I walked into the kitchen and my heart stopped. Ice water washed over me, numbing my legs. My head became so light I thought it would detach from my shoulders and float away.
Her parents sat at the table, side by side. Her father’s left arm was wrapped around her mother’s shoulders. His other hand was placed on top of her clasped ones. Both of their faces were red, their eyes bloodshot and their noses running down to their chins.
A paper sat on the table with black ink scrawled across the upwards-facing side. From my distance, I couldn’t read any of it.
Yet I didn’t want to get any closer. A million possibilities ran through my head, each less coherent and possible than the last. The box grew heavier between my hands, the wrapping paper slippery as ice.
It crashed to the floor, leaving my fingers cold as the ice encasing my heart.
The loud THUMP alerted them to my presence. Sophie’s mother nearly jumped out of her chair. The father’s entire body tensed, ready to fight off whatever intruder had disturbed them. When they saw me, the mother burst into tears and the father hugged her tighter, looking back down at the table as though meeting my eyes had become painful.
“Oh Adam…” the mother said, addressing me through her sobs. When she couldn’t continue, Sophie’s father pushed the paper across the table in my direction, inviting me to read it.
I took one step towards it and froze. The room tilted upwards, trying to throw me down. The oven, fridge, and microwave melted into puddles. They spread across the floor, trying to suck me down and drown me.
The paper was the only thing that remained intact and unwarped. It was the only tangible thing I found myself focusing on. An invisible thread connected me to it, pulling me forward.
My fingers made contact with the paper and a chill ran down my spine.
Her handwriting swam around in my head. The meaning of the words engraved themselves into my heart even though the letters made no sense in my brain.
“Mom, Dad, and Adam,
I’m sorry I must leave this way. I knew you would try to stop me so I couldn’t say anything. I’m sorry.
I’m so sorry I have to say goodbye like this. Please forgive me and know that I’m choosing this path because I love you.
I’ve decided to join the military. I don’t want to run from these terrorists. I don’t want to be forced to flee the home and the life I love. I want to fight to protect it.
To mom and dad, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry for me. You’ve raised me to be strong and independent. You’ve raised me to fight for my passions and that’s what I will do. You’ve raised me to be tough and I am. I’m tougher and stronger than these terrorists, so don’t worry about me.
I will make you proud.
To Adam, my dear, sweet Adam, I’m sorry. I want nothing more than to start our life together: to get married, have a family, move to a small town and buy a home– that’s why I must go. I must protect our future.
Don’t come after me. I promise I’ll be fine on my own so stay home and protect the life I’ve left behind.
Protect the present and I’ll protect the future. I’ll take care of the world we live in now so we’ll have a future.
I love you and I’ll see you soon.
The ink was smudged in several places where her tears had fallen. I touch them now, feeling the sadness she embedded into her words. It’s a desperate sadness that’s saturated with love for the future she prays for.
My eyes read and reread the letter three times, just so I could hear her voice reading the words I couldn’t comprehend.
Then the paper dropped from my numb, frozen fingers. It fluttered slowly down to the table, skidding across the smooth wooden surface like tires on a gravel road.
Her parents sobs intensified. They became the only sounds in the home; even the grandfather clock stood in silent vigil to our sorrow.
Tears did not roll down my face. Sobs did not escape from my chapped, parted lips.
I stood perfectly still, as if I was a figure in a photograph.
A conviction bubbled in my chest. It fought its way up to my mouth, barrelling past my gritted teeth.
“I’ll bring her home.” I promised. I wasn’t talking to them but I wasn’t talking to myself either. I was spewing it out to let the world know.
I turned on my heels and walked away before they could say anything. I exited the tall, memory-filled house, leaving behind the box of antiques, forgotten on the floor.