The steps were getting hard to take. Tears welled up, blurring my vision. I wanted to stay strong for him. I promised myself I would, but now that I was almost there I didn’t know if I could do it. I sniffled and wiped a tear away with my sleeve.
The fall wind tore at me, trying to freeze me, but I wouldn’t let it. It’s what he would have wanted. He would have told me to be strong, to man up. That’s how he was; that’s who he was. He was sympathetic sometimes, but he was mostly a hard-ass. He told me several times that there are just some things in life that you can’t control and you can’t dwell on them. You have to take it with a grain of salt and just keep moving forward, because life goes on. I kept trying to focus on that, but thinking you can do something and actually doing it are two different things. One moment I was ready to take these challenges head on, and the next I wanted to hide from the world.
I heard my mother behind me crying. It was my first time visiting here since we had received the letter and the folded flag. My mom had been to the funeral, but I was out of town at the time and she didn’t want to ruin my trip by giving me the bad news. My visit wasn’t going well and not just this trip to the tomb, but the whole expedition of emotions I was going through. Everyone was treating me differently. I just wanted it all to get back to normal. It’s like wishing for rain while stranded in the desert; the odds are against you. Odds were that my life wouldn’t be completely normal again and if it did it wouldn’t be any time soon. The problem is I don’t know how to deal with something like this. No 16-year-old kid thinks that this could ever happen in a million years. I pray to God that no one else will have to go through this ordeal.
I looked down at the letter we had received. It said he was in column 87, row 12. I noticed a sign to my right that read Column 87 and began to feel another tear break away from the water that filled my eyes. I didn’t bother to wipe this one away; I just let it sit. I slowly began to make my way down the column, counting the rows as I went. I could feel my heartbeat getting faster, hoping, praying that there had been some kind of mistake.
I closed my eyes and looked away, trying to gather the courage I needed. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes to see a white marble cross planted in the ground.
I began to cough as I keeled over. I tried to take deep breaths, but it wasn’t helping. I thought I might throw up. I fell to my knees and felt the grass right in front of the cross. Was it really a bad thing though? Was his death really the worst thing that could have happened? He had hit my mom several times before and he had come close to hitting me. Now that he was gone my mom and I could both feel safe. Maybe this whole thing was a blessing in disguise?
I looked at the cross again. “Lieutenant C. James, Born July 16, 1970, Died October 19, 2012.” I crawled up to it on my hands and knees and embraced it. Burying my head in my bicep, I sat there. My eyes burned and my nose began to run. I felt a warm hand land on my shoulder and looked up to see my mom standing with tears running down her face. She got down and hugged the cross with me.
We knelt there for a while just holding onto that piece of marble. After a while my mom and I stood up. I sniffled and looked at the cross that was placed six feet above my dad’s cold body. I knew it was going to be hard going on without him in my life, but I would make it. I had done it for almost all my life anyway. He was almost never home and when he was it was for a short period of time. It wouldn’t really be any different, would it? We would find a way to make the money work, I wasn’t sure how, but I’m sure my mom would figure that one out. God had a reason that he had taken my dad and I had no right to question it. Was I sad he was dead? Did I wish he was back? Maybe it isn’t as tragic as I had originally found it to be.
The thought of it made me wonder; on one hand he was now something that I didn’t have to deal with, but on the other hand he was my father. I would miss all the times we had together, but there weren’t too many of those now that I thought about it. He had never been to any of my games, never helped me with school problems, and never gave me any useful advice that didn’t have to do with sucking it up. Hell, I had already grown up without a father. I sure wouldn’t miss him beating my mom when he was drunk, his attitude that I was never good enough, or the fact that he spent most of his time when he was home down at the bar. After giving it some thought I decided that, yes, I was sad he was gone. As far as wanting him back, hell no. I liked him better underneath six feet in the ground.