He was laying on his back, looking up to a blue sky littered with puffy clouds and oblivious to what was going on around him. He knew it could possibly end this way, but nobody ever plans for it. Nobody ever really thinks it will be them until the time comes. He lifted his hand up and positioned one of the clouds in-between his thumb and pointer finger.  He pretended to move it across the sky while explosions went off around him, BOOM, BOOM! His imagination was strong enough to erase everything that was happening and place him somewhere else.

He passed the cloud to his 4 year old daughter as she laid next to him in their backyard. “Hey dad, do you think we will ever be able to really touch these one day?” she asked. Her long, blonde hair was sprawled out in different directions as she laid on top of the grass. He smiled, “You know, one day, I think we will be able to. You know, anything is possible.” She looked at him and smiled, then turned back to the cloud she was moving across the sky with her finger. “Ok you two, it’s time for dinner” her mother called out to them from the back door.  He stood up, extending his hand to his daughter. She reached out for it and he lifted her up and threw her in the air in one swift motion. “Ahhhhh!, daddy!” she cried with joy as she was being tossed in the air. Her mother stood at the back door, watching them and smiling herself, fighting back tears. She knew he would be leaving soon and moments like this had to be savored. She let them continue on as she went back into the kitchen. She crammed all of her cooking lessons in with her grandmother a few months before she got married. She grew up on soul food but never took the time to learn how to make the dishes. She heard one of their conversations in her head as she began preparing the plates of dinner for her family,

“One of the best ways to hold on to your man is good food and good sex”, her grandmother said. “Granny!” she exclaimed, “That’s just… ugh! You could’ve left that last part out!”  Her grandmother looked at her with wrinkled eyebrows, “What? Girl, you better grow up! How you think you got here? How you think I got your mother here?”  She shook her head as she responded, “I know Granny but dang, I don’t wanna even have those thoughts in my head about you” She smiled, “ummm, hmmm, well baby, I’m just tellin’ you what I know, I’m just tellin’ you what I know.”

It had been a few months since her grandmother passed away but she held on tight to every memory they had together. She loaded up her husband’s plate with generous portions of collard greens, dressing, sweet potatoes packed with marshmallows and pecans, macaroni and cheese and chitterlings ((known to most as “chitlins”)). She waited until her family was sleep to clean the chitlins the night before. The stench from them were strong enough to clear a house, but she withstood it, gagging a few times herself. A small sacrifice to make for her husband’s favorite food. Her daughter ran in the kitchen just as she was placing their plates on the table. “Mama, mama! Daddy turned into a zombie from Walking Dead and he trying to bite my arm off! Help me!” she said as she hid behind her mother. Her father walked lazily into the house, dragging his leg and groaning. He was playing the part flawlessly. Their daughter screamed again and pulled at her mother’s shirt. “Baby, can you stop scaring this little girl? You know she believes everything when it comes to you!” she said. He laughed and recollected himself. Their daughter relaxed and sat down at the table, picking up a fork and preparing to dig into the yamallows ((Sweet Potatoes are sometimes called, “yams”)). “Ummm, excuse me little missy, are we forgetting something?” her mother said. The little girl smiled, “sorry mommy” she said as she got up and ran to the bathroom. Her father walked over and grabbed his wife from behind and kissed her on the neck. He wrapped his arms around her tight as if it was the last time he was going to hug her. She melted. They had been married for three years but his job caused him to be away so much that it increased their love for each other when they were together. Shakespeare said it best, “absence makes the heart grow fond.” Their daughter ran back into the kitchen moments later, “Ok guys, my hands are washed and we can eat now.” She said it as if she was the reason the family couldn’t start eating.  She didn’t control the house but in a way, she was the glue that kept them together and they both knew it.  They smiled at her as they walked over to their plates at table. They joined hands as the man of the house led them in prayer. Their daughter peeked her eyes open as he prayed. She glanced at her father as he sat across from her. He had a low haircut and the face of a young boy. Earrings pierced the lobes on each of his ears and he had an old scar that was just above his jawbone. He was a rowdy teenager and he had gotten into a lot of fights. You would never be able to tell that just by looking at him. She squinted at her mother. She had her head bowed as long, black hair flowed from the top of her head down to her shoulders. She had given the thickness of her lips and flat nose directly to her daughter. She was a perfect mix between her two parents. Her father was finishing the prayer as she closed her eyes and reopened them again after he said, “Amen.”

It was family time. She didn’t completely know what her Dad did on his job but what she did know was that he was a hero. She hated when he was gone but she bragged to her friends at school about that fact. She looked up to him and he said he would always be there for her. “I love you, Daddy” she said before she took her first bite. He looked up, the warmth of her words fell right into his heart. “I love you too, stink.” She smiled back and bit into her yamallows.  To her, it was like having dessert before dinner.  It would be a semi-fight to get her to finish the rest of her food.  Her dad looked at her mother solemnly, then back to his daughter.  “You know, Stink, Dad has to go away for a little while again.”  She stopped eating and peered at him from across the table.  “But, why?  Why do you always have to go?”  He took a deep breath.  He explained himself to her the best way he could each time he left but it never seemed good enough for her.  “Stink, you know the things you get to do now? Like, go outside and play whenever you want to and go to daycare with your friends?  I have to help make sure you can still do that whenever you want.  Nothing is free.”  Suddenly, her yamallows lost their sweetness.  She hung her head low, attempting to hide the crocodile tears that were forming in her eyes.  Her mother grabbed her by her hand and pulled her closer .  Her Father left his plate untouched and joined them.  He bent down to her and she put her head on his chest.  She heard his heartbeat, BOOM, BOOM!  He held her tighter and squeezed their mother and she heard it again, BOOM, BOOM!

His family morphed into the blue sky he saw as he was laying on his back, hearing explosions going off all around him, BOOM, BOOM! The same cloud he was moving across the sky was gone. Soldiers were on the ground dead right beside him as explosions were going off continuously. He looked down at his legs, trying to move them but the feeling was gone. He reached for his dog tags and gripped them in his hand. On them, the names of the two women that mattered most in his life. He kissed them and one lonely tear fell out of his eye. He heard a foreign language being spoken by two men walking closer to him. This is a sacrifice that he was prepared for. To die for not only those he loved, but for everyone who lived.


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