I walk into the kitchen and see mom sitting at the table, staring out the window aimlessly, her eyes cold and empty. I can hardly remember the last time she looked happy, truly happy, not the brave smile that she pastes on in the mornings. When we get the occasional phone call, when she talks to him, I can start to see a sparkle reappear in her eyes; but then the call ends and so does her moment of joy.
I can remember the days when we would all be out, not doing anything particularly fun, but just being so happy. I can remember seeing my parents so in love, smiles spread across their faces, glowing with happiness. I long for those days, for the feeling of love in our house. I long for the days when I would come home from school and find my mom singing; not like now, when she just sits in front of the television watching the news, listening to the reporters state the days troop death toll.
I watch her fall apart and can't help but resent her a little. How can she fall apart like this? Does she think this only affects her? Tomorrow is 'bring your dad to school day', mine can't come. I've heard her talk to dad before, about grandpa being gone when she was little; shouldn't she understand what I'm going through?
"Josh?" Ruby asks, pulling me out of my thoughts. I turn to face my little sister, her eyes filled with unshed tears. I bend down and take her in my arms, holding her close. "I miss him…" she sobs, clutching a tearstained picture of our father in her right hand.
I close my eyes, holding onto her tightly. "I know…" I say softly. "He'll be home soon." I say with false assurance. I pull her back, holding her at arms length, looking into her deep blue eyes. "You should go back to bed." I whisper, looking back to our mother still in the kitchen. I walk Ruby to her room and tuck her in, giving her a kiss on her forehead. As I walk out of the room, turning out the lights, I hear her call my name.
"Josh…" she says with her tiny voice. I stop and turn to face her, pasting a brave smile, much like my mothers, on my face. "I love you Josh." She says, blowing me a kiss.
The fake smile I had been wearing is replaced by a genuine one. "I love you too Ruby." I say, shutting the door behind me. I stop and lean against her door, sliding to the floor, burying my head between my knees, gasping for air. I close my eyes, I see dad walking through the front door, I see my mom smiling and laughing with joy, I see Ruby wrapping her little body around his leg. Then…then I open my eyes, revealing the cruel reality.
I lift my head and hear her tears. During the day she tries to act like everything's okay. Then the evening sets in and she looks to the front door, as if waiting for him to come home from work, but he doesn't. He's not at work or at least not the work where he comes home every night at six. Then she takes a seat at the kitchen table, staring out the front window, waiting for him to come home.
I got a letter from him last week; I've read it a hundred times since then. I've examined the dirty finger prints on the paper; I've smelt his scent lingering on it; I've added some tears drops to it; I've carried it everywhere with me.
I walk into the kitchen and stand a few feet from my mother, "mom…" I say softly. She doesn't reply, she doesn't even acknowledge me standing there. She doesn't look at me much anymore, when she does it's either with a fake smile or a forced stare. When she sees me she sees him, and it tears her apart. "Mom…" I say again, this time placing my hand on her shoulder.
She jumps and turns to look at me, looking startled for a moment. "Oh, hi sweetie." She says with another forged grin.
"I'm going to bed." I say clearly. Hoping maybe that she would follow my lead and get some rest herself. Instead she nods her head and pats me on the shoulder, turning back to face her window. I sigh and shake my head, walking back to my room. I sit down on my bed and look to the frame on my nightstand, taking it up in my hands. I smile down at the photo and clear some dust off the glass. I recall that day the picture was taken, the Montecito company picnic. Dad had just won the obstacle course and ran to hug me, Uncle Mike and Gregg threw the Gatorade cooler all over us. We were so excited and content with a simple victory.
I set the frame back down on my nightstand with a heavy sigh; I then lie down and shut my bedside lamp off, closing my eyes momentarily. I quickly reopen them when I remember that I didn't turn on the dishwasher. Grudgingly, I get up and walk back into the kitchen, she's still sitting there. Ever since he left it seems that my mother has to. The woman that took care of us and loved us was gone, leaving me to fend for my sister and I. Sure, uncle Mike helps out when he can, and Sam drops by every once in a while, but for the most part things are left up to me, a fifteen year old kid.
I turn on the dishwasher and turn my head startled as I hear something. I look around and see the phone lighting up. I then look to the clock and my heart skips a beat. It must be him; no one else would call at this hour. I look to my mother and she's already on her feet.
She picks up the phone anxiously. "Hello?" she asks, gripping the phone tightly. I know it's him when I see her smile spread across her face. She closes her eyes, gripping the phone even tighter than before. "How are you?" she asks him, her voice slightly shaking. "Did you get our care package?" she says, now looking to me, looking to me the way she used to, when dad was here and everything was alright. "Yeah, Josh made the cookies himself…oh good…." I hear her saying, only being able to hear one side of the conversation. "Yeah, Ruby spent hours on her card." She says with a laugh.
I take a seat and wait patiently to talk to him, knowing full well that I might not get the chance this time. His time is limited and I don't mind giving up my time to talk to him if means mom having a few more moments of joy. I wait for what seems like an eternity, watching my mother reappear before my very eyes, but knowing that she will disappear just as quickly.
Then I see her look to me and smile, "yeah, he's right here." She says, walking towards me. My heart skips another beat and my stomach ties itself in knots, before I know it I'm holding the phone to my ear. "Hello?" I say shakily, not recognizing my own voice.
"Hey champ! How's it going?" he says cheerfully. As the words leave his mouth all my worries and fears fade, everything is alright again.
"I'm good, how are you?" I ask, trying to keep the focus off of me.
"I'm good." He says with a slight chuckle. "Missing you guys like crazy though." He adds.
I nod my head, "we miss you too." I say softly.
"How's school, anything new, any girls you like?" I smile and shake my head.
"School is school, nothing really new, and no I don't like anyone right now." I say laughing at the last part. I can hear my dad smile, he doesn't say anything, but I know he's smiling.
"Isn't it career day at school next week?" he asks, I hear his smile fade.
I hesitate before answering, "yeah, my teacher said I can write a report instead." I say, slightly ashamed.
"Well, you're supposed to have your dad come in and talk to the class." I say with reluctance, knowing that it's going to hurt him.
I hear him let out a heavy sigh. "You know I'd be there if I could, right champ?"
"I know dad, you can come next year." I say with hope.
I can hear him smile again, "Yeah, next year." There's a short silence before he talks again. "Listen pal I have to go, so put your mom back on and take care of her and your sister for me."
"okay," I say, feeling my fears rush back to me, hitting me like a ton of bricks.
I move to hand mom the phone when I hear him call out on the phone, "Hey pal!"
I quickly bring the receiver back to ear, "yeah?" I ask, waiting to hear his voice again.
"I love you."
"I love you too dad." I say with a smile and hand the phone back to mom. She gently takes it from my palms and runs her hand over my cheek, smiling at me.
I watch her say goodbye to my father as the tears flow down her face. "I love you Danny." she says sweetly, an ounce of twinkle still left in her eye, but then she hangs up the phone and, just like that, it all disappears. She looks to me, the fake smile back on her face, "Let's get some sleep." She says, her hand on my back, guiding me towards our rooms. I nod my head and smile; maybe there is hope. Maybe if she's willing to sleep she won't be so tired in the morning, maybe she can make us breakfast like she used to. Then again maybe not, maybe things will go back to the way they have been and I'll have to get us ready for school. I try not to get my hopes up lately; when I do I just get disappointed. I've learned
that if you keep your expectations low you are less likely to get hurt. I've been hurt a lot this past year, we all have, I'll do anything to avoid this pain.
Mom walks me into my room and watches me climb into bed, she then walks over and sits on the edge. She stares at me for a moment and runs her hand over my cheek. "You know I love you, right?" she asks. For that brief moment I can see my mother in the woman sitting in front of me. I nod my head silently, not wanting to say the wrong thing. "ok…" she says, giving me a quick kiss on the forehead. "Sleep tight sweetie." She says, giving me a small smile just before leaving my room. As she shuts the door behind her I watch the shadow of her footsteps stand outside my door. She stands there, still, for a long while. I then see the shadows move towards her room and the hall lights turn off.
I lie my head back down on my
pillow, letting out a deep breath. The conversation I had with dad
replays over and over in my head. I look up to the ceiling and pray,
I pray that dad comes home to us, I pray that he comes home safely, I
pray that things go back to the way they were. I stop and look back
over to the photo on my nightstand, turning my focus from god to dad.
My faith in god has dwindled lately. How can a being greater than
ours with so much power do this to us, to families around the world?
How can he send our men and women to war and claim their lives? Does
God have control over things like this? If not, then why do we pray
to him to bring them home? This last thought leaves my mind and I
drift off to
The next morning my alarm goes off, quickly bringing me out of my deep sleep. I roll over and glare at the clock, shutting it off with force. I let out a deep sigh before I roll out of bed, down on my knees. 'This is a bad morning' I think to myself. Since dad left I have bad mornings and good mornings. On good mornings I wake up, start breakfast, get Ruby up and going, all without much effort.
Then…then there are bad mornings, like today. I roll out of bed, wanting nothing more than to crawl back under the covers and not come out until dad comes home…if he comes home. The tears flow down the side of my cheeks as I cry silently in the comfort of my room. After ten or fifteen minutes I pull myself together, trying to just make it through the day.
It's times like this when I can't help but hate my mother a little. I understand how she feels, I understand how hard it is to just make it through the day, trying not to think about what he's going through at this very minute; wondering if he's lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Praying that he's safe, even if your faith in god isn't as strong as it used to be. Even with all this understanding of what she's going through, I don't understand how she can just give up. How can she just lie around the house, allowing me to take care of us all? She's the adult; I'm the child, at the moment our rolls have been swapped.
I now look up to the clock and sigh, seeing that I'm already running late. I walk into the kitchen, relieved that mom isn't asleep at the kitchen table. I get out the cereal, not having enough time to make eggs. I then walk down the hall to Ruby's room, quietly opening her door. I smile when I see her sleeping in one of dads t-shirts, making her look so tiny, not that she isn't. I sit on the edge of her petite little bed, and shake her gently. "Ruby…" I whisper. "Ruby…" I say again. She stirs slightly, starting to open her arms.
"Daddy?" she calls, rubbing her eyes.
I close my eyes, my heart breaking, and let out a deep breath. "No, Rube. It's me." I say softly. She opens her eyes, not showing the disappointment I know she feels. She sits up groggily, "we're running a little late today, try to hurry up okay?" she nods her. "I've set your clothes up, can you get dressed by yourself?" I ask, wanting to get to my cereal. She nods her head again, still rubbing her eyes.
I walk into the kitchen about to start eating my cereal when the phone rings. I sigh, for what seems like the hundredth time this morning, and walk over to the phone. I look at the caller id and frown as I don't recognize the number. "Hello?" I ask, taking a seat at the kitchen table.
"Hey buddy!" I hear on the other end of the phone.
My face lights up, thrilled to hear his voice. "Hi grandpa!" I shout, dropping my spoon back into the bowl. "How are you? How's nana?" I ask excitedly. I can hear grandpa smile, the same way I can hear dad smile. They aren't even related but I'm always noticing things that they both have in common.
"I'm okay, missing my grandkids like crazy though." I grin as I hear his reply, almost identical to dads from the phone call last night. "and nana's good too, off on another shopping trip." He says with sarcasm. I giggle a little at his tone. "how's your mom?" The smile on my face fades. I hesitate before answering, hating to lie to grandpa. "Josh?" he asks again, his tone getting a little worried. "Is everything ok?"
I sigh again, "Yeah…" I say simply.
"Can I talk to mom?" he asks, sensing the hesitation in my voice.
"She's sleeping." I say reluctantly.
"Sleeping? What about breakfast? How are you and Ruby getting to school?" he asks, concerned and confused.
"I make breakfast. Jacobs mom takes me to school and drops Ruby off at kindergarten on the way." I say, explaining our morning routine.
"Why doesn't your mom take you to school?" I don't answer, not wanting to tell grandpa that his daughter hasn't done much of anything lately. "Josh!" he says, a sound of fury entering his voice.
"Mom…has been having a hard time lately." I finally spit out.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, mom hasn't left the house in over a month. It's a struggle to get her out of bed in the mornings, and when she does she just sits at the kitchen table and stares out the window. I'm the one who has to get up and take care of Ruby and me. I'm the one who has to be the adult." I cry, breaking down. "I just want dad to come home." I sob quietly.
I can hear him let out a heavy, "I know pal… but I need you to be strong." He says, encouraging me. "I'm going to get you some help, but you have to be strong for Ruby."
I nod my head and wipe my nose. "Grandpa…"
"Everything's going to be alright…right?" I ask, needing someone to give me a little hope.
"Yeah pal, everything's going to be fine." He assures me. I look to the hallway as I hear Ruby walking towards me.
"Ruby's coming." I whisper.
"Ok, you hang in there kid, let me talk to Ruby real quick." He says with his stern yet loving tone.
I nod my head, "Yes sir." Ruby walks in the kitchen and looks up at me on the phone. "Ruby, someone wants to talk to you." I say handing her the phone.
"Hello?" I hear her say with her little high pitched voice. "Grandpa!" she shrieks with excitement. "I miss you and nana so much." She says loudly, a smile spreading all across her face. "Yeah, I go to school just like Josh now." She says very proudly; hands on hips. I laugh at her a little and try to eat my cereal that I've started ten times. "No mommy's sleeping." She says sadly, looking to my mother's room. "Ok, I love you grandpa, bye." She says hanging up the phone.
I look to her as she sets the phone down on the kitchen table. "Sit down, I've poured your cereal already." I say pointing to the bowl. She nods her head and does as she's told. As I bring another spoonful to my mouth I glance out the window and drop my spoon. I pick Ruby up and tell her to go to her room. She looks at me and asks me why with a scared voice. "Because I said so!" I bark. She walks off to her room, and I turn back around, feeling my stomach sink and my heart race as two soldiers get out of their car across the street.
They walk towards my house, there's no mistaking it now, they're on my front porch. I open the door before they get the chance to ring the doorbell. I stand in front of them, a small fifteen year old boy in front of two grown men, more than just men, two soldiers. I fall to my knees, gasping for air, "Please…please!" I plead. "Don't tell me."