Through tears and kisses I promised my love, he promised he would return safely.
Winter has been long this year. Long, cold...and lonely.
It was early fall when he left. The day before, huddled against each other, we walked hand in hand below trees dripping leaves of yet unnamed colors. We had walked here in summer, when these trees shimmered green and silver, vibrant and full of life. Now as the leaves crumbled beneath our footsteps, they represented a simplified version of the circle of life. Birth...beauty...death. The finality of it was not lost on me.
We stopped and watched the breeze comb the high grass of a meadow. "I'll write every day, I promise," I said.
"And I will do my best to answer every letter." He squeezed my hand.
Walking again, I smiled up at him, "I will miss you." I promised myself I would not cry, at least not when he could see me. I never imagined it would be this hard to keep that promise.
"I know, I'll miss you, too." He smiled at me and then lowered his lips to mine. After the kiss, with his warm lips still close to mine he whispered, "The last thirty days have been the best days of my life."
We continued strolling down the leaf-strewn path and I wondered about the demons he must be fighting. How sure could he be of a future? He would be in a place where futures were obliterated, wiped away, as if they never existed. I wanted to comfort him now more than ever before.
The day he left was our thirtieth day of marriage...our thirtieth day of bliss. We had not slept at all the night before, instead we spent the night talking about the future...our future.
"I want to have five children," I said against his shoulder as we cuddled in the cozy darkness of our bed. "A boy...with your blond hair and blue eyes." I tapped my finger on his chin, "and your dimple, he'll be Paul junior."
"He may not like the dimple." His finger traced the line on his chin.
"And a girl...no, twin girls," I said enthusiastically, "they'll be..."
"They'll look just like their mother," he broke in with a smile, "especially their mother's green eyes." His lips gently touched each of my eyes. "I love your eyes, the way they catch the light, the way they flare when you get scared...the way they look at me."
"When am I ever scared?" I whispered.
"Remember that movie...Wait Until Dark?" he laughed.
"Okay, maybe just that once," I said. I poked his ribs with my finger.
And we talked on, long after the dawn silvered the edges of the window shade, long after we should have fallen asleep in each other's arms...long after we should have risen and gone on our way.
We stood at the gate together that cool morning. Looking over his shoulder, I saw the plane that would take him away. Paul shaded his eyes with his hand as he looked at the plane, and when he turned back to me his smile was gone for an instant, but long enough.
An instant of fear, I wondered. I wanted to tell him that I carried enough fear us both, but decided to keep that locked inside.
He wrapped his arms around me and gently pulled me to him.
"I have to leave, baby."
"I'll be right here, sweetie, waiting for you," I smiled up at him.
"I'll think about you every minute." His smile was gone again. His trembling fingers pushed strands of brown hair off my face, and then he leaned in to kiss me.
I pulled him to me and felt his heart beat against my own. His arms encircled me in a tight embrace, our tears mingled as we kissed.
A man in uniform put his hand on Paul's shoulder, "Sorry Paul...it's time to get going." He moved on.
He wiped a tear from my cheek as I smoothed his shirt with the palm of my hand and looked deep into his eyes. "Hurry home, Paul." I forced a smile.
"I will...I love you," he said as he kissed me one more time.
"I love you," I said, praying it wouldn't be for the last time ever. "I'll be right here when you get home. Be safe."
And then he was gone.
I watched his plane lift into the clear, cool, autumn air. It rose higher and higher as the sun glistened from its side. I watched it become smaller and smaller, until it finally disappeared into the hazy distance.
Spring came with its warm, gentle breezes. The crocuses bloomed in colorful groups, buds grew into tiny leaves along tree limbs, and gardens filled the air with the sweet, nutty aroma of freshly turned earth. But in my heart it was still winter.
I was on my way to the airport.
The telegram came early one morning a week ago. I held it in my trembling hands refusing to open it...refusing to acknowledge reality. The only sound I heard was the loud buzz inside my head. I held the yellow envelope to my heart and said a prayer. Reluctantly, I tore it open.
My eyes scanned the terse words. "Your husband..." it began. My eyes picked out the words, one by one, registering only those that I wanted to see: Injured...medi-vac...Germany...home.
I could breathe again. A loud hiss escaped my lungs and was replaced with relief. Paul was injured, in a hospital in Germany, and would be home next week. I repeated over and over,Thank you, God until I was shouting the words. My tears spotted the letter that held the cherished words that Paul would be coming home.
Now I stood at the same place where Paul and I stood on that cool morning, when it was autumn. It was the same place where I had promised my love, and Paul had promised to return to me.
Our promises had been kept. He was coming home, and I loved him.
My heart skipped a beat as I watched him step out of the darkness of the plane into the brilliant sunshine. I saw him look around, searching. I saw his eyes flash with recognition when they found me in the small crowd. He waved.
He swung between his crutches, their rubber tips slapping the tarmac as he came toward me. Unable to control my excitement, I ran to close the distance separating us, until we embraced, and our lips met. Between the sobs shaking my body, I cried, "Welcome home, Paul, I love you."
"I made it, baby, I'm home."
"Yes, thank God you're home."
Looking around, Paul smiled at me, "What a beautiful day."
"Yes," I said, "it's finally spring."
Senior Center monthly contest entry for May 2011
Word Count 1126