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Walking back from saying “Goodbye” to Toby that morning seemed like no big deal. How was I supposed to know them Japs were coming to kill him? How was I supposed to know that me saying “goodbye” to him early that morning would be the last time me and my little girl would see him again? I wouldn’t have known that. Not at all.
Julia and I meandered along the pier back to the base after wishing her father well before he stepped onto his boat, the Arizona. I saw that there would be no getting Julia back to bed now. As much as I could hope to have another few hours to myself, I knew that would not be the case. Her face brightened as she looked around and took in the world only as a two year-old can. She climbed up on the rail and peered at the crystal blue ocean, just visible through the hazy fog that covered the palm treetops this early in the morning. I saw the word ARIZONA etched on the ship closest to the harbor.
I then headed into the mess hall to get Julia some breakfast, waving to the other wives of soldiers out on morning duty.
“What nonsense! Why can’t Robby have some bacon?” I heard Mary question the cook, James, “You gave us bacon last week!”
Obviously, she hadn’t heard the announcement about rationing that came over the radio yesterday morning. The war rationed many of the foods us civilians were used to. Now, even groceries like chocolate are restricted! Besides, her pork of a son didn’t need any bacon as far as I was concerned.
I led Julia over to the table and plopped down next to Linda, who was toying with the radio that only emitted static. I’d think that for a military base, they would provide better radios.
“Julia! Stop that!” I snapped. Pieces of soggy Rice Krispy’s had somehow ended up underneath her fingernails and stuck to her hair.
“Look what you’ve done! Now I have to grab you another plate of food. Daddy wouldn’t like that wasting. You’re lucky I’m here instead of him.”
Julia gave a whimper at my harsh words.
The women looked at me strangely, but what I told her was true. Toby would slap our girl for embarrassing him like that; good daughters didn’t make messes of their breakfast. I stood up and trudged across the crowded room, my dress snagged on one of the round tables as I came back, and the new cereal almost flew off the tray.
“Did you hear?” Mary asked Barbra, the wife of Toby’s comrade Kenneth, “The government started rationing bacon along with eggs and cheese! Who knows what’s next?”
Barbra and Linda rolled their eyes. Mary was absolutely clueless when it came to current affairs. I doubt she would know who Hitler was if she weren’t living 50 feet away from Pearl Harbor.
“Really?” Linda teased, her eyes wide with mocked shock.
“Yes! I can’t believe it. How will Robby get through the day without a big breakfast?”
Just then, John came over and kissed the top of Mary’s head. I flinched; Toby would never dream of kissing me so tenderly. Jealousy boiled in my stomach as if I had eaten spoiled meat. I gave a little cough.
“So what are your plans for the day?” I asked Barbra.
“Oh I was just thinking of taking it easy, with it being Sunday. Julia is welcome to come to play with Patricia if she’d like.” She answered easily, though her eyes flicked protectively towards her daughter. "Darn, it looks like Julia won’t be taken off my hands for a few hours. She looks at the girl as though Julia’s some sort of rodent," I thought.
Toby is always yelling and out with Kenneth, George, and Paul, but I know he loves Julia. This morning, he gave her his little pin he picked up last night while he was out drinking. I’m surprised he even remembered he had a daughter with that much beer in his stomach. I doubt he loves me, though. He married me, which was the least he could’ve done with him getting me pregnant while I was in high school, but we both know if it weren’t for Julia, I’d probably be with Jessie back at home. I wish I were with Jessie back at home.
“Thank you, Barbra,” I replied, “but Julia felt sick this morning,” I mentally kicked myself at my lame excuse. Of course Julia wasn’t sick; she was ecstatically playing with her Krispy’s again, as if they were that strange new Silly Putty that was all the rage with kids around the base. Why did I bother to ask?
Barbra shrugged her shoulders, and continued to cut up Patricia’s orange. Her eyes darted towards Linda and her head gave a little shake. I could feel heat rising in my face, turning it tomato red. I knew the other mothers thought I was odd because of my age, but to gossip about me behind my back, which I know they did, made me so angry I didn’t notice Julia scampered out of sight!
“Julia?” I called. The rascal had gotten up from her seat again! “Julia, come back and eat your breakfast!”
I hopped up off my chair, frantic, but happy to leave the table. I spotted her quickly, as the dress she wore that day was a not to be missed pink. I admired how the capped sleeves almost looked store-bought.
“Julia! Never run off like that again!” I scolded, already knowing it would be in vain.
“But... Momma, what are those?” she asked, pointing up towards the morning sky.
“They’re airplanes, darling,” I muttered. She lived at a base with planes flying overhead all day. She knew an airplane when she saw one!
“No Momma, it’s different!”
I looked up again, and saw that she was right. Then, I screamed.
My voice was drowned out by the screeching alarms; “WHA! WHA! WHA!” basted out of the walls.
As long as I live, I will never forget that first explosion. My ears filled with its “BOOM!” and a thousand screams and sobs, my eyes blazed with the roaring fire that clung to the wood on the ship. As more bombs fell, the water turned orange, red, and white and the sky darkened with planes. Swirling and dancing the fire spread, engulfing everything in its path. Smoke from the flames quickly enveloped the morning sun in a thick, noxious cloud.
The planes up ahead swarmed again, preparing for another wave.
"I need to get her out of here!" I thought desperately. I couldn’t lose sight of Julia, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the water. I searched for those seven letters. I soon located Toby’s ship, looking like a toy in the giant waves.
“Valerie, you have to get going!” James shouted to me, “Get her out of here!”
I looked at Julia, whose eyes were too young to understand the disaster she was witnessing. Her face reflected the glow of the fire on the water. She didn’t cry; she only stared.
“Daddy’s down there,” she whispered, not sounding like the scared two year-old I expected.
“He’s safe for now, Honey,” I told her, wondering how long my words would hold truth.
“Valerie!” James shouted again. The men hopped onto their feet, and raced to join me outside on the pier. Fist clenched, yet too petrified to move, they watched as their friends and family perished. The rage that radiated off their backs was tangible.
I found the Arizona, and I think Julia must have also. I turned and stared at it, It’s still there! I thought, wondering what I did to deserve my joy. Then the bomb fell. Then the bomb landed. Then the Arizona went up in flames.