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It had been weeks since he’d come home, but still his eyes lacked emotion. He was there, yes, but not there there. He used to love board games. The Hendersons would come over every Friday night and play with us. That was before. I had asked if he wanted to keep the tradition. He nodded, but his expression said something to the contrary.
“I’m going to take a walk,” he announced now, abruptly standing up from the sofa.
“Okay,” I whispered.
He kissed me on the cheek on his way to the door. All those months I had waited to receive that kind of affection again. Now, it felt wrong. Cold, empty, meaningless. Even my smiles, which once melted his heart, had no power over memories from overseas. What had happened over there? I’d asked but received no answer. Maybe his silence was most telling of all.
I scrubbed the dishes I was washing furiously, shedding layers of skin cells. I stopped when I noticed what I had done. I swore, then regretted it when I heard the pitter-patter of little feet.
“Mommy?” little Joy Anna cried.
“What’s the matter, baby?” I asked in a voice that I hoped was more soothing than it sounded to me.
“I had a nightmare,” she answered as she wiped her eyes with a fist.
I walked over to her, picking her up and carrying her to the rocking chair my husband had just left. I ran my fingers through her hair, stroking, comforting like a certain man used to do for me. A thought came to my mind. “You know, your daddy has nightmares,” I told her.
She appeared to be thinking about that. I thought maybe she wouldn’t even reply. It had been several minutes of me holding her in my arms before I heard her whisper, “But Daddy’s so strong.”
“Maybe he’s not as strong as we think,” I said, still whispering. But she didn’t hear. She fell fast asleep.
I tucked Joy Anna into her bed, and as I kissed her forehead I heard her say, “He is Mommy. He really is.”
I waited up until two a.m. for him, breathing in the scent he had left on the rocking chair. There wasn’t enough of it. I tried to imagine life before he left. It wasn’t easy, with these new, unpleasant memories impeding on my thoughts. But there were certain things I remembered: The dimples that appeared when he smiled. The feel of his hand, warm against mine. A joke and a laugh dinnertime. Would things ever be the same?
There was a gunshot that rang from the woods beyond the house and, for a second, I thought maybe he shot my heart too. No. Things would never be the same.
At the funeral they gave me a flag, but I didn’t want to take it. Somehow I didn’t believe in my country like I used to.