Had Daniel lived he would have been twenty-three today and we would have been married a little over four years and been together almost seven. He was my highschool sweetheart and the only guy I’ve ever been in love with. And despite everything it hurts that that part of my life will never be coming back, that Daniel will never be coming back, that the memories have been tainted by what happened.
For so long I’ve been pretending. It helped to keep myself so busy there wasn’t time to think but I doubt I can build the wall any higher to keep it all out. It is sloshing around on the other side of that wall like high tide during an oncoming hurricane. I thought I was done mourning, but I guess not. I suppose I was just fooling myself again.
I drove to Tampa to put flowers on his grave. I tried not to, tried not to put myself through it. But before I knew it was I was putting the animals up and then strapping Feena into her car seat. I turned around twice, once at the end of the road and once right before I got on the interstate on ramp but I couldn’t make myself go all the way back home. And once I was on the interstate there was no turning back.
I know things ended badly for all of us but I still owe him for the good times and he is still Feena’s father. As long as I can see I’ll never be able to deny that. She may have my skin tone and hair but she has his eyes. Sometimes I look at them and can’t help but cry.
He’s been gone months now but Daniel managed to surprise me again, not once but twice. I stopped in the Grow Credit Union to close our old account since I didn’t think there was but a couple of dollars left in it when low and behold I discovered there was several thousand in there. It took a while and several phone calls to track it down but we did. The military never completed the discharge on Daniel. Clerical didn’t understand it; it’s like all the paperwork on his Section 8 simply vanished into thin air and now that he’s dead no one seems too interested in pursuing the matter. By rights all benefits should have ended a long time ago. And yet, there it is.
I got the second surprise when I went to visit some friends from the old neighborhood. I was bracing myself before going to the cemetery and delaying it though I find it hard to admit. Hueby and his girlfriend Virginia still have their little audio/video store … they sell used records, transfer and dupe tapes, that sort of thing. I stopped by their place and after ooo-ing and aahh-ing over Feena Virginia nudged Hueby and said, “You should give it to her.”
“You sure?” he asked her.
“Yeah. I told you the stars said we’d have an unexpected visitor today and we’d finish a job long overdue … well, tell me this doesn’t fit.”
I let them talk, sometimes that is all you can do with people when they seem to be speaking a language you don’t understand.
Hueby then went into his work room and came back out with a shoe box in his hands. He handed it to me and said, “I didn’t know what to do with this. Daniel gave me this job way back, before his demons carried him off. I saw how used up you were over everything and just held onto it all. The end came and I really didn’t know what to do with it then either. But Virginia says the stars are speaking so here you are and I reckon it’s time.”
I carefully opened the box not knowing exactly what to expect and it was full of old photos and memory sticks and a jewel case with a DVD in it labeled “To Aria With Love.”
“He asked me to work something up. Said something about it being for your anniversary. Reckon it is late, but maybe it isn’t. Life doesn’t move by our arbitrary time table.”
Like I said, sometimes you let people talk because it is in a language you don’t understand … you let them talk because when you finally do understand it is about more than you can handle and you wish you could have your ignorance back.
It’s like the last bit of something left of Daniel has done his best to continue looking after us, tell us that he loved us. The good part of Daniel. The part I miss so much, especially at night when I’m all alone.
It isn’t the sounds of the night that bother me. I know every creak and groan this old house makes like an old woman knows the snores of her old man. It’s the sounds that are missing that want to destroy me. The way he would get stuffy at night and wind up only being able to breathe through one nostril. The sometimes embarrassing sounds made when you share one bathroom in a house way too small. The sound the bed makes when you aren’t the only one in it. And when he would talk in his sleep and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing at how silly it sounded. It is the lack of sound that tells me how alone I am.
I went to the cemetery and I was tempted to leave the box right there on his grave but something told me I would regret it if I did. So instead I left the flowers that I had bought at the grocery where I had stopped to get a sandwich and a coke for lunch. I looked at his headstone and realized he wasn’t there. Whatever was there wasn’t the Daniel I married; that man was in Heaven with his parents and our boy baby. Whatever demons drove him while he walked this earth can’t reach him where he is at now.
Afterwards I went back to the credit union and finalized the paperwork and transferred the automatic deposits to the little bank that I set up an account at that is closer to where we live now. If I’m smart and careful the benefits will last us a long time. It amounts to almost a thousand dollars a month between one thing and another. That’s almost three times the amount of the social security survivor’s benefits that Mack insisted on applying for on behalf of Feena and I. Part of me feels guilty and part of me is thankful for this “found money.” I don’t know if we are really entitled to this money but Feena has to have special formula and it costs an arm and a leg. I never did get my milk back once it dried up, nothing I tried made a difference and all those nursing mothers groups made me feel kind of useless since I wouldn’t pay some other woman to pump milk for my baby. I don’t guess I’ll ever know what it is like now.
With that done I tried to stop by and see Lily. Tried being the operative word. She wouldn’t talk to me much. She said she wasn’t mad at me she just didn’t want to talk to me or see the baby. That I brought up bad memories and that she was cutting herself off from all of that and that if I was her friend and wanted her and Cal to stay together I’d just have to honor her wishes.
I didn’t have a clue how cutting me off specifically was helping her and Cal to stay together but I didn’t ask the question. It was like she was looking for an excuse, looking for some way to say that it was not her fault if they don’t stay together and I didn’t want to be the one that gave her that excuse. She doesn’t care if Cal sees me, she just doesn’t want to see or hear from me, doesn’t want any more phone calls that make her feel guilty. Certainly doesn’t want to hear a word about Daniel’s spawn. That’s exactly what she called Feena … “Daniel’s spawn.”
I didn’t understand and by the time I showed up on Trish’s doorstep I was nearly in tears. Trish did bust into tears when she saw me. “I knew you couldn’t stay away. Let me guess, you went to the cemetery.”
We boo-hoo’d for a few minutes and then we sat down and she and Mack fussed over Feena and cooed that she was getting so big and we exchanged news that didn’t make it into our weekly phone conversations. After Mack left to go take a business call I spilled the beans about my visit to try and see Lily.
“I just … I meant to come here first but then I just had this feeling that I had to go see Lily, that I needed to know why she hasn’t returned any of my phone calls. Trish, did I do something? Did I do something wrong? I don’t understand.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong Aria. Lily has been cutting us all off one by one. It’s like she is testing Cal … testing him to see if he’ll try and force her to do something or say something or go someplace she doesn’t want to go so that they can have a spectacular blow out, but it won’t be her fault because she has warned him all along.”
“Cal never said anything. Nothing.”
“Probably trying to protect you while trying to not rock the boat at home. You know he feels guilty that he didn’t do more to protect you and Mom and Dad.”
I shook my head. “He couldn’t have done anything. He shouldn’t think that at all. If it wasn’t for him and Lily I wouldn’t be sitting here, Feena couldn’t be sucking down this bottle like she’s going to turn it inside out. That’s crazy talk.”
I could have bitten my tongue but Trish didn’t seem to notice. “Crazy or not that’s how he feels. He was out patrolling that night, taking an extra shift; looking in Daniel’s old haunts thinking he might be wandering around lost and confused. Mack and I both told him there was nothing that he could have done even had he been right there; just get himself hurt or killed too. What good would that have done anyone? Whatever occupied Daniel’s body that night, it wasn’t my little brother; he was already dead to us.”
She saw the look on my face. “And don’t you go feeling guilty either. Bad things happen. We don’t know why most of the time. I know some of this was the natural consequences of Daniel’s choices but … but between you and me I’ve still got questions come the Pearly Gates. I’ve decided for my own peace of mind though to file them away 'til then. It doesn’t do me, or any of us, any good to sit around dwelling on what might have been or could have been. All that’s left is to find some lesson in it and move on.”
“What kind of lesson can be found in that mess?”
“Well, Mack and I have decided that there’s no time like the present. That we can’t keep putting things off hoping life is going to get better.” A little mischievously she whispered, “He got unfixed.”
“He got un … you mean he went and had the procedure?”
“Yeah. I love his kids but we want to have some together and since he’s going to be forty pretty soon … he says he doesn’t want to be wearing Depends when our baby is still in diapers.”
I choked at the normally proper woman making what was for her a rather risqué remark. Then she grinned and looked at me. And I knew. She said, “Baby ain’t shooting blanks these days.” The tea I was drinking nearly shot out of my nose and I choked so hard I nearly missed hearing her due date.
Mack came back in and he was red all the way to the tips of his hairy ears. “She tell you?”
“Yes! Congratulations!” If possible he got even redder but he was also grinning from ear to ear. I’m happy for them. Really. I am. The feelings just haven’t gone from my brain to my heart yet.
They tried to get me to stay but I needed to get back here and check on the animals. I also thought leaving Tampa I would be able to leave the memories behind.
But when I put Feena down and got up the nerve to watch the DVD I finally admitted that some part of me will never escape the memories.