Keep Me in Your Heart

May 9, 2011
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I sat down on the porch swing, gazing out at the unending, rolling waves and moonlit, sandy hills that made up the horizon. A gull swept low, grazing the waves and calling to its brethren. Sighing, I leaned back against the rough, grainy wood of the creaky, old swing.

Closing my eyes, I could still see the flashes of bombs shaking the ground around me, with the artillery missing by a hair. I remember the feeling of pain when sporadic bouts of gunfire hit a little too close to our bunker – but even the memory of that is dulled now. I managed to make it home from the war, even with the Krauts racing after me, and even after I served my duty as cannon fodder. My corp struck me as the dim type, but the drill pig demanded we obey all orders, and so I did.

I was home now, finally, after constant hell of war. I leaned over to catch a glance into the window, smiling slightly as I saw my beautiful wife briefly smile in her sleep. It was the only time she smiled any more, and it hurts to remember the quiet times when we could share laughter together on this same swing.

I remember how we argued whenever we talked of my desire to enlist. Day in and day out, we argued about it. I wanted to keep her safe in the only way I could – and she wanted to do the same for me. It drove us to the point where we wouldn't talk anymore. We wouldn't laugh or smile when we could; the only time there was a hint of happiness was when we were taking care of the kids. We had to keep up appearances for them – especially since I would be leaving, and even though I was coming back, I wanted to be remembered fondly.

At last, the time I had given myself had come and gone, and it was time for me to enlist. “Just sit with me on the swing,” I had said. “Just talk with me, one last time,” I pleaded. I had made up my mind that if she would talk to me one more time, on this swing, I would reconsider – for the kids and our love.

But she had shrugged stiffly, and went back to scrubbing an invisible spot on the counter, and I swear I could see moisture on the counter where there had been none before. I left that day, another time-serving man joining the endless war. But I was home again, finally, and I wasn't leaving again.

I mustered the last of my courage and stood, watching the old screen door as it creaked open and close as the wind blew. It was the only barrier between home and myself. Just a simple creation of old, whitewashed wood that was chipped and cracked, and dusty gray screen. It was empty of the pride and care that was involved when I made it by hand, years ago. It stood up to the passing of time, better than I had, along with the rest of my squaddies.

Finally, after staring at the door for so long, waiting for a challenge of some sort from the ancient wood and screen, I waited until the light breeze creaked it open once more, and then entered silently. I entered the kids' room first, faintly smiling as I looked around at the pale yellow walls that I remembered painting with my wife. I glanced at the kids, frowning as I saw that their once chubby, rounded faces thinned by tough rations. Their clothes were clean, but lovingly patched and sewn by a careful hand. I walked over to their small beds, the sheets which I knew had previously been carefully made up were now a conglomeration of twisted sheets, rumpled blankets, and misplaced pillows. Both of my kids, I noticed, had the teddy bears I had bought for them tucked carefully under their arms, with tiny little fists wrapped around the arms of the stuffed animals.

The sight of them holding the small stuffed animals was a salve for my wounded soul – all the doubts I had of my kids still loving me were eliminated. It was a huge weight off my shoulders, and I knew I could face my wife with this reassurance at my back.

I started to leave the room, leaning heavily on the wooden doorway. Standing there, my head hanging and my shoes scuffing the wood paneled floor, the doubts came flooding back. I shook my head, and rubbed my quaking hands together. I could face airstrikes, Z-hours, and being part of the suicide club, but I couldn't take seeing my wife after so long. I left the suddenly cramped doorway, crossed the hallway – funny, I remember the third plank from the door always creaking – and I entered the room, our room.

I started into the room – our room, I reminded myself, but somehow saying the room was still partly mine felt wrong. She had been alone for years, and the belongings in the room were still achingly, painfully hers'. Small trinkets of my own were scattered around the room, a few lay shattered beside a wall as if thrown in a fit of rage. Mostly, though, they seemed to be carefully placed at the forefront of every piece of furniture, as if in an attempt to command attention.

Painfully, my gaze made its way back to the bed that was centered in the small room. Stunned by how agonizingly different and yet the same in so many little ways. Fine lines were formed around her lips – I remembered how soft they were – and her closed eyes – I still remember the exact shade of green they were – had the beginnings of crow's feet around them. Her long, mahogany hair was still free of gray, and I ached to be able to touch it again, to feel the silky length brush my hand again.

I slowly inched my way to the bed, barely daring to breathe the whole time, and slowly sunk down on the lonely side of the bed that she had not lain on yet. I sunk down on top of the covers, noting that the bed didn't seem to show any signs of my weight. Turning over, I gazed at her face once more, happy to finally be together again. I lifted my hand, and attempted to brush her hair back from her lovely face, but my hand couldn't seem to make contact with her. I thought I had to be hallucinating, but my hand again and again simply went right through her, not affecting her at all. Her breathing remained even, and she did nothing more than shift a little uneasily. With a groan heard by none but I, I left the still unruffled bed covers.

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