Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Calls of Duty: Part Three

Dylan stood in the doorway speechless. He wasn’t even certain that the person standing in front of him actually was his father. In fact, he was sure it wasn’t him. His real father was at the family cabin in the mountains more than three hours away, seated at a long oak table, surrounded by the rest of the family. He was probably, right this second, doing what he did every Thanksgiving for as long as Dylan could remember – holding a turkey leg in each hand, shaking them above his head, proclaiming, “It’s good to be the king.” So who was this man standing in Henry’s doorway?
“Why are you . . . What are you doing in Henry’s house,” Dylan asked, still struggling to make sense of the scene before him.
“Well, you rushed out this morning before I could tell you Happy Thanksgiving, and that didn’t seem right. So I got to thinking, maybe I’d bring you a little care package so that at least you could have some of your mom’s turkey and stuffing. Get in here,” his father commanded, taking him by the arm. “It’s freezing.”
“But how did you get in? What about mom and the rest of them? You didn’t need . . .” He stopped, his mind still racing to process it all. Glancing back at Henry, he asked, “You knew?” It was both a question and an accusation.
Henry flashed a broad smile. “Yeah, I knew. Meet Don, my friend from church.” He mimed air quotes for the last three words. “I think you usually call him Dad.” His eyes turned toward Don, “Thanks for letting the dog out,” he added with a wink.
“But this was the big family weekend. You really just up and left? They’re going to be so mad. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
 “Please quit worrying, son. No one is going to be mad,” Don said as he led them into the kitchen. He glanced over his shoulder at Henry. “I’m so glad that Eva is going to be okay.”
“How do you know that,” Dylan asked. “She was still in surgery when you called.”
“Henry sent me a text before the two of you left the hospital. How about getting us some drinks, Dyl? Iced tea for me.”
“Wow. Eva is going to be okay and Henry sent a text. Truly a day of miracles,” Dylan said, taking three glasses from the cabinet above the sink. The strong smell of turkey and stuffing reminded him that he hadn’t eaten a thing since he had left the cabin.
“That’s two and it’s not even dinner time yet. The night’s still young,” Henry said. He waited until Dylan turned toward the freezer to fill the glasses with ice before shooting a furtive wink to Don.
“The turkey won’t be done for a few minutes, but we can start on the salad now. Take this into the dining room,” Don said, handing Dylan the largest bowl of salad he had ever seen.
“Seriously, Dad? There are restaurants that don’t go through this much romaine in a night.”
“Salad travels well, and your brothers didn’t save you much turkey.”
“I can smell it, so I know they left some.”
“Just go put it on the table.”
Dylan paused for a second to formulate a plan for opening the French doors that separated the dining room from the kitchen without upsetting the salad. He was trying to come up with another smart comment about the salad as he pushed down on the door lever with his elbow. He felt the latch release from the strike plate, and as he pushed the door open, the lights came on. Seated around the table was the rest of his family. He looked at each of them without saying a word. His brothers, sisters, and their spouses all wore wry smiles, proud of their subterfuge. As he met each set of eyes, his heart grew more full. He struggled to keep his composure until finally he saw his mother standing just away from the table, her hand still on the light switch.
“Happy Thanksgiving, son,” she said as she wiped a tear from her cheek.
Great waves of emotion overtook him, and Dylan felt as if he would lose his legs at any moment. “I. . . I think I should sit down,” he stammered.
“Here you go, little bro,” his brother said, rising to offer his seat.
For the next several minutes, Dylan listened with astonishment as they took turns telling the story of how they ended up there, gathered around Henry and Eva’s table. His mother explained that, right after he left, she went and woke his father to tell him what happened. “You know your father, alpha male extraordinaire. Well, within five minutes, he had the whole group out of bed and gathered around the kitchen table.”
“Yeah, thanks, Dyl. You know how I love five a.m. You were right that you’ll never hear the end of it,” his brother interjected with a wink.
“Shush, Jeremy. Be nice to your brother. He’s had a long day,” his mother said. Henry walked in to listen. He stood behind Dylan’s chair and placed his hands on his shoulders.
“So has Jeremy, Mom,” said Amanda. “It was his first sunrise. Such a big boy now,” she teased, pinching Jeremy’s cheek. Amanda, as the oldest of the siblings, was the family’s self-anointed sarcasm queen. She used the interruption as an opportunity to take over the storytelling duties.
“So,” she sighed. “Dad made this big deal about how you were his favorite, and we should all drop everything we were doing, pack up the car and follow you down here.” She punctuated it all with an exaggerated eye roll, not wanting to miss an opportunity to tease her little brother.
“That’s not true, Amanda. We love you all equally,” his mom interjected.
“They just love me more equally,” Dylan retorted, scrunching up his nose at Amanda.
The fact that he could make that joke indicated to Dylan that his shock was finally giving way to a sort of tentative joy. He tried hard to give his full attention as his family took turns telling the rest of the story, but it proved difficult. He marveled as he watched Amanda comfort Henry. Her arm stroked his shoulder softly as he talked to her. He had never seen the compassionate side of Amanda before, and he liked what he saw – glimpses of his own mother in her mannerisms and tenderness. He couldn’t hear the conversation, but he was pretty sure Henry was recounting how he had found Eva this morning. Was that really just this morning, he asked himself. To him, it seemed like weeks ago. He thought about how lucky he was to have such families. Such a family, he corrected himself. He realized that this selfless act on the part of his parents and siblings meant that Henry and Eva were indeed family, and not just to him. As he glanced around the table at the people that mean the most to him in the world, he experienced a fullness that he had never felt before.
The story was all but wrapped up as his dad appeared in the doorway to announce that dinner was just about ready. Despite all of his inner distractions, he had managed to pick up a few details. First, that the decision to take the dinner on the road was unanimous, despite Jeremy’s protestations to the contrary. Also, that he was on clean up since he had shirked all of his other duties. Fair enough, he thought, even though he was pretty sure it was said tongue-in-cheek.
Without further direction, the siblings and their spouses lined up single file, Dylan at the rear, and proceeded toward the kitchen, each, doubtlessly, to return with a serving bowl overflowing with food. We must look like ants, Dylan thought to himself. Henry and Dylan’s mom remained in the corner of the dining room, talking softly. As he approached, Henry intentionally increased his volume to draw Dylan in.
“You have a very special boy, Marlene. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if Dylan hadn’t come down,” he said.
“He made me an incredibly proud mother today,” she replied, pulling him in close and lifting herself onto her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
“So you do love me more,” Dylan said, uncomfortable with the compliment.
“I’m serious, Dylan.  From the moment Henry called, you knew the right thing to do, and you never shied away from doing it, even though it was hard.”
“It was no big deal.”
“Nonsense,” Henry interjected. “The easy thing to do would have been to stay at the cabin with your family and let this old man fend for himself.”
“I’m really not that special. I barely had the courage to tell my mom what I wanted to do this morning. Ask her.” He blushed a little remembering his lack of courage.
“That’s so far from the truth, Dyl. You didn’t struggle with telling me. You were searching for a way to make me feel the right thing as deeply as you do, and that’s not always easy for my analytical mind. Your father wants to tell you more, so I’ll stop. I don’t want to steal his thunder. I’m – we’re – just so proud of you . . .” She fanned her eyes vigorously to prevent her mascara from running. “Let’s go help in the kitchen.”

The turkey had been reduced to little more than a pile of bones, the plates were cleaned and the wine glasses were nearly empty. The din of the conversation was even dying down as the tryptophan did its work. Capitalizing on this rare silence, Dylan’s dad lifted his knife from his plate and gently tapped it against the bowl of his wine glass to get everyone’s attention.
“Before we have dessert, I want to say a few things,” he began. “First, we are all thankful beyond words that Eva’s surgery went well.”
“God is good,” Henry agreed.
“Today turned out very different from how I had envisioned it when I headed to bed last night,” Don continued. “Just before I turned off the light, I looked at Marlene and said, ‘We have so much to be grateful for, and they’re all right here under one roof.’ Didn’t I, honey?”
Marlene flashed a closed-mouth grin and nodded in affirmation.
“Well, it turns out that I couldn’t have been more wrong. We had family a hundred miles away – a family that needed us,” he fought hard to keep his composure, “and one that we needed as well. We never would have known this family if it wasn’t for a young man with one of the biggest hearts and greatest capacities for compassion that I have ever known.” Despite his best efforts, a tear ran down first one, then the other of Don’s cheeks, but he wiped them and continued.
“Dylan, I’m incredibly proud of what you did today. And you may think that we packed the food and ourselves into the cars and drove down here just to see you, but that’s not the whole story. You showed us – all of us – that there are always things more important than just ourselves to consider. You knew where you should be, and you decided to go there without hesitation. Your selflessness inspired us to do the same.”
Dylan bit his lower lip hard to avoid sobbing.
“Your mother and I,” Don continued, “we’re analytical by nature. We look at every situation as a problem to be scrutinized and solved. We try to distill it into costs, benefits, and outcomes. But you – you see people and their pain, their joy, their need. You see their spirit, Dyl. You see people for who they are at their core, and you make decisions based on how you can best nurture their souls. And Henry, his friendship with you has made that blossom.
“I was a little skeptical when Dylan first joined the Masons. All I ever knew were the conspiracy theories, secret society nonsense and what the internet told me about how evil they were, but now I know that none of that is accurate. They’re just good people trying to do good things. You have helped him to grow in ways I never could have. Thank you.”
The words just hung in the room. No one wanted to break the silence. Henry finally did. “Well,” he started, but quickly thought better. He desperately wanted to say that Dylan has done so much for him as well – that it was not a one-way street – but his emotions were so raw from the stress of the day that he knew he would never get the sentence out of his mouth without a complete breakdown. “You and Marlene raised a good one – five good ones from what I’ve seen today. I’d be proud to call all of you my family.”
“Dylan, you better get Henry back to the hospital. I’m guessing you’ll be allowed to see Eva soon,” Marlene said. “How about if I put a plate together for the surgeon? Just to say thanks.”
Henry smiled. “You sound just like Eva.”
“I’ll drive,” Don said. “You two have been working on no sleep, plus the ride over will give me a chance to find out where you Masons stash the gold.”

The three of them piled into the car, Dylan insisting on the back seat. As they left the driveway and he looked over his shoulder at his mother waving from the porch, Dylan said his second silent prayer of Thanksgiving that day. In the morning, as he had pulled away from the cabin, he had given thanks for having these two families. Now he thanked God that he was a part of them.  He knew, in that place of deep, sure knowing that each of us has, that today marked the beginning of a new family, bound by blood and obligation equally. He certainly had a lot to be thankful for. Two of them, his dad and his Brother, were in the seat in front of him. Maybe my Brother and my Brother someday, he thought to himself.

Dylan smiled.

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