Authors: L. Duarte
Tears burn my eyes. How can I be forgetting his face? I can’t lose him all over again. But every day our memories become hazier. My trembling fingers unravel the lace and I pull out one of the letters he wrote me. I can’t betray Tim by forgetting him, letting him go. It will be as if he never existed. Worse, his sacrifice will be mute, in vain.
Tim had the most clear and charming smile. I’ll never like a smile as much as I loved his. Why then did my insides melt when Tarry smiled at Ella?
It’s been a few days since I saw Tarry, but his hollowed eyes chase me.
I wipe away my tears, smooth the crumpled paper, and reread the letter:
My beloved wife,
I write this as I watch you sleep. Beside the fact that your snores take away the perfection of the sight, I could spend the rest of my life just watching your chest going up and down. (Kidding, other than the most wonderful sound of your sighing, not a peep leaves your pretty pouted lips.) But I can’t stay and watch you. Reality is, today I head back to the war zone where the memory of your lovely face is my safe haven.
First, let me apologize for not being here when you wake up. Honestly, I know it’s selfish of me, but I don’t want you to see me hopping on that bus.
Remember last night when I held you in my arms as we made love? That’s the memory I want you to carry for the next months. I know the golden depth of your eyes will sustain me on the parched lands in the war zone.
You know I don’t like to share stories of war with you or anybody. I honestly think what happens there should stay there. Well, another point for me to remain silent about is that most stories are not as heroic as some of us make it to be. Most importantly, sweetheart, I don’t want you to think of me as a wimp. However, today I felt an urge to share one of my stories with you.
Last night, after we made love, and I heard you silently wiping away your tears, it broke a piece of me. Your pain tugged deep inside my heart. I wish I never had to leave your side again. Please forgive me for putting you through this ordeal. I promise this will be my last time away from you. A year, Mel, that’s all we have to endure before our forever.
Anyway going back to the dorky story. It all happened during my first assignment on a remote village on the mountains of Afghanistan. It was so cold there it could freeze your soul. But that’s not what bothered me. In fact, I barely noticed the frigid temperature; the lack of your warmth was what froze my heart. Instead of the brave soldier defending his country, I became a zombie.
We were stationed in a village for almost a week before enemy forces attacked us. Then, it began.
I killed, Mel. I killed the sons of many mothers who waited for them to return home. I cried for hours, Mel. I cried while I killed more of them. I felt confused. I killed teenagers holding automatic weapons to ensure the right of our teens back home to play with their paintball guns. I killed so we could continue to be a free country. I killed to stay alive. I killed to go back home. I killed to defend the children playing on the dusty fields of that village. But I killed.
I managed to save the son of the village’s healer. And me, a killer, was hailed as hero. They claimed that by saving the boy, I had saved their seed. See, the thirteen-year-old boy was being groomed to become the next generation’s healer.
Nothing made me feel better though. All I wanted was to lose myself into your love, Mel. In a dark moment, I prayed one of my stupidest prayers. I asked God to give me wings, Mel, so I could fly to you. Funny thing though, because it was not a figurative prayer. I meant it.
I swear to you, Mel, when I got up from that prayer, the healer of the village approached me and gave me a coin. I shoved it back into his hands and told him I could not accept his money. We argued back and forth until I examined the coin. It had wings, Mel, just like my prayer. Now some might think of it as a coincidence, but I know better.
The healer explained to me the myth behind the ancient coin. It was known to them that more than a thousand years before our time, a princess warrior killed the man she loved to save her people. Out of her personal sacrifice, her people strived but her soul perished. Her people, knowing her suffering, put all their healing love into a piece of gold. They designed it with wings, claiming that their love would set her soul free from the suffering.
This coin, Mel, has since been passed from one broken soul to another. When one accepts it, he or she commits to be the holder of the healing power for as long as there is a need. According to the legend, some have kept it for as little as a day while others kept it for as long as a lifetime. The point is to pass it along when you no longer require its help or when you find someone who needs it more than you.
Last night when we made love, Mel, I swear to you, I heard a voice in my heart saying that you would have more of me than I could understand. I can’t really describe it, but it seems like part of me left my body to stay with yours. Dorky and cheesy, but that’s what I felt, Mel.
But, I still have this overwhelming need of knowing that you are not suffering for me. So, here is the coin that I’ve carried for the last year. I don’t want you to suffer, sweetheart. I love you more than I love my own life. Take this coin and remember that we have wings on our hearts that take us beyond the barrier of time or place.
I love you, my dear, please always remember that.
I’ll come back to you soon. Until then, fly, my dear, fly to my arms, whenever you miss me. I’ll always be with my arms open, waiting for you to come to me.
Each time I read this letter, my heart breaks into a million little pieces. I wish I knew how to put my heart back together into one piece. I feel like that would require me to forget Tim, to let go of him completely. I can’t bear to lose my memories when that’s all I have left of him to hold on to.
I glance at the picture of him beside my bed. “I gave it away, Tim. He needs it more than I do. I have to be truthful to the legend. But I hurt still, my love. I hurt so much that I wonder how much longer I can go on. My wings, Tim, I feel like they’re clipped and broken. I can’t fly to you. I’m forgetting the way you slightly tilted your head when you looked at me, the way you held my hips right before you moved inside me.
Our daughter, Tim. She suffers from not knowing you. I wanted you to be here so bad, especially today. It’s Ella’s first day of kindergarten. We all pretend you are here and, for a while, it worked. But now, she wants more of you and I can’t give it to her, Tim.”
The blare of my alarm clock brings me out of the bottomless sea of pain. I push its button, wipe the slobber off my face, place the letter inside the clutch, and return it to the drawer.
With automatic movements, I climb out of bed. The familiar aroma of coffee invites me to the start of a new day. I pad along the hall, the wood floor squeaking under my bare feet.
“Mommy,” I hear Ella calling from her room.
“Yes, baby.” I peek inside her room.
“Come sleep with me.”
“Oh, honey, it’s time to get up. Today is your big day.” I sit on the edge of her bed and muss her disheveled hair.
“Were you crying?”
“No, sweetie. Mommy has a serious case of the sniffles.”
“I heard you talking to Dad. You always cry when you talk to him. I wish you wouldn’t talk to him anymore.”
“Oh, honey.” I climb in bed with her and wrap my arms around her small frame. My little girl is growing and becoming so perceptive. Oh, Tim, why aren’t you here with me? With us?
We lie still, safely tucked inside our cocoon, until Ella stares at me. Her eyes are wide and curious.
“Mommy, do you think Daddy would go to school with us today?” she asks.
“Of course, honey. Your daddy would not miss it for the world.”
“Then, how come he was not there when I was born?”
“Oh, honey, because he had gone to heaven already.”
“Can we ever visit him in heaven, maybe on his birthday?”
My heart cracks another tiny piece. How can I explain to her when I don’t fully understand myself?
“Well, the point is, heaven is a very special place. We can only go there when we are ready. Dad was so special he was ready to go very, very young. But we still have a long time to be on earth before we are ready to go.”
“I wish he could visit us, Mommy. Most kids have mommies
“Dad will always be here with us, Ella. When Dad went to heaven, he left his love behind. And love is like a giant rope keeping us tied to him forever.” I sit up and tickle her tummy.
“Now, how do you want your hair today?” I clasp her small hand inside mine and tug her out of bed.
“Can you braid it like on Sundays when we go to church?” She beams.
“Of course, sweetie.”
I DRIVE ELLA to Will’s. It’s almost eight o’clock, Ella’s bedtime. I’m tired from the long day, but my second shift starts at eleven.
I read a book and sing a few lullaby songs to Dominick and Ella.
After Will collects Dominick to settle him in his room, I tuck Ella under the covers.
“Good night, princess.” I kiss her cheek and brush her curls away from her eyes.
“Night, Mommy.” A soft yawn escapes her lips.
“I’ll be back in the morning to drive you to school, okay?”
“Yeah…” she whispers. Her lids are heavy. I give her a butterfly kiss and she giggles in between another yawn.
“Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I walk away and shut the door behind me.
I take a deep breath of air and head to the kitchen. I wish I didn’t have to work night shifts. But I need the overtime money. Pop, Tim’s father, told me last week that Jon needs new cleats and a new uniform. It will cost a few hundred dollars. I know Pop can’t afford it.
Kathy, Tim’s sister, left her three children with Pop one day and never went back. For the last ten years, Pop has been raising them. At seventeen years old, Jonathan is the oldest. He is sweet, smart, and fast on his size-thirteen feet. He has won all the local and state track competitions. Scouts from across the nation have their eyes on him. He works on Saturdays to help Pop, but it’s not enough money to pay for any additional expense.
Before Tim died, he assisted Pop financially. Now, I’m the only one Pop has.
“Hey, Mel. I made some coffee,” Portia says as I enter the kitchen.
“Oh, thanks. I’ll need it.” I slide on the barstool and prop my elbows on the cold marble counter and rub my eyes. It’s going to be a long night.
“When is Tarry going back to a counseling session?”
“Tomorrow.” I sigh, realizing I won’t get much sleep tomorrow either. God, I hope Dad comes back soon.
“How did the first session go?” She hands me a cup of coffee and sits next to me.
“Better than I expected.” I sip the hot liquid.
“I’m worried about him.”
“Yeah, he’s got it hard.”
“This is the third time he OD’d.”
“Let’s hope it’s the last.”
“He really needs help. I’m so hopeful this time he will get sober.”
“I’ll do my very best to help him, Portia.”
“Please, Mel. Despite his tremendous success, Tarry is a very vulnerable and lonely person.”
“What about his parents? They’re not supportive?”
“They lead busy lives. But to them it’s as if Tarry doesn’t exist.”
“Wow. That alone would be a good reason to drive anyone to drink.”
“Yeah. Growing up I had it good compared to Tarry. My parents neglected me, but never meant to hurt me. Tarry’s parents took a twisted pleasure in reminding him of his intrusion on their lives.”
“How can parents feel or even act that way toward their children?” I ask.
“Oh, they have their sickening, selfish reasons.” Portia looks inside her cup of coffee and inhales deeply. “Tarry’s grandparents loved him. When Tarry was born, it became obvious that his parents rejected him. His grandparents unofficially adopted him. They lived in a castle in France. Tarry is fluent in French, you know,” Portia brags proudly. “Anyway, when Tarry was four, his grandmother died. According to Tarry, his grandfather got ill from his broken heart after her death. He died a year later.” Portia sips from her coffee. “That’s when the rejection turned into hate for Tarry’s parents. Before dying, Tarry’s grandfather made a will. Tarry is not the son of the owner of Highma Music, Mel. Tarry is the sole owner of the company.”
I almost fall off the stool.
“I thought his parents owned it,” I respond while trying to grasp the magnitude of Tarry’s fortune.
“That’s what everyone thinks. Tarry doesn’t care to clarify it or take control of the company.”
“That’s why they hate him?” I ask, perplexed.
“Yeah, the will had complicated stipulations. Tarry’s grandfather made sure to tie his parents to conditions.”