This I Believe…….
I believe some friends are chosen family. Rick and Sarah are my chosen brother and sister.
I got Rick a 6 pack of Coke for his birthday (he’s fond of rum and Coke). I showed up at his and Sarah’s, like most times, unannounced. Sarah greeted me. Little Jamal and Beau jumped in my arms. Then, in walked Rick from the tavern, stumbling a bit, with a big, birthday grin. He hugged me as we all gravitated to the living room. I handed him his present, unwrapped, with an apology for not getting him something better. He accepted the gift, laughing, “Hey! You know just what I like.” We conversed about crazy birthday gifts and how important it is to celebrate your birthday with friends and family. Everyone was giggling and reminiscing when Rick suddenly started to cry. Drunk, honest tears rolled down his face as Sarah, the kids and I fell quiet.
As soon as his tears allowed, Rick told us of a birthday he spent in Vietnam. He was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1969. He claimed his squad consisted of young men, who put together, created an instant family. He told how he loved them all like brothers. That birthday he was stationed on the front line of a war. Instructions were for the squad to dig individual fox holes in case bullets started flying, so everyone would have a place to hide. For being on the front line it was a slow day, so some of the boys stopped digging after a few hours. Rick, on the other hand, dug all morning. As dirt was flying out of Rick’s hole his “brothers” sat back, smoked cigarettes and sang him Happy Birthday. Suddenly, the laughter and the singing were interrupted by automatic gun fire. Panic set in quickly as one boy’s body jolted from the force of a bullet. Instinctively, the boys scrambled for their holes. All, but Rick, were left partially exposed. Their heads and shoulders bare to the sniper, they eagerly fumbled with their guns, desperately gearing up to strike back. Rick was the only one with space deep enough to hide and still have room enough to have his weapon at the ready.
Rick remembered hearing the screams and the dead silence as each of his brothers was shot and killed. Eventually, he knew all were dead. Quietly climbing out, he dared not look in the direction of his brothers’ individual graves. Also, he didn’t have a clue as to the whereabouts of the sniper. The despair in Rick’s heart sank even deeper when he looked up to see the sniper. A Vietnamese boy about 12 years old, shoeless and shirtless, standing near him, awkwardly held an automatic machine gun. Knowing this boy killed his brothers and knowing Rick would die too if he didn’t make the first move, he raised his gun in synchronicity with the boy and fired.
We sat in silence, desperately wrapping our minds around the scene Rick described. Finally, he stood up, walked over to a necklace he had made, hanging on a nail. He gently brought it down and whispered to me, “I choose my family. Those boys were family. You are family.” And he christened the moment by placing the necklace around my neck.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.