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The Last Goodbye
The waves were crashing against the shore; it was the only sound in the night. The only patron of the beach was a young girl. At that hour of the night, she should have been home sleeping in her bed, not out on the beach all by herself. But she had unfinished business to take care of. She had to say her last goodbye.
He’d been sent overseas to fight a little less than a year ago. He promised her that he would be back soon and that everything would be fine. And so he left, but never came home, leaving her with a broken promise.
No, she thought. He did come home, but he hadn’t come home in the way I was hoping for.
He came back in a casket with an American flag draped on top of it and a letter telling her and his family that he died a hero and that he had showed a great deal of bravery in defending his country.
She wasn’t completely sold. Of course, he was a hero. He had left home just weeks after turning eighteen and receiving his draft letter. He left to fight a war that even Americans thought was unjust. He left to fight a war he didn’t even believe in himself. He fought because there was no other choice. It was war or jail, and neither option was an appealing one.
Sitting in her black dress, which was now collecting sand in between each small fiber after being on the beach for hours now, the girl pulled out a letter from the pocket of her jacket. It was the one they had sent to his family to tell them that he’d been killed in action.
Opening the paper in her hands, she skimmed the words on the page. By now, they were just about memorized.
The soldiers came to his family’s doorstep. They rang the doorbell and gave the bad news to them along with this exact letter. Today had been the funeral. He was buried not far from the beach, as it had always been in his plans to be buried near the ocean.
He died a hero.
That’s what the page said, but she wasn’t totally convinced that it was true. What did being a hero mean? Was it the only thing they could say to make amends for taking someone’s child to use for their own purposes, and then never giving him back? Would knowing he didn’t die in vain make it any easier to know that he’d never really be here again?
It wouldn’t. It wouldn’t change the fact that he was never coming back and that the other thousands of young men who died would never have the chance to live again. They died for their countries, but that would never make the killing okay. Images of the war, of the bodies on the ground, of the thick jungle and soldiers trekking through it played on the TV every night around dinnertime. Families would wonder which one of the fallen soldiers was theirs.
The girl pulled out a pack of matches, taken from the front table at the funeral home, and lit one… just one. She watched as the flame grew, and then flickered away with the rush of wind sweeping by.
She stood, moving to the ocean, letting her bare feet feel the water and allowing her to think and reflect for just a moment. He loved the ocean. Having grown up in California, just miles from the beach, it was a place he always came to get away from the world. It was the place he came to just be.
The girl took out another match, this time, placing the flame on the corner of the letter. She watched as the fire caught to the fibers of the page and began to curl, morphing from what was once a letter, to nothing but a crumpled up brown ball of ash. The words on the page melted away and became nothing, with no significance whatsoever.
He had died. He had died a hero. But it wasn’t like him to think about death or the way he would go, so it was no use for her to reflect on it anymore either. He was once alive and he was a vibrant person who enjoying living life to the fullest, so there was no reason for her to remember him as anything besides that, which was why the burning page in her hands felt liberating.
The ashes and embers collected near her feet, conforming to the sand below. The water came rushing at her toes and the charred paper on the ground. For their last goodbye, the water receded; taking the paper with it, along with the memories of his death that would never define the kind of love they had.