The Color of Sacrifice
You knew the Dorfman kids were Army brats from the minute you laid eyes on them. They stood up straight. They were well-liked but maintained an outsider’s reserve. Hard workers, and respectful, but not above making some mischief now and then.
Lou (Louis Dorfman IV) not only carried the family name, he also had his father’s introverted instinct for self-preservation — an innate distrust of strangers. If not for his looks and athletic prowess, he very well may have descended into lonerism, bouncing from school to school with the frequent moves of military life.
Julia, two years younger, had grown into an almost disconcerting likeness of her mother (now deceased). That fact, along with the uncanny facility with which she moved through the world, made maintaining a facade of impartiality the hardest task her war hero father had ever undertaken. He was wrapped around her finger; it was so nakedly obvious, everyone in the family accepted it as a fact of life. They worked around it the way one prepares for the weather by adding layers of clothing.
Third and youngest was Charlie. The baby of the family had been the apple of his mother’s eye, but since that fateful day 4 months and 23 days into his 9th year, he’d been adrift.
Now 12, Charlie was “beginning to connect the dots,” as his father liked to say. He was coming into his own. The family ham had begun to show interest in pursuits beyond cracking jokes, impersonating celebrities, and vying for attention. Much to his father’s relief.
Charlie never took to sports like his brother, but of late he had begun to show a surprising curiosity about his father’s chosen profession.
The muscular work of military service is featured in every American boy’s imagination, and in the past year, Charlie’s wide-eyed enthusiasm had fostered a new and growing bond between father and son. Charlie would ask to see photos of Louis’s deployments and request Army stories at bedtime.
Where a year ago, 15 minutes in the preening presence of his youngest son had, let’s be blunt here, made Louis Dorfman’s head hurt, the two now frequently found themselves killing hours at a time together.
Before Charlie began asking his big questions, that Purple Heart and Bronze Star — now nearly a decade old — had been nothing more to Louis than cold reminders of the worst day of his life. Now, they were a bridge to this blossoming young man. And Louis hoped they could also hold a key to unlock some potential that had been hidden from him.
But it wasn’t just Charlie. This fresh bond was working some magic within Louis as well. While the boy seemed to be toughening, could it be that he was actually softening?
Never one for the spotlight, Louis was surprised to note how much he genuinely loved this new attention. Charlie’s theatrical flair leant itself to a tendency to show off, and his newly discovered idol provided the perfect bragging right.
So it seemed unremarkable at first, that late-summer day, when Louis overheard Charlie downstairs regaling a friend with war stories. Louis even chuckled to himself, hearing Charlie’s aggrandizements. The country may have considered Louis a hero, but Charlie still felt the need to embellish his service with action-movie levels of drama and violence.
Charlie’s voice grew louder, his words faster. He was getting excited, and his friend Danny was playing right into it: “no way!” “Are you serious?!” Louis was surprisingly flattered — even felt his face flush as their footsteps bounded up the stairs toward his small home office.
“Yeah Charlie, what is it?” Louis feigned surprise.
“Dad, didn’t you win the Purple Heart?!”
“Well Charlie,” Louis started in his best sit-down-let’s-talk voice, “the Purple Heart is not something you ‘win…’”
“Yeah, I know, but…”
“The Purple Heart is about sacrifice…” he continued, professorially.
“Dad, show Danny your Purple Heart!”
Now that was a feeling the old soldier hadn’t felt in quite some time. Someone had punched him in the gut. Took the air out of the room. His heart slow-motion tumbled through his intestines.
He chuckled. “A Purple Heart isn’t something you show off,” he attempted, half-heartedly.
“Please, Colonel Dorfman?” Danny chided.
That’s Lt. Colonel Dorfman, kid.
“Guys, come on. Who wants a snack?” He tried again.
“DAAAD!” Danny protested. The mortification spread across his face. The grand finale was full of duds. His money shot had failed to land.
“OK, boys,” Louis began, slowly, “sit down and let me tell you something.”
They sat. Danny perplexed, Charlie terrified. Had the old man also spent his inheritance?
“Boys, in the Army, we sacrifice for our country. And the Purple Heart is a medal that honors a soldier's sacrifice.”
Charlie’s look plainly screamed where are you going with this, Dad?
“Well, last year, about this time, I made a sacrifice.”
“You see, I donated my Purple Heart.”
“Well, I gave it away.”
“Of course. You gave it to Joo-lia,” Charlie intoned theatrically.
Still no air in the room. Why was this so hard?
“No, Charlie. I gave it to Donald Trump.”
Charlie’s head lolled downward. He looked at the carpet. His hands fidgeting in his lap. Back to the carpet. The silence seemed to last 30, maybe 45 minutes.
“Donald Trump Donald Trump?!” Danny shouted — clearly baffled, yet excited by this newfound scandal. “The build-the-wall guy? With the Muslims and Putin and stuff?!?!” He was starting to sound a little giddy.
“That’s enough, Danny,” Louis scolded, quietly — his eyes still on the top of Charlie’s hangdog head.
“Duuuuude! That’s INSANE!!” Danny was clearly not getting it. “My parents are going to FLIP, Colonel!”
Charlie’s hands, no longer fidgeting, were glistening. Tears.
“IT’S LIEUTENANT COLONEL, DANNY!”