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Chapter 12 – Rock of Sages

May 29, 2012

Chapter Twelve – “Rock of Sages”

October 29, 1957, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota

“Look at his hair.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. As a last ditch effort to save the child, they had come to the base in the hopes that Air Force doctors might think of something that those back at home had not.

She had, because he had been ill, let his hair grow out. Besides the discomfort the sickly boy had dealt with every day, a trip as short as taking him to the local barber shop could be fatal. An extreme allergy to sunlight was what she had been told. The boy stayed in his room most of the time, in darkness.

Now, a local group of church volunteers had come by to, they said, ease her pain and usher the child into the next world. She had felt vulnerable when she had asked, “Why?”

Why? Did people who attended church three times a week really need another reminder? Need to suffer loss to recall the sacrifice of the Savior? How was it for the greater glory of the Almighty that they lose their only son? Hadn’t Jesus’ example been enough, changed things so it wasn’t necessary?

And now, this young nondenominational preacher was saying that the boy’s hair length was the reason for God’s wrath. She was both afraid of, and yet somehow angry enough to dare to have the thought: Hadn’t this son of a bitch read Job? Didn’t he know, “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”

She hadn’t much understood the doctors and their theories as to what was wrong. Something to do with heredity and some new discovery about recessive genes. The baby had inherited something that both parents carried but only in combination between her and her husband had it been activated in their child. A one-in-a-billion chance, they had said.

And now this jerk was blaming it on the boy’s appearance, as if God were some petty, cruel, codger who enjoyed hurting people. It seemed that the man’s own prejudices were making themselves manifest.

Her curt reply, which she had yet to form, was interrupted when the heart monitor flatlined. This had been the moment they were dreading and yet waiting for. Her husband, who dutifully drove her to church whenever she wanted and he was not otherwise on Air Force business, piloting a plane for Uncle Sam, had stepped outside for a cigarette. She knew, he was upset, probably crying. He needed to be alone to allow himself that indulgence of emotion.

The young preacher and his two younger and one much older parishioners launched into “Love Lifted Me.” The room was, of course, dark. Her son had just died in a hospital bed. It was all too much to take. She wanted desperately to tell these vultures, these perhaps well-meaning but ghoulish visitors to leave, but it didn’t seem appropriate. What if they were right?

In frustration, even before the tears could form, before whatever pain could take up residence in her heart only to leave a vast emptiness later, a hole the size of her dead child, she got up. Then she crossed to the window and pulled open, quickly and fully, in one motion, the curtains. It was what some called Minnesota nice, aggression but without the loss of civility. Somehow it felt like the thing to do.

As if nature, God or the Universe had set the scene, sunlight fell perfectly on the bed. It was like something out of a religious film and she found that somehow darkly comical. She almost regretted having done it, though. She supposed she had hoped the sudden brightness might change the hearts of her tormenters or, failing that, that they might just leave her to her mourning.

She sat aside all of those thoughts, however, when the heart monitor began its previous rhythm. It was shaky at first. Only a few beats within the first minute.

Then it became steady. She began to tear up.

It was not, however until the boy sat up, looking somehow healthier than he ever had, a color in his cheeks she had not seen since birth, his eyes not at all squinting in pain, that the tears ran so readily that it blinded her.

“Ma…can we go home now?”

She laughed in spite of herself. Allergy to the Sun, indeed.

She wiped the tears and looked to her confused visitors.

“You can go now. Your presence is no longer required. Thank you for your time.”

As they shambled out, she wondered how she would explain it to her husband, the doctors, and relatives back home. Then she wondered if she just wouldn’t. Let things speak for themselves.

“Yes, Braden, honey. Let’s go home.”


©2012 Christopher C. Knall

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