All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
In the days of the war, when men and women ran headfirst into barrages of gunfire, there was not one person unaffected. Soldiers died, and families submerged in sorrow when the officer knocked on their door. I was no different. I was the naive, fresh-out-of-high-school girl who married a reservist, and then paid the price for my innocence.
I remember that hour vividly: the meek face of the officer, the wind nudging the clouds over the sun, down to the small flag waving on my porch. I bit down on my lower lip. This was the moment that had starred in my nightmares for seven months. At any second, I would wake up and be staring at the ugly popcorn ceiling of my bedroom. That relief never came. Zachary Atmos, my husband, was killed trying to protect an injured comrade.
Exactly one week later, in a whirl of color and people talking too fast, I followed my brother-in-law to my seat at the funeral. It was a miserable day. Rain had poured relentlessly for two days. In my self-pity I believed that the angels were crying.
The militaristic funeral service was covered by neon blue tarps; the riflemen seemed unfazed by the cold. In unison, their guns fired three times in salute to my husband. With every ringing shot, I shook.
I wondered what he had heard in his final moments. Was he in pain when he died? Had he thought of me? What if I had joined alongside him and been deployed also? Would things have been different? Now there was no way of knowing.
Like the statues placed around the cemetery, I was similarly stone-faced, but with ribbons of moisture running down my face. I was crying. I and the attendees around me were like a black-clad sculpture garden, conveying solemnity in our midst. I moved only to accept the flag that was laid over my husband’s coffin. Over the sheet-like drone of the rain, a single bugle player performed the lonely tune of Taps – a lullaby for the dead.
Then, as quickly as everything had begun, it was over. I was walking away, my face downcast toward the sidewalk. I wondered if Zack was watching me, if he was feeling okay. My mind was so wrapped in these questions, I wasn’t paying attention. The stiletto heel of my shoe wedged into a crevice, causing the other to slip on the concrete. My leg flew up while the other collapsed under me. I don’t remember much of the initial fall, but I must have yelled, for the ducks nearby retreated to their hidden nests in the reeds.
My dress was wet and my tumble broke my umbrella. My bangs stuck
to my temples, pressing the newly acquired grime to my face. Forcing myself to my knees, I noticed a diluted film of red coating the ground. Only then did the palms of my hands and my right knee begin to sting. For the millionth time that day, tears flew to my eyes and threatened to spill over my lashes.
My marred hand went to my face instinctively, smearing blood on my cheeks and sending mascara around my eyes and brows. I caught my reflection in a puddle, my shoulders falling at my pathetic image.
Great tufts of hair hung matted, soggy, and windblown. My makeup ran in deformed rivers. My black gown was wrinkled and stained with blood. Suddenly, the smallest flash of light caught my eye. Centered neatly in my V-shaped collar hung the necklace I had put on that morning. My gaze was locked on the tiny charm on the delicate chain. Zack had given me it shortly before he was deployed. It depicted the face of a wolf. The flat back of the charm had a single character in Japanese hiragana: Kokoro – the word for “Forever” or “Always.”
I knelt there in the rain and wind, contemplating … always … always … The word sounded so comforting. My fingertips grazed the cool metal at my throat, and I stood. I gathered my purse and my useless umbrella, standing straight and tall. The pendant on my necklace rested comfortably at my heart like unbreakable armor.
A few hours later, I was home, bathed and warm again, hands and knee bandaged with care. Huddled by the fireplace with a book, I looked into the flames, where I swear I saw him smiling his dorky grin at me.