Friday, February 17, 2006

When Daddy Left

When daddy left we had a parade. We danced around red, white and blue streamers and listened to a marching band. We sang ‘America the Beautiful’ and placed our hands over our hearts and pledged allegiance under God, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all. There were speeches and we sat then stood then sat again. We applauded over and over until my hands were raw and I had to start clapping against my leg. Afterwards, they had watermelon for everyone and under the hot sun we let the juice run down our chins.

When daddy left, I hugged him real tight. His body was hard and his face was light. He smelled like Old Spice and he was just so full. He winked at me when I saluted and I clapped in time to the thundering boots of the marching men. There was the cheering that turned the hangar where the party was staged into a carnival and it was hard to hear what we said to each other.

The day before when daddy left, Mom made a big chocolate cake and he tossed the football around with me. He pulled me close to his face, directly into his face, and said that he’d be home before I even noticed he was gone. He said I needed to be the man around here for a while, to take care of things while he was gone. I said I would. I said I would and I knew I meant it. I knew I was able too.

When daddy left, Mom cried, afraid. I held her, with my arm around her waist, the way he might have if he could have, hoping it would help her miss daddy a little less. I read the papers every day after that, hoping to get an inkling of where he was and what he was doing. He called and he wrote. I talked to him, but it wasn’t the same. When daddy left, he gave me a journal that I wrote in every day. In it, I told him everything – about school, about how I’d made the football team, girls I liked, and about all the yellow ribbons hanging up everywhere.

When daddy left, he told me he would return so I waited. Mom doubted, but I waited.

When daddy left, I expected him. Do you know what I mean? I actually expected him to come home. But then they screwed up. Somebody really screwed up over there. When it came time for him to rotate back, when his tour was up, they sent him back but they left part of him over there. They sent back this great big shell. Like a summer cicada molting its skin on a tree, hollow and frail, this shell was here, looking directly at me, directly through me. Daddy didn’t return – just his skin, just his hands and feet, just his big ears that everyone says I got from him, just his toothy grin when he worked out, just his buzz haircut and leathery skin. But daddy was still over there.

When daddy left, he always smiled but now he hardly smiles. He just sits and stares. Sometimes he just cries. Sometimes late at night I hear the angry whispers of Mom and Daddy. He drinks more than he used to and sometimes, every so often, he gets angry enough and hits my Mom. Sometimes, my Mom has to put on extra makeup so as to hide the marks so no one will know.

When daddy left he was so full but they screwed up, those jerks. They made a mistake. They sent back this shell and I want to know how I am supposed to grow up? I want to know what Mom is supposed to do with this shell – this thing that I can hang up in my closet like a heavy winter coat.

I know everything has to change, that nothing can stay the same, but not like this. I know that in war, men die, but not like this.

M C Biegner


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