1964. I was discharged twenty years ago for a sickening case of trench foot. In fact, I barely got to keep my leg. At the time I was happy. I got to go home. Feelings of abandonment came and went. Realizing I left my unit, when men; hell, they were boys, had to stay and fight. I was old before the war even began.
I’ve tried to lead a good life since. I’ve done my best to move on. Adapting to life outside the military is hard, especially with going through what we did over there. The constant ringing in my ear keeps me up at night. Maintaining steady income has been a challenge. I was married once, but it wasn’t for love and she saw right through me.
My doctor says I would sleep better if I stopped drinking. My blood sugar is too low, resulting in me shooting awake at 3:00AM promptly every morning. I always told him “No, it’s just my body running on military time. 4:00AM is PT. PT makes me nervous. I’m not a coordinated man.”
Living in a one bedroom apartment is almost spending beyond my means. I spend my nights looking up at the ceiling. The old matted wood, looking like it was constructed from a mite-riddled tree. A code violation, no doubt. My room was never painted, they wouldn’t let me paint it. At least paint would help mask the musty smell.
I always need another drink to fall asleep. A catch 22, as liquor will help me fall asleep faster, but wake up sooner. I don’t care, I need it.
I find myself thinking of you more than ever. I throw my feet over the side of the bed every morning, head down, shoulders forward. Hunched over like an old work horse. My undershirt hangs off of my sunken chest. A slender frame with a gut. How I hate this gut. If only you could see me now. I’m not the young man I once was.
I stare grimly into my shaving mirror. Three day haggard stubble stares right back at me. “Broken shell…” I mutter to myself. The cream lathers poorly, as I can’t afford the good stuff. My razor, dull. What does it matter, it does the job.
My sink, which looks like a half-cracked sea shell, is porcelain white yet constantly clogged. A minor detail I’ve never bothered to address. Did I mention the radiator was broken? I lean my shoes against it, hoping they dry. Maybe a magical fairy will do the work for me. If only you could see me now. Disgusting.
I put on the same brown suit, brown shoes, and brown hat every morning. The wind is always bitter cold. I often think of you beside me. I pretend the wind is you. Watching me. Helping me.
The streets are perpetually wet, full of muck; it never dries. Combined with my broken radiator, my shoes are falling apart.
“Dawn’s” – My local cafe. A black coffee, with two muffins and some fruit. I still have my appetite, although this is really my only meal of the day. Sometimes Dawn will give me something extra. A kind woman, perhaps taking pity on an old man. I am thankful.
You would have hated this diner. It reads straight out of one of your novels. The checkerboard floor, red leather seats, and black bar stools. The napkin holders are always empty, sugar is a miss; I chuckle thinking of how irritated you would be.
The coffee is bitter, the beans are burnt. I had to admit early on that I come to Dawn’s for the atmosphere, not the food. I hear others complain about breaking glasses and utensils being thrown about in the sink, but it sounds right to me. I come to sit, come to think.
Watching the wind howl and rain smack the window pane, I find myself once again, thinking of you. The grey haze that covers the city reminds me of when we first found each other. When I looked at you, I really saw you. An angel, right there in the details.
Sitting beside you on that ferry ride to Skyward Field, just two kids riding a high. The soiled deck and murky water ruined your shoes, but you didn’t care. The light seafaring rain kept kissing our faces, but together we kept warm. I reminisce about how little you cared that I forgot an umbrella.
The ship tugged a long. An uncomfortable back-fire kept radiating from its stacks. The sounds of creaking, twisted metal shot up from its belly. She was old, but strong.
“Don’t worry, it’s normal.” I said, comforting your fears.
We sat looking at the fading horizon, pulling further away from the city. Even with the grey haze of an overcast sky, it seemed fitting.
“Is it much farther? What about these other people?” you asked.
People took our photo like we were embracing each other after years of separation. Strangers giving us glanced smiles. I didn’t mind much. I tried to focus on the moment, taking a mental inventory of everything around me. Scanning your face like I may wake up, and never see you again. My heart rate made me feel as if I was dreaming.
“Stay in the moment…” I thought.
When we arrived at Skyward, you looked at me like no one has looked at me since. I felt your piercing blue eyes on my soul. You saw me.
We disembarked, almost forgetting the lovely meal you prepared. Strong cheeses in such a small wicker basket made me uneasy, especially with the humidity, but I didn’t care. The sentiment was more than enough.
Leaving the group to find our own little adventure was the best decision we made that night. Walking through the calm, breezy forest, deciding which path to take. Tall, brutish trees guiding the way.
“Keep going right, always right!” I exclaimed.
As we pushed, prodded and shrugged through the brush, we came to the grandest clearing.
“Skyward, indeed.” — You mumbled under your breath, it was hauntingly cute.
The field was wide and vast, with yellow ammophila grass coming up to your dress. Try as you might to keep the it from tickling your legs, it was hopeless. Your smile in the polka dot dress sparkled in the night. A cliché of slow motion images always played in my mind.
The waves sauntered calmly a long the beach head, while the moon seemed to make the air crisp while simultaneously illuminating the white caps of the sea.
I lay the blanket down for us. My old, itchy, wool blanket that you never complained about, but I forgot you hated. The grass entered our peripheral vision, like a yellow shield.
Laying on our backs, holdings hands, the view was surreal. Millions of stars. There must have been millions. Every one as bright as the first night star, twinkling and shimmering with all their beauty. So far from it all. Just you and I.
I felt so small, like nothing, staring into the vast illusion of density in the night sky. Yet I was whole. As menial as I felt staring into the heavens, I was content. We could disappear right now, just you and I.
All night we talked. We shared fears, dreams, and plans. Our entire lives planned out to the letter, together. So much for living in the moment – but it was bliss.
“Let’s go to the place that’s on your mind.” You would always say, and now we had.
I’ve come back every day to the spot I first saw you. Dropping your eggs in front of Dawn’s Cafe, crying. The summer solstice was so hot they began to cook on the spot. I helped you, offered to buy you more, yet you couldn’t stop crying. I admit, all I could see was your smile.
Although we couldn’t stay together, I hope you are comfortable. Are you still waiting for me?
Now, it’s my turn. They are here.
From the author: One of the reasons I started this blog was to get better at writing. Specifically, I just wanted to write more, but I never know what to write about. I decided to write more on general topics of interest, in the first person.
I’ve written this story once before, but I didn’t like how it turned out nor did I feel I truly got my point, or words across. This is my second take on it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.