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I remember it clearly; every last detail is permanently embedded into my mind. Day and night, I search for a way to expunge that night. I have yet to find a method to do so.
The look in his eyes still haunts me. Never have I seen him so empty, looking so utterly and completely alone. A phone ringing in the middle of the night is how it always begins. Nobody would call you at that time unless it was urgent. The moment I heard the tone buzzing throughout the apartment, I should have begun to worry. But, no, it never occurs to you in the moment. At the time, you just figure its a few kids messing around and looking to aggravate you. I wish that was how the night played out. Instead, I was gifted with one of the most devastating sights that have ever reached my gaze.
Before that night, I had never seen him cry. Joe is strong; he has courage, but even the brave break down given the right circumstances. I would pay any debt in order to never have to witness streams of tears running down his cheeks ever again. Name a price and I would pay it without a second thought.
I could hear Drew’s mother on the other line, the woman’s usually sweet and tender voice was broken. Her words were slurred, and I couldn’t understand them. But I knew immediately what was going on. Putting together a late night call from Maria Kade and the tears from my boyfriend’s face wasn’t difficult.
Drew was a soldier in the military.
The face I had hoped to never run across again in my life returned when it came time for the service. Joe tried to hold himself together, I kept reminding him to think of all of the great times he shared with Drew, but nothing I said could make him feel better. What are you supposed to say to a man who just lost his best friend of twenty-three years? The fact was that Joe had never learned how to live without Drew. For as long as he could remember, it was the Joseph and Andrew show. Now, that show was cancelled.
After that day spent in the cemetery, after the day that Joseph had to watch Andrew be lowered six feet into the ground, things only got worse. It took months for him to regain composure. Some nights would be spent with him just shutting himself out and curling up in bed, I would always be found next to him, begging for him to simply talk to me and express how he feels through words. He never could, it was all too painful. Until one day, he found the ability to let it all out and find comfort through me. That was the day he swore to tell me he loved me every single day, because he couldn’t remember the last time him and Drew ever directly expressed how much they truly cared about each other.
Eleven months after the death of Andrew Kade, I came home to have one of the worse conversations that I have ever taken part in. Joe was sitting on our couch in the living room, waiting for me to come home from work in the city. The moment I walked in the door I could sense something was off, there was something wrong. Only, if you looked at Joe’s face, you would think quite the opposite. A large grin, one that would later haunt me, was spread across his face. Then, six words changed my life. Six words knocked everything I had out of me.
“I want to join the military.”
The day he left for the airport was the day my mind went numb. All of my emotions seemed to dissipate into thin air, no longer holding any control over me. The woman who I plan to one day refer to as my mother in law drove me home from LaGuardia International, leaving me alone in the apartment to wallow in self-pity. At least, that’s what everyone was referring to my reaction as, self-pity. Only, there was no sympathy in my body left for myself, for every ounce I had was going towards the man I love who was out in a desert somewhere, fighting our country’s enemies.
For the thirty-seven days I listened to everyone complain about my behavior, reasoning that I needed to mature and act my age, move on and occupy myself until he comes home from his tour. There was not one person who was able to correctly analyze my situation, each person assuming that I just wanted him back in my arms. Did I want him in my arms? Yes, but not as badly as I just wanted assurance that he was alive and well. Joe could never reclaim his spot in my life and I would be perfectly happier than ever, as long as he had a beating heart and strong pulse.
It had become a habit of mine to sleep on Joe’s side of the bed, scent was the only comfort I found in that crammed apartment we shared, and the smell of his cologne could easily be breathed in off of his pillow that he would rest his head on every night. This continued for those first thirty-seven days, until his first letter arrived in the mail and I had something else of his’ to focus my attention on.
The letters he sends me have become the most important fixture of my daily routine. Every day I read the latest one, read it again if his next one had yet to arrive. It has been six months and eighteen days since I last saw Joe. Each letter he sends, I savor as if it could be the last. He assures me that he will be okay, but I heard Andrew Kade speak those same words to his family once, too. In each piece of parchment Joe writes to me about any information regarding his tour that he can disclose without breaking some sort of legal rule. He’s told me about his new friends, buddies of Andrew’s that he has crossed paths with, and how safe these people always make sure he is. Joe tells me that he takes care of himself and that he isn’t anywhere too dangerous, never able to give me his exact location.
For now, I wait for the day when his plane touches down and he’s walking through the turmoil towards the exit. The minute he strides through our apartment door and is able to change into a loose fitted t-shirt and those old plaid pajama pants he wears on lazy days. Return to the nights of Chinese food on the floor and fighting over inconsequential and minuscule problems is all I dream about. I long for the days when I can wrap myself in his arms and know that he will remain there when I blink. Two hundred and four days until I breathe again.