The door had always been just imperceptibly out of Ryan’s reach as a toddler. His seemingly ingenious methods of trying to grasp the knob ended up being futile. Ryan didn’t hate his room; he loved his father. And dad was always on the other side of the door.
As Ryan grew into a young man and gained the stature required to come and go as he pleased, the boy elected to stay in the confines of his room. There, he was safe from the barbarous screams and near-constant arguments of his parents. The shattered tranquility of the household drove the now fourteen-year-old boy to the point of tears some days. The lack of love which permeated outside the confines of his room was taking its emotional toll.
But every night before Ryan fell asleep, his beloved father would knock on the door six times—in a unique rhythm. This let Ryan know that danger was not about to compromise the stable foundations of his bedroom.
His father would enter the door, typically dressed in his sweatshirt and sweatpants. Ryan would notice the bruises on his face—usually in different places each night. His dad would slowly walk over to the bed his son laid in and sit in a wooden chair next to it. The boy would sympathetically smile.
Ryan would climb out of bed, walk to his wooden desk, and remove a box of first aid materials from a drawer. The boy would patch up his father’s injuries the best his nimble, yet unexperienced fingers knew how. This solemn, silent routine went on for months and months. Ryan’s profound love for his father only grew with each passing night.
One night, in mid-December, the six knocks did not come. Ryan had heard the usual shouting and beating. Yet, his father did not come by. The boy, perplexed, ventured out into the still relatively unfamiliar territory of his living room.
“Ryan,” the husky, yet warm voice of his father rung out.
The boy made his way from the hallway and emerged into the house’s living room. Ryan’s father sat on the couch, splotches of blood stained his khaki naval uniform. His stoic figure sat there, a pale look on his face. Ryan slowly, somberly walked over to his Dad, sat down next to him.
His father’s eyes welled up with tears as he gazed at his son, taking in his lack of surprise. This had become their normal… The father’s lips trembled as the suspended tears began to flow. Ryan held his father close, comforting him as his whole body shook in bottled up emotion.
As the men sat on the couch, Ryan’s mother emerged from the master bedroom. Her disturbing, orderly, unblemished complexion went largely unnoticed by Ryan and his father. As she rolled her tall suitcases past them and out the front door, she glanced back at her handiwork, then permanently departed.
“You gave her what she wanted?” Ryan’s timid voice inquired.
The father softened, glanced at his son. “No,” he inhaled, shook his head, “I gave her everything but you.” Ryan’s face beamed with joy and relief. But his father remained still and somber.
When morning came, the police canvased the house, collecting evidence. It took six officers to force open the door of Ryan’s bedroom. Inside the fortified room, the father’s lifeless body was recovered. And in the bed, a fourteen-year-old boy lay sleeping, peacefully. He had been spared, protected from the night’s terror thanks to his father’s sacrifice.
Investigators eventually tracked down and arrested the man who had been hired to kidnap the boy.
As Ryan stood in newly issued dress whites with his graduating Annapolis class, he rose his right hand and, along with the rest of them, enthusiastically said, “I do.” After the hat toss, his various classmates turned to their loved ones. Ryan watched as their mothers or fathers pinned on the ensign shoulder boards to their graduate.
Ryan stood alone, with no family to assist him, he pinned the boards onto his shoulders himself.