The Dawn of Tears
Chapter Five - Adjusting, Adapting, and Belonging
Note to Readers: My first clear memory is from when I was two years old. Dad was the new Principal at a school in Blythe California and mom hated it there. It was hot (over 115 degrees in the summer), it was boring (mostly a farming and agriculture community, but with a tourism element thanks to the nearby River and it's position on I-10 between Phoenix and L.A.), and I was a very bratty 2-year old baby. I'd had a hard time choosing between wanting a bottle and a sippy-cup. I actually preferred the sippy-cup, but I held onto the bottle tightly (I have a feeling it was like a sleeping blanket is to most kids) and would occasionally demand that mom fill it up so that I could drink from it.
Dad took me out back to the big garbage can and told me I had to make a choice between keeping my bottle or the sippy-cup. I remember staring at him angrily, hating that he made me choose between my future and my past. I threw the bottle angrily into the dumpster and he just smiled at me while I told him he was mean. When I woke up the next morning, I found that on the top bookshelf in our living room, my bottle was placed in a fancy box, upright with a clear plastic cover so it could be seen. I understood on an instictive basis then that it was a symbol of my past, and that although I couldn't ever go back and use it, clutch it, hold it again, it would be there to be looked at, and that was comforting to me.
I told dad about this memory, and my understanding of it when I was eight. He was shocked at how clear and accurate that memory was, but he explained that the bottle wasn't placed there, in that box, as a lesson to me. Mom had cried about it, and had recovered it from the trash, putting it up there in that box so she could remember her precious 'miracle baby'. It wasn't an object lesson for me, but rather something to help her remember me as a baby. That was another lesson for me, about how one thing can be viewed so differently by different people.
If you think such a perfect memory is a wonderful thing, then think about the fact that 128 years after the first time I killed a man, I can still remember the sight of his shattered head, and the splattering on the wall behind him. I can still smell the sharp tang of gunpowder and my own vomit, and I can still feel that small, almost invisible trace of excitement and energy at that moment, the effects of the adrenalin pumping through my body, and I can still remember perfectly well it was at that moment that my childhood ended and my feet were on the bloody path that led me to where I am today, telling you now of my journey.
You have something I wish I could do, the ability to blur my memories and forget the past.
"You boys come with me." Captain Williams said as soon as we entered the base facility. Connors just nodded at us as he took off down the hallway towards the tent grounds. We followed the short officer as he led us into the Officers Mess, and pointed us towards two seats that had hamburgers and french fries waiting.
"I'm not that hungry." I said as I sat down, my stomach still roiling slightly.
"Eat." Captain Williams ordered in a firm voice, and then softened a little. "Trust me, your mind may be telling you that you are not hungry, but your body needs feeding. Eat."
"Yes sir." I said reluctantly, pulling up the bun and seeing that it had been prepared just the way I liked my hamburgers. Replacing the bun, I picked up a french fry and ate it first.
"When our soldiers enter combat situations it is usually after having months of psychological preparation in boot camp, and more months in training." The Captain said as we began to eat. For some reason, after that first bite I felt my hunger returning and actually took a bite of the hamburger. It was pretty good.
"You don't have the luxury of that training in your past, so you're going to have part of it in your immediate future." The Captain said, and I looked up from my hamburger at him curiously.
"I thought we already were getting some of that training?" I asked him and he smiled.
"You've been playing a little, learning a little." He said. "Now we're going to rev up the pace even more. I've developed a new schedule for you both."
"I take it we don't have much choice in this?" Henry asked.
"No, you don't." Williams said with that weird grin of his. "When we got the radio message from the Colonel, he also mentioned that the General made your presence here official. Major Jennings suggested we treat you like cadets brought onto active duty. Both the General and the Colonel agreed. Right now West Point is empty, the cadets that were there performing duties similar to what you're both going to do be doing, while also still receiving training, as you will be."
"Okay." Henry said. I noticed he'd already finished everything on his plate while I still had a few fries left. "What exactly does that mean for us?"
"That means you'll be starting a training regimen I've been working on the past few days." Captain Williams said. "I've been thinking something like this would occur ever since I first saw you two on duty. You've got brains, and until now you both have been playing with that intelligence, toying with what you've been gifted. I talked to the Colonel about both of you the other day. You've both insisted on not being advanced in school because you wanted to be 'normal' kids, but at the same time you've been reading more advanced books, and using your intelligence in little games with your schoolmates and your family. We're going to harness that, and teach you to use your intelligence in ways you never imagined."
"You are nothing like I thought you were." I managed to mumble in my surprise. This was nothing like I had expected Captain Williams to be when I first met him.
"You thought I was a petty bureaucratic officer that was pissed at having two pipsqueak kids messing up my duty shift?" He asked rhetorically. I could only nod in response and he grinned. "Okay, boys, tell me what the difference is between the National Guard and the regular Army?"
"The National Guard is made up of part-time, reserve soldiers." Henry said immediately.
"They usually have duty one weekend a month and do some training during the summer unless they get called up to help with a crisis or to fill in for the army." I said.
"Yes, so have either of you given thought to what the soldiers around you may do in their civilian lives?" Captain Williams asked, and we both shook our heads. I wondered for a moment how I could have been so stupid to not realize that these people were more than just soldiers. I'd just seen them working as soldiers and forgotten they were more than that!
"That's what I thought." Captain Williams said as we shook our heads. "For your information, I'm one of the most feared Prosecutors in this state. I have put more people behind bars and on Death Row than any of my colleagues. Sergeant Connors, your babysitter of the past week, is a high school P.E. teacher and assistant football coach at Downey High. Major Jennings is the Vice President of Administration at the community college."
"Wow." Was all I could think to say in response to his words.
"Exactly." Captain Williams said with that damn grin. "The Major is going to get a hold of some faculty members from the college. You're both going to get a regular education as well as a military education. Tonight is going to be your last night on night shift. The only reason you were assigned to that shift was so I could keep an eye on you and because it really is the quietest shift. Tomorrow is Sunday, the day we try to keep things as easy as possible for the troops. We're having a movie in the media room that you might enjoy. Try to rest up tomorrow as much as you can and make sure you're in your bunks by 2100 hours. Reveille is going to be at 0500 for you Monday morning. I understand that your sleep cycle might be messed up the first few days, but you'll adjust fairly quickly."
"What will we be doing next week?" Henry asked.
"Starting next week you'll be starting a training regimen that will last for the foreseeable future. We may not know everything that is going on like the Colonel does, but most of the officers have come to the conclusion that things aren't going to be resolved as quickly or as easily as we hoped. You'll be getting up at 0500, and on the grounds for PT at 0530. You will now eat all your meals in the Officers Mess. Breakfast is at 0715, after your PT. You can shower after breakfast. You will have training from 0800 to 1200 in the Operations Center. You'll be working with our controllers instead of your old duties. We've found two people from the induction center who can handle those duties now. Lunch is at 1200 hours. From 1300 hours to 1500 hours you will have training, primarily with Sergeant Connors and members of his squad since they primarily serve as security for this compound and the surrounding vicinity. From 1500 to 1700 hours you will have classes. Right now, they'll be taught by Major Jennings and Captain Overton. Those classes will be college-level courses. We're hoping next week that we'll be able to arrange more traditional teachers for you. You'll have dinner after that and then at 1800 hours you'll have more duty in the Operations Center until 2000 hours. You have free time after that and 2100 hours. Of course you'll have homework from your classes so you'll probably spend most of your free time doing homework."
"Oh crap." Henry moaned and I felt like moaning as well.
"You two want to change your minds and go back to your dad's church?" Captain Williams asked in a reasonable tone, and I realized he knew the answer to that question as well as we did.
"No sir, we don't." I answered and Henry nodded his agreement.
"Good, then head your butts down to the armory tent." He said and we nodded quickly. We rose quickly as well, putting the dirty trays away and headed out to the armory tent. The sergeant on duty there was one we knew only vaguely. I was surprised when he didn't have us turn the pistols over though, just handing us each a box of ammunition and then some forms for us to sign for custody of the pistols. His only remark was that Major Jennings had stopped by himself to tell him to assign the pistols to us permanently.
I thought that the afternoon before our duty shift would pass slowly, but when we returned to our room, I fell asleep the moment I sat down on my bunk. Henry fell asleep as well, because it was Captain Williams that woke us up just before dinner. He didn't yell at us, or even seem upset that we'd been asleep, he just told us gently to get cleaned up and ready for dinner.
At dinner we both ate a little less enthusiastically than normal, and the conversation of the officers around us seemed a little bit more muted than normal. There was another difference though, one that wasn't immediately apparent, one that was so subtle I didn't quite catch it until the evening news broadcast from the federal government appeared on the television. While the President informed the population, and many of the armed forces personnel about the little fact that combat was taking place between US forces and forces from most of the other countries in the war, I pondered that subtle shift in how these soldiers were treating us.
Always before they'd been nice to us, and treated us usually in a very friendly manner. The closest thing I could think of to describe how they had treated us was like mascots. It wasn't just the officers though; even the enlisted men like Sergeant Connors had treated us like we were some type of mascot. Tonight though, the officers had treated us more like little brothers that had experienced a very bad day. I wondered how accurate these thoughts were, and if they would hold true with the enlisted men.
Duty that night was different as well.
Captain Williams met us as we came in, and I noticed immediately that the desk we normally worked at was gone. He explained to us that computer connections to the different networks had been made in a different room now and that we would be beginning our work with the operations controllers that evening. We both started with different military controllers who were monitoring the various patrols around the town and the county.
The work was both boring, more boring than the data entry had been, and more exhilarating. It was also much harder because there was a lot to learn. Fortunately, there were guide books each controller had nearby to refer to as different situations appeared. By the end of the shift, I'd absorbed about half of the book and was looking forward to the rest. I made a mistake the first time I made a radio transmission, but I was almost certain no one noticed because they didn't laugh.
When we got back to our room, I was tired, but not exhausted like I had been the rest of the week. That was a very good thing because Sergeant Connors was waiting for us. He asked us to show us the pistols we had, and when we had handed them over he began to chew us out, in a very low voice, for not having cleaned them yet. In an angry, but controlled voice, he had us sit down, take out the cleaning kits he'd given us a few days before and begin cleaning them immediately.
It was strange for me as I took the pistol apart and cleaned it, I felt a peculiar mix of emotions. Less than twenty-four hours ago, I had used this thing to take a life. I could see that Henry was having similar thoughts as he cleaned his own weapon, and the look on Connors' face showed that he was expecting that reaction from us. He didn't have to explain why, I understand intuitively that there was a danger here, a danger of becoming afraid of the weapon, and that was part of why we had been allowed to keep them, and why he was making sure we cleaned them (besides the fact that a gun that has been fired must be cleaned in order to work properly in the future).
After we had cleaned the weapons, he told us to get dressed in our PT gear, and then reminded us to strap on the gun belts before following him outside. I had noticed the day before that when we ran with the unit, they all had carried their weapons with them, and now we would be expected to do so as well. We stretched for a good twenty minutes before Connors ran us through some exercises. My muscles still hurt from yesterday, but as I warmed up I found the exercises felt good, and when we finished the run an hour later, I actually felt better than I had since we had gone to the airport.
After a breakfast in the Officers Mess, we went to the church service given by the Unit Chaplain. He was an older man, and his sermon was different than any I had ever heard before. It was given in the large tent that served as the Enlisted Mess, and we were sitting between Captain Williams and Major Jennings. The tent was crowded with nearly every soldier in the base there, except those on duty.
As we watched the movie after lunch, I pondered the religious service and wondered at why it had affected me more than any other service ever had. When they had sung some hymns before the service, the music had possessed a rough edge that wasn't present in either the catholic services I'd attended for the past year, or the service I'd attended at the Colonel's church. It has seemed earthier, more familial than anything I'd ever experienced before. The sermon had seemed to touch on things that I'd never thought of before as well.
After lunch, as we sat in the media room watching one of the Star Wars movies, I pondered why that religious service had been more emotionally moving for me than any other I'd ever attended. It wasn't until the end of the movie that I realized it had been a sense of camaraderie, a sense of belonging that I had never experienced before. That evening, after dinner, Sergeant Connors took us out to the tent he shared with several men and taught us how to play poker.
Okay, we already knew how to play, but we didn't let him know that.
My theory on the differences in how we'd be treated definitely proved accurate as Henry and I discussed from time to time. We'd gone from being the 'Colonel's brats', a designation that only lasted the first day, to being mascots, to now being treated like little brothers of every man and woman in uniform there. Whereas before we'd been somewhat of the 'outsider' group, we were now treated as a part of their group, and that helped keep me from having nightmares.
On Monday, we began our new schedule and quickly found that it was no where near as easy as anything we'd ever done before. For me, personally, I felt like I was being stretched out thin by the end of the day. The only difference from the schedule Captain Williams had set out for us is that we had a private dinner with Colonel Jacobs in his office.
He there told us that the two intruders at the airport had snuck in when the noticed the tanker trucks arriving. They had guessed correctly that a high-ranking officer would appear there and had planned to shoot the highest ranking person they found. They had hidden inside part of the baggage x-ray machine in the baggage room when the original sweep had taken place, and had almost got a shot at the Colonel when he had went out of the building towards the main entrance of the airport. Fortunately they hadn't gotten a clear shot at us when we were sitting and talking, neither had they been able to hear most of what we had talked about.
The man I had killed was Eric Turner's father and had been part of the neo-Nazi groups that centered just outside of town on the north side. They considered this crisis was a ploy by the military to take over and had decided to take out any military leadership they could. Their compound, in a small town just to the north of us was a near fortress that the National Guard had just watched since this all began. They were too well armed for a direct confrontation without casualties, and the few police forces in their town had been massacred on the first night the troubles began.
For now, there was nothing that could be done except watch them in case they moved out in force. Police and Guard forces would be assigned to watching them and trying to intercept anyone that left their area. Eventually, they would be dealt with, and harshly, something that satisfied me greatly.
Eric Turner was being held in the City jail facilities, in isolation.
His comment about me being dead, according to the Colonel, had been because the leaders of this group claimed that civilian leaders protesting the military takeover had all been shot and killed along with all their families. Since my dad had been considered one of those leaders, Eric had been told, as had all the children in this group, that I was brutally murdered. That explained his reaction, and only made me angrier at how this group of people was lying to their people for their own good.
Our 'classes' that day had actually consisted of placement tests administered by Captain Overton, a black female officer that was a mathematics teacher in the civilian world. I noted with amusement that they were placement tests from the college, not from a high school and we took four of them during the two hour period of classes. I also noticed on the forms that they had normally supposed to have been given over the course of an hour. She had just given them to us, and then given the next to us when we were finished.
Tuesday passed much the same, except this time we saw the Colonel in the Operations Center, taking the morning watch. It was amazing to me how different everyone acted when he was the room. Everyone seemed to vibrate with a little extra energy, a little extra attention to detail on whatever they were doing. The watch standers we were assigned with paid extra attention to us, testing us on our understanding of the material in the procedures manual, testing us on acronyms, and paying very close attention. As the time came close to lunch, and our departure, I felt the presence of Colonel Jacobs standing near us, listening as we actually used the radio headsets to communicate to a unit in the field. Corporal Thomas, my trainer, was on the circuit making sure I did the job correctly, but didn't say anything until I was done, giving me a soft congratulation on a successful transmission.
It felt good when I looked over my shoulder and saw the approving smile on the Colonel's face. Henry also received a smile and looked at me with a big grin on his face.
That afternoon we were at the gun range with Sergeant Connor's platoon. It wasn't easy taking the rifle and sighting on the man-shaped target, but after the first rounds were fired, it became easier. I knew that it was something I might have to face again, shooting a human, and although it would never be easy, I knew now I could do it, and would if the situation required such action. It didn't make the dreams any easier though, and I had a few each night, but they something I could deal with, a reminder of what it meant to have a conscious.
Dinner that night was once again with the Colonel, except this time Major Jennings was also there. It was mostly those two men who talked that night, discussing the tanker that had docked in L.A. and was now being offloaded. Fuel would be moving out from there soon, protected by military escorts and replacing at least some of the supplies that had been taken away the weekend before on those planes.
They also discussed food distribution, and the sort of farmer's markets that were cropping up on the edges of town. Farmers were coming into town, and trading everything from fresh food to household items that didn't require power or gas to operate. They weren't taking money for their goods. No, they were taking everything from cans of gasoline people had hoarded from their cars (or stolen), to items that they couldn't get on their farms.
There were only two of them operating so far, but in all likelihood they would grow in number and size the longer things continued as they were. The two senior officers in the area discussed how to handle the situation. Both thought that they were actually good things, but the trading of gasoline (as well as conjectured future trading of kerosene and especially propane, something most farms used for a lot of purposes) would only continue to grow. The government was taking supplies from these farms, fresh fruits, vegetables and other food items in return for future 'credit' and plans in the future included paying off the 'credit' to the farmers with fuel when it became more available. Farm equipment used a lot of fuel, and paying off part of the 'credit' the government owed them by providing fuel was a good way to keep them producing.
"These farmer markets are another way of paying them back, although not directly." Henry had said. "They can make their lives easier while still feeling like they're getting something for what they're doing. It makes the military less like their oppressor and more like their helpers. We give them fuel in return for a large part of their products. They also get a future 'credit'. You know that most of them have huge loans that right now, they don't have to pay and with the government 'credits' they can hope that they will be able to get out from under those loans in the future. Then they get to sell more stuff in these markets getting what they want. It might also make for a good thing for the people in the city as well. We should encourage them and maybe protect them with a couple of police and maybe a vehicle or two from the Guard."
"I think Cadet Jacobs has the right idea." Major Jennings said with a broad smile for Henry. "Most of the farmers are coming armed, but the opportunity for a desperate person to try to force something at gun point could be too much. We'll provide security, but not stop anyone who has personal defense weapons."
"It's like the Old West all over again." Colonel Jacobs said with a frown. "It'd be a lot safer for our people if half the people weren't toting guns around with them now."
"We just make sure they know if they shoot at us, they'll die." Major Jennings said and I couldn't help but nod in agreement.
I noticed Henry watching me as I nodded in agreement with that, and wondered for a moment what he was thinking. His hair cut, as short as mine, had changed his appearance slightly. It was no longer that shining mop of golden blond I remembered from that day I first met him, and the bags under his eyes showed that he was as tired as I was.
That tiredness was soon becoming my constant companion. Even though I was finally sleeping a full eight hours a night, my body was constantly exhausted, and my mind was almost numb as I took in information and tried to process that information. Always before I'd been able to learn at my own pace, reading dad's books voraciously, and then taking days to process what I read. Now I was reading, and being shown things, and expected to instantly comprehend them.
On Wednesday, Captain Overton had no more tests for us. Instead she had the results of the tests we'd already taken. It was very interesting because I'd never really taken a test to examine my abilities since the third grade. That was when I'd started reading my father's old text books, and when I'd refused to let them advance me a few grades. Henry had told me it was much the same for him as well.
As I expected, my weakest area was naturally English. Henry's score in that area was much higher than mine. We both scored equally well in Mathematics and sciences. Based on the scores, Captain Overton was going to develop a curriculum for us to study, and from the grin on her face it was not going to be easy.
On Friday, Sergeant Connors had us actually run through the House Search exercises with his squad. We both did extremely poorly, either shooting at a 'good' target or not shooting a 'bad' target several times. That night was the first time I woke from a nightmare, and poor Henry got woken up by screams as well.
I also found out that the military didn't really operate on a five-day work week. Saturday was considered a normal operational day. Individual units would receive 'off-days' during the week where they could relax, and Sundays, for units not on patrol or watch duties, would usually be a 'relaxed routine' day. It was that next Sunday that saw our first visit back to the Colonel's expansive church compound.
The Colonel had made small comments the entire week about me, and how I fitted, or did not fit, into the church he led. I knew what he wanted, and had mentally debated over what I should do. I didn't feel comfortable with what he was wanting from me in that regard, but at the same time I did want to make him happy. It was Henry, on Saturday night before we went to sleep, who helped me through this personal crisis.
"You know Dad wants you to make a public profession of faith tomorrow, don't you?" Henry's voice was soft in the room, and I was reminded that it was so small I could reach out my hand and touch him if I wanted to. We'd been living for two weeks now in such small confines that on those rare moments when he wasn't nearby I felt half-naked.
"Yes, I figured that one out." I said sourly. "I'm just not sure."
"You know, I was raised the good little preacher's kid." Henry said softly. "He's been a preacher for as long as I can remember, and whenever we were in public we had to be the perfect family. I still remember when I was five and threw a temper tantrum at a church picnic. He took me aside, where no one could hear us. He was angry, and he was gripping my arm so hard it hurt, but when he spoke to me, his voice was soft. He said: 'Henry, you can't behave like this. It's not fair to you, but it is the way things are. I'm the Pastor of our church, and because of that people look at me, they look at mommy, they look at you to be examples to them of how God wants them to be. When you misbehave in public, you're letting them down, showing them something that God doesn't want them to see. I know it's tough, I know sometimes you don't feel like being a good boy, but you have to be nice to them, always sharing your things, at least in public where they can see you. You don't have to like the other kids, but they have to think that you do.' I can still remember those words today. When I was ten, we talked about religion, and we talked about faith. I had a lot of questions, and I wasn't satisfied with his answers. I wanted to know more. I remember it was from me reading the big bang theory and thinking about the creation story in the bible."
"I remember challenging my dad on the same thing when I was eleven." I said with a wistful smile.
"Man, you can be slow, can't you?" Henry teased me, and although the room was pitch black, I could see the smile on his face. "Well, he'd been dropping hints about me making a public profession of faith for over a month, and I'd decided to challenge him on faith, and why I should even think about making such a profession when I had so many questions."
"What is it with you Baptists and your public professions of faith?" I asked in slight frustration. It was not something I really understood.
"I think it's a lot of things, really." Henry said. "Part of it is introducing the 'new believer' to their new community, the church. Part if it is a ritual affirmation that all the members of the church are united by a common belief system, that they belong together. You can't back down, claim you never were a part of the church if everyone saw you stand up and affirm your faith in front of them. It also affirms the belief of the church members of themselves when they see someone making that profession of faith. It tells them they are right in their belief, that they are part of a thriving, growing body, that they are not alone."
"Deep." I said slowly, trying to absorb his statements.
"Dad told me something then, though, that made me think harder." Henry continued. "He told me that he didn't want to pressure me to believe the things he did just because I was his son, but that we also had to think of the church. He'd just taken over this church a few years before. A lot of the leading church members were concerned because membership had been declining in recent years. They look at their children as the future, the continuation of their faith and their way of life and when kids started getting to be teenagers they expected to see the kids make a profession of faith, to make a sign that they would be continuing the church in future, but because I was the preacher's son, they expected more of me at a younger age. He told me that he wouldn't hold it against me if I made a profession even if I wasn't sure. He doesn't expect me to be a preacher like him when I grow up, although he wouldn't object if I did. But he reminded me how we had to show a proper image for the church. The next Sunday I went and made that public profession and was baptized a week later. It really sealed his position during that time and helped him convince them to follow his lead when he wanted to make some changes."
"So it's more about politics than anything else." I said slowly.
"You've listened to me gripe about having to always present a certain image and how much I hated that." Henry said slowly. "Now that you're part of the family, the same rules apply to you. I saw dad for a few minutes tonight when you were in the bathroom. He told me that he was hoping I'd share the lectures he'd always given me about the image a preacher's family had to maintain with you because he was so busy and most of our contact with him was focusing on military stuff. He said that he thinks of us as both being his sons and wanted me to help you get use to some of this public stuff. You're kind of use to it with your dad, and it's a little different in a preacher's family."
"Yeah, I noticed that." I said, still unsure of things. "So you're saying he doesn't really want us to follow his beliefs?"
"No." Henry said instantly. "He wants for us to share his beliefs, because he really does believe them. He believes he is right and that he's doing what God wants him to do. But he doesn't want to force me, us, just because we're his kids. As long as the image we project to the church, and people in general, fits into the mold of what people expect, he gives us more latitude personally. If you ever really want to talk religion with him, you can and he'll love every second of that. He loves theological debate, but he also knows that we live in a real world that means we sometimes have to do things that aren't exactly what people expect from leaders of the church. He wants everyone to believe in God, in Jesus, and to follow the laws of the bible, but he also wants them to come willingly."
"I still don't understand how he could let what happened with the Mayor's son happen with you." I said, and realized that little tidbit, of how Colonel Jacobs had allowed the Mayor's son to have sex with Terry just for blackmail, was bugging me still.
"He'd never have used anyone else in the church for that." Henry said in a small voice. He'd always worried I'd reject his friendship because he had told me about that, and even now it was weak spot for him. "He used me because he knew I could take it without freaking out too much. He believes that sometimes sacrifices have to be made, and that dirty tactics have to be used to overcome those that use them themselves. The Mayor had been trying to get dirt on dad for a year before that crap happened because he saw dad as a political threat. Now the Mayor's on dad's side. I could have said no, I could have not let it happen and dad wouldn't have been mad at me at all. He was glad I was willing to help him, but he also didn't want it to happen at all. I actually kind of talked him into it at the end."
"Oh." I said, and I heard him turn in his bunk. I looked and the dark shadow of him in his bunk seemed to be scrunched up against the wall. I felt a sympathy for him growing inside of me, and I wondered if maybe he was I didn't want to continue those thoughts because they made me far too uncomfortable, so I moved on to something else.
"So he just wants something public from me for now." I said. "I'm new to his family and my dad was somewhat of a sore subject probably for some of his church members. I was raised in a catholic family, but now the Pastor's taken me into his family."
"Exactly." Henry said with a voice that sounded more relaxed. I could hear him moving on his bunk as he relaxed as well. "That's all that he's looking for right now, although if you ever do feel like you want to do it for real, he'd be even happier."
"What do you believe?" I asked him quietly.
"Honestly, I really don't know." Henry's voice was very quiet now. We'd never gone this far in our discussions of religion, to sharing what we really believed. It had been almost taboo for us based on his dad's job. "I guess you can say I believe in God. I don't know how I couldn't, but everything else, I just don't know. None of dad's answers to my questions have ever been able to convince me, and I've never really felt that spark of belief that he talks about. Sometimes I wonder if God even likes me."
"Me too." I said, and we both started laughing softly.
"As in god liking you or liking me?" He asked after a few moments of laughter.
"Both." I said, and our laughter grew a little louder. "After everything in the last week, I just don't know. I feel guilty sometimes about not grieving more for my parents and my sisters. I miss them, but I'm so busy that it's not like all-consuming like I thought it would be. I have some bad dreams about shooting that man, and that one real nightmare, but at the same time I don't feel guilty about it really. I feel bad sometimes, but not evil or like a murderer."
"I don't think I'd be taking it as well as you." Henry said. "All I did was shoot the school bully, and after the number of times I dreamed about doing just that, well it was kind of anti-climatic actually doing that. What scares me though is that I really was aiming for his heart, I was trying to kill him and he's just a kid like me. I think about the things you said though. You know, about having to protect people, and it makes sense. A lot of sense. I've never met another kid as smart as we are, and you know, I think that when we finish growing up we'll be smarter than a lot of the people around us, and I think they know that too. You know that when this is all over, Dad, and people like him are going to be in powerful positions. They're going to have a lot of say in how things work from now on. The mormons in Utah may have seceded from the US, but Dad and the others are going to change it from within. A lot of things the liberals have been gaining, and fighting for, are going to be thrown out the window when the oil crisis is over."
"I know." I said softly. "I don't really agree with all of it as well."
"Neither do I." Henry said. "But you know, being Dad's sons, and you know he thinks of you as his son now even though it's only been a few weeks, we're going to have a lot of influence when we grow up."
"Yeah, looks like we have West Point to look forward to when we reach eighteen." I said sarcastically. "My father is probably rolling over in his grave at the thought, but I don't think we can escape that now."
"We'll spend a few years on active duty afterwards." Henry said softly. "Get married on the way, and then what?"
"If we don't really like the changes, we'll have to move into politics then." I said. "It seems like forever, thinking this far ahead. Almost like a story about the future."
"Dad told me he never really knew what he wanted to do until he joined the Army." Henry said softly. "He met mom then. One of his buddies committed suicide one day and dad went to see the chaplain about some nightmares he was having. It was then that he decided he wanted to be a preacher. He went back to school, studied theology and started from there. He joined the National Guard though because it was something Grandfather always wanted for him."
"Where are your grandparents?" I asked, never having heard about them before.
"Dad's dad was a general in the Army and died a few years ago." Henry told me. "Grandma died years ago. My mom's parents live back east. Her dad's the CEO of a major corporation; I don't even know what one. They disowned mom for marrying a poor Army officer and apparently got even madder when he became a preacher. I've never seen them or talked to them, or even received anything from them for Christmas or my birthday."
"Oh, I'm sorry." I said softly and he chuckled.
"So, did this help at all?" He asked me and I sighed audibly.
"Yeah, I'll do the whole profession of faith thing tomorrow." I said softly. "One thing though, will you help me out?"
"Sure thing, bro." Henry said softly. "You know, I always wanted a brother or a sister. I use to be angry because mom couldn't have any more kids after me. I think the reason for that is my brother was already out there just waiting for me to convince him to be my friend."
"Thanks, bro." I said softly, for the first time referring to him as a brother and liked the fact that I really did mean that. Then a wave of sadness hit me. "I just wish my little sisters were here."
"So do I, Dylan." He said, and I heard his bed shift slightly. I didn't realize I was crying until he wiped the tear from my cheek. I gave into the sadness and the tears as he wrapped me into a tight, brotherly hug.
"Oh my!" Mrs. Jacobs said in a high-pitched squeal as we got out of the humvee. "Don't the two of you look so handsome?"
I blushed a bit as she rushed up, hugging each of us in turn and patting our cheeks. The woman had met me what, twice now? Yet she was treating me like I'd been a part of her family since I was born. My conversation with Henry came into my thoughts at that moment, and I wondered if this was her really, or an act?
"Let's get inside." The Colonel said. He was still dressed in his greenish camouflage uniform, with his Colonel's eagle on his collar. Both Henry and I were dressed similarly (although neither of us had any rank on our collars) and all three of us wore side arms. I wondered briefly about wearing a gun in church, pretty sure it was against some rule or another, but the Colonel had pointedly made sure we were armed.
We went inside to his office that was just off of the main sanctuary and I sat down rather uncomfortably on the couch next to Mrs. Jacobs. She had positioned herself between Henry and I, asking us several detailed questions about or week, and with a pointed look at her husband expressing a wish that we'd make it back to the church every week so she could see us. I almost felt smothered by her, especially since my mom had never been so overly expressive of her affection.
Not that she'd been remote or distant, she'd always hugged me and kissed me, but she never actually tried to cling to me.
"Wilma." The Colonel's soft voice interrupted her monologue and she looked at her husband expectantly. "I wanted us to have a brief conversation before the service actually started. This is really the first time we've all gotten together as a family since I took you boys to the base with me. I wanted us to discuss us as a family and make sure we all knew how each other felt about things. That morning, Dylan, I told you that we would look after you, and that you should think of yourself as part of the family. I know that it was a paperwork mistake that caused my soldiers to give you our last name, and you haven't seemed to object to that, something for which I'm grateful. But I want you to know that I meant what I said about you being a part of this family, and that I still mean that."
"Thank you sir." I said softly. "I have to tell you that I was very confused at first, and with everything that was happening I was feeling pretty lost. I don't feel lost anymore, and I have you and Henry, and Mrs. Jacobs to thank for that. I still miss them, my original family, I mean. I miss them a lot, but I feel like I belong to your family as well. At first I was uncomfortable when they gave me your last name at the base, but now it just feels natural. It's like being a Thomas is a part of the old me, the times before all this happened, and I know the world's changed forever and that part of my life is over. A new part is beginning, and I'm honored that you've included me in your family and your work."
"Oh, Dylan, that is so wonderful!" Mrs. Jacobs said in that gushing, girlish voice of hers. She had to let my hand go for a moment to wipe a tear from her eye, but she grabbed it again immediately and looked me in the eyes. "I don't know how much Dylan's shared with you about our family, but I always wanted to have another child, another boy or girl but I couldn't after Henry. You're a wonderful boy, and I was so glad when you and Henry became friends. I've met your mother at a few events over the last year and she was a wonderful woman. I know that I can't ever take her place, but I'd like to think she'd be happy if I watched out for you like I do for Henry. I'm really happy that you're willing to be a part of our family."
"You know how I feel already, bro." Henry said and I just smiled at him.
"Good, I feel better having discussed that." Colonel Jacobs said with a clap of his hands. He looked serious again for a moment as he studied me over those hands. "God works in wondrous ways, Dylan. He takes, but he also gives as he challenges us through our lives. When he took your parents from you, it was part of this trial we are going through now. I believe he is testing us, seeing if we are dedicated enough to his principles to stick to them through these rough times. Christian kindness alone requires that we help those in need, but welcoming you into our family has been nothing but a pleasure and honor for me. I know Henry has talked to you about how we are often in the public eye, and how we have to make sure that we always present a positive image to the people around us. I also believe that given your father's profession, you are familiar with that concept. However, if you're ever unsure, or have questions, please talk to us. I've always told Henry that no question is off-limits to ask, and I mean that for you as well."
"Thank you sir, I'll do my best to not let you down." I said softly.
"You haven't yet, son." He said with a fond smile and I returned that smile. "Now, I just want you to know this beforehand. I'm going to announce to the church that we've adopted you into our family as part of my call to our members to help out those around them. We've discovered that there are nearly two dozen kids without parents right now for whatever reason, and I'd like to make sure these kids have good homes. I've also talked to the Mayor and the proper paperwork will be filed with the civilian government once it gets back up and running to make our adoption of you totally legal. You can consider from now on that you are officially a Jacobs."
"That's good news." I said with a smile. "And I don't mind at all if you announce it to the church. Maybe it'll help those kids out. If they are half as lucky as I am, they'll have good homes."
"Well, now that family business is done, it's time for God's business." Colonel Jacobs said, and there was a subtle shift in his demeanor, and I realized that this was now Pastor Jacobs. "We'll enter the sanctuary from here. Wilma, you take the boys to your spot."
"How about a family prayer?" She asked in a soft voice, and he nodded. I soon found myself in a family huddle between my adoptive parents, and across from Henry who was grinning at me. As my adoptive father prayed, I took notice again of how different Baptists were in their prayers than the Catholicism, my only real basis from comparison. Even here in private, his voice was booming, full of vitality that while subtly present on base, only really boomed out here, in his church.
As we went through the door leading from his office into the church sanctuary itself, I suddenly felt very self-conscious. We'd all taken our hats off when we entered the church building, so I was very conscious that my hair was now very short and matched not only Henry's but the Colonel and Pastor's as well. Mrs. Jacobs was dressed in nice blue dress that must have contrasted with the greenish camouflage uniforms the three of us wore. As the door opened, we'd heard the murmur of over five thousand people quietly talking to those around them. All the balconies were full, all the pews except for a single spot near the front were packed, and there were hundreds more people lining the walls and spaces between the pews.
The murmuring ended as we entered the huge room, and there was the sound of people shifting in their seats as they turned to look at us. Suddenly I became very self-aware, and nearly started shaking in fear. I'd never had so many people looking at me at one time, and in a near panic I looked at Henry who was standing on the other side of Mrs. Jacobs. He just smiled at me, and I relaxed a little.
No wonder he was so weird at times if people were always looking at him like this!
Mrs. Jacobs also seemed to sense my reaction as she reached an arm around my shoulder and helped guide me forward. When we reached the dais where the pulpit stood, Pastor Jacobs leaned over me, kissed Mrs. Jacobs on the cheek and moved up the three steps, stopping to shake hands with Pastor Thurell and a man I remembered as being the Music Director but who I'd never been introduced to either.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Jacobs led Henry and I to the empty spot in the front pew that I'd noticed earlier. Even as I sat down, I noticed that people were still looking at us, and I wondered how I hadn't noticed this the last time I'd been at a service here. Pastor Jacobs was saying something to the congregation though, and I turned my attention back to him.
"I must say that I am quite happy that our duties allow us to be here today." Pastor Jacobs was saying. "I also must thank Pastor Thurell for his steadfast work here in my place. I worried at first that I was away from you, my flock, during this time of need by Pastor Thurell reminded me that I had a greater duty to all of the people in our great city, and that he was more than capable of handling things here. I think he was worried I didn't have confidence in him."
That got a few chuckles out of the assembled people.
"But, we're here today and I'm honored to once again worship our Lord God in your presence. Now let's get started with some music." He finished, standing aside as the music director stepped up and everyone stood to sing the first song. I wasn't familiar with the words, and had to look on the hymnal Mrs. Jacobs had open. She had a beautiful voice, I noticed, and Henry's wasn't too bad either. I knew I could at least hold a tune so my singing wasn't too bad.
Once again, the service was quite different from what I was use to as well. Some of the differences was the report by Pastor Thurell on how many meals they had served in the last week, how many people were being sheltered (most of whom were watching through a video connection and I suddenly realized that everything was broadcast on television as well), and a request for help with a neighborhood outreach program that was being planned for the next week. That interested me a little, and I wondered if they were going to be given an escort. Then there were more hymns to sing, and then it was time for the Pastor to give his sermon.
This sermon was different than the hellfire and brimstone I had heard the last time. This time he spoke of duty to each other, and duty to those in need. He spoke of the need to maintain order during these times of trouble, and the sacrifices that had to be made by everyone. He used quite a number of bible verses, and tied them in wonderfully to his sermon. Part of me wondered how he'd had time to prepare this sermon and practice it, because it had the smooth polish of something that well-prepared and practiced.
Then came time for end of the service, when he and the pastoral staff stood and invited people to either 'Come to Jesus', join the church, or just pray. The line for this was long, and nearly a half-hour later I was still waiting. I knew that this was what he'd been wanting, hoping for, but something in me held me back. I thought back to the conversation with Henry last night, and the words that Pastor Jacobs had just spoken of duty hit a resonance within me. He'd welcomed me into his family, and with that came a duty. I realized that I could do this out of duty to him, and to my new family. I looked over at Henry as the last person in the line came up to Pastor Thurell, and the two knelt at the first step of the dais in prayer, and the man that Pastor Jacobs had been praying with stood, wiped away some tears and moved back to his seat. Henry nodded at my look and we stood together, locked arms around each other's shoulders and moved towards Pastor Jacobs who was smiling gently at us. I could hear a soft murmuring filling the huge room again, and the sensation of being on a stage made everything almost surreal as we reached Pastor Jacobs and he reached his arms around us, making us into small huddle.
"Is there something you need, son?" He asked me, and for a moment I was at a loss for words. How do I go about this? How do I say I want to make the Profession of Faith he wanted, but that I still had some doubts?
"I " I started to say, but my voice faltered. I felt Henry's hand, still around my shoulder; give me a small squeeze of support, and my brain seemed to unfreeze.
"My family was never very religious." I started again, laying things out slowly. "When we moved here, my father started taking us to the Catholic Church so that people wouldn't criticize him or our family. I never took it seriously, but after these last few weeks, I've really had to think over a lot of things. One of the things I've realized is that I do believe in God. If there isn't a god, then everything here is such a waste. I can't even fathom a world like that. I'm not sure about everything else, but I do know that is what I believe. I also understand that as a member of your family, more is expected from me than would be otherwise. I'm here for that too."
"You and Henry are so much alike." Pastor Jacobs said slowly, and his smile was infectious. There was a tear in the corner of his eye that moved me for some reason.
"I told you, dad." Henry murmured, and I could hear suppressed mirth in his tone.
"Yes, you did, son." Pastor Jacobs said. "I also understand why you kept him away from our home for so long: To keep us from the temptation of kidnapping him! Still, while the circumstances of you coming to us are not what I would have liked, Dylan, I am so happy you are here. You're also right that our family has expectations to meet that most families do not. Normally I'd not ask more from you than what you've already told me, but if you're sure about making a public profession that you don't completely accept in your heart yet, I'll accept that and pray that in time, the lie shall be replaced with true belief. The fact that you have come to believe in God is itself a large step to make. I do have a question for you though."
"I'm ready." I said.
"I know that the Catholic faith baptizes babies, so you likely were baptized then, but as Baptists we believe that baptism is a symbol of your turning away from your old life and being reborn a new person in Christ. Are you willing to do that?"
"Yes sir, I am." I answered him. "You see, in many ways it is symbolic of my life at the moment. A few weeks ago, I was Dylan Thomas, son of an Elementary School Principal. Now I'm Dylan Jacobs, your son, and I have a different life ahead of me."
"Very fitting." Pastor Jacobs said, and then he closed his eyes, a signal I recognized as a preparation for prayer. When he spoke again, his voice shook with emotion, and for some reason that brought an answering emotion from me, and tears filled my eyes.
"Lord," He began, and then paused as if searching for words. "Thank you for bringing my son Henry into my life thirteen years ago. He has been a joy, and everything a father could hope for in a son, and I can never thank you enough for giving him to me. Now you have chosen to reward me with another son in Dylan. No man has ever been blessed as much as I in having not one, but two such excellent sons. As you've shown me, faith is ultimately a matter for the individual, and as your shepherd I cannot help but be glad to hear them admit your presence as a part of this world and their lives. I know that deceiving those who are members of the church is not something always desirable, but it is needed in these desperate times, so I ask your forgiveness in what we are about to do. I know that you will forgive me, and them, as they come in the fullness of time to understand your love and your power. I ask that you guide them, and me, so that your Will shall shine in our lives as an example to those who look to us for guidance. Amen."
With that, he raised out of the close huddle we were in and looked in the direction of Pastor Thurell. He nodded at the man who was his assistant here in the church before guiding Henry and I to a spot on the dais and sitting all three of us down on the steps. Pastor Thurell meanwhile had turned his microphone back on and was introducing a man and woman, both dressed in less than perfect clothes, who had come forward to 'accept Jesus as their Savior' I lost track of them as Pastor Jacobs began to explain what was going to happen next to me, and gave me some ideas on how I should respond to the questions and what he was going to say. I looked up at one point and noticed that the big screen in one corner of the dais was showing the three of us before switching back to Pastor Thurell. I hadn't realized that I had been crying enough that the tear stains were visible on my cheeks, and I wondered briefly exactly why I had been crying.
That was when I realized that I was crying because I really was closing the door on my old life. It had really started when he'd talked about baptism, and I realized how symbolic it would be of my life, and the changes that were happening. I remembered reading a book on the middle ages when I was in the third grade, and how kids as young as I was now were expected to have families, be and act as adults. I'd been glad then that I lived in a time when a kid could just be a kid. That had been part of my decision to not let my parents advance me a few grades then, because I was scared that if they did I would never get a chance to be a regular kid.
Now at thirteen I realized that fear had ended up become my reality. I also realized that a similar reasoning must have caused Henry to also want to be held back. Always being in the spotlight like this, always being watched by people, examined for the least flaw or 'bad behavior' would make anyone want to be as normal as possible.
Once Pastor Jacobs had finished his instructions, we'd remained sitting on the dais, ostensibly watching and listening to the people Pastor Thurell was introducing and talking with. All these thoughts had been running through my head, though, and I had missed most of them and was actually surprised when Pastor Jacobs stood, his arm helping me to my feet. We crossed the distance to where Pastor Thurell stood, and the man handed over the microphone as we reached his spot. I was very conscious of the cameras on us and resisted the urge to wipe his face. Pastor Thurell, and Henry both had tear stains on their cheeks, he noticed and neither was moving to wipe them away. A moment later a blue dress appeared in the corner of his vision and Mrs. Jacobs was wrapping him a brief hug before standing next to Henry. I was standing next to Pastor Jacobs, who had his arm wrapped around my shoulder in a half-hug that was almost uncomfortably tight.
"I've said many times that God works in mysterious ways, and even in those times that he tests us, he gives us gifts beyond measure." Pastor Jacobs said in a voice that was still thick with emotion. "I don't need to tell you of the troubles we face in these days. You have seen the riots that broke out in the first days, you have seen the homes and businesses burnt. We have all suffered in these days, and we have a long road ahead of us until we come out of these troubled times. Still, even amidst all of these problems, there are good things that happen.
"Henry may not appreciate me sharing this now, but I think it is time." Pastor Jacobs said, and I looked at Henry with worry. He just gave a very slight shrug of his shoulders, something the camera probably didn't pick up. "Four years ago, Henry tested extremely high on the tests given in that year to measure the potential intelligence of our children. Henry testes higher than 99% of the children given this test and we were encouraged to allow him to be advanced several grade levels. Henry asked us not to, however, wanting to spend his childhood as normally as was possible when his father was a preacher."
I was surprised that quite a few people chuckled at that joke.
"When the city school board was searching for a new Principal at El Vista Elementary School a few years ago, I was honored to meet a candidate whose son had also scored high on those same tests, and who had also chosen to remain at his current grade level. When Mr. Thomas interviewed for the position, I had a chance to speak to him about what it was like being the father of a son who was smarter than he was. I was most pleased when I was later informed that he had been awarded the position, and I had hoped that our sons would both become friends one day since they attended the same school.
"I was again very happy when my son did indeed become friends with young Dylan here." He continued after taking a deep breath. "I've watched their friendship develop over the last year and thanked God for providing my son a friend that he could relate to. Then, when the crisis began a few short weeks ago, my heart was troubled by the fate of Dylan's family. Mr. Thomas was killed by rioters on the first day, and his mother died along with his two younger sisters at the Hospital soon after. I reached out to Dylan at that moment, and invited him into our family, which in a way he had already become a part of, through his friendship with my son.
"For the past few weeks, both boys have been working at the National Guard Headquarters helping us in our efforts to maintain as much order as possible. Their work has been extremely helpful, and in recognition of their efforts, they have been accepted as Cadets, despite their young age. As a father, I could not be more proud of them. But today, Dylan has made me even more proud. He has accepted the official adoption of him into our family, taking our name as his own, and even more importantly, he as accepted our Lord Jesus into his heart."
There was a loud applause at that, and I felt my cheeks blushing severely. When the applause died down, Pastor Jacobs moved onto the questions he'd asked me, and I was surprised at how different my voice sounded as it was amplified over the speakers. It sounded different, a little deeper, and I realized that my voice was changing as well. It'd been breaking for the last month, but I hadn't realized it was starting to become so different.
After the questions were over, Pastor Jacobs issued his call to members of the church to help out other children who'd been robbed of their parents by the crisis. As the service ended, I once again took up station with them at the main entrance. This time nearly every man that passed shook my hand in a tight grip and the women all gave me smothering hugs. I was quite put out by it all and was grateful when we went up to the private room for a very good meal, once again roast beef (something I was to learn was a family tradition with the Jacobs family). I actually enjoyed getting to know Mrs. Jacobs. She had this funny way of talking, and she rambled on about anything and everything, but seemed to focus a lot on how the wives of the church staff were handling things, and she told several jokes involving children getting into places they shouldn't over the past week that made me laugh. We stayed there most of the afternoon and evening. Pastor Jacobs went to meet with several church staff and members during the afternoon, joining us for dinner a little late. After dinner, he insisted we watch the nightly news broadcast as a family, something that was almost surreal for me. We finally left for the base long after the sun had set.
By the time we got back to the base that night, I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and especially emotionally.
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