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The solider

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The moon’s light spread across her room through her window, it was two o’clock in the morning and the only sound was the clock ticking. Tears streamed down her face onto her ear like rain, her sighs like thunder through her body, the letter crumbled in her hand. Her body huddled into a ball trembling head to toe. Her body was on the verge of collapsing as her eyes would slowly blink shut. They were in love, and it’s as if the memories they shared together were gone in the blink of an eye.

“I know I can’t live without you, but there are just some things in life that I have to do,” Alex said to Ashley, as he stood on their dark wooden porch. He was being drafted into the Vietnam War and at age twenty four he thought it was his duty to protect his country. Ashley cried and begged him not to go, their family was about to begin with their baby growing each day inside Ashley’s stomach, and she couldn’t raise their son on her own. As their first child she didn’t know how to raise him alone. “I love you more than anything else in this world Ashley, and I will be home in time to raise Gaven with you. We will be a family whether I’m here or not,” Alex said as he picked up his bag, kissed her one last time before he headed down the path to the bus.

Ashley took each day as it came and it got a little bit easier, but never stopped praying Alex stayed safe. She went to work each day, teaching her 2nd graders a little bit of English and Math each day, got home by four, checked the mail, but usually there was nothing from Alex, just bills and an occasional magazine. She would set the table for one, her plate with small intertwined flowers and vines around the edge and the silver polished forks, spoons, and knifes her Aunt Joe gave her as a wedding gift. But every Thursday when her parents got off work early, her mom and dad would come and join her so she didn’t feel so alone. Alex was a big topic during dinner because her mom was in her position years ago when Ashley’s father went into war while her mom was pregnant with her older brother, Ryan. “He is fine out there sweet heart,” her father would always say. “He’s the strongest man I’ve met in my fifty – eight years.”

Six months had past. Ashley was always being asked about Alex, how long he is gone for, when he comes home, but the favorite question was if she is okay being alone. It was as if the people that surrounded her never knew a young girl, pregnant with her husband serving their country. All she wanted was someone to ask her to go to lunch and not talk about Alex; she had enough reminders that she was alone every day. Only four letters had come from Alex within those six months and the letters to Ashley were like finding her long lost buried treasure. But letters were the last thing on Ashley’s mind as her mom rushed her to the hospital almost twenty miles away from her small one floored home to deliver her baby. After three hours of sweat, screaming pain and pushing, baby Gaven Austin Hayes was born and for once Ashley felt like everything was going to be okay, as if she had this sudden burst of hope she was waiting for when she looked at her son. She kissed Gaven on the forehead, watched his little clear coded eyes flinch through his dreams as he slept peacefully in his new blanket on her chest and whispered, “daddy will be home soon sweetie.”

“He was born yesterday; labor went quicker than mom said it would, but still felt like hell. He looks just like you Alex, his tucked in ears, and small pudgy nose. He looks more like you than he ever will look like me. He was so peaceful while he slept in his blanket; it was like I knew everything was going to be okay when I looked at him. I saw you coming home and us being a family together again. I know you said we’d always be a family, and you’re right, but it would be better if the family could all be together. I can’t wait for you to hold him, for him to feel through his body the love of his father. Mom and dad can’t get enough of him. I miss you so much, I think about you every day. Please come home soon, I need you, Gaven needs you. Stay safe my hero,” Ashley sealed her letter, kissed it so a soft red imprint of her lips were crossing the seal and placed it in the mailbox.

At six months old Gaven was smiling and almost perfecting crawling around the house. It was like each month would go by faster and faster, except for the first month. That was the hardest, the nights when Gaven would wake up crying because he was either hungry or had a wet diaper and she was the only one that could get up, it was draining her. Gaven kept Ashley’s mind and body busy taking care of him, making sure he didn’t put anything in his mouth or pull the dog’s hair to hard and have Badger, their golden retriever swing his bolder like head around and knock him over. With one more year to go before Alex would be coming home, only one letter had been sent back from Alex, but that letter was only a few sentences talking about how hard things were but he couldn’t wait to see his beautiful family. Each day Ashley would go to work, except Saturday and Sunday since elementary school was never open on the weekends, and she would take care of her handsome little Gaven. Except the empty seat at the dinner table where Alex used to sit and the vacant spot on the other side of the bed were just small reminders of the pain and emptiness she felt without her husband. Ashley was ready for Alex to come home and never go back, sometimes she even caught herself standing at the window hoping she would see him walking down the path dressed in his dark green uniform, with the hat placed in a perfect circle around the top of his head and his light brown bag hanging over his shoulder coming home to start their new family together.

Her fifth letter had finally come after waiting what seemed to be an eternity. Except this time the mailman did not deliver it, but two men dressed with blue pants and a blue jacket, each having three pins aligned at the seam, and a hat that looked a little too small for their heads. As Ashley went to the door they handed her the letter. She felt her stomach drop, Badger ran through her legs to chase a squirrel he saw almost knocking Ashley over with her weak knees. As she went to open it, her hands trembled and her heart felt like the thumping was getting heavier in her chest each second. It read,
“Dear Mrs. Hayes,

Your husband was a brave and head strong man. We respect the things he has done for his country, and we were honored to have him as a part of this service. But we are sorry to inform you that he was shot and killed in the line of duty. His troop took him to medical care as soon and as fast as they could, but he slipped away. He died saving his country, and there is not a single thing he didn’t do that would be considered unhonorable. If there is anything we can do to help you and Gaven please contact us without hesitation.






Sincerely,







General. F. Skinner.

Ashley couldn’t finish the letter; she fell crying hysterically once she read the boy she grew up with her whole life, the neighbor kid she loved from the day she met him, the one she waited to marry since she was thirteen, the man she had a child with, was shot. The two men caught her, letting her dead weight body fall onto them as her biggest fear became her biggest reality. Her mom and dad pulled into the driveway for their usual Thursday dinner and saw Ashley crying, holding onto the two men, and at that very moment they knew Alex was gone. They pushed open the car doors, not even closing them as they rushed to their little girl. Gaven was crying in his room so her mother went to sooth him, whipping her tears off her face before going into his room. Her father took his heart-broken baby girl into his arms away from the two men. He held her as she cried into his sleeve, his left hand pushing her hair out from her eyes and a tear rolled down his face, he reached his right hand out to thank the men for their service and that he had it from there. Ashley cried in her father’s arms on the porch for minutes that passed by like hours. Her father finally slid to the ground, keeping his daughter close, and began to quietly cry alongside her. Before he kissed her, he looked up into the kitchen window and saw his wife, the woman he once left to fight for his country, holding her helpless grandson close to her chest, crying.

Two o’clock in the morning, her tears poured down her face into her ear and on her shoulder. Three years ago today, she was informed the love of her life was shot and killed in War. She knew she was crying too loud, as she clutched to the paper the two men had given her, when Gaven opened the door and began crawling into bed with his mother. All Gaven had were pictures and stories of his father, and he told Ashley everyday how he was going to grow up and be as brave as his daddy. “It’s okay mommy, I’ll protect you,” Gaven said as he kissed Ashley on her forehead. Slowly, Ashley stopped crying and fell back asleep with just a few tears strolling down her face while her son held her in his arms as best as he could. His tiny fingers wrapped around her shoulders and his head placed upon hers. “You’re my hero daddy, I’m going to make you proud, but please look over me and mommy,” Gaven said, looking out the window at the darkened sky as the moon hid behind the clouds before dozing back to sleep.





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