By Melanie E.
It was only one stone among many.
Small, clean and sturdy, it was a perfect match for the thousands of other stones around it, all arranged in their neat, even rows up and down the grassy field. To most observers there was nothing that would set it apart from any other headstone; not a chip nor discoloration nor blemish of any kind.
But for Sarah, there was no other stone that bore so much importance.
With tears in her eyes the young woman sat down at the foot of the stone, careful as to not damage her sundress. Reaching into her purse she pulled out a battered, faded envelope, then took a moment to steady her nerves before opening it and gingerly removing the worn letter from within.
The letter had come in the mail the same day the army officer had stopped by their home to deliver the awful news. It was sitting on the end table, unopened, unnoticed, even as her mother had wept and cried over her loss. It would stay there for two days, in the pile of bills, junk mail, and other forgotten things while the family gathered to mourn the loss of one of the greatest men they had ever known.
All except for Sarah.
Sarah had simply stayed up in her room, alone in her misery. She could still remember the last words her and her father had spoken to one another before he had left, the pain in his eyes when he had seen her standing there in a dress.
"When I get back we'll sort you out," he'd said, anger and determination in his eyes.
"When you get back I won't be here," was her answer. No embrace, no words of love, not so much as a smile was shared: only anger, and mistrust, and fear. She had hated her father on that day, with the burning passion that only unconditional love could give birth to.
And then he was gone forever.
It was her little brother, Tommy, who had noticed the letter and brought it up to her, dropping it on her bed before leaving her room as quietly as he had come in. The envelope was plain and slim, and like the headstones there was nothing to make it stand out from any other letter she might have received, except that it was addressed to her.
Not to Samuel. To HER.
Opening the letter always gave her the same chill, the same sense of loss and surprise, even after all the years since she had gotten it. Sitting with her father, she once again read his last words to her, and wept.
That is who you are, isn't it?
We haven't gotten along the best the last few years. You've been growing up, and not in the ways I always expected you to.
When you were born your mom and I were so happy. We'd been trying for a long time to have a child, and it didn't matter if you were a boy or a girl, we weren't going to love you any less. When I found out we had a son, it was the most special day of my life. I had plans for all the things we would do together. We would go hunting, fishing, and camping, and to ball games. All the things I did as a kid with your grandfather before he passed away.
He would have been proud of you.
Instead, you got older, and you didn't want to do any of those things. You were my little man, my boy, but you weren't.
Instead of accepting that and letting you be who you were I tried to force it. I thought "if I can only get him to do it a few times he'll see what it is to be a man." I wanted us to be closer, and instead all I did was push you further and further away.
Seeing you in that dress when I headed out scared me. It scared me because it made me think I'd failed you. I spent the flight out to base wondering "what could I have done to make him a man? What did I do to mess him up?" And the more I wondered, the more I realized just how selfish I was being. Here I was heading into war and the last thing I ever said to the most special person in my life were words of disappointment.
You know what the scariest thing was? It was that, when I saw you standing there in your mom's old sundress I didn't see my son at all. I saw a young woman standing up for herself. You have your mom's hair, you know, and her temper, and seeing you like that I felt like I was back in college seeing her for the very first time.
Seeing you like that I saw all the weariness, all the weight of the world you'd seemed to be carrying fall away.
And instead of telling you how happy I was for you, I thought about what I'd wanted, and what I'd never have, and I took it out on you.
I want to fix that now.
I'm happy for you, honey. You're brave, and strong, and everything I could have ever hoped for in a daughter, and when I get back I'm keeping my word, if not how I meant it then how I should have. We'll sort this out. I'll make sure you have the life you deserve.
But first things first, I'm going to give you the giant hug I should have before I left.
I love you honey.
Even now, almost seven years after the events that had shook her family to its very core, Sarah found herself laid bare with the grief of her loss. Of their loss.
The officer had told them her father had died a hero, dragging one of his fellow soldiers out of a burning humvee when the enemy sniper had taken his shot. The other soldier survived, and had personally visited their house to deliver her father's personal belongings. Sarah never once wished ill on the soldier, knowing that her father did the right thing.
But every day. Every. Single. Day.
She wished she could have her daddy back.
The stone was the perfect match for every other stone in the cemetery, but for Sarah it held one important difference.
It was her father's stone.
He had kept his word, in the most enduring way possible. She was Sarah now in every way she could be, and it had been his letter that had helped her mom to accept her for who she was more than anything else.
Resting her hand on the stone, Sarah stood and looked to the sky, tears streaming down her face. Despite her tears she willed herself to smile and closed her eyes, invisioning her father's face.
"Thank you," she said, hardly a whisper but louder in her heart than the sound of a thousand trumpets, and for a moment, just a moment, she could feel her father giving her that last, forgotten embrace.
NOTES: I was heading to bed when I got thinking about the fact that it IS memorial day. A lot of people have given their lives for us, regardless of nationality, creed, or even gender. We all have someone we should be thankful for, and hold close to our hearts.
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