by Athena Lynn
My Veteran's Day inspired short store for the Writer's Cramp Prompt. My FIRST short story.
|995 Words: Written for Writer’s Cramp with a little Veteran’s Day inspiration.,
Words without Words
As I stood at the pantry door with my Father the dilemma at hand had me flustered with worry; Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Cocoa Pebbles? What if chose the wrong one? “Daddy can I mix them and have both?” I remember asking, because Grammy had taught me whenever presented with a choice always say both…just in case. I just couldn’t get it wrong. As I deliberated my Mother reminded me that we’d all be late if I didn’t make a decision, and as was typical would not let me sample each cereal in the house in an endless breakfast cornucopia I simply wouldn’t have time to eat anyway. I was certain that being 8 years old was so much more difficult than they could ever understand.
I had no idea that my parent’s hearts were heavy and that we’d be saying goodbye to Daddy in a few short hours as we watched the KC-135 door close to take him far far away. I had no idea, that earlier that morning he had been informed that the deployment he had been an alternate for was leaving tonight and that he had to step-up because the primary had just come down with appendicitis. But that was the reality of the world that 8 year olds have the luxury of being oblivious to.
When Mom and Dad picked me up from school that day, Dad’s bags were already packed to go. I remembered the last time Daddy had to go; the only good thing that came from that trip was that Mommy got a puppy to keep us company. It felt like he was gone forever, I didn’t want that again. I just wanted to crawl inside one of his enormous green bags and go with him! I have no idea where Balad, Iraq is; but if Daddy was going, I wanted to go too.
Some kids Dads were doctors; they got to save lives and be rich, and they didn’t have to leave for half a year at a time and risk their lives to do it. It seemed a bit unfair to my little mind. Everyone knew both of my parents were in the Air Force; they were always in uniform when they picked me up. So in turn everyone knew why Dad wasn’t at my parent teacher conferences and awards assemblies. I’d kinda learned to use the sympathy to get away with not having homework done a couple of times, but my grades did tend to drop when one of my parents were away.
Having two parents who are American Hero’s is great, but sometimes you just want both of your parents at home to tuck you in at night. Maybe that’s selfish, but I believe that is in the definition of third grader somewhere if you look it up in the dictionary.
Mom missed Dad like crazy, she always wrote him every day. She actually had a room in the house dedicated to stationary of every imaginable kind, and a stamp collection that was single handedly keeping the U.S postal service in business. Really it was just a spare walk-in closet in the guest bedroom but it was rather large, big enough for a table inside and was cards and crafts from floor to ceiling. We would sit down and have letter writing time and we’d go sticker crazy. I didn’t write every day like Mama did, but she was sure to remind me when enough days had passed. The best part was getting letters from Daddy though!
We were in the middle of sticker-palooza when the doorbell rang. There were 3 men in uniform standing at the door, but it was a dressier uniform than the one Mom and Dad usually wore. I was still coming down the steps when I saw my Mom fall to the floor on her knees. By the time I got to her, I think she could barely breathe. It took me several moments to replay the words the man read from the script in his hand enough times to get it. Dad wasn’t coming home. Ever.
The next few days are bits and pieces spliced together with blurred images and muffled sounds. For some reason though, I can still smell the rain from the morning that Dad’s body arrived back to MacDill AFB. We waited in a limo on the flight line for the jet to land. We were parked just outside the hangar where hundreds of people were standing in formation at "Parade Rest" waiting their fallen comrade to arrive.
When the plane landed in front of us and taxied to a stop, a parade of men approached it with a riser to lower the large red, white and blue covered casket atop it. Once it was secure my Mother and I, and my Nana were escorted over to Dad. They sheltered us with umbrellas, but it hardly mattered. We wouldn’t have felt rain, or cold. The only thing we could feel was pain. Some say that rain is angels’ tears falling from heaven, and that morning I would have believed it.
My parents’ fellow Airmen and friends were all at the position of “Attention” in full salute now. As we departed the base, our funeral procession included 27 Tampa PD decked out riding their freshly polished motorcycles. The people of Tampa Bay lined the streets, civilians with hands over their hearts, and Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen saluting my Father as we passed. Once strangers…now family, they stood honoring him and thanking him for his sacrifice with a silence louder than any of history’s spoken words.
As I stand in the pantry trying to coerce my daughter into a decision about her morning meal, I truly can smell that rain from 21 years ago, and that silence echoes in my head and rumbles through my heart. My daughter grabs the Cheerios as I lace up the combat boots on my feet and we start another day.