by Kevin Nelson
All I wanted was to kiss your face, but, that cannot be so...
|She's not smiling-why would she not? It has been a year and she doesn't smile. I've been looking forward to this day-through the discomfort of sand storms, swarms of flies and gnats feasting on my flesh, enemy fire and homemade bombs expected from the hands of even a small child-the least she can do is smile.
I was hoping it would be different-but know that things often stray from how I expect. If it were up to me, I'd have stayed home, never have left-I would've loved to wake and mow the lawn, work in a cubicle weekdays as I had, seen my first child born-instead of undertaking my fourth deployment.
It is a boy; I had always wanted a boy to carry on the name. I imagined naming him Connor, Riley, to fit McElroy. The kid she's holding has skin too dark for such a name-I realize this now as he looks around in ignorance.
I understand the closer I get the reason she named him Costa. I was after all an ocean away, unable to fight it-or prevent it from happening. I've seen them both over the video feed. I was happy to see them before me, even through bad reception. I had convinced myself that it was the webcam, there being a shadow always on his face. But now, facing this kid, my fears have become reality. His hair is black, which matches his sunken eyes. No part of this child resembles me, but he has his mother's nose and ears. Both my fiancé and I are very fair skinned-my skin freckles, she red blemishes from whatever rubs against her skin. My eyes are blue, hers green.
As I pass the surging crowd, she becomes within my reach and attempts a smile. A meager attempt at that. I don't even try in light she can only muster a grimace. My eyes swell as I stand firm-I have prayed for this be a joyous occasion. As the weeks waned in my absence, my arrival home considered, the more her voice seemed strained over the phone. Many nights I woke in the arid dusk air of Iraq in cold, sweat laden sheets with nightmares about coming home to nothing. The house uprooted, the spring birches burnt, ashes and rubble in place of the concrete driveway. She halfheartedly told me it was mine.
"No-everything will be in tact. I'll be home and able to kiss my son in no time." I told myself constantly as remedy.
So-here we stand, I take a look to my left, Colonel Briggs lifts his daughter into the air by her armpits-his lips embrace her forehead. His smile seems to be as wide as his face allows. The way his family surrounds him-one would think he had thrown the winning touchdown in a championship game. If only I were Briggs. No, that would be all too perfect. To my right, Sergeant Patterson won't release his wife. She thinks the hug is over, but he won't remove his face from the crevice between her neck and shoulder-the scent of his wife, he told me, would be his first indulgence on free land.
The happiness of the others hardens my compassion and as I stare into the eyes of my wife the will to love her becomes ruptured. I am ready for the finishing blow to shatter all prior hopes into shards and pieces, scattering across the marble floor. She looks at the kid in her arms, then at me, her face pitiful in pleading mercy and understanding.
Her distance tells it all. She had forgotten my love for her. She was lonely. So we just stand there as the other servicemen end their salutations and make their way out the terminal-arms around the shoulders of loved ones. Soon, we are the only ones left, a foot apart.
There he is. Look at him over there. He looks so small. So far away. I wish I could hold him, drop this baby and jump into his arms, like one of those old black and white photographs from World War II. He won't allow this. I can tell. He is taking his time. If he didn't know by now, he wouldn't be going so slowly. I can't allow deceiving him any more anyways. I stand my distance, and look down. He needs to know.
The choice to have the baby in the first place was a hard one to come by. The whole story, in a nutshell, is like this. I was running after work-wearing the tightest black spandex I had. Willing to show everybody in the neighborhood I was still nothing short of exhilarating. My husband, Shay, had been home at most six months in the last five years. I needed everybody to know I still had it.
So-I was running, and came around the block, my house in sight. But that wasn't the only thing. Theo, the next door neighbor-newly wed-all the women wished they were in the bride's heels. He had everything. Including my eye. I couldn't avoid a smile, not to mention the crack I stumbled over. But, then again, he smiled at my grace, so maybe it was a good thing. I guess that's why people run on the road, the cracks, but I had to be as close to Theo as possible, and knew that I would intersect with him as he came from his mailbox. We got to talking. He asked me in for wine. The question of where, for how long, how many times we did it-doesn't matter. The point is that I did it-I lost hope in raising a family with Shay, the passion was long gone. Besides we tried to conceive a child every time he returned home. He failed to plant his seed, and then flew away again in the wind-to a land bare with cracked soil-unfit for fertilization. Flowers wilt in the sun's intensity. That night, that night I practically fell to Theo's feet-it was several years of angst-let out, unleashed. It was great. It was terrible. I raise my gaze and adjust Costa further up my shoulder.
He is only about twenty feet away, Shay that is, and he's not smiling.
I didn't know whose baby it was-not until the blood test. Yes, I had Costa tested to find out for sure. If I had known it would be Theo's child, I would have considered abortion. The whole escapade was a mistake. I am responsible for this terrible-awful mistake. I see that when I look at Costa, despite my love for him, carrying my blood and all. He will grow, and I will have this conflicted opinion. I don't want this. Certainly not, but it's just the way it is.
Shay is within reach now. He frowns as he studies us. He doesn't take Costa from my arms. Just crosses his, not saying a word.
The thought of aborting Shay's baby, causes nausea in my stomach and a gag of the throat. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself. I think sometimes that Shay might beat me at any attempt on my life if I were to have done such a thing. He has after all been in a war, and has killed before. For this-I am still afraid. A child is what we always wanted. We have tried so many times to start a family; I could not take that from him. A child-a beautiful affair in nature-and I have turned the blessing into a cursed occasion.
He looks to my right, as do I, and a middle aged man in fatigues lifts his daughter into the air by her armpits-he kisses her forehead before she removes his hat from his head, putting it on her own. The man is ecstatic. His family surrounds him, cheering at his arrival. Shay then looks to my left, and I follow his gaze once again. Another man in fatigues holds on dear to his wife or fiancé or girlfriend. She tries to push away, but he won't remove his face from her neck.
I wanted to tell him-I did. Several times a week I would convince myself to tell him during our Sunday conversation. Every Sunday, I would get lost in our conversation, maybe considering telling him once, twice before brushing off the notion. I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
His brother came to the hospital a few nights after Costa was born. He walked into the room as the child nursed nutrients from my body. He never said a word-and only stayed at the hospital long enough to see what he needed to. I was left on my own, no support. I had hoped and prayed his brother didn't suggest anything to Shay, knowing that would break him at the time when he needed to be his strongest. His brother didn't know for sure, whichever the case. Harmless gossip. You see, I was still juggling the option of lying and saying it was Shay's, maybe it was just a weird accident.
"Tell me." Shay says.
"I'm sorry." I say as I break down and cry.
"Don't tell me you're sorry. Don't cry. Why are you crying? Who do you suppose this hurts more? Now-tell me."
"Oh, god." I bend down and place one hand over my face, blocking my seeping eyes, the other holding on tightly to Costa's rear.
"Carrie-just please, tell me. Get it over with. Why hold on?" his tone lightens, as does his face.
"I need you," I said.
"You-need me?" his upper lip curls, I expect a strike, and close my eyes in anticipation.
I just sob.
"Carrie!" he barks. "I need you-I need you to tell me."
"You know!" I rise again, propping Costa higher on my chest. "I'm sorry. You know."
"I know I know. I just want you to say it. I want to hear it come from your skank-I want you to tell me, Carrie."
"You want me to tell you?" I screech. "I've wanted to tell you! But when? Over the phone, the video feed? I couldn't do that. I needed to tell you in person. Shay, please understand my-"
"Understand you?" he yells just louder than I. "What the fuck is there to understand? Please Carrie, would you please fucking tell me?"
"I was lonely." I stammer. "I guess I forgot about how much you loved me. And how much I loved you. You were always gone. It was a mistake. I'm sorry."
"Is that all? Really, Carrie, you can't do any better than that? That's all you got? You couldn't think of anything better than that. Seriously. Jesus Carrie. Fucking brilliant."
The baby begins to cry. Shay snarls inches from Costa's face. Spit flying as he raged on.
"Oh-go on and cry you little bastard-you have a reason. The sight, smell, and presence of your mother is a tear jerker in itself. I never want to see you ever again, you understand me-Costa?"
Shay made his way passed me, making sure to jam his shoulder into my free one. It hurt, needless to say because I don't think it was the physical pain that made me frantic for air from my waving hand, trying to relieve my incessant panting and gasping.
"I'm sorry," my lips motion as I fall to my knees. All strength leaves my body and I cradle the baby. I find no sense in looking up. Shay's boots stamp down the corridor. Both the sound and vibration slowly fades to black.
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