It most definitely has been a while since I posted something in my Short-Shots series, hopefully I can generate a few more of these this year! Here’s to the power of the written word!
There have only been two instances when beauty has rendered me breathless and where it felt like my heart stopped beating. And, both instances, involved her. The first time was when I saw her for the first time I saw her. My brain and heart ceased to function, and I lost my power of speech. For a suave trendsetter, that was one of the lamest things I could’ve possibly done. Let’s just say my inability to speak that day, completely destroyed my suave image, at least where she was concerned, and to be honest, I was and will always be perfectly alright with that. At least I know she got the real deal and not a façade.
The second instance I saw her, was countless years after that first meeting, at a holiday get together with friends and family. Seeing her felt as though time ceased to exist and the Universe stopped moving for that instant. Heck, I even got to experience time travel during that instant; I was able to re-live the times of my life with and without her. It was as if I was blessed with clarity and foresight in that moment. I could literally see how our choices led us exactly where we were in our lives. She looked absolutely breathtaking, and her aura lit up everything around her and made the atmosphere livelier than it was. She was surrounded by a gurgle of laughter. That was just the nature of her laughter though, the soft tinkling sound of her laughter percolated the surrounding ether and just knew how to connect with your spirit and heart and bring a smile to your face.
That soft, sweet sound was what saved my life on countless occasions and brought me through the darkest of times. I don’t think she will ever know or understand just how much of my life and survival I owe to her. All those days spent in the lonely deserts not knowing if it would be my last night, last day, sunrise or sunset, it was the sound of her laughter that kept me at bay, and, held me together. Knowing I could close my eyes and hear that sound was the balm to my war weathered soul. It was what kept me together when I spent days in the infirmary following a slight incident involving IEDs and shrapnel. The pain surely jarred my senses, the pain pills knocked my faculties around, but it was always her that I saw and thought of first and closed my eyes to. Sometimes, I would wonder if she ever thought of me…and if she did, were the thoughts of me warm memories filled with happiness and love? Or ones filled with regret, sadness and anger?
I’m pretty certain she wasn’t aware that I would make it to this grand reunion. It had been close to a decade since I saw her last…I guess 3 tours and constant transfers makes one lose track of time and distance. We did occasionally check in on each other, but over the last few years there have been significantly fewer emails and messages. Her last detailed email was to let me know about her wedding, and about the great guy she was marrying. It almost felt like she was justifying her relationship with Tom, almost asking for my permission to set her free. A part of me was devastated, I think a part of me died that day as well…but I was mostly happy knowing that Tom made her a priority, kept her happy and loved her unconditionally, and someone she could rely on. The general consensus is that he is an all round good guy and very dependable. The funny and almost ironic part was that I wound up in the infirmary after an attack the same day as her wedding. In that moment, I was stupidly happy that she was marrying someone stable and solid, and that she didn’t end up with me. Lord knows I would’ve driven her nuts with all the agony and worrying. That was the day I was extremely thankful for my rare foresight, which led both of us to our current positions in life. I was glad I broke it off with her all those years ago; Yes, I broke both our hearts in the process and ruined the best thing that ever happened to me. But I was clear, once I joined the Army, I did not want her to wait for me, I did not want her worrying about me or wondering if this tour would be my last tour. I didn’t want her to bear the scars of waiting for something that was a ‘maybe.’ She didn’t deserve that, in fact nobody does…and I didn’t leave her a choice. Sure that makes me selfish, but it was what had to be done. I couldn’t afford to shatter her future and her dreams, and throw it all away by playing the waiting game for me. People like her are meant to strive and thrive. They are the once in a lifetime kind of people who can transform the world around them. I wasn’t going to take that precious gift away from this world. Ever since she got married, we had lost touch with each other, but I’d get the customary birthday messages and holiday greetings. She even stopped asking me when I’d be home next…that’s how I knew she had finally moved on.
Didn’t I mention how seeing her made me feel like a time-traveler? Standing in that doorway, sipping my drink with a clear view of her and her radiant smile lighting up everything around her, I wondered if that moment could get any more perfect…and that’s when it happened. That’s when I was re-taught the meaning of perfection. Something caught her attention, because the smile dropped off her face and her eyes switched from warmth to concern in the fraction of a second…and then switched back to something more than warmth. It was a mix of pure love, affection and joy. That was an expression I had never seen before in her eyes, and I craned my head to see the source of the expression, and I almost choked on my drink. Just the mere sight of the vision before me had my heart and soul exploding with an inexplicable feeling of joy and love. There in her arms was a miniature version of her, the beautiful curls, a face that would win anybody over, eyes that would never lie to you and had yet to explore and discover the rest of the world, and a smile that would pierce the toughest of hearts. Funny nobody thought to mention she had a baby almost 3-4 years ago, or they must have mentioned it but I was too caught up in my world.
My world stopped moving altogether, because, that’s when she looked up and saw me standing by that doorway. Our eyes locked on to each other, and watching the transition in her eyes was apparently the moment I was living for. It went from curiosity to recognition to surprise to love and joy in a split second. We hadn’t even realized it, but we had gravitated towards each other, and she gave me that trademark smile of hers. She pulled me into a one armed hug, her eyes running over my face and form, ensuring I was real and not a figment of her imagination. After so many years, we both had trouble starting this conversation with anything besides awkward ‘hellos,’ ‘wows,’ and, ‘how are yous.’ The mini princess was the one that set the ball rolling when she looked at my lapel pin and started tugging away at it. I guess kids still love flashy things, besides the latest gadgets. Her mother started introducing me to her, and within a few moments Tom had arrived at the scene as well, and there we were getting reacquainted with each other and our extended families.
But, like everything else in life, the moment had to come to an end, and it did, with such aplomb, when my phone went off in the middle of the celebrations. I checked to see if it was a call I could ignore, but it was from one of my unit members, which I couldn’t avoid. I excused myself, headed back to my previous position and was informed that our entire unit was expected to report to base the next morning. Well, that could only mean one thing…we were being deployed yet again. I hung up and heaved a sigh…whether it was relief or just expecting the obvious, I will never know. I raised my glass with a smile as if toasting the evening to my civilian self and downed it in one large gulp. I rubbed my face, and looked up to see her looking at me with concern, her face framed into a question. A question that was asking me if I had to leave already? I answered with a smile, and, a shrug. This was something I expected from the life I chose, though sometimes I wish it would give me a little more time with people that mattered most. I walked towards her, and as I got closer I noticed the unshed tears in her eyes, and felt a familiar ache and crack in my heart. That expression was the one I had fought to keep off her face all those years ago…but I guess some things are beyond our control. Finally I was standing in front of her, looking at the only thing that was home for me, her wonderstruck eyes. I think the expression on my face confirmed her suspicions, because she had a resigned look. I took her face in my hands, and gave her my trademark cocky smirk telling her everything would be okay and I would obviously return, sincerely hoping heart of hearts that she would believe and accept my words. It’s hard to explain, but this time around when I got the call, there was this weird feeling, almost a sense of finality. I told her I had to go, and in that moment I remembered something that I once wanted her to have. At that time, I had every intention of spending the rest of my life with her, but circumstances and people change with time and things did not go that way. I quickly slipped off the ring she had once fancied, and slipped it into the palm of her right hand. She gave me a puzzled look and my only response was to hold her face once more, plant a kiss on her forehead and tell her how her happiness was all that ever mattered to me and that I was taking a slice of it with me tonight to tide me over until I returned. I saw Tom a few feet away, walked up to him, and told him I had to leave. Before leaving, I gave him a hug and thanked him for being such a stellar and amazing guy, for looking after her the way he did, and left with a promise of spending more time with them the next time I was in town.
As I walked towards my car, I turned around to memorize this house, this haven of happiness and sear it to my memory, so I could take it with me wherever I went. This could be the last time I saw this place, and most importantly her face. The memories of the evening and the time spent with her flashed through my mind, and were added to my lifetime collection. With that, I turned around and left with the memories of my Morning Star forever seared in my heart and soul, off to face the unknown.