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The Time Traveller
It was Saturday; I hated it. Why did I hate it? Because it had been almost a month since I heard from John, and it would be at least a few more days before I got his next letter. Mail takes a while to travel to and from Iraq. I smashed the cleaver down into the bloody hunk of meat. I was in a hurry to go on to the onions so I could have an excuse to cry. Sam walked in as I was chopping ingredients for Momma’s special recipe for beef stew; Momma’s was the best beef stew in the world. Sam was looking at me with those eyes that tell you he has a question.
“What is it Sam?” I asked him. I can hardly stand to look him in the eyes; he has John’s eyes. He was six now; he had started school last year and done pretty good in kindergarten. John was proud of how well he did in classes. He would brag on how Sam was his little genius. I could see Sam hesitant to ask his question from over the island in the middle of the kitchen. I walked around to him and asked again, “What is it Sam?”
“When is Daddy coming home?” he asked,
“Well I suppose he’ll be coming home as soon as he can,” I replied.
“Yeah, but how long is that? I want to write it down on the calendar and plan him a party.” He said this with a tone of enthusiasm to make his dad happy when he returned.
“Well, if everything goes good he’ll be coming home in three months,” I said to Sam, tapping his cute little nose with the tip of my pinky, which had flour on it from mixing dough for the rolls.
“Okay! Three months isn’t very long. I better go start planning! I need my crayons so I can draw all the pictures of the cake and food and all the people that need to be invited! Papa and Granny will have to come for sure!” yelled Sam with excitement as he rushed to his room to draw the pictures of how the party should be.
I turned back to my work and began the onions. Finally I have an excuse to shed some tears. I have to stay strong for Sam, but sometimes it overwhelms me that John’s been gone too long now. I used to count the minutes he was gone, now I cry every time I remember that he’s not going to lay beside me tonight. I sliced each onion into small circular fillets, and then diced those until they were just right for the stew. I took my time so I could get as many tears out as I could. Sam was drawing so I didn’t have to worry too much about him catching me, and if he did I would just blame the onions like I always did.
Suddenly there was a knock at the front door. For a split second my heart lost thirty pounds and went bursting forward in the vast cavity of my chest as I thought the foolish thought of John being at the front door. I dropped the knife on the island, turned the old white stove off and ran to the door. I jerked the door open quickly, and then I was startled, like when Jack finally pops out of the box. Two men dressed in the nicest suits you’ve ever seen, with stern looks on their faces; they were military men. My worst nightmare had just become the darkest truth. John was dead.
There were no onions to blame this time. I fell weeping at the door. The thoughts of John’s smile, his eyes, his sense of humor, the way he would lift me when we hugged, every moment with him ran through my mind like wild horses stampeding over my emotions, and through the rivers of tears. I heard the small pitter patter of feet, when you’re around someone long enough you can tell them by the pattern of their footsteps. Sam had wandered out of his room to see what was going on. I guess a knock at the door, the sound of a knife being dropped and your mother weeping are enough to arouse curiosity in anyone.
A few hours later I finally got the delusion that I had the strength to tell Sam what had happened earlier. I began to open my mouth, taking in a deep breath, a lump was at the end of the breath and it stuck right in my throat. I hate that feeling. I swallowed again and again, wishing that it would go away, but my wishing and swallowing was to no avail. I finally beat myself into trying to tell Sam before I burst out crying.
“Sam, your Daddy…well see…Daddy was trying to stop some bad men from killing one of his friends…and Daddy saved his friend. Isn’t that good?” I said, stammering to find a way to say it,
“Oh yeah! That’s good! Daddy is even better than Superman!”
“Yeah…” better than Superman I thought to myself. “But see, Daddy saved his friend, but then Daddy got hurt,”
“WHAT!?” Sam yelled out so loud his voice cracked.
“Daddy got hurt really bad, he got shot. Before the doctors could save Daddy, he died…” When I finished that sentence was when we both broke down, each in our own way. I fell down weeping again and Sam ran to his room slamming the door with a ferocity I’d never seen in him before. I gathered myself together enough to go to his room and attempt to comfort him. As I stepped in the door I heard one of his crayons crack under my foot. I looked down to a sea of color and paper. I scanned through the pictures seeing the white haired images of John’s parents, then seeing a picture of a woman and man kissing. The woman had brown hair and green eyes. The man had blue eyes. I only knew one couple with those eye colors. I reached down and picked up the drawing.
“Sam, who’s this in the picture you drew?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“You and Daddy. He told me when he left that the first thing he was gonna do when he got back was give you a big kiss.” Sam replied. That was a kiss I’d never get. The kiss I wanted most in the world right then. The kiss he was going to give me when he returned. I never imagined that the next time I would see John he would be lifeless. I never even let the thought into my mind for longer than a second before dismissing it as absurd.
Three days later, we were at the funeral. John’s parents were there, everyone that Sam had drawn was there, but this wasn’t the party he was planning. I sat there through everyone’s eulogies, none of which ever began to tell how amazing John was. I might have been able to have told something that did him justice, but I didn’t want to break down in front of everyone. We all left the church like black ants deserting an anthill; that’s what you would see if you were God looking down on us. I made my way to the car that the mortuary had provided for Sam and me. I had made it clear by my facial expression that I didn’t wish to be bothered with sympathy at this time.
The cars made their way to the site where John was buried, things are kind of blurry here in my memory. I was trying so hard not to break down crying and the only way I could manage that was to become numb to what was going on. Sam somehow stayed strong through the whole thing. I kept thinking, hoping, wishing it was all just a bad dream and I would wake up in a few minutes. Somewhere between hoping and wishing, John was buried and Sam and I were taken home.
I walked up to the house and opened the door. I looked down and saw one lone letter lying on the floor that had been pushed through the mail slot in the door while we were gone. I picked it up and walked to the kitchen. Sam went to his room for the solitude he was beginning to love. I read the envelope which contained a letter; it was from John. I thought about throwing it away but my heart wouldn’t let me. I opened the envelope and pulled out the white paper. I never thought I would see John’s handwriting again. The letter read:
I got one of those bad feelings today. You know how I’d get those bad feelings and then not too long from then something bad would happen. That’s how I feel today. I wanted to let you know that I love you, in case something happens. The guys here were making fun of me, and I’m not too good of a writer but I wrote you a poem. I hope you like it. I worked two weeks on it, it’s not very long, but hopefully it’s the thought that counts because it’s not good for much else. Tell Sam to keep doing good in school and make his Daddy proud. You keep cooking those good meals you cook and I’ll keep dreaming about them every night. I want you to know that I will love you forever, no matter what happens. I hope you and Sam keep on doing good while I’m away. I hope you don’t miss my old mug too much. I’ll see you soon!
Here’s the poem:
Should tears fall while I’m away,
Always know you’re not alone,
Pin this letter on the wall,
I’m right there at home.
I began crying halfway through that letter. I realized then and there that love is a time traveler.