"For Tales Thursday. Image: Daddy's Home by Diana Karelle, via Pixdaus"
This was the last time I saw him. I remember how deliriously happy I had been because he had come home again. I thought this time he would stay for good. But he was called for duty once again and so left to fight for freedoms we often take for granted. This was the photo mother took on the day he left. I had cried all that morning asking him why he had to leave again and remember his voice choking out the answer, "because I need to go and make sure you and Mommy are always safe." And I remember this time he didn't promise he'd return. I guess somewhere deep down inside he already knew his fate; or, maybe, he didn't want to promise something that he might not be able to deliver. The war he fought in ended soon after his departure but not before he was fatally injured. Mother's shock of the news when it arrived is a frozen point in time that is indelibly imprinted in my memory. The shock or inability or refusal to accept the news protected her until the day of his funeral. The moment the young guard in his crisp uniform began to play Taps, signs of her unraveling began: her shoulders shook gently in quiet fury trying its best to control the primal, silent scream that wanted to be unleashed; her closed-in brow unfurling in its struggle to keep the tears that were pooling at the corners of her eyes from falling. But once the somber ritual of folding and presenting of the flag began, it was then she could no longer keep her anguish inside. That primal scream that held the timbre of so much pain was finally released leaving her open and raw, a wounded animal caught in the crossfire of a war not her own. And me, in all the maturity six years of life had provided me with, took hold of her hand in comfort. It was the only thing I knew what to do.
Yes, mother's tears began at that moment and were incessant for many months after that. Despair took hold of her life - our life - and I remember our home also having taken on the personality of us, somber and mostly unkempt. Mother spent her days in her dark bedroom, drapes closed, never allowing sunlight to filter for she feared of what it might bring: the news that life goes on. And I now wonder had I not been around, had I not been born, I believe she might have let herself die just so she could be with my father again. And so with her sudden aversion to light, I would take the opportunities on days when the cold, dank, dreary weather visited - because she didn't seem to mind since the Sun was thankfully shaded by the weeping sky - to open drapes and windows and allow the stale, disconsolate air in which we lived to be melded with the fresh one outdoors that smelled of hope to come.
And with the passage of time, the deep wound mother sustained began to slowly heal and she no longer seemed to prefer days of closed captivity and slowly she began to come out of her protective shell. The thick, heavy drapes were taken down and replaced by sheers finally allowing the Sun to come in to keep us company. The dust that had settled comfortably on all surfaces was vacuumed. Area rugs and sofa cushions were taken into the yard and pounded until an island of dirt surrounded us. Floors were swept and mopped. Mother had come alive and along with her reemergence into life, our house had also come alive again. Fresh flowers now filled our rooms and dead plants discarded and replaced by new ones that promised to be cared. She embraced laughter once again, finding pleasure in its company.
And today, looking at this last photo of the first man I ever loved - the one I have kept by my bedside table all of my life - I remember things from memory alone; things that this photo does not depict such as how his eyes danced and how the skin around his mouth creased when he smiled at me; how my little hand go lost in his; how our days spent together, just him and I, were the very best days of my life. I think of all of these things today because today I am the one who must now leave my child - a son - and a husband and follow in my father's footsteps. And I've learned that wars never end, they just take a break to regain their energy and resurrect in another part of the world ready to take everyone on. And as I walk towards my plane today, waving goodbye to my family with a smile that promises that I will return, struggling to keep the tears that are pooling at the corners of my eyes from falling, I say a silent prayer that today be not the last time my child sees me and history repeats itself. But I cannot control what will happen despite all of my courage and precautions, but I know that if something does, then like my father, I will have died honorably protecting the lives of those I loved.