This former student of mine is in the National Guard. He had told me late last Spring his stint would be up in early September. He's been working hard to finish his Bachelor's degree and get down to living a good life with the woman he's planning to marry. She's a CPA, and the two of them are quite a sight together: she's just as pretty as a model and so sweet; he's handsome and muscular, with a boyish grin that hasn't disappeared even though he's killed more than his share of people in several tours of duty in Iraq.
So I went into the shoe store looking for him. The manager recognized me and came right over. He's seen me in there a few times; I like to stop in where former students work just to see how they're doing, and this manager got to know me while we all stood around chatting. (A few of my other former students work there, too.)
The manager, John, said, "Looking for Steve?"
"Is he here tonight?"
John had this serious look on his face, almost a frown. "Steve got stop lossed. He's about to be deployed."
For a few seconds, I was dumbfounded.
John stood there, arms folded, looking down. I found my tongue and almost snarled, "Where?"
"Dunno," John answered, "I'd like to say he's heading back to Iraq."
"Iraq? Steve's a glorified cannon cocker. He's good But short stuff? Now?" I protested.
John shook his head: "Steve's scared."
I leaned a little bit toward John and said, "This is about Iran."
"All I know is, Steve's scared," John insisted.
I sort of turned toward the big front windows of the store and grumbled pretty loudly, "Steve's a mortar specialist. What the Hell, man?"
"Guess they're short on rocket shooters," John snorted.
"Mortars don't go all that far," I said.
John perked up a little: "Hey, I was a grunt. Mortars fly farther than bullets."
"Either way, you're not talking about airstrikes," I grumbled.
"Well, someone's got to do the real fighting once the flyboys have done their show," John added.
After that exchange, we both just stood there looking out those big front windows.
John finally said, "Hey, listen, why don't you look through the clearance shoes back in the back and see if there's anything you like. I'll do you a good deal on 'em."
I thanked him and went back there. Unfortunately, the only pair in my size looked like pimp-daddy specials.
I went back up front and thanked John for the offer. He told me they'd have some more shoes on clearance this weekend.
I walked out through the big front doors and stopped at the sidewalk. I swear, I thought about turning around to see if Steve would be standing in the store with that big, boyish grin he always had when he saw me coming in. He seemed to figure he was getting a chance to give me a deal on shoes to thank me for getting him through all his math classes. He wasn't very good at math, but he never failed a test if I gave him an hour or two of tutoring the day before.
Steve is a loyal fellow: loyal to his friends, loyal to his God, loyal to his President, loyal to his country.
He's about to walk into what might be the jaws of death. Apparently, he knows it, but he's still going to do it.
That makes him a damn fine soldier.
I think I'll keep these shoes I'm wearing for a while longer. Three years ago, Steve gave me a really great deal on them.