Sue Wharton was depressed. She would have said a curt and tearful:
"Of course I'm depressed. I've lost them all."
She would be speaking of course of Dan, her husband, gone these 5 years or so and now, now, everlastingly now Kenny, dead of a roadside bomb in Iraq! It was a phrase that she couldn't stand to have repeated but was aways in her heart, in her consciousness, in the back of her mind, never truly and fully going away, just always there! She felt at age 38 that the world had ended and she periodically just wanted to get off.
Sue took care of herself still because it wasn't her way to just let herself go physically. But life was dull and gray, always dull and gray for her.
She'd had, of course, the official treatment from the government. They'd sent a representative Marine to talk to her and be with her during the whole of the grueling time up to and including the funeral. When it was over, when the kind Marine had gone, she put the things away: flag, letters, commendations. She didn't want to remember that; she refused to remember him that way. She thought that she'd much rather remember maybe changing his diaper, curbing his periodic wildness, dealing with his teen aged shenanigans. Anything would do but the 'final things.' She carefully tucked it away, dealt with the finally decreasing number of people, who wanted to talk to her about it, commiserate, try to be helpful but who were just keeping her focused always on the depressing reality of it.
Slowly, during that year, gradually she started to settle down to a normal depression, or at least what she thought was a normal depression.
Then she got a note from Mike, Mike Lawler, Kenny's best Marine buddy. It was a kind of double edged thing. She was pleased to hear from Mike, who simply seemed to fade at the same time that she'd lost her Kenny but hearing from him helped to sweep her up again into the middle of the whole event. The blackness came back all over again.
But she discovered from Mike's letter that he too had been injured in the same explosion that had taken Kenny. He explained in the letter that he was in rehab, having lost both of his legs in the explosion.
At that point, Sue just put the letter down and cried. She cried and cried. First her darling Kenny and now his pal Mike: Mike without family or roots, who'd come home with Kenny and affectionately called her "Mom," Mike who was now maimed for life, or so it seemed.
In the letter, which, first time around, she could hardly read because of the effect of the tracks of her tears on her face, he apologized for not getting in touch with her sooner. He told her of his own process and where he was with the process. He said that he had been fitted with brand new metal legs, and was trying to learn how to use them but still had to use two canes to get around.
But the end of the letter was what got to her the most. At the very end, apologizing again for not having been in touch with her sooner, he told her that he was intending to come to see her soon, that he'd be released from the government hospital soon and would be coming.
Her first reaction was that she didn't want to see him; she didn't think she could see him or would see him. She sat, after her tears, and got 'tough' with herself, telling herself that 'of course you'll see him."
"He must be as hurt and aching about Kenny as you; so you'll see him."
She went to bed on that note, deciding to let the idea rest until the morning. In the morning, she realized that she was still determined to see Mike, to have the visit. To at least get that last part of this over.
He came by taxi. She had been waiting, hovering, looking out the window, not knowing exactly how to expect him to get there. But then the taxi pulled up and the driver unloaded the bags. Mike stood there a little uncertainly with his two canes, and the old part of Sue went into action.
She bounded out the door, tears streaming down her face but calling out to him:
"Mike, sweetie!" and crying all the while. She got to him, making sure that she didn't knock him off of his unsteady feet and hugged him and held on, just held on.
He caressed the back of her head and let her cry in his arms. It took her a bit of time to settle down from the crying and she looked at him, blinking and said:
"I'm so sorry that I'm such a blubbering baby here."
"Don't you worry about that," he replied.
"Oh, my lovely, handsome Mike! What they've done to you! What those evil, evil people have done to you!" she whispered fiercely to him.
He held her still, and then, when she broke away from the hug, her eyes brightened and she smiled at him, a dazzling smile.
"Welcome, love," she said. "It's such a treat, such a treat!"
She turned and grabbed his bags, saying: "Here, I'll get these.' And she began to walk ahead of him toward the house.
(Sue's house was a lovely, big house. She and her Dan worked on building up a business, and then, when the business was built up, and a going concern, they build their big house. It was now way to big for her but it was certainly comfortable.)
"Just put them on the porch," Mike said, "After we visit for a bit, I'm going to ask you to call a cab to take me to a hotel."
Then the mother popped out in Sue:
"Nonsense, Mike," she said, "You're ... you're like one of my own. You'll stay right here, and no backtalk!"
Mike smiled at her and said a courteous: "Yes, ma'am."
Sue laughed then and said out loud, as though to the whole world:
"The Marine is polite! " And she laughed.
She got his stuff inside the house and took it off to the guest room for him, while he waited downstairs.
He was still waiting and standing downstairs, when she returned.
"Oh, Mike," she wailed, "I am so addle brained; sit down. Be comfortable; where in heck are my manners?"
He laughed and said: "It's no big thing Mrs Wharton."
She winced just a little at him calling her 'Mrs Wharton' but let it go.
Then they sat to talk. She fetched him a cup of coffee, that she brewed for him and then they talked.
She warned him that she was going to cry, and that he shouldn't mind that, since she cried a great deal these days anyway. Their talk was long, and parts of it, though she didn't want to hear these things, especially details, were things that she knew he needed to talk about, to tell her about, and so, she allowed it and took it all in, putting it, purposefully away in her usually locked "Kenny" room, there to simply remain hidden and not be brought out.
They ended the initial talking part of the visit with both of them grieving and holding each other on the couch. Their hug lasted long minutes and was interrupted by no words, no talking at all. The talking had been done, now was time for the holding.
The crisis came innocently and unexpected by either of them, both of them. Sue told Mike that she was taking him out for dinner, a spiffy dinner. She said that, if he could follow her, she'd show him where his room was, and the bathroom.
He followed her and they went to where the room was, and his things were put on the bed. Then she showed him the bathroom and shower that was used by those guest rooms.
He got a worried look on his face, looking over the bathroom.
Looking up at him, she asked him:
"I don't know..." he said hesitatingly, "I don't know if I can use that shower!"
"Oh dear," she exclaimed. "I'm so dumb sometimes, Mike. No, of course you can't; you'll have to use my bathroom. The master bath has a big shower with a seat in it. It will be perfect for you."
"If you don't mind terribly," he said then, "I've been traveling all day and really would like to shower and clean up."
"No problem," Sues said with a smile. "Let me show you where to go and all."
She led him to where her bedroom was with the master bathroom. He looked in at it and said:
"I think it will be fine."
He still had a major look of concern on his face, and she turned to him and said:
"Mike, we're like family here; tell me what it is, please." (She touched his arm as she spoke to him.)
"I might need some help; I just don't know. I'm getting used to these new pegs, but I'm not sure."
(When he said "pegs" he slapped his metal legs with his hand for emphasis.)
"Mike, don't you worry, I'll be around and help all that is needed."
He smiled and said thanks. Then he hurriedly went on to say to her:
"Oh, I will wear a bathing suit for the shower, in case you have to come in and help me out."
That struck Sue; she wasn't sure that it was right that he had to wear a bathing suit into a shower for himself. She let it go, however, at least for the moment.
She left him then to give him a chance to get ready for the shower. In a few minutes, he called out to her. She went in. He had detached his metal legs and they were in the corner. He himself, when she went into the bathroom, was sitting on that stool, that was built into one side of the large plexi shower stall. He had on a pair of 'Marine' bathing trunks that he was going to wear in the shower.
It seemed, right then, ridiculous to her that he had to do that, instead of being comfortable. She was thinking at that point like a mother and acted as she would have with her own Kenny.
"No, Mike," she said firmly, "This will never do."
She looked around a bit and said: "I'll come in there and help."
Then with a determined look on her face she stepped into the shoer stall, and continued:
"And you can't take a shower with those trunks on; I know how uncomfortable that would be."
.... There is more of this story ...