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“Sit with me,” the voice said.
She placed the tray of medicine on the table next to the hospital bed and sat. He reached for her hand and she starred at her golden one in his bruised one.
The sun flowed through the rows of beds occupied by beat down soldiers. The windows were open to the cool, summer winds off the Pacific Ocean.
“What do you do?” she asked timidly.
“I was a pilot.”
“My eye . . .”
“Oh . . .”
He was half blind in his left eye after taking shrapnel during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was lucky to be alive though he would never fly in the military again.
The Japanese attack landed most of the Navy’s Pacific fleet in hospitals around the island, unoccupied for the most part until December 7, 1941.
“Will they . . .”
“Discharge me? Yes.”
“Oh,” she repeated. “I’m so sorry.”
The night was just beginning to cool off when she approached him, her hair strewn by the breeze off the ocean, her skin glowing in the orange sunset. She wore a cotton dress that reached her knees and was belted around her slim waist. She carried a sweater over her arm and her bags in front of her with both hands and smiled shyly in his direction.
They walked along the streets in the summer evening and ate at a small seafood restaurant along the boardwalk. Afterward, the walked along the beach as the sun fell over the horizon.
They found a coffee shop that was empty save for the elderly woman in the first booth and spent the evening talking over steaming mugs. When their eyes were heavy with sleep, he walked her home, leaving her blushing from his kiss.
This continued into the fall, following them through the mild winter of Hawai’i, and into the spring of 1942. He had found a job as a commercial pilot while she continued nursing for the military.
In the summer of 1942, he proposed.
They were married the next summer, 1943. The wedding was held in his small hometown in western Colorado. The mountain landscape was dry. She saw it all as breath taking and unimaginable. She was irrevocably happy.
After the reception, they drove to their new home overlooking a deep river, meticulously chosen after months of searching. He carried her through the door and put her down on their bed, slowly removing her dress.
They spent the night in happy sighs and ecstasy, awaking to a blinding blue sky sending warm breezes through the open windows.
Her first pregnancy was hard on her slight body but she braved it with his love. Soon she was on the other side of the hospital bed in labor.
He waited nervously, twirling his hat on his fingers. He had canceled two flights to make it on time.
The doctor arrived, wanting to introduce father and daughter. When he picked her up, he held her carefully then placed a tender kiss on his exhausted wife’s forehead.
They took her home and loved her carefully.
When their first son was born, he arrived to the hospital late, held up at the airport in Denver.
For the birth of their second son, he didn’t make it home until two days later.
She watched out the window as he walked up to the back door, listening to his shoes against the pavement. He pushed open the screen door and kissed her. She was exhausted.
It was the summer of 1949. She had lost her slight figure, replaced with wide hips and a round chest. He was no longer the statue of a soldier but a bulkier pilot, filling his suits easily.
She shared his bed that night but she no longer felt her heart swelling with love.
In 1961, she sat between her two sons in the high school auditorium watching her daughter sing in the Christmas musical. She scolded the boys to be quiet in between bursts of goose bumps.
The three of them waited outside in the snow until she stepped out, still glittering under the mask of makeup.
Her mother stepped forward and enclosed her in a hug. “I’m so proud of you, sweetie.”
Her daughter looked around. “Did dad make it?”
With a sigh, “He had a late flight.”
“Oh . . .”
“You couldn’t make it home for your daughter? Do you know how hard she worked?”
“I couldn’t get a flight out of New York. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry!” He pushed up from the desk he was writing at and grabbed her wrists.
“What do you want me to do?” His eyes were fiery and dangerous.
“You didn’t even try!” He slapped her. She cried and he tried to apologize but she ran back out to the kitchen.
Dinner was silent and she endured the night under him.
Soon, he would come home late when she would already be asleep. She didn’t mind.
She would send her children to school and watch the hours tick by in the form of bean casserole, oven-baked ham and carrots on the stove. She noticed very little around her but always watched for new neighbors in the suburban area springing up around her.
It was 1967 the letter had finally come. She spent that night watching footage from Vietnam, crying over and over again into the throw pillows.
The draft order for her first son would take him to that muggy jungle and his father didn’t mind.
“He’s serving his country.”
She tried to beg him to make him flee to Canada or fake the medical test. He wouldn’t hear it.
“We both served, you know what it means.” Her pleas turned to prayers she was on her knees in the den sobbing. He pulled her up, shoved her onto the couch and pulled her dress up, taking her forcefully. When he had finished with her, he walked out of the den, quietly shutting the door as her cries filled the house.
“Your son fought valiantly. I’ve never seen that from one out of the draft. He did our country a great service, ma’am. He’s being awarded the Silver Star. We need someone to accept it for him.” The sergeant in his sharp uniform had no place in her living room but his presence was real.
Her son was gone. Dead. He would never sleep in his room down the hall, never again open presents with them at Christmas, never again sit next to his father at dinner, never again berate his sister for her choice in boyfriends.
“Thank you, sergeant,” her husband’s voice cut in.
When he led the sergeant to the door, he found her unmoving on the couch, her face pale. He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom to gently lay her down among the pillows.
“You did this to him,” she whispered.
He didn’t turn around as he walked out the door.
On July 20th of 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. She watched her daughter and her fiancé snuggle up next to each other on the couch while her son sat on the floor in front of the coffee table.
She waited after they had all gone to bed for her husband to arrive home. She waited until two the next morning.
He walked in smelling of another woman. She saw the lipstick that he had tried to rub off with the sleeve of his shirt.
She smiled brightly, kissed him good morning and went into their bedroom, quickly falling asleep.
When she awoke, the sunlight was streaming through the open windows. He lay next to her, starring at the ceiling.
“Do you miss those nights before Pearl?” he asked.
“You mean before the war?”
“No. I was lonely. I’m lonely now.”
He rose and went into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.
In 1971, she watched the Apollo 13 tragedy unfold. She felt just as marooned in space as those three astronauts did.
The spring brought green to Colorado’s mountain ranges but all she saw was gray. He stood on the back porch that overlooked the river down the hill. Today was too cold. It would not be today. The astronauts would not return home today.
The next three days passed in the same sequence. It was simply too cold.
On the forth, the area had a record breaking high of 75 degrees for early spring in the mountains. It was warm.
She left nothing but the ham in the oven and the carrots on the stove and she walked into the river waiting for it to swallow her up. The astronauts still had not returned.
They found her body on the western shore of the river. That night, the Apollo 13 astronauts landed safely in the Pacific Ocean.