I stared at the brown and yellow patches that made up our front lawn. The tall-tale signs of absence and neglect made our house look sinister next to our neighbor's polished green grasses and proud American flags hanging from their front porches. Our next door neighbor Alice looked at me with curious, sympathetic eyes. I gave her a slight wave and in response she gave me a salute that could make any cadet proud. The gesture made me choke up a bit. I didn't feel the pride a returning soldier should feel. I felt more like a man who'd left one war only to come back to another one.
I purposely marched up the walkway to the front door. I found the spare key she kept in one of the flowerpots on the floor. The sight of the wilted flowers made me pause for a minute and I nearly turned to my car to drive as far away from this place as I could, but I knew I had to do this. I had to fully break before I could heal.
I put the key into the lock and jimmied it for a bit before shoving it open. I stood in the doorway for a moment or two before walking into the house as cautiously as I would a mine field. The air smelled musty and stale and my nose wrinkled at the dust that was visible on every surface of the entryway. I walked into the kitchen and saw dishes still piled neatly in the sink. She always used to wash the dishes as soon as she used them. For some reason she must have been in a rush that morning. I looked on the refrigerator and saw a yellowing piece of paper with a grocery list written on it hanging from a magnet. Another note was a reminder to pick up her prescription at the pharmacy and of an upcoming doctor's appointment. I felt myself breathe faster at the latter, but I didn't break. I wasn't ready to break yet.
I walked into our family room slowly. She had a pile of magazines stacked on the corner table and I briefly glanced through the titles, Cosmo, In Style, and a dog-eared issue of Parents. I breathed in deeply…. Not yet. I moved to our mantle and glanced at the long row of picture frames. I picked up the first; it from our junior high school prom. I smiled. I remember how cool I felt being the only one of my friends to have a date. Who cares if it was my best friend? I had a girl on my arm and that's all that mattered in the eighth grade. I moved on to the next picture and laughed when I saw it was at the talent show from our sophomore year. I don't know how but she had convinced me to be her "lovely assistant" in a magic show. It was a complete failure. She didn't pull a rabbit out of her hat, she didn't make me disappear, and she went through the entire deck of cards before producing the card an audience member had pulled from it. She still won though because her jokes in between and her personality had the judges convinced she was putting on a comedic act.
There were more pictures after that, us hanging out at her soccer games, her cheering me on at my baseball playoffs, and other myriads of shots taken from the best four years of my life. I picked up the picture from our senior prom and smiled softly. It was that night that everything changed. She stopped being Sammy, my tomboyish best friend. I looked at her and saw that there was just no other girl on the planet I could possibly love more than her….and it scared the heck out of me. I ignored her till graduation day. After the graduation ceremony she chased me down and tackled me to the ground demanding I speak to her…my response was to kiss those pink lips of hers till she couldn't remember her own name. You could imagine the scene we made: two teenagers making out furiously on the ground of the parking lot outside of their school while their parents, teachers, siblings, and classmates watched in shock, disapproval, disgust, and happiness respectively. Everyone wanted us to be together…but at that moment they just wanted us to get a room.
The next picture nearly did me in. It was from the night we got engaged.
I breathed in deeply. No matter what I did though I could not calm down. I knew, without a doubt, that the outcome of tonight would affect my entire life. I paced around Brian's bedroom restlessly and tried my hardest to compose myself.
"You're burning a hole in my rug with all that pacing." he remarked amusedly from his laid back position on his bed.
"Not helping!" I ground out.
He sighed, "You know you don't have to do this. Sam loves you; no matter where you go she's not going to run off with some guy."
I stopped, "How do you know that, huh? I'm just Micah, not smart enough to get accepted into college and not good enough at baseball to get a scholarship. I'm nobody. She-She's beautiful, smart— she can have anybody she wants! What's stopping her from finding somebody better?"
"Dude, you don't give yourself enough credit. She chose you. That means something." he whispered.
I didn't respond, but instead continued to pace. By the end of the summer I was going to be deployed. I'd be off in Afghanistan fighting for the red, white, and blue and she'd still be here. She'd continue going to college with smart, intellectual guys who can conversate with her and read poetry, and be everything I'm not. What chance do I have?
"Alright, your insecurities aside, I don't see what you're worried about, she's going to say yes."
"What are you talking about? Iwouldn't even say yes to me!"
Brian pouted, "But you're such a dreamboat, you sexy man you!"
I then proceeded to attempt to suffocate him with his own pillow. I would have succeeded too if I hadn't realized I needed him to be my best man on the off chance Sam said yes.
. . .
"SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH..." The crowd chanted, beckoning me to go to the front of the room and give a few words. I looked up at the banner that read, "Bon Voyage!" in bold red and blue letters. I still had a month till deployment but my friends were busy people. My parents opted to have this party early to just get it out of the way. I took a deep breath and spoke out:
"Hey everyone, I'm glad you can all make it out today to wish me good luck. I just hope I can be half the soldier my dad was." I said gesturing to him sitting down next to my mother.
"He's most of the reason I even joined the army, so I just really hope I make him proud out there." The room clapped for a bit and then I continued, "I'm not going to keep you long, I've never been very good with words and even worse at saying how I feel, but hopefully this time my words won't fail me…"
I met Sam's eyes and she smiled encouragingly at me. "But there's one thing I have to get done before I leave. You see, ya'll all know I've got a girl who's stuck by me since I was nine years old. She's been my best friend, secret keeper, and so much more for as long as I can remember. And, I love her. More than words can possibly say."
I met her eyes which were starting to get slightly misty, "I don't know what she sees in me but I thank God every day she hasn't seen it in someone else. So…" I reached into my pocket and pulled out a velvet box and displayed my mom's engagement ring.
I heard a few gasps from around the room but it was all background noise. Only one person's reaction mattered and she was looking at me with her mouth a perfect circle. "…before she wises up and finds someone ten times better than me I figure I have tie her to me in every way possible so she can't ever get away." I smiled up at her and saw that she didn't even bother to stop her tears, "Will you Sammy?" I whispered. She looked completely speechless, but she ran up and kissed me straight on the mouth. Like me, she wasn't much for words but I knew immediately that that was a definite 'Yes'.
Within a week we were married in her parent's backyard. It was a small ceremony and I promised her that I'd give her the most elaborate wedding in the world the moment I got back. She just smacked me upside the head and told me that it was perfect the way it was. We spent less than a month as a married couple, enough time to have a short but amazing honeymoon and to move into a small house the army gave me to start our new family. The time went so fast and before I knew it, I had to leave her. There were no words said before I took off on the jet. I just stared at her, taking in every inch of her skin and all at once making note of all the changes that have happened since the day I met her. The loss of baby fat, the gain of curves—every inch of her breathed life…
I put down the last of the photographs onto the mantle…. I was close. I left the family room and went into the hallway. I stopped at a door with a poorly painted sunflower on it. I ran my fingers on the coarse paint for a moment and laughed a bit. She wouldn't be happy about me making fun of her "artwork". I turned the knob of the door and opened it. It was then that I finally shattered.
I couldn't control my breathing as I stared into the would-be nursery. A white crib was in the corner with pale pink sheets, a mobile of stars and moons hanging above it. The room was painted a bright yellow with white stripes, and the floor was covered by a large rug in the shape of a sunflower. It was exactly as she'd described it in her letters. I walked toward a dresser and opened it. I let out a chocked laugh filled with both mirth and despair. All the clothes were pink.
I sat impatiently in my chair while I waited for her to come on the screen. It was finally my turn. Suddenly the screen flickered a bit and there she was, fuzzy but still beautiful.
"Micah?" her distorted voice called.
"Yeah, Sam, I'm here!" I said excitedly.
"It's so good to see you." she sighed.
"You've got no idea; you're the prettiest thing I've seen in months." I told her.
There were mock gasps from around the room and my troop began to blow kisses at me.
"Well you ain't exactly pretty either, Magdalena!" a voice called out.
"Shut it Carlos!" I called back.
"What'd he call you?" Samantha asked in amusement.
I rolled my eyes, "It means muffin in Spanish. Apparently I remind him of his dog named that, which is a pug by the way."
She had a good laugh at that one, "Well you're pretty to me."
Carlos and another recruit named Eric, a little guy who packed a punch like Rocky, began to blow kisses at each other and say "You're prettier!" "No you're prettier!"
Sam laughed but then quickly became serious "Listen we don't have much time so I have to get to the good news. Micah, I'm pregnant."
"What?" I asked dumbstruck.
"I'm pregnant! Micah, you're gonna be a father!"
"I'm gonna be a father." I reiterated in disbelief.
There was wolf whistles and cheers throughout the room, "One month with your wife and you already got her knocked up! Congratulations man!"
I blushed, "Shut up!" I yelled and they all laughed.
I turned back to the screen, "How far along are you?"
"Almost four months. She's only the size of a peach." she said happily.
"No, we don't know yet. But I think it's a she."
I smirked, "Well I think it's a he."
She raised her eyebrows, "Is that a bet? Loser has to do the other's laundry for a month."
She frowned, "I'm out of time. I love you Micah."
"I love you too Sammy." I whispered and watched sadly as the screen went black.
That was the last time I saw her alive.
I picked up a pink t-shirt and fell to my knees, clutching it to my heart in pain. So she was right. We were going to have a girl.
It wasn't fair. It didn't even make sense. How could I still be here while she was gone? How could the person who was dodging mines, snipers, and terrorists on a daily basis still be alive, but his wife, the college student, be dead? She was only nineteen years old. She was going to be an elementary school teacher. She was going to have this baby and many more after if I had my way. How could she be gone?
I took for granted the fact that she was "safe" at home. I always thought that if one of us was going to get news from a complete stranger of the other's death it would be her. I felt horrible at that possibility but had been prepared for it. I've never been intelligent but I doubt even a genius could have predicted such a shift in roles. Not even a genius could have seen me being pulled aside from eating lunch with my crew only to learn that my wife—who was eight months pregnant with my child, was dead.
I can almost see her, round and off balance rushing to get into her car after waking up late. She might have been anxious and therefore careless…I can see the her turning too quickly without taking notice of a car coming straight at her….I can see her.
I originally hadn't been able to accept it. I panicked and grabbed the messenger by the neck telling him to stop messing with me. He hadn't fought back. My friends pulled me off of him and yelled for me to calm down, but my eyes burned with blind fury that quickly melted into sorrow. I broke down in front of everyone, and was sent home on leave. I didn't make it on time for the funeral, and all that stood to tell me where she lied was a cold silver slab that read:
Beloved daughter, wife, and mother.
May 3, 1991- March 17, 2010
And another identical stone next to it:
March 17, 2010-March 17, 2010
The yellow room was the only witness to the shattering of my heart. It had finally come. I was broken.