Today, as I hurried through the grocery store parking lot, I walked past a minivan, the same color as my own. On the back was a bumper sticker, “In loving memory of Corporal C. J. Boyd. August 19, 2010, USMC.”
As I pushed a cart around the store’s produce section, I wondered where she was, the mother of C.J. Boyd, which one of these women was she? Which one lost her son? Or maybe it’s a father or a sister who is here in the store with me, carrying their grief as they shop for ordinary things.
I am a mother in the produce section shopping for my son. He only eats two vegetables, and he’s particular, so I have to be selective. I think about Corporal Boyd and his mother and vegetables and making dinner and losing a son. What did she cook for him? What did Corporal Boyd like to eat for dinner? What favorite vegetables did his mother pick out for him at the grocery store?
I have often wondered what emotions I would feel if my son wanted to be a soldier, a pilot, sailor, marine, warrior. Pride? Anger? Or both? If he chooses a civilian life, he will be the first male in four generations of my family who chooses not to join the military.
In my family, we keep flags that were once draped over coffins, then folded tightly and held out by hands in white gloves. We keep boxes filled with medals. Old uniforms, swords and epaulets are stored in upstairs closets. And the memory of what it feels like standing, blinking in the summer sun, waiting for the final volley of a 21-gun salute.
I do not want my son to be a soldier. I accept that part of loving him is letting him run, letting him do what he chooses to do with his own grown-up life, or what his country calls him to do. But there will always be something else other than the life of a soldier that I wish for him.
General Douglas MacArthur said, “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
I don’t agree with him.
An ordinary day, and I’m in the produce section of the grocery store.
My son eats only two kinds of vegetables, broccoli and asparagus, but only the bottoms, not the tops. He likes hard-boiled eggs as a grocery store treat, Cliff Bars with chocolate chips in them and Life cereal. He likes Pokemon cards and Matchbox cars, hockey, teeball, soccer, playing catch with his dad and riding his bike. An ordinary boy, an ordinary family, an ordinary life. A minivan in a grocery store parking lot.
Who is she? Please, God, don’t let it be me.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.