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Dear Kirk

©Brenda Coffee  All rights reserved.

I’m taking a slight departure from my regular breast cancer blog, because our son is leaving for law school this week. I say “our” son, when in fact he’s my stepson, but my heart doesn’t know that. Last week I was telling someone about Kirk’s leaving, and my eyes filled with tears. My voice caught in the back of my throat, and I had to stop. Other than my relationship with God, few things make me cry and you, dear Kirk, are one of them.

I remember when I first met you: You were 10, bright-eyed, eager and excited about everything and even then, like your Father, family was everything to you. I feel like you have given me far more than I’ve given you, and I thank you. Those years of knowing what’s it’s like to host sleepovers, cheer you on at Little League games and our talks in the kitchen after school… You took me along, with your infectious grin and loving heart, to baseball games and ski slopes and just past “GO” on Park Place.

In no time you started college and then one day, came home and said you’d joined the Army. Like your Grandpa and your Father before you, who volunteered during their wars, we shouldn’t have been too surprised, but it was a scary time for all of us. Even you. Once again America was at war, and all of us were aware that more than likely, you’d find your way to Iraq, Bosnia or Afghanistan. The day you graduated from basic training was an electric moment for us, like my diagnosis of breast cancer. It was real. You were a soldier, and there was no turning back.

Your Company was a hundred strong, and we heard your voices that day before we saw you. “I don’t know, but I’ve been told. My DI’s heart is made of gold.” Your polished boots hit the pavement in unison, keeping time to a singsong cadence repeated by generations of soldiers before you. “Sound off. Sound off. One, two, three, four. Three four.”

Your Mom and Dad and I watched as the top of the American flag crested the hill in the distance. One by one, rows of nearly identical-looking soldiers came into view. Eyes forward, slim caps tilted at the same angle, trench coats buttoned and belted for warmth and freshly creased dress pants, all in the time-honored shade of Army green. The shortest led the march, while rows and rows of soldiers of ever-increasing height magically unfolded out of the cold mist.

I stood on the curb behind your Mom, my hands on her shoulders, as we searched a sea of determined faces chiseled by basic training, lack of sleep, relentless drill sergeants and hand-to-hand combat training. The Army turns pimple-faced youths into killing machines, and they were marching toward us in unison.

It had been three months since we’d seen you, and it was hard for us to control our emotions. Finally, on the outside back row, I saw your silhouette. Later you said you’d picked my shearling coat out of the crowd. The same coat I’d worn when we huddled together in the back of a darkened shuttle bus in Jackson Hole, drinking Baileys Irish Cream from the bottle. Like truant children, we scrunched down low, passing the paper bag back and forth, imagining lurid headlines like “Woman Leads 15-Year-Old Stepson Astray.” Now as you marched over the hill, I felt like I was the child, and you were the adult. My eyes filled with tears, and I whispered in your Mother’s ear, “He looks like a man.” Your eyes caught mine and for a moment, I thought you might cry, too.

Yes, you went to Bosnia and Afghanistan, serving with a multi-national Special Forces unit, but God brought you home safely. You are still bright-eyed, eager and excited about everything, and still value family, God and country. Those are the qualities I love about you, and they are the qualities that will see you through law school and all the days of your life. I love you, sweet man, and rejoice at the man you have become. I’m so proud of you.