His name is Sam. He’s the boy next door. He’s lived next door to me since he was a kid. Now, he’s all grown up – mostly, and he’s joined the Army National Guard.
Smartypants spotted him in uniform last week and had a hard time reconciling this proud young man in the GI Joe suit with the teenager who used to blast his really bad music.
So, he had to ask:
“Are you a real army man?”
Sam smiled and answered, “Yes.”
Smartypants nodded looking duly impressed.
“So, you’ve finished your training now?” I said.
And a shadow crossed his face – briefly and then it was gone. With the chin up and back straight, he knows what I’m asking before I ask it. He tells me he’ll probably be deployed within in the next twelve months. He is expecting to spend a year in Iraq.
So, I said, “Well, a lot can happen within twelve months. Things could change by then. Let’s wait and see.”
He smiled again – and, of course, he didn’t believe me. Hell, I didn’t believe me either. But I said it anyway to make us both feel better – sometimes false hope is better than no hope.
Soon, we were parting ways.
“Sam,” Smartypants said in almost a whisper, “Thank you.”
Then, I went inside to cry – because Sam is grown-up and yet still the kid-next-door, because I am proud of him, because I don’t believe anything will change in twelve months, because a year in Iraq is a long damn time, because Smartypants has lived most of his life at war and understands too much… and because even if this young man is brave enough to overcome the shadow of fear – I’m not.