Death of a Hero

This is a short story I wrote while waiting for a family member to cross the threshold between this world and ??? Please let me know what you think of it.

Death of a Hero

            “Young Frankie Taub received the Silver Star for his actions that saved the lives of his platoon mates that terrible night in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Aleshia Whitman is a trauma nurse working in the emergency room of a Southside hospital in Chicago.  She routinely saves the lives of gunshot and stabbing victims. ‘Mostly gunshot,’ she tells us.  ‘It’s worse,’ she says, ‘than when I was in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Iraq. Much worse.’ “

            “Rowena Carpenter is a pediatrician who works for Doctors Without Borders.  She was the first of my students to go to medical school, but there were others.  And then there are the nurses, paramedics, policemen, firemen, soldiers, pilots and sailors all of whom are serving, or have served, their communities, states and country.  There was that short fat little boy, what was his name?  Tim? Tom? Tony? No, Terry, that’s right Terry.  He couldn’t run very fast and he kept falling down and hurting himself, but I encouraged him to keep trying and now he’s a Battalion Fire Marshal over in Cleveland.  He was so funny!  Perhaps the greatest thing I taught him was how to see the humor in his own situation.  Still, when he got his growth spurt in high school the girls weren’t laughing any longer. “ 

“There were so many of them.  So many Susan’s, Tommy’s, Doug’s, Keshawn’s, Madison’s and Brittany’s.  Oh yes, lots of Madison’s and Brittany’s.  Then the Jordan’s.  I wonder why there are so many Jordan’s, is it Michael Jordan?  Maybe.”

             “But I couldn’t save them all.  Poor John, dead of an overdose before he was out of high school.  No, wait, he had already dropped out of high school.  He was such a lovely little boy but his parents…yes parents are so important.  Maybe if I had worked harder with his parents…”

            “And then young Jalyn.  I knew he would be a problem, but I had no idea he would end up in prison.  I wanted to help him. but his anger problems just kept getting worse.  I wonder, was it chemical, or had something happened to him that made him so angry? If only…”

            “I’m feeling a little drowsy.  Maybe if I just close my eyes a bit. Wait, my eyes are closed. Oh, I suppose it’s the morphine.  I did hear them tell my family the morphine would make me more comfortable but that I might come and go.  ‘Come and go,’ that’s an interesting phrase…’Come and go.’  It’s more going than coming, isn’t it?  They’re making my ‘going’ comfortable.  It’s true the pain is gone.  That excruciating pain in my head.  I had no idea that the term ‘seeing stars’ had an actual origin of seeing stars but I did.  Red, blue, and bright white stars, actual five-pointed stars, swirling like a galaxy in my head; and the pain, the pain was just unendurable.  I wonder what caused it.  A tumor? No, I heard them say in intensive care that I didn’t have a tumor.  I’m a mystery…but maybe just a little rest and then I can think again.  The morphine makes me feel… what was that poem?  It makes me feel like a floating leaf coming down from the crown of a very tall tree; how did it go?

Small circles I make as the air beneath me spills unevenly 

I dance upon the unseen currents

Left, then right, slightly up, but always down

Down to join the others 

I began tightly wrapped in winter, then,

Burst forth with my siblings

Red in the morning’s light

Then green, and work began

Spring through Summer and into Fall

We brought life to our host

And then, as we began

Red we became again

Now, a bronzed brown, I lay upon the grass

Itself a shade of caramel

The process of reincarnation has begun

And resurrected will I be 

In another form, but always me

            “Yes, that is how it makes me feel.  ‘Resurrected’ that’s a nice thought but now I feel the need to sleep.

She didn’t move but her eyes fluttered a little.

            “She’s asleep,” her husband said, “At least she’s not twitching anymore.  I feel so badly that I can’t help her.” 

            She wasn’t asleep just yet and she heard him. She wanted to tell him that he was helping her; that he had helped her the entire fifty years they had been married.  That just being there all those years and being here now helped.  But she couldn’t get her eyes open and the oxygen mask made it difficult to speak, still she tried.

            “Did she say something?” Her son asked. “I think she’s trying to say something.”

            Her husband took her hand and squeezed it gently. 

            “We’re here, Dear, we’re here.”

            She tried to squeeze back but the morphine had not only taken away the pain it had also made it difficult for her brain to send signals to her muscles.  Still her fingers did move slightly.  Most watching thought it was a spasm, but her husband knew.  Another tear spilled down his cheek from his already red eyes.

            Her eyes fluttered again as winged Morpheus lifted Hypnos and together, they took her with them into the realm of sleep.

                                                ———–          ———–

            “How long have I been asleep? Or have I been asleep at all? If only I could get my eyes to open and focus.  Was I dreaming?  No, I was remembering; remembering all my students.  The builders, the computer technicians, and then, of course, the teachers.  Yes, oh so many teachers? Tens, scores, maybe a hundred.   My daughter, my grandchildren, my nieces, we’re all teachers, even as our mothers and grandmothers were.”  

            Her hand twitched but this time it was not of her doing, still she didn’t notice for she was too deep into the memories of students.

            “Yes, I think I’m most proud of the teachers. It isn’t easy to be a teacher, especially a good one. So many children need to learn the skills to negotiate the boulder strewn fields and dark forests of the waking world.”  She thought of the waking world for she found herself in that space between the waking world and the world of nothingness.  The world where you are conscious but not conscious; the world where you float like a falling leaf but still think. 

            Fields of boulders surrounded by dark forests filled her mind’s eye and the thought that she had helped children learn the skills to find their way through those boulder strewn fields satisfied her.  That others had followed her lead and were now teaching those navigation skills pleased her even more.  

            “I have done what I could,” she smiled as a brief flutter of air flitted through the room. This time, however, it was not winged Morpheus, but other celestials who lifted her from the waking world. 

This story is respectfully dedicated to Persis, Julie, Doris, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Fielding, Mr. Deegan, Professor Rhys and everyone else who taught and continue to teach the skills to navigate those boulder strewn fields and dark forests of the waking world. 

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