Greg’s face beamed a big smile in the small screen at the Family Readiness Center on the base. We had a precious few minutes to talk. We had to try and get it all crammed in, Ronny, my beautiful 18-year-old son, and me. We crowded in to fit into the camera shot.
“I know enough not to ask where you are, Greg. It’s always on a ‘need to know basis’ and—”
“And you never need to know!” he laughed. His voice sounded small and artificial coming through the small speaker. So different from when this tough Marine Gunnery Sergeant was in the same room with me.
Ronny said, “I bet it’s someplace dangerous. It’s always someplace dangerous.”
“Not as dangerous as your mother’s driving,” Greg joked.
“I hear THAT!” Ronny said.
“You keep yourself safe, you hear me,” I said. “You don’t always have to be the ‘one’ to be out there first and doing crazy things.” He had been decorated several times for bravery and also received two Purple Hearts.
“You know I got a secret guardian angel keeping me safe this time and pulling me home,” he said.
“Yeah, I know,” I said holding back my tears. I had a secret of my own that was tearing my heart out. One I wanted to tell Greg but couldn’t find the strength to.
“They’re telling me I have to go. Must be some fun they have planned for us,” Greg said. He was looking to the side, probably at another Marine giving him some info.
“So soon!” There was pleading in my voice.
“Duty calls,” he said. “Ronny, you take care of your mother. You have to fill in for me and be the man of the house while I’m gone. Whatever it takes, whatever needs to get done, you’re the man. Promise me you’ll take your responsibilities seriously and step up. No matter what!”
“I promise, Dad. Mom’s in good hands. You can believe that.”
“Greg, I need to tell—”
“Gotta go! Sara, I love you. Talk again tomorrow. Keep that miracle going and growing! That’s an order!”
The screen went blue with the words “Connection Disestablished” in big white words.
I said almost nothing on the drive home. I made myself a cup of coffee and sat silently at the kitchen table.
Ronny came in and sat across from me. He had just turned 18 and it was his last year in High School. This was the third high school he attended because he was an “army brat”— a kid who moved around because his dad kept getting stationed here, there, and everywhere.
He looked the spitting image of his father when I first met him. We were high school sweethearts, and I knew I would marry Greg the first time he kissed me. There was magic in it that had lasted for twenty-three years, and counting. I couldn’t believe how fast the time had gone by, and I couldn’t believe we were now 41 years old.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Ronny’s patience finally gave out.
“Just thinking,” I said, hiding the truth.
“C’mon, Mom, I know when something’s up. Is it Dad? You saw him today. He’s back to his old self. Nothing can hurt him when he’s like that. You know that!”
It was true. Greg had a sixth sense about his safety. He knew when he was invulnerable, and he knew when he was in danger of being hurt—or killed. Until recently, he had been in the sourest mood I had ever seen him experience. “I think this is it, Sara. I got a real bad feeling this time,” he had told me. He had never said that before.
Even when he got wounded, all he said before was, “I’m gonna get roughed up a little. Should be fun!” He had that sixth sense.
We had been trying to get pregnant again after he got his promotion. We waited before that. But, he got wounded in a place that made it “impossible” for us to conceive.
Impossible until two weeks ago, the day he shipped out. That’s when I gave him the good news: that I was pregnant. He was ecstatic and said the baby was a sign. It was his safe ticket home. It was the universe telling him he had more to do at home seeing his new child.
He was back to being the Greg whose face I knew I would kiss again, safe and sound.
“What’s wrong, Mom.”
I shook my head. “Ronny, I don’t know what to do.” He reached across the table and took my hand.
“I wanted to tell your father today, but couldn’t.”
“Tell him what?” He had concern and a little fear in his voice.
“Ronny, I’m not pregnant.”
“You … you lost the baby?”
“More like never had a baby. I’m sooo stupid!” Ronny didn’t say anything, and after a minute, I explained: “You know we’re tried to get pregnant again for a real long time. I won’t tell you all the details why.”
“Dad told me about how he got wounded and what happened. How you were the best for understanding and trying and everything.”
“I guess we both wanted to believe so bad we almost willed it to happen against all the doctors had told us. I was a little late—you know what that means, right?” I looked to Ronny and he gave an embarrassed nod. “So I used one of those tests and got a positive on it. I showed your father, and you remember that day.”
“Yeah, it was like the Fourth of July and Christmas all at once. Dad was bouncing off the walls.”
“He shipped out the next day, thinking … believing I was pregnant. Finally pregnant. Only the next day my body proved it wasn’t true. I went crazy! I tried to figure out what had happened.”
“Mom, I’m so sorry. What did happen?”
“After you take the pregnancy test by peeing on it, you wait a while and then look for a ‘plus’ sign to see if you’re pregnant. If it’s a ‘minus’ sign, you’re not. Well, after I left it there, my phone rang. It was your grandmother and we talked. When I came back, there was the ‘plus’ sign.
“I don’t see how a phone call can screw things up,” he said.
“I read up on all the ways the test can go wrong. One is if you wait too long. What was the ‘minus’ sign can sometimes turn into a ‘plus’ sign by adding what they called an ‘evaporation line.’ That happens if you leave it too long.”
“I don’t believe this!” Ronny said. “Dad—”
“I know, Ronny. That’s what’s killing me. I wanted to tell him today, but couldn’t.”
“If he finds out there’s no baby, he’ll go back to being sure he’s not going to make it. He’ll think that’s a sure sign.”
I nodded. Not only would he be disappointed he wasn’t going to be a dad for a second time, but he would start living a self-fulfilling prophecy about his own death.
“Mom, what can we do?”
I shook my head. I had been wrestling with this since my period two weeks before, and I had no answers. “It’s not like I can snap my fingers and be pregnant again, Ronny.”
“How about one of those artificial places.”
“Artificial insemination? They need the husband, the donor, to already have given his sample. You understand what I’m saying?” Ronny nodded. “Besides, that costs money, and everyone in this hick town would know about it. It would get back to your dad over the grapevine in no time.”
“What about, yanno, like just once, you, yanno—with some guy.”
“Ronald Alfred Bannix! Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Your father is the only one I’ve ever been with. I have to deeply love the person I do that with. What on earth were you thinking?”
“It would be better than losing Dad is all I’m saying. Telling him the truth is literally going to kill him. He’ll do things he shouldn’t in ways he shouldn’t, thinking it’s all ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ or all the stuff he believes keeps him safe or puts him in the crosshairs.”