September 12

National Day of Encouragement


“You can be anything you want to be, as long as you put your mind to it.  Remember how I used to say that?”

“Sure, Mom.  And I’d usually tell you I wanted to be a doctor.”

Judd sat at his mother’s bedside and held her hand.  A few hours earlier, he’d wrapped a bandage around her head as best he could.  The knot was already coming loose, and sections of the fabric were damp with fresh blood.

“You had other dreams,” his mother said.

“Sure.  Couple times, I said I wanted to be an ambulance driver.”

There was a lot of use for those skills these days.  That morning, he’d tried to drive his mother to a safer location outside the city,  He’d taken an alternate route, to avoid the traffic jam caused by the mass evacuation.  That’s when he drove the car into a tree.  The windshield shattered, and his mother’s head slammed against the dashboard.

“Sometimes you teased me.”  Her voice grew weaker, as if from the strain of grasping at memories.

“I told you I wanted to be a ninja, and you made a sour face.  You said, ‘They steal things.’”

After the crash, Judd had to drag his mother from the car and lay her safely on the ground beside the road.  He covered her with an emergency blanket from the trunk,  One house was visible from the road, but its windows were boarded up — an indication that the owners hoped to protect themselves from unwelcome visitors.  If he’d asked them nicely, they might have agreed to help him and his mother:  share food or even medical supplies.

But he couldn’t take that chance.  With his best approximation of ninja stealth, he snuck up to the house, found a window with a loose board and worked it free.  A little more silent effort, and he was inside.  The family was hiding in a back room, and Judd did some things with a kitchen knife so they wouldn’t interfere with his efforts to tend to his mother.

“One time, you actually said you wanted to be a funeral director.”  Her voice was so weak now, more blood soaking the gauze bandage he’d borrowed from the household’s emergency kit.  His mother looked so pale and lifeless in this strange bedroom.

“Let’s not think morbid stuff like that now.  How about my best answer?  Do you remember that one?”  Judd patted the top of his mother’s hand, and was certain she could still hear him.  “I said, ‘I’m happy just to be your son.’ ”