On the day of my tenth birthday, my father came home. Just two days earlier, he had left to fight in the war. Since I knew the war went on and even got worse (Mom told me so), seeing him at the front door was weird, but of course we were glad to see him again. He didn't say anything to us. All he said was, “Don't ask questions!”
At dinner, Dad did not want to tell what had happened and what made him return after two days in the war. Mom, who watched the news all day since everything began, and even more so after Dad left in his uniform and carrying a bag, decided that from now on we would watch cartoons instead. “That’s also what daddy prefers.”
At night, though, his mood changed. While he was reading us a bedtime story, he began crying. Even though it was just a comic book about a crazy dog and the funny things he does, dad cried all the same. My brother asked him why he was crying and he said: “Because of you, boys!”
He explained how they were going to enter another country, and how he insisted that their vehicle was not protected. They would all have been killed if someone shot a missile at them.
Because it was the first vehicle in line and everyone was waiting for him, the commander shouted at him to get in. However, Dad insisted that such a vehicle should never be used in a war because it is not safe enough. We looked at each other and he said, “I told them I have two children and a wife.”
Jonathan asked him if he told the commander what our names were, and that he was taking a Judo class, and Dad said that he could say all kinds of things, but no one really listened to him. “Many people hear only their own voices during a war,” he said.
Dad told us that he was sent to a tent with a few other soldiers, and they all sat there waiting for an officer to come and talk to them. They were left to sleep in their sleeping bags because he didn't show up. However, the next morning, he woke them so early and told them to be ashamed of themselves. He took their names and soldier numbers and told them to leave the camp. He told Dad: “Now, you are out of the army.”
I had strange dreams that night. Jonathan also had trouble sleeping, and I believe we both thought about what it would be like if we joined the military one day and there was a war.
The next day, after Mom pleaded for us not to talk about all of this at school, Jonathan asked what would happen if one of the neighbors saw Dad from the window or outside in the backyard. She said Dad is now home and that it's not a problem, but she does not want us to talk about it.
On that day, I had a great day at school because, even though the teacher talked about the war for a long time, and one veteran of war came to explain to us what this was all about, no one mentioned my father coming after the second day. The kids welcomed me like any other day, and some of them asked if I got any big presents for my birthday. Also, my best friend Ruby and I won first place in the geography competition, and everyone was jealous of us. When I came home, Jonathan said that he had a great school day as well.
Then Mom got a call. Dad stood by her trying to find out what had happened. She whispered to him. As much as I wanted to hear, I was glad she stayed quiet. My suspicion was that this call had nothing to do with happy things. We had to wait until dinner to find out. The dinner was going to be the worst I've ever had.
Dad told us Ruby's father was killed in the war just as we were sitting down. He said he was a brave warrior. Also, Ruby's father was promoted after he died. “This is terrible news for us all,” he said.
The first thing I thought was that this news was a terrible one for Ruby, then his mother and their dog and then me, as I had been Ruby's best friend in school, and now he won't be the same. I asked Mom how he died and she said she didn't know and that our teacher, Mrs. Wills, who is Ruby's friend, had told all the parents in our class about the death.
“He should have been in your vehicle, right?” I asked Dad.
“No, no,” Dad said. There were thousands of them. I never saw him.”
“What kind of protection did his vehicle have?” I asked.
He started to explain the types of vehicles and armor in the army and a lot more to us. In my opinion, even though my dad was not a war hero, he was still by far the greatest expert of all about everything going on in the world.
“Poor Ruby,” My brother Jonathan kept saying all that evening.
All the kids in class were waiting for me the next day because I was Ruby’s best friend and even his only friend. When Mrs. Will spoke of this, she was in tears. Ruby will not come to class today," she said as most of us cried with her. Yes, even Lori, who had told Ruby countless times that she hated him.
The teacher offered that some of us would go and console Ruby's family the next day. I told my brother about this and he said he wanted to come along with me, and my Mom said this could be a great idea. My parents also planned to visit Ruby’s family that day, but later.
We sat at Ruby's house and watched his mother cry. I kept looking at her. My brother asked me after a while why I didn't talk much. "You and him are best friends."
I felt I didn't have the words to answer and I couldn't get them out. Then my brother whispered at me, asking if it's because I feel that Ruby’s father died in place of our father.
We walked home quietly.
It was evening again. Jonathan was in the kitchen talking to Mom when Dad walked into the room. I saw the book that I loved in his hand. Mom drew and Dad wrote this book. There is only one copy. Dad began reading it to me.
The fact that Ruby's father had died and mine is still alive, even though they both went to the same war, made me feel a little strange. It is actually Ruby's father who had the courage, and it is my father who didn’t, and if someone was worthy of a gift, like living until the age of 100, it was Ruby's father. Despite my anger, I kept listening to Dad. His voice was as pleasant as ever. A little shakier, perhaps.
“Good night”, he said,
“Good night,” I said.
He turned off the light and after he left I thought how lucky I am that my dad is alive, and how sad I am for Ruby. I only wished his dad would wake him up the next morning and surprise him. It was a terrible thought, but I couldn't think of anything else until I fell asleep.