(Reshare from January 8th 2015)
Only two months after he came home, I found the note laying on the bed. Looking back, part of me knew something was wrong the minute I walked through the door; I could taste fear clinging to the corners of the living room, a webby darkness tinging the walls. Up until that point in my life, I never knew you could feel the texture of unhappiness. It was brittle, metallic and sour, such a brutal contrast to the intense, sunny afternoon outside our window.
My purse rattled when I dropped it on the table, my keys shaking a bottle of ibuprofen I kept for my headaches. There was a brand new bar of pumpkin-rum wax melting in the warmer on the island. Fingerprints dotted the fridge, the sunlight highlighting the markings. It’s weird how I remember such infinitely small things.
Turning back to the table, my cell rang as I was reaching for it, the shrill jingle making me jump back in surprise. My heart beat fast and an ocean raged in my ears as I touched the ‘answer’ icon on the screen.
“Baby,” my momma croaked. “Where are you?”
At a young age, you are conditioned as a child to know when something is wrong in your mother’s voice. You can sense it in the way your breath goes out of your lungs with the rise of panic; her usually confident tone twisted into hushed grief. Tears threaten your own eyes as you feel them pool in hers without even being able to see her face. You can feel the pull of her shoulders caving in on themselves as she fights to maintain her composure, trying to be strong even as her throat tightens in pain and her jaw slams shut so hard her teeth ache. That’s the thing about mothers, you know. They do everything they can to protect us because they feel every pain we feel. What they don’t realize, however, is pain goes both ways. Although we are formed as children in her, we are also formed of her. We know their hearts just as well as they know ours.
“Momma, I’m home,” I stated. “What’s wrong?”
I heard the rustle of the phone bounce around, switching hands, then a male voice:
“Emma,” he said, “you need to come here. Now.”
At a young age, you are conditioned as a child to know when something is wrong in your father’s voice. You can sense it in the way your vision threatens to go black; spots of neon color dancing across your eyes and shock rupturing your belief that anything could harm such a proud, tough man. Pain courses through your ribs as you fight not to beg him to just come get you and hold you. Plead him to fix it because that’s what he does. He fixes things. But how can you selfishly demand someone to fix you when they obviously can’t even fix themselves? You hear it in the way his buttons on his flannel shirt warn they’re going to shatter with the rapid breaths in his chest. You can taste the way he’s biting his bottom lip, praying he’ll stop a sob from coming while he grips the phone between his scarred hands. That’s the things about fathers, you know. They are so sturdy they forget to allow someone to be sturdy for them. Yet, who better to be sturdy for him than his children who wish only to be sturdy with him because he taught them how?
Dropping the phone, I leaned against the wall, sliding down until I lay across the floor.
I screamed his name until my throat burned, my voice turning to a hollow screech.
He never came.
At a young age, you are conditioned as a child to know there is something wrong with fairy tales. You can sense it in the way no two people seem to have their “happily-ever-after”. Handsome men don’t parade around on white steeds, brandishing swords and claiming to be your one true love. When you sing in the woods, birds don’t flock to harmonize with you along your arm covered in a gauzy sleeve of a poofy dress. There is no wishing well where a dream can come true just by looking into its surface and whispering your greatest desire with lips rosy red.
I heard the knock on the door, the turning of the key in the lock before I could hoist my chin off the floor. My cheek stuck to the hardwood floor, tears acting as a glue peeling away my foundation and mascara.
“Baby,” my daddy whispered, reaching down to wrap my arm around his neck. “Come on.”
And then I knew.
At a young age, you are conditioned as a child to watch soldiers on t.v. or see them in airports wearing uniforms reuniting with their families…and as a kid you feel awed. You witness a hero up close, even if you never speak to them or ask them questions. You drink in the way they hold themselves, how they pack their heavy bags as if they weigh no more than a feather. You watch them in movies escape the most horrific of situations to return home and grip their wives in hugs packing posters saying ‘Welcome back!’
At a young age, you are conditioned as a child to recognize a folded flag at a funeral. Your mothers and fathers explain they are dedicated to a young man or woman who served their country and are no longer here with us. You hear the rifle salute and the playing of Taps and you watch the flag folding and presentation in silence. You picture them dying gallantly in battle or protecting a fellow soldier.
You do not picture holding a flag yourself at the age of twenty-nine.
You do not picture that soldier putting a gun to his head on some gravel road because he can’t bear the thought of hurting his wife in his sleep again. Of failing his parents. Of failing at work. Or failing God.
Only two months after he’d come home, I found the note laying on the bed.
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