"I WONDER IF PATRICK would like to go to Disney World when he gets home?" Deborah was looking through a travel book at the various resorts close to the Disney theme parks in Orlando. "I think it'd be a lot of fun to take a family trip."
"He said he wanted to go to any resort we could find," Dave said. He was pushing back in his recliner to watch the O'Reilly Factor when the phone rang.
"Looks like Patrick," he said when he saw the caller ID.
Dave heard his son's cheery voice. "Hey Dad, I'm countin' the days! We're on the backside, now. Word is we'll be headed for Kuwait by mid-March and home by April."
"Well it's only the 10th of February. Just stay focused until you're out of there. Don't lose your edge. It ain't over until you hit the USA."
"I know, Dad. Don't worry."
"We're going to Disney World when you get home," Deborah said, holding the extension.
"Sounds like a winner to me. I'm ready to be anywhere but here for a while."
"Just hang in there, bud," Dave repeated. "Just keep your head on straight. And don't forget how much we love you."
"Me, too, Dad. I gotta go. Tell everybody I love and miss 'em. I'll call you later."
Dave placed the phone back in its cradle, as Deborah wrote Pat called on the calendar, never thinking it would be the last time they'd ever speak to their son.
Two days later, after watching television until two o'clock in the morning, Deborah fell asleep on the sofa. By six a.m. she was awake, thinking she must have dreamt that someone was pounding on the door. Looking toward the window next to the fireplace she saw it was still dark. She was turning on her side to return to sleep when she heard the pounding again. This time she heard a male voice calling for Sergeant Major Tainsh.
She felt muddled, but finally realized she wasn't dreaming. For a split moment the thought crossed her mind that it was one of Dave's former Marines pulling an early morning prank. After eighteen years, some of them had contacted him a few weeks earlier. In the old days in California, there were times when one or two of them would knock on the door looking for a place to sleep to keep from driving on the base after drinking a few beers. Hearing the bold knock again, Deborah threw off her blanket.
"Do you hear somebody banging on the door?" she called down the hall to her husband.
Having shifted abruptly into a sitting position, she felt nauseated. Her face turned cool, as though all the blood were rushing to her toes. Suddenly, with a pang of fright, her insides became a mass of jitters. She didn't want to move. When the knock sounded again, she shouted, "Just a minute" toward the door, and waited for Dave to come down the hall.
Dave had also thought he was dreaming until he heard his wife's voice. Alarmed, and trying to wake from a deep sleep, he pulled on his robe while yelling back to Deborah that he was on the way.
They reached the foyer entrance at the same time. Dave carried the pistol that stayed under the bed.
"What the hell?" he said as they approached the front door.
They lived in a nice section of the county, outside of town where nothing out of the ordinary ever happened. But there was always the first time, and Dave Tainsh wasn't one to take unusual occurrences lightly. Deborah flipped the switches that turned on the foyer and front yard lights. Looking out the long narrow window beside the door, all that Dave could say was, "Oh, hell," and began shaking as Deborah repeated, "No, God, no," over and over again.
There was only one reason for two men in Army dress greens to be standing at the door in the still dark morning. They were bringing a horrid message not worthy of sunlight. But this couldn't be possible. Just yesterday Dave had called Allstate to reinstate Patrick's car insurance. He had mailed a check to Fort Polk to the captain's wife to help buy soap and shaving cream to put in the barracks for the guys when they arrived home next month. But at that moment, Deborah knew death had truly appeared at their door like a thief in the night. It was 6:00 a.m., February 12th, 2004.
During the notification officer's announcement, "Sir, I'm sorry to inform you
," Deborah's mind replayed a flood of memories. She and Dave had just discussed the trip to Fort Polk to meet the unit when they arrived in another fifty days or so. They had planned the trip to Disney World. The Christmas tree was still in front of the dining room windows with Patrick's gifts beneath it. Now, was someone actually telling them the sun would no longer rise? That overnight, the earth had stopped spinning on its axis? That gravity no longer existed? Deborah fell to her knees on the floor, her hands cupped to her face, catching the flood of tears. Dave stood in silence, his arms crossed in front of his chest as though the posture would repel the horrible truth.