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A Father Transformed by Anguish

They get in the car and drive past the church that donated furniture and rent money to them when they came back to Boston for the funeral and then decided to stay on for a while to be closer to Brian, who is living with Victoria in Bangor, Maine.

They turn onto the road they were driving along the day that Arredondo's mother, in the back seat, soon after the funeral, suddenly began kicking and screaming, and broke down in front of their eyes.

The worst of Arredondo's injuries were on his legs, to which he applies antibiotic cream. Twenty-six percent of his body was burned. (David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

"I've never seen my mother like that," Arredondo says.

They drive past the funeral home where Alex's wake was held, go past the restaurant where the fundraiser will take place and follow the same zigzagging route to the cemetery they followed on the day of the funeral.

"He was so naive, you know?" Arredondo says. He looks at one of the photos he has brought with him, a close-up of a young man who lived until he was 20 years and 20 days old, who had a girlfriend named Sheila, who liked to sing, who enlisted 25 days before 9/11 and was one of the first Marines into Baghdad. "He was a nice person," Arredondo says, reducing 20 years and 20 days to a sorrowful compliment, and describes the last time he saw him, in his casket. "They allowed me off the stretcher and I saw the back of his head. He had a big opening," he says, and how many times since has he wondered about the exact cause of that?

Later, back home, while Melida works on arrangements for the fundraiser, Arredondo receives a call from a friend of Alex who mentions that he recently spoke with Brian.

"You talked to him?" Arredondo says. "I haven't heard from him. In a month. He was quiet? He was taking it hard? Why do you say that? He sounded very sad?"

Next, he writes a letter.

"Brian, please call me," he writes. "Come to visit. Please. I miss you. I love you very much. Call me. Your dad, Carlos L. Arredondo."

Next he calls Victoria.

"This is Carlos," he says. "I would like to talk to you, please. And I need to talk to Brian, please. I would like to talk to all of you, please."

He hangs up. "They didn't pick up," he says. His hands are shaking. The doctors have told him to take deep breaths when this happens. He takes deep breaths. "What am I supposed to do?" he says. "I've already lost one son. Now I will lose another?"

A Mother's 20 Minutes

"So how's it going?" Victoria remembers Alex saying when he telephoned her from Najaf, 15 hours before he died. "I laughed and said, 'Okay,' and then I said, 'So how are you doing, honey? Are you eating?' " And soon after that, a Marine van was pulling up in front of her house.

A little yellow house on a busy road in Bangor -- that's where Victoria Foley is living now to be away from her ex-husband and Boston, and that's where the van arrived about the same time another van was arriving at Arredondo's house in Florida. The Marines had timed it perfectly except for one thing: Only Brian, 17, was home. The Marines wouldn't tell him why they were there, but of course he knew, and then his father was on the phone saying, "Brian, the Marines are here," and then Victoria was in the front yard and Brian was saying to her, "I'm sorry, Mom, I'm sorry, Mom," and now her recovery is underway, too.

A mother's recovery: "Ah geez," she keeps saying. She has a quiet, sad voice, sad eyes, sad posture, sad everything, and knows it, which doesn't change a thing. "I have days when I feel someone has put a thousand weights on me," she says. "I have days when I don't even want to think because it takes too much effort. I call them Alex days."

Her ex-husband has his wounds; she has hers. Her ex-husband has his images of Alex; she has hers:

Alex is 6, and Carlos is gone, and she, Alex and Brian spend night after night sleeping with one another on the couch.

Alex is 10 and has an announcement. "Mom, I'm no longer a little boy," he says. "And his teeth were still little," is what Victoria remembers about that.

Alex is 17 and is asking Victoria to sign his enlistment papers so he can join the Marines. "This is what he wanted," she says. "Why would I not allow it when it's such a good and noble thing?"

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