Left Behind

Let me go.
I’m not here…
Chase your life;
Face your fear.
Find your passion
Feed your soul,
Reach for things
That make you whole.

Celebrate
Our memory,
Of laughter, tears;
A legacy.
Embrace the joy.
Never forget;
Keep moving forward,
Let go of regret.

Honor my gift,
Cherish and share,
The joy in remembrance;
You’ll find me there.
So open your arms,
Set yourself free,
And smile when you think back
On memories of me.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here because life kind of got away with me. But today I was inspired to write something special. Something specific.

I was at a celebration of life service today. The mother of a friend passed away, so I went to help their family honor her. It also reminded me of some of my losses, but instead of focusing on what I hoped they knew, I found myself focusing on the message I’m pretty sure they wanted those of us left behind to hear.

A lot has been going on in my universe this last year. I started a new day job; one that I love, but limits the amount of time I have for writing, but it allows me to help change people’s lives. My sister gave birth to our first nephew on my side of the family….waaaay early. There were fears that we could lose them both, but they’re both thriving these days. And then there’s the step-dad. As most of you know, he’s more a father to me than my bio dad. Keep him in your thoughts. He’s battling cancer. I effing HATE that word.

What I’m trying to say is…. Please be patient with me. I still love you guys. I’m still here. I’ve just had a lot going on…. Including a project that I can’t say anything about yet. But I will. I miss you guys.

To Honor Those Who Have Served….

I wrote this short story a couple years ago on Veterans Day. I’ve brought it back, touched it up a bit. Thank you to everyone who willingly, selflessly took on the job that so many can’t or won’t. Regardless of your roles, you are all heroes to me.

I Bled For You

He was tired. Mentally, emotionally. The weight of guilt and grief and anger were a heavy mantle around his shoulders. Today, when his little girl came home in tears because of him, had been more than he could take. Feeling like a failure, he’d gotten into his car and drove.

Pete knew he should have probably let his wife know he was leaving. She would worry. She was a good wife. A better mother. She didn’t deserve all the hardships and sacrifices she’d been forced to face, mostly alone. He just couldn’t help himself. After looking down into his 6 year old’s tear stained face and coaxing the story out of her, he’d needed an escape. He didn’t want her to see the rage that was floating close to the surface.

Looking around, he found himself in the middle of nowhere. Up ahead, to the right, there was what looked like an old abandoned church. The tiny building with its dark wooden doors flung open seemed to beckon him from the road. As he pulled up and put his car into park he noticed the decay. Tall weeds surrounded the building everywhere except along the rubble path and the steps made of carved gray stone. The white paint curled and chipped with heat and age.

Stepping out of his vehicle he looked up at the little cross at the steeple. He walked carefully up the steps noting the cobwebs in the corners of the door jams. Although the doors were open with welcome, it was obvious to him that no one had been here in a long time.

He contemplated the dark, scarred wood that made up the cross in the front of the sanctuary. His feet led him forward, down the aisle. Stopping at the second pew, he glanced down. They were in good condition.

“What the heck,” he thought to himself as he sat down, “I’ve got nowhere to go anyway.”

Gazing up at that cross he started talking.

“I didn’t ask for this war. I believe in this country and what it stands for. I enlisted hoping to better myself. To make a difference. I wanted to provide a better life for my wife and my daughter.”

He laughed bitterly. “Little good that had done,” he thought. That same little girl that he’d wanted to give the world to, whose birth he’d missed because he’d been deployed, was the same adorable face that had looked up at him, eyes swimming in tears.

“Excuse me for interrupting, but it sounds like you’re having a crisis of faith, son,” a voice came from beside him.

Looking over, he saw a gentleman sitting beside him. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he never even heard the man join him. In coveralls, little chips of wood and sawdust in his dark brown hair and clothing, the man was fairly nondescript. Pete figured he was probably a carpenter.

He tried for a friendly smile, but only succeeded with a grimace, “It’s been a rough day.” He snorted softly as he rolled his eyes, “Who am I kidding? It’s been a rough few years.”

“Care to talk about it?” The man asked warmly. “Sometimes it helps to tell a stranger.”

Pete didn’t trust easily, especially after the welcome he’d received when he’d gotten home from overseas. This war was doing some crazy things to this country he loved so much. Something about this man called to him.

He found himself speaking, “My six year old came home from school today, crying.”

He swallowed hard, blinking back tears of his own as her precious face swam into his memory, “She was playing with the neighbor kids in their yard when she overheard a couple of the parents talking. One of the parents said that they thought it was ridiculous that we were even in this war. That our soldiers were out there murdering innocent people for a selfish cause that nobody agreed with. As other parents nodded agreement someone else added that they couldn’t believe that soldiers just went along with it. According to these people I should have voiced my disagreement and insisted on coming home.”

Pete ran his fingers through his razor short hair and looked into the sympathetic brown eyes. “They never considered the damage their hurtful words would do to those innocent six year old ears.”

He huffed out a breath, “Who am I kidding? I doubt they even cared. I came home from the war to be greeted by picketers, hate and angry words. Why should they care about how their words affect my wife and daughter?”

“Only your wife and daughter?” The man beside him asked, eyebrow raised in a very astute question.

“No,” Pete answered. “Not just them. I left today because I was so filled with hurt and rage. I didn’t even tell my wife I was leaving. She’s probably worried sick. I didn’t want them to see me that way! I feel betrayed! I serve for love of those same people who hurt my daughter. Who mocked my trip home. I’ve done it so they can enjoy their lives. Enjoy their freedoms. They don’t know. They have no idea what I’ve seen. What I’ve heard so that they can taunt me and make my daughter cry. I still hear the explosions in my head. The screams and chaos that follows never quite go away. I carry it all with me. In my heart. Scarred on my soul.”

He looked at the kindly stranger whose face was filled with such understanding, “Part of me wants to scream at them. I bled for you. I died a bit for you. Don’t you see I do this for you? How can you turn away from me so completely? How can you make my wife and child so sad for love of me?”

The man gently put his arm around Pete’s shoulder. “I know how you feel. It’s not easy to be turned away by the people you love so much. When all the things you’ve given up or missed seem unnoticed and unappreciated. Hang in there. Give them time. One day someone will realize what you’ve done and how deeply you loved them. Go home to your wife. Your daughter. Give them a hug. They love you.”

With that little bit of wisdom, the carpenter stood up and walked away.

Pete thought for a moment about what the man said and turned around to thank him for his kindness. The man was gone. As he looked back toward the cross, prepared to head back home, he looked up again. For the first time he noticed Jesus. He shook his head. He didn’t remember him being there when he first walked in.

Shrugging he walked to the car. As he pulled the car back onto the road he realized three things. First, the guy on the cross had a very familiar face. He looked an awful lot like the guy he’d been chatting with. Second, as he thought back to that man, he remembered the scars he’d seen on his new friend’s wrists. Third, those voices in his head had stopped screaming for the first time in years the moment he’d entered that church.

He bowed his head for a moment to say thanks. Someone understood his sacrifices all too well. It was time to go home.

Happy Birthday, Baby Brother

I still remember the day it hit me.

Oddly enough, we were coming by the house to pick out your funeral clothes…and to pick up more stuff for us to wear. Mom couldn’t stand to be in the apartment anymore. Too much hurt, maybe. Or just too many memories. Either way, it was the second time we came back home after getting the news you wouldn’t be coming home with us.

I threw open the door and called out….”Hey, Jonathan!”

I forgot. For one moment, between the car and front door, I really forgot. Until the moment I called out your name. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. You were gone.  I cried….harder than I ever had before. Tears of the heartbroken.

You may have been four years younger, but you were one of my best friends. It was habit. To tell you about my day. To laugh with you. To find out about yours…and I knew you’d be excited to be staying at Auntie Marta’s for a while….except you wouldn’t be there with us. Not ever again.

Just so you know, it’s been 26 years since I last saw you…and I still remember you. Still celebrate your laughter. Still miss your smile. And I try to live each day in a way that brings honor to your memory.

And I’m not alone in my grief. So many others are doing the same thing around the world…because someone desecrated your birthday. I’m glad you weren’t here to see that. It would’ve broken your heart. But you would’ve been proud…of how people rallied to be there for one another. To give comfort. And hope.

So today, I’ll smile through the tears….I’ll be the best me that I can be. Because I know deep down, it’s the best way to honor your memory.

I love you.

Never Forgotten

The story I’m about to tell is part fact, part fiction. Much is derived from my Grandfather’s story of his time in the military during WWII, but some is artistic embellishment. Some of you may recall from this post that my grandparents actually married as he was headed off to war. Parts of these are from actual stories he shared with us, but most of it is fiction.

Rock Island National Cemetery

Rock Island National Cemetery

“Hey dad! Where ya goin’?” Kevin raced to the black Cadillac. He turned to face his son, leaving the keys dangling in the door. “The party’s gonna start soon.”

Adam reached down and ruffled his son’s blond hair. “I’m going to visit with an old friend for a while. I’ll be back.”

“Can I come?” His carbon copy hopped from foot to foot with the unbridled energy only a ten year old possessed.

He stared out at the festively decorated street for a moment as he debated his answer. Was Kevin old enough to understand? To appreciate? He turned the key in the heavy metal door and yanked it open. With a shrug he decided there was no time like the present.

“Get in, kid.” With a sweep of his arm, he gestured for him to slide across the bench seats to the passenger side.

“Yes!” Kevin’s small fist punched the air in excitement.

Adam called out to his wife through the screened front walk up. “Elise, I’m taking Kev with me, okay?”

Her voice came through the front door. “See you boys soon. Don’t stay out too long. Company will be here soon and I’ll need your help on the grill.”

He reassured her quickly, got into the car, and backed out of the driveway. As they drove down the road, he half-heartedly listened to Kevin chatter about the parade, the cook out, and his excitement at nearing the end of the school year. The rest of him prayed he’d find the right words to share with his son.

As he turned the car into the drive, past the large stone walls and open wrought iron gate, he felt his son’s eyes go from the letters on the wall to his face. “Hey, dad.”

“Yes, son?” He glanced over at his son. For once, the boy was still, his blue eyes, solemn.

“That sign said Rock Island National Cemetery.” He paused, his small fingers pulling nervously at the edges of his denim shorts. “Are your friends meeting us here?”

He parked the car and motioned for his son to get out. “You could say that.”

Adam stepped from the vehicle and walked around to the passenger side where his son stood waiting. He slung an arm around the boy’s shoulder and guided the way down the familiar path. It was time.

“Kevin, do you remember when I told you that I used to be in the Navy?” He slowed his gait as they walked through the grassy areas and wove their way around tombstones.

His son nodded.

“Your mom and I had just gotten married when I was called away to war. You and your sisters weren’t even born yet.” He smiled down at his boy. “In fact, your mom found out she was pregnant with Katie while I was on a ship heading to Europe. Of course, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that Hitler was trying to take over the world and it was my turn to fight. It was my duty to help keep our world safe.”

He swallowed hard. “There were a lot of guys just like me on that ship. Young. Excited. Wanting to make a difference in the world. But we were also a little bit scared. I mean, it was war. People could die in war. Not that we really thought it could happen to us.”

He stopped in front of a tombstone, placed his hand gently against the white, worn marker and closed his eyes for a moment. “Hey Charlie, I brought some company today. This is my kid, Kevin. I wanted him to meet you.”

He watched as his son stepped forward and traced the name carved into the hard marble, blue eyes squinting with focus and curiosity. “Charlie was one of my first friends on our ship. When we found out we grew up a few miles apart, we became best buds. One day, we were put on duty to clean the hull of our ship. We were scraping away when my stomach began to bother me. Charlie sent me back up to go lie down until I felt better. He said he’d finish everything off. I’d just headed for my room when we came under fire. I ran as fast as I could to see what happened. A missile had hit our ship right where I’d been just minutes before. Charlie didn’t stand a chance. It could just as easily have been me.”

His son wrapped his arms around him, and he squeezed back, running a hand through his son’s blond hair. “Two times while I was at war I almost died. That was the first time. I guess God was sending me a message to let me know he wasn’t ready for me yet. But in the meantime, I come here every Memorial day to hang out with my friend. To make sure he’s remembered. To tell him thank you for saving my life, even though he had no idea at the time. I pay my respects, then come home to enjoy your mother’s parties and count each and every one of you as my blessings.”

Kevin took a deep breath; the long ago conversation with his dad feeling like yesterday, rather than 40. He watched as the honor guard folded his father’s flag while a lone trumpet played “Taps” in the background. As the soldier marched toward him and presented him with the cloth triangle of red, white, and blue, he accepted, holding it close to his chest. Sixty years later, his dad would be reunited with his friend.

“Charlie.” His smile was bittersweet. “Wherever you are; thanks for giving me this time with my dad. Hope you guys are enjoying a beer together in person. I know he was looking forward to seeing you again.”