Final Salute

I entered my father’s palliative care room. The nurse checked the morphine drip inserted in my father’s arm, then stepped out of the room. He turned his head toward me as I entered the door and pulled down his breathing mask. I put my backpack on the floor beside the visitor’s chair.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in school today?” he asked.

“Yes, but Mom gave me a permission slip to leave early, and twenty five dollars gas money. I don’t have any homework tonight, and football practice was called off,” I said.

“I don’t want you to miss school, your mother should not have let you come.”

I swallowed hard. The oncologist had told Mom that my father had the beginning stages of pneumonia and he had not been told.

My father had been a supply captain at Camp Pendleton during peacetime. He took pride in the Corps. You had better not try and tell him the other services were just as good as the Marine Corps.

“How are you feeling, Dad?”

“My breathing is labored, but other than that I feel fine. Your Aunt Mimi came by today and left me a couple of Clancy paperback novels to read.” My father turned his head and coughed; I could hear the mucous rumbling through his chest.

“Have they told you anything about your cough—”

“Danny, don’t you start that. Do you have a football game coming up? Isn’t Homecoming soon?”

“Homecoming was a few weeks ago. We beat the Bulldogs by three points, but they were not in top form. I heard their quarterback is down with the flu and they had a fill in. They fumbled the ball a couple of times and once I gained control and scored a touchdown.”

I was worried about Dad having to take his breathing mask off so much to talk to me. “Hey listen, Dad, maybe I should come back another time when your breathing gets better.”

“Now, son, what did I just tell you? All I care about is not being in pain and the morphine drip is doing its job good. Did you go the Homecoming dance after the game?”

I did go with my girlfriend Tina, but my mind had been on my dad. His doctor had said stage four. “Yes, the d.j. played a good mix of slow and fast music. Tina told me all about her new job at Sonic. Look Dad, I am going to go so you can rest.”

He nodded his agreement. I desperately wanted to hug him, but I knew he would rebuff me. Why was he not fighting? I needed him.

I picked up my backpack, turned around and gave him a proper Marine Corps salute. When I was little, he would teach me the proper way—snappy with just the right angle, no hint of sloppiness. He mustered his strength and saluted me back, I knew, with his imaginary cover on his head. I turned back around and headed out the door.