In honor of Memorial Day, I’m posting a short story I wrote about this time last year in response to a prompt of “flowers”. I hope you take some time out today to remember all the men and women who have served and paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
I sit in the car, trying to nerve myself up to get out and approach that field of uniform white headstones. Doing so will finally make me admit the unthinkable. My brother is gone.
The clock tells me I’ve been sitting here for half an hour. I grab the bundle in the seat next to me and climb out of his truck. I know where he is. The memory of the funeral is forever ingrained into my mind. The muffled sobs of my mother, the crisp edges of the flag as it was folded, the roar of the guns, and the soft notes of Taps; it all replays before my eyes.
I clench the flowers in my hand as I stand before him.
“Hey, Sis. What took you so long?” I can hear him ask. “You brought me flowers?”
“Yeah,” I reply with a sniff as I set the bouquet of tulips down. “You remember when you brought me flowers at my senior recital? We didn’t think you’d make it back in time but you surprised us all.” My voice catches again.
“Aw, man, you’re not going to cry on me are you?”
“You’re not around to stop me.”
“You know I’m always around.” He sounds affronted.
I rub his dog tags hanging around my neck; everything you needed to know about my brother is stamped on those tags. But it can’t tell you how much he loved his country, how much he loved being a S.E.A.L.. They can’t tell you about the way his green eyes sparkled when he came home from a deployment to meet his family, or the way those same green eyes would sometimes just stare off into space as he remembered something he’d never tell us about. They can’t tell you how excited he’d been for me when I’d called him to tell him about my college scholarship. The only thing they could do now was remind me that he wasn’t around to wear them anymore.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
I scuff the grass with my boot. I don’t want to tell him but he always gets answers out of me.
“I just miss you is all.”
“I know you better than that. What’s up, squirt?”
I almost smile. I’m only three years younger than he and almost as tall but he insisted on calling me that. I sit down and prop the tulips up against the headstone.
“I feel like I’m teetering on the edge and I don’t know if anything will stop me from going over. The school said they’d keep my spot only until the spring semester and I get to keep the scholarship. I know I should have just gone this fall but losing you really messed me up. I know Mom’s really worried. Everyone else seems to be dealing ok but me.”
“I’m sorry. What can I do?”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Why’d you have to go?” I scrub tears away with my sleeve.
“It’s my job.”
I remembered him saying the same thing before he left for the last time. That’s what he had thought when he saved a fellow S.E.A.L. and several Marines in combat at the cost of his own life. His Navy Cross resting by the flag at home was no consolation.
”It’s just not fair!” I choke.
“Life isn’t always fair, squirt. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”
“You always did love that stupid movie.” I finally smile a little. He chuckles.
“Hey, do me a favor.”
“Stop moping around out here. You’ve got a life to live. Yeah, I’m not there anymore but you know I’ll always be listening.”
“I’ll try,” I promise. “But I’m going to keep coming to visit.”
“Looking forward to it. But maybe just bring a drink next time.”
I laugh. “You got it, soldier.”
“And hey!” I can hear him calling after me as I walk away. “You’d better take care of my truck!”