I remember sitting in a classroom decorated for Halloween, I remember the kid sitting next to me smelled of toast and the teacher was yelling at a little boy for wiping bouggers on the desk; outside it was raining just a little, and inside it was warm and cosy. There was a knock at the door, the class went silent and my daddy entered the room. For a long moment, I couldn’t move. Then I ran to him, it felt like flying; his arms wrapped around me and everything was…alright. I don’t want to say that everything was perfect, because nothing ever is; life just became, happy. Having a loved one at war is lots to take in. My daddy was away when I was born, I think that’s something my mother never forgave him for; and something he always ashamed of.
As a child, I didn’t understand where my father went. All I knew was that I missed him, and that I’d give anything to have him back home. I knew that it was dangerous, because I could hear my mother praying for him every night. I remember her words exactly ‘God, don’t let him die, God, don’t let him die’ over and over, she didn’t think I knew, but children always know more than their parents think they do. Her prayers were very upsetting for me. I would try to cover my head with my stuffed animals, but even if I couldn’t hear the words, I knew she was saying them. Since my grandpa died at my fifth birthday party, I knew what death was. When most children were afraid of the bogie monster and the dark; I was afraid death would catch my daddy. My mother would tell me grandpa had ‘been taken by angels’ but even at that early age I didn’t believe her. I knew he had been taken, but I didn’t understand why angels, who are good, would take my grandfather away from me. So I decided that it was death that did it. Death, to most people, looks like the grim reaper; for me it was very different. I decided that death must be a creature that sneaks up behind you, so that no one will ever see what it looks like. My daddy must have wondered why I was always making him stand with his back against a wall, or standing back to back with him; or more my back to the backs of his knees.
I remember daddy being a very big man, with no hair and who wore military uniform. He had strong arms, and twinkling blue eyes. When I was very little, I idealised him. He made my mother stop praying in the way that scared me, he made my mother laugh which was something she never did otherwise and he made me feel safe. Whenever he wasn’t there, I was very afraid. I remember having the constant fear that things would fall apart. I had the constant feeling that everything was very fragile, like a china ornament. I think I got this feeling because my daddy was only ever home for a short amount of time; the whole time he was there I would be afraid of him leaving. I must have put him through hell; I was always begging him not to go. He would tell me ‘This is the last time’ which was, obviously a lie; I know I must have made him pretty miserable by saying that because he never lied, only ever about that one thing.
I remember one time; I took his cap off him and wore it. I thought it was really cool, to be just like daddy. I walked around the room, trying to walk like daddy. He thought that was pretty funny. Then my mother came in. I told her ‘Mommy, look! I’m just like daddy!’ I thought she would be happy. I thought she would be proud of me, for being like someone who was as wonderful as daddy. She wasn’t. She tore the cap off and hit the side of my head. That was the first time she ever hit me. Daddy jumped up and started shouting at her, and she shouted back and slapped him. I started to cry, and she turned on me.
“No! Hailey! Not you as well, not you as well! Swear to me!” She screamed, taking me by the shoulders and shaking me hard “Swear to me!” Daddy tried to pull her away from me “Don’t Olivia, she doesn’t understand, she’s only little!” but my mother wouldn’t let me go. She clutched me, shouting at daddy. I must have been seven at the time. I remember it perfectly. Right down to the earrings my mother was wearing.
It was only years after that I understood my mother’s reaction. She had always been against what daddy did as a solider. She came from a family of Quakers. So I guess the romance between a Quaker and a Marine would have been a little like Romeo and Juliet. It was very strange, growing up with two people who were so different. To be honest, I still don’t understand why on earth my parents were ever together in the first place.