Soldiers are not the only casualties of war.
Headlights swept the street, illuminating the world with a ghostly sheen. Emily hiccupped as tears rolled down her cheeks and wet the collar of her blouse. I’m not a bad girl, she thought. Why did this happen to me?
“How much farther is it, Johnny?” she asked, wiping away her tears with a pretty, lace-trimmed handkerchief.
“About three miles, I think.” Johnny’s mouth was set in a hard line. “You don’t have to do this, you know. We could get married right now before I leave.” Johnny’s steel grey eyes were pleading, begging Emily not to go through with this awful plan. But Emily had to. She was almost sure Johnny hadn’t meant that stupid remark he made when she told him she was pregnant, almost sure, but not quite. He had blurted it out and, now, nothing could take it back.
“I just had so many plans for us, Emily. I thought you'd still be in college while I do my stint in the war. I didn’t mean the baby would mess everything up. Honestly, I didn’t. It just came out wrong. I don't want you to do this. We can make other plans. Please, Emily?”
Emily was a university freshman on December 7th, 1941, when the unthinkable had happened. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Johnny had been called up to active duty four weeks later. He had another week until the bus would take him away from her, maybe forever.
After Emily told Johnny about the baby, she took several days to think through what he had said and what she should do. It hadn’t been easy. She didn’t want to be a burden on Johnny’s mind while he was fighting the enemy. If something happened to him, she would think it was due to worry about her. She had always thought they would be married eventually, but neither of them had actually put it into words. Now, she wasn’t sure Johnny had ever really felt that way. Nothing he said now could erase his first response to the news about the baby. His surprise and disappointment had been evident on his face. He tried to cover it up because down deep she knew he was a kind person. That was one reason she loved him.
She had gotten the name and address from her roommate and borrowed the $300 from her friends. She didn’t want Johnny going to war feeling responsible and guilty for any of it. She hadn’t even wanted him to drive her but none of her friends had cars. His old ’37 Ford coupe barely ran, but it was getting her there.
“I think that’s it up ahead, Johnny.” The house was painted an incongruous shade of red, or maybe that was appropriate for what would happen inside.
Johnny pulled up to the curb and turned off the motor. Emily opened her door and stepped out into the foggy night air, trying not to think in order to keep her nerve. Her mind was made up.
“You wait here, Johnny. I don’t want you going in with me.” She slammed the door and walked on shaky legs up the steps to the porch. A dingy light hung over a ragged screen door. Emily’s heart was pounding so hard it was all she could hear. With a sweaty hand she rang the dirt-encrusted doorbell. The strong smell of frying peppers and onions wafted through the screen.
An older man, stout and sloppy-looking, with shirt sleeves rolled up, opened the dilapidated screen door. He eyed her up and down, held his hand out for the money and motioned her in. Johnny waited as Emily disappeared into another room. Thirty minutes later an elderly woman held the screen door open as Emily came out looking like a ghost in the foggy, dim moonlight
Johnny jumped out to help her into the front seat. “Everything is okay, Johnny. Don’t worry. I’m going to be fine now.” It was a long ride back. Neither one could think of anything else to say.
Johnny dropped her off at her dorm, and she watched his car taillights disappear into the wet, murky fog.
As the days passed Emily sank deeper and deeper into a self-pitying, guilt-ridden funk. Even Johnny’s departure was just a blur with his sad eyes searching her face for answers to questions unspoken between them. He promised to write, but she found herself not caring whether he did or not.
By the time spring break was drawing near, Emily’s roommate, Barb, was desperate to cheer up her best friend. She had known Emily since grade school. It broke her heart to see her so sad.
“You’re going home with me for break, and we’re going to have some fun. Get out your suitcase and pack some party dresses ‘cause I’m not letting you mope around anymore.”
“I know you mean well, Barb. I'm really glad you're my friend. I don''t know what I would have done without you. Maybe things will be better now,” Emily said and began doing as Barb asked.
That same day Emily got five letters from Johnny, some dated over two months before. The arrival of mail from overseas was very unpredictable. Emily had started to think Johnny was forgetting her.
“All those letters should cheer you up,” Barb said with a big grin.
“I do feel better, really I do, and I’m looking forward to going on break now.” If she kept saying it, maybe she would feel better. She did feel happy about receiving all the letters and eagerly started to read.
Johnny had made lots of new buddies in the Army and he told her about all the unusual places he had seen. Luckily, combat hadn’t been one of them yet. He was a good writer, and his letters served to lighten her heart with his vivid descriptions and comical escapades. She could smell his aftershave in the thin writing paper. Maybe he would come back and things would be like before. He never mentioned the baby.
The day arrived for their trip to Barb’s to begin. With suitcases in tow, they headed to the local station to catch the train to Barb’s hometown. The taxi dropped them off out front. When Emily turned to head toward the big glass doors, her stomach lurched. The station was painted that same hideous red. Memories of that night came flooding back. Summoning up all her strength to keep going, she kept her head down so Barb wouldn’t notice anything was wrong. They checked their tickets and bags and went out the doors on the track side to wait for their train.
“Emily, are you okay? You're awfully pale. Maybe you're hungry. I told you we should have had breakfast. Why don’t you sit here on the bench, and I’ll get us a snack to take with us.” Barb led her to a green, wooden bench near the back of the station. In a few minutes she returned laden with sandwiches and drinks she had purchased from a nearby food vendor. When Barb handed the food to her, she watched Emily's eyes fill with horror. As the strong, familiar smell of fried peppers and onions accosted her nostrils, Emily jumped up, dumping the sausage sandwich and drink on the concrete passage area. She daintily stepped over the debris and then purposely walked to the edge of the tracks. She looked back at Barb, who was frozen in terror, and at the same time, they both heard the roar of the engine. Without a word Emily turned, smiling briefly, then jumped in front of the oncoming train.