He died on a Friday.
The July heat was already pouring in through the weathered old screen as he perished quietly in his slumber. He’d always insisted upon the open window, even on the very coldest of nights. His wife would wrap herself in layers and layers of electric blankets in those days when they still shared the same room, time and circumstances causing them to slowly drift apart in their sleep.
Thirty-nine years as husband and wife. Decades of laughter and illness, heartbreak, and euphoria gone in the span of a single heartbeat. She would never know what did him in, only that he slept. She found him there in the first blush of morning, leaving the room before turning back and placing her hand gently on the bedroom door. The new day opened up all around her, petals on a withered flower, as she realized they would never see their fortieth year together.
He died on a Tuesday in the sweltering heat of the jungle, the bullets whizzing over his head as he crawled ass-deep through the rice paddies, muck, and shit. He was just short of his nineteenth year, one of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children traveling the world where the faint of heart would never dare to go. The explosions went off in a constant barrage, pieces of his brethren raining down all around him as he kept on going, his weapon slung over his back. He was proud and young, he was invincible. He was the favorite of the gods and therefore destined for greatness as the shrapnel from an errant grenade took him down. He was his country’s greatest treasure and the source of its deepest shame. Dirty masses unleashing their spittle and scorn upon him from lofty towers, his purple heart forged in blood and brotherhood and unrequited valor.
He died on a Monday at the very moment that he saw her across the smoke-filled cocktail lounge, her long, dark hair piled high atop her head, and asked her to dance. Other men lingered like moths to a flame as he sauntered over, picked up an erstwhile beau, chair and all, and physically moved him out of his way. Her eyes were emerald green, with just a hint of blue, fathomless and pure. He felt his past shed away like a physical pain as he looked into those eyes, the spring of his life suddenly turning into summer.
He died all over again on a Thursday as they wheeled out a tiny, premature baby past him in an incubator. He placed his flask of bourbon back into his pocket as he said a silent prayer of thanks that all had gone well. He hadn’t planned on a girl. It seemed impossible that this should be so, with his masculine, larger-than-life presence, but there she was. Her scrunched up face crying down the hall convinced him that they had birthed some sort of an alien lizard, yet he loved her all the same. Fiercely and loyally, as was his nature.
On Saturday, he died as he walked her down the aisle, determined that he would walk as a man one last time, alone without oxygen or assistance of any kind. He had worked up to that goal for many months, calling upon his reserves of strength with his battered old Marine Corps handbook as a guide. On Sunday, he celebrated seeing the next generation off to their honeymoon in style, his only child launched safely into the world.
On Wednesday he died anew as his love withered and wasted away in a sterile hospital room, her memories seeping into nothingness as the brain tumor did its gruesome work. His spirit lingered on impatiently, rumbling heaven and earth in torment as he waited for her suffering to finally come to an end. She’d only been without him for eight years, had so much life yet to live, but there she was all the same. She finally joined him, placing her hand in his as they danced into eternity. Young lovers once again, twirling around and around in heavenly abandon.
He died on a Friday.
Banner image: Pixabay.com
This story is dedicated to “the favorite of the gods,” my father, Bob Cooper. I know he will be raising a glass and toasting in the time-honored tradition of Marines everywhere: “goodnight, Chesty, wherever you are,” even at the very gates of heaven.