some big project,” she began.
            “What does that mean, can’t get vacation? It’s his vacation. He just needs to take it,” his father insisted. Dylan wished it were that simple.
            “Dylan,” the phone unmuffled now, “it’s your father. Listen, your mother is in tears. She’s been planning this for a year. Please do what you can to make this happen, okay son?”

            Dylan’s slight pause was enough to make Henry recall that he was out of town. “Wait. This is your reunion week, isn’t it? Never mind. You stay right there with your family. I’ll call Junior; he can be here in an hour. I’ll be okay.” Dylan could hear the disappointment in his voice.
            “Henry, listen, maybe I can get there in a couple of days. It would kill my mom if I left now.” The words felt like acid pouring from his mouth. He could hear them stinging his friend, but he couldn’t even imagine telling his mother he had to go. “Do you have a ride to the hospital?”
            “You best stay there, then. As it turns out, half of the Lodge is working night shift, and they’ve all offered me a ride. Seems I’ll have my pick of squad cars to follow the ambulance. I better go.”
            “I wish I could be there, Henry,” he apologized. “You and Eva are practically family to me. You’re both in my prayers. Please call me as soon as you know something.” Dylan hung up and stared at his phone. He was in an impossible situation, and he hated it. Henry was as much a part of his family as his actual blood relatives. There was no way of explaining that to his parents, though. They would just stare at him blankly as he tried to put the depth of a fraternal bond into words that made sense to them. He has his own children to handle it, they would say. It wouldn’t matter to them that Dylan was the first one he called.
            He pulled the lace curtain back and glanced out his bedroom window. In the gloaming, he saw the grass, needle-like with frost. The sun was still below the horizon but had already begun to paint the bottoms of the impossibly high cirrus clouds with a hundred shades of gold and orange.  There was no way he was getting back to sleep at this point, so he decided to go make some coffee, to feed his inner caff-fiend, as he liked to say. He desperately needed to come up with a way to at least broach the subject with his parents so that he could, at the very least, leave a day early without a whole lot of grief.
            He crept down the well-worn stairs of the cabin shoeless, placing his feet at the extreme edges of the treads so they would be less likely to squeak. Even the slightest noises carried through here as if the house were wired for sound and he had microphones on his feet. He was desperate not to wake anyone.  
            His plan, when he reached the bottom, was to switch on the pot and retire to the porch to watch the sun continually re-imagine the palette of the sky. There, alone, he hoped an answer might come to him.
            He imagined the scent of coffee as he reached the main floor and headed toward the kitchen. I drink way too much of this stuff if I can smell it before it brews, he thought.
            He rounded the corner toward the kitchen and saw first one, then a second cup of coffee sitting on the long oak table, the steam rising and curling from both. He looked up from the mugs to see his mother’s silhouette framed perfectly in the soft yellow light of the open refrigerator.
            “What are you doing up,” he asked.
            She closed the door and turned toward him. He wasn’t sure how to read the look on her face, it seemed both happy and sad. He noticed her eyes glistening, a little wetter than usual. She gestured for him to sit and he obeyed.
            “I heard you on the phone, and I thought maybe we should talk.”

To be continued. . . 

Sooner or later, we will each face a situation like the one you just read. In today’s world, time is our most precious commodity, and (somewhat ironically), the one with the most demands on it. Dylan’s mom sees her son being swept into his own life. Dylan feels the pull of loyalty to two families – biological and fraternal. And Henry is facing the uncertainty of his wife’s illness in her later years, and perhaps by extension, his own mortality.

How will they handle it? We each have our own hierarchy of importantcies. The pressing need of one person may be the last thing on earth another would want to do. Successful interaction with others often relies on our ability to view any given situation from atop the other’s hierarchical pyramid. Remember, Modern Vitruvians, that we are judged not only by who we are, but by who we are in the presence of others.

In the next issue, we will see how it all goes for Dylan and his loved ones. Until then, think about how well you handle situations where you have competing loyalties. Do you attempt to force your will, or do you compromise? Does one desire always take precedence or can you rearrange your hierarchy to accommodate difficult circumstances? What would you do in Dylan’s situation? His mom’s? Henry’s?

What do you think will happen next? Weigh in, share your own story, or ask questions in the Comments section below.