A Glass, and Darkly
Chapter 4: Square One-ish
25 September 2001 – Broadway, Malden, Massachusetts
The next morning Jeff waited for the general manager and the owner of the Brophy Ambulance Group to arrive at the company’s office in Malden.
“Hey, Jeff!” Sean Brophy exclaimed while shaking his friend’s hand. Sean, the general manager, held a long-standing reputation for arriving early and working until five in the afternoon. Sean’s father and Brophy’s owner, Seamus, shook Jeff’s hand after his son.
“Sorry to drag you out of bed this early, Seamus.”
“For you? Anytime, Jeff! Plus you said it was important. Step into my son’s office.” Seamus waved Jeff into the familiar space.
Jeff worked with Sean for close to two years during the mid-1990s as one of the younger man’s first partners in EMS; Jeff figured out that his friend was, in fact, the owner’s son but hadn’t told a soul. That was just one considerate act that earned him a friend for life in Sean; each was Best Man at the other’s wedding. Seamus, also a staunch supporter of Jeff’s, wheeled his desk chair into Sean’s office. He closed the door, then he sat. They indulged in ten minutes of small talk before coming to the point.
“So, Jeff, what can we do for you?” Sean asked before sipping from his mug of coffee.
Jeff took a deep breath and blew it back out. “I need to ask for a leave of absence, Sean.”
Seamus sat up straight. “Is everything okay, Jeff?”
“Depends on your point of view, Seamus. The attacks two weeks ago have been bothering me, especially after having to go to a friend’s memorial service this weekend.”
“I’m sorry, Jeff, we didn’t know,” Sean said. “Were you close with this person?”
“His brother and I were best friends during high school. Sean, you’ve met my friend Jack; his big brother Tom was killed in the attack on New York.”
“I hadn’t heard anything, Jeff.”
“I’ve been trying not to let his death affect me at work, but I’ve been snapping at Keiko and the kids at home. It’s reached the point where I need to do something; I’ve finally figured out what that something is.”
Sean and Seamus looked at each other. “What’s that, Jeff?” Seamus asked.
“I’m reenlisting,” Jeff answered.
The ensuing silence stretched. Sean recovered first. “What? Why?”
“It’s something I need to do, Sean. I have to go back.”
“Why, Jeff? You’re thirty-two, married, and have three kids! What about your family? Why would you want to risk your life like that?”
“‘I, Jeffrey Andrew Knox, do solemnly swear that I will support... ‘“
Seamus’ memories of joining the Marines came rushing back and he began reciting the Oath of Enlistment with Jeff:
... and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
“What are you two blathering about?”
“That was our Oath of Enlistment,” Jeff replied.
“You took that oath almost fifteen years ago, Jeff! When you were eighteen! You’ve done your bit for your country!”
“Actually, I was seventeen when I enlisted.”
Sean stood up abruptly causing his chair to shoot backward and crash into the wall behind him. “Who gives a shit?” his friend raged. “You’re giving up everything! And for what?”
“Something better than what’s looming on the horizon,” Jeff responded in a quiet voice which contrasted with Sean’s. “A world where people don’t have to worry about airplanes flying into the buildings where they work. One where I don’t have to worry about my sons and I being killed by fanatics before my wife and daughter are made into slaves, or worse. I’m going all in, Sean.”
Sean glared at his former partner before storming out of his own office; the door’s handle punched through the drywall and stuck there, despite the bumper put on the wall to prevent such an occurrence. Jeff watched in sorrow as his friend left; Seamus was angry at his son’s outburst.
“Don’t be too hard on him, Seamus. I’m sure I’ll be hearing ‘You’re making a mistake!’ quite a bit once I start telling people about my decision to go back in.”
“It doesn’t make it right, Jeff.”
“Seamus, I know you’d have been at the recruiting station the day of the attacks if you thought the Marines would let you back in, and I’m sure there are many vets who’d have been there with you. Hell, at my age the Army won’t take me back if I don’t pass a fitness and proficiency test over the weekend.” Jeff shrugged. “I may not actually leave, unless Sean fires me anyway.”
“He’ll do that over my dead body!” Seamus growled.
“Seamus, let me try and talk to him first,” Jeff soothed. Seamus nodded, still frowning.
Jeff put his coffee mug on Sean’s desk and left the office to find his friend. He walked out to the ambulance garage and made his way through it to the back of the building; there he opened the fire door leading outside.
Sean Brophy stood with his back to his company’s headquarters building and looked out over the baseball field it abutted. The grounds crew from Malden Catholic High School was already out grooming the field, which doubled as a practice field for football, though the school wouldn’t be in-session for another hour; Sean tried to calm his chaotic thoughts while he watched them work.
A few minutes later Sean felt someone standing next to him; he knew who it was. “I think you’re making a mistake,” he said.
“I know,” was all Jeff said in reply.
“Knowing you, you’re gonna say something pithy or spout some patriotic quote now.”
“‘The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants.’”
Sean sighed and turned to his friend. “Try and make it the blood of tyrants and not yours, you asshole.”
“I’m sure Keiko would prefer it that way also,” Jeff replied while looking out at the baseball diamond.
“Does she think you’re making a mistake, too?”
“No. Doesn’t mean Keiko’s thrilled with my choice, though; she understands it. It’ll be interesting to see how my folks take the news; you know how my mother reacted when I told her I was joining the Army after high school.” Marisa Knox reacted ‘poorly’ in 1987 by her own admission. She didn’t speak to Jeff for seven months at the end of his senior year; she didn’t even say goodbye to him the morning he left for Basic Training.
“Are Keiko and the kids going with you wherever you’re going?”
“No,” Jeff sighed. “I’ll be bouncing around if I get the training I’m asking for. There’s no provision for family housing during my training rotations. We’d have to buy or rent new places to live off-post. The kids would be in a couple different school districts in different states and we don’t want that; Keiko would have to find new jobs as well. I know they’d have plenty of support from other Army families but, as much as I’ll miss them, I’d rather they stay here. They’ll be in familiar territory here, and have the support of both sides of the family.”
“Jeff, I’m sorry for the way I acted but, dammit you’re my best friend! The best friend I’ve ever had!” Sean hung his head with a look of hopelessness on his face.
Jeff threw an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “And you’ve been my best friend since you got here from North Carolina, Sean; we’ve shared some good times together and some crazy ones. Keiko’s planning a reenlistment-slash-going-away party for me in a couple of weeks. We’d love to have you and the rest of your family come.”
“Let Dad and I know when, and all of us will be there.”
That weekend soldiers from Fort Devens did their best to show Jeff he needed to go home, or back to Basic Training at the very least. Jeff’s Military Entry and Processing Station counselor set up his performance evaluation with the 18th Infantry Regiment at Fort Devens. When the 10th Special Forces Group heard about the testing after being tasked with his Airborne re-eval they offered to run the whole thing; they tried to harass the shit out of him.
That attempted harassment lasted four hours. Jeff absolutely smoked the PT test Saturday morning before shooting expert with almost every weapon they tested him on. By lunchtime the Green Berets’ attempted harassment changed to grudging acceptance; by the end of the weekend they tried to convince Jeff to test for selection and join the Special Forces. He aced or nearly aced every evaluation and hadn’t complained once.
“I have to say, Jeff, these APFT scores are impressive,” remarked Staff Sergeant Ignacio Núñez, Jeff’s counselor at the Boston MEPS.
“For a man my age, you mean,” Jeff replied with a smile.
“For anybody! You didn’t just max out on your age range’s scores, you maxed out the scores in the twenty-seven to thirty-one age range!”
The Army Physical Fitness Test is a series of three events: push-ups within two minutes, sit-ups within two minutes, and a timed two-mile run. Scores for each event are based on performance in that event and the soldier’s age; a maximum of one hundred points can be earned in each event. Jeff not only did well for his age group, scoring the maximum on the thirty-two to thirty-six year-old soldier’s scoring table, but he maxed out on the toughest age range on the table.
“I keep myself in good shape, Sergeant,” Jeff shrugged. “And I’m glad to see I remembered so much from my first enlistment.”
“You certainly won’t have to go back to Basic that’s for sure, not with how you did over the weekend. If you’re still looking to be a medic we can send you right to Fort Sam.” Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas is home to the Army’s Medical Department and the training site for his desired military occupation specialty, the field medic. SSG Núñez grinned. “PERSCOM approved your MOS change without reduction in rank, too.”
PERSCOM, Army Personnel Command, ruled that Jeff could switch from his original infantryman MOS to field medic. He wouldn’t have to take a step back in rank, either; he’d keep his previous E-5 sergeant’s rank.
“You said that I was risking loss of rank, Sergeant, but I’m glad it worked out. So we can move forward with the training I requested?”
“You’ll have to be in San Antonio in three weeks but, yes. According to TRADOC and AMEDD, you can skip the EMT upgrade portion of the training if you want.” TRADOC is the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
“I’ll be there; a review wouldn’t hurt. What about the other piece of what I was hoping for with this reenlistment?”
Núñez pulled a stack of papers bound with a heavy binder clip out of his desk and handed them to Jeff. “Whether or not you’ll qualify for that is up to the cadre at AIT. Fill out what you can in that stack and submit it when you report in. That way they’ll know what you’re aiming for.”
Núñez stood after turning off his desk lamp. “Let’s get you a voucher you can use at Clothing Sales at Devens so you can draw your basic uniform issue. Fort Sam can issue you the rest of your things, but you’ll need the uniforms before you report in.”
Jeff gave Sean Brophy written notification of his intent to enlist the first week of October. In return he received a letter on Brophy letterhead acknowledging the notification; it stated Brophy would hold his position as DMD’s operations manager for him until October 31, 2006.
Despite their misgivings, Jeff’s friends and family gathered at the Knox family home in Lancaster on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. Many of those there felt that Jeff was crazy, that he was taking too big a risk by rejoining the Army, but they didn’t go so far as to tell him that. A small minority had.
Hours into his send-off party Jeff sat in a chair behind a corner of his house, out of sight of the guests. He gazed off to the west watching the setting sun while he picked the label off the beer bottle in his hands. He was glad so many of his friends made the drive to Lancaster, but now there was a lingering distance in his relationships with most of them. Jeff almost jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry, Jeff. We didn’t mean to startle you.” Alice and Tom Cavanaugh looked at him with obvious concern on their faces; Tom held two more chairs in his hands while he stood behind his wife. Jeff popped out of his chair to help Tom place the others next to his. He waited for Alice to be seated before he sat. Jeff considered Alice and Tom to be another set of grandparents. Their granddaughter Heather Pelley was one of his oldest and closest friends; they considered themselves brother and sister, or had until his announcement.
“Are you okay, Jeff?” Alice asked.
Jeff shrugged in reply, picking at his beer bottle again.
“What is it?”
“When Pearl Harbor was attacked back when you were my age, Tom, there was no question of enlisting, right?”
“By the time I was your age, Jeff, Korea had been over for four years and Jane was nine,” Tom reminded him, Jane being his daughter and Heather’s mother. “To answer your question, however, that would be a no. There was no question of if, but one of when; My parents made me wait until I turned eighteen in 1943 to enlist. You’re a history major. You know guys were committing suicide if they got classified 4F and couldn’t serve.”
“Are people questioning your decision, Jeff?” Alice asked.
“You might say that.”
“You have to admit that a thirty-two year-old husband and father of three reenlisting is bound to raise some eyebrows.”
“I suppose,” Jeff mumbled.
“But you still feel it’s something you need to do, right?” Tom asked. Jeff nodded.
“Jeff,” Alice said while pulling her chair closer to him; she held both of his hands after taking the bottle from them. “You’ve told us about your Grandfather McLaren, your mother’s birth father. Like him we had a two year-old girl at home when a war started – Korea in our case. Tom made it home safely from World War II but he rejoined the Army when North Korea invaded the South in 1950. We barely had four years together but I understood he had to go; I understood the same thing twenty years later when he was still in the Army and got sent to Vietnam. I’m sure Keiko understands, too.”
“She does, Alice. She’s the only one of our circle – other than you, Tom, and my company’s owner – who didn’t question my decision.”
“Jane and Heather questioned you?” Alice asked, incredulous; Jeff’s silence was answer enough. Jane was a twenty-plus year Air Force veteran; she should understand. “TC, too?” TC – Thomas Clayton Pelley the Third – was Heather’s husband. Jeff served with TC after high school.
“Almost everyone, Alice.” Alice sat back and looked at her husband. “They haven’t said anything today, but it’s there.” Jeff sighed. “They’re here, though, Alice. They may not agree with my decision, but they’re here to support Keiko and I. Sean Brophy definitely doesn’t agree, but he’s agreed in writing to hold my job for five years per USERRA.”
“‘You Sarah?’” Alice asked. “What’s that?”
“The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, or ‘USERRA’ Act, Alice. An updated version of the Veterans’ Reemployment Rights Act; it’s a federal law which will allow me to step right back into my position at DMD when I come back.”
“Just like your friends will let you step right back into their lives when you come back, Jeff,” Alice reminded him.
Jeff hoped so.
The following Thursday night Keiko lay in bed while wrapped in Jeff’s arms. His duffel bag sat in the back of his Passat, packed and ready for his departure in the morning; the trip to San Antonio would take three days. Mayumi and Hiro would come over to have breakfast and say goodbye.
“I love you, my husband,” Keiko whispered in Japanese. Jeff felt her tears falling on his bare chest despite the sweat from their lovemaking.
“And I you, my Keiko-chan.”
“Please come back to us,” she sobbed.
He hugged her tighter. “I will, Keiko. You remember I’ll probably get some time off after AIT, right? I’ll be back soon.”
“You know what I mean, Jeffrey,” she sniffed.
“I do, Keiko. I do. I promise I will do everything I can to come back to you and the kids.”
“That is all I can ask, Jeffrey.”
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