Did you know 30,000 people are kidnapped around the world every year?
Ironically, part of the reason I was kidnapped had to do with the search for quality family time. In truth, there was no need for us to drop Robbie off at the army base. We all knew he could have accepted an offer from one of his buddies to catch a ride with them. He could have even taken a bus if he wanted. I think Dad must have thought the short road trip was an opportunity to savor some of those sitcom family-style moments together. Although he wouldn’t admit it, I suspected he was afraid it was the last time we would all be together. Granted, none of us thought I would be the one in mortal peril.
As we drove to Fort Drum, Robbie and I took the immense opportunity to tease Dad about his growing sentiments. “I bet you weren’t this emotional when you fought in Desert Storm, Old Man,” Robbie taunted.
“Now, now Robbie.” I had put the marker in my book and kicked the back of his seat. “That’s disrespectful. You know Dad prefers to be called Sir Gray Hair. Or,” I corrected myself, “He-with-the-Fuzzy-Inner-Ears.”
Robbie laughed his Robbie laugh. “Mr. Receding Hairline.”
Dad laughed. “You kids are just lucky I can hold my temper.”
When Robbie embraced him that last time at the entrance gate, Robbie repeated his “if you were me” argument once more. Through the entire sham of their debate, I watched the sun lowering as cadets brought in the various flags for the evening—the gold and pink commanding a stronghold over the sky and everything beneath it. Perhaps I should have been playing referee as Mom would have done and as I had been doing since her absence, but at this juncture, their arguments served less purpose than usual. Still, I thought maybe it was better for them to say it all out loud than have it be left unsaid.
“I’m going to live my life the way I want to,” Robbie said.
“You were lucky to make it through there once, it might not happen again.”
“You can’t expect me to just leave my friends out there while I stay here—”
“I expect you to stay safe.”
Once they wore themselves out, we all engaged in the family tradition of substituting the seriousness of the situation with humor.
“If you were me, you’d be doing the same thing, Old Man.”
“If I were you, I would have joined the Corps … sissy.”
As Robbie and I said our farewells, he gave me one of those awkward sibling hugs that we usually only saved for holidays or tragedy.
“Take care of yourself, Addie.”
“I always do.”
He sighed. “Sometimes that might mean not taking care of everybody else.”
I just laughed at him. “You can lecture me when you get home … sissy.”
Dad and I got back in the car and I immediately began fiddling with the radio to avoid that narrow silence that settled between us. Even after we pulled back onto the freeway, it continued for miles, long into the evening hours until the local radio stations fizzled out and I had to change them to other, unfamiliar ones.
Without music to distract me, my mind began trailing back to when Mom first got sick. Despite the politics, I was proud of Robbie for joining the army. It was something he had mentioned long before Mom’s cancer and remained eager about despite our parents’ protests.
Mom’s illness was a prime opportunity for exit.
“You can’t just leave when things get bad,” I said to Robbie.
“I can’t stay here, Addie. Not like this.”
In time, I could see his point. On some level, I even envied his ability to get away so easily. Mom needed more care than she would admit, and once she was gone, Dad needed more time and attention than a kid. Treatment could offer Mom more time, yet it wouldn’t be with the Mom we knew.
When offered her options, Mom had laughed what remained of her laugh. “Thanks, but another couple months of this? I think I’d rather eat my husband’s cooking. Or my son’s, for that matter …”
It was only a few weeks later that she was on her deathbed, telling me she loved me, and teasing me because my socks didn’t match.
But now I slipped my feet out of my sandals and tried to stretch, tried to daydream, tried not to worry about my big brother.
“Get your feet off the dash, Addie. I don’t want them to scuff the glove box.”
Reluctantly, I let my feet slide down back into my shoes, my legs already missing the stretch the tall console provided.
All around us, the meandering trees and woods seemed to suffocate us, and yet ahead was a clear, outstretched highway that promised freedom if you only stayed the course. I rolled down the window and felt my fingers dance against the wind. Briefly, I considered what it would be like to feel my whole body out there.