New York City-1968
'...I've been keeping close with my buddies on the north of Vietnam. Be home soon.
Love you. Hug mom.
It had been nearly a month. Three weeks and two days exactly since I'd started re-reading the same letters. The comfort in them was long gone and replaced by unease with the thought that their optimistic attitude and encouraging proof had run out, abandoning even the smallest hopes that had once filtered through them.
"Is that from Abraham?" Abigail asked, appearing from the kitchen and noticing the unsealed envelope in my hand as soon as I'd shut the front door to our apartment.
The old post marked envelope had bent at the corners from spending all its long weeks in my coat pocket. I glanced at her awaiting expression, then again at the envelope. "Yes!" I replied enthusiastically.
Setting down my things after a long day battling New York's commotion, I hung up my wool coat beside Abe's worn leather jacket, which was still, after all these years, waiting just like us to be returned to. Hot dinner simmered on the stove, the familiar smell enough of a reminder to the bright beginning and moments our family had shared here in our home. Abigail's hand trimmed curtains brushed the windowsill with a soft breeze and someone's loud laughter drifted between them from the distance of the East city street.
Eager to feel her closeness, I paused to admire Abigail's elegant figure, draped in her favourite cherry red dress as I crossed the room and met her parted lips with a kiss. She reached for my hand, though I held back from passing her the letter.
"Read it to me," Abigail said with a smile, pulling me onto the living room couch. Fumbling with the envelope, I retrieved from it, the well familiar words scribbled in pencil on rough paper and hesitated, before beginning again at the same sentence, with nothing else but my own thoughts to fill those unanswered by him. Abigail lay her head on my lap, eyes closed as she listened to my voice carefully rearranging Abraham's phrases. Week by week, I sheltered her from the truth.
" 'Be home soon,' " I repeated Abe's always affirming last reminder. " 'Love you.' " Tightly, I hugged Abigail, who opened her eyes to see mine and wondered aloud.
"Do you think it's any different?" She watched my expression add question to her thought. "The war?"
"No war is different," I noted, a flash of memories from my own time at its force returning to me. "Time changes enemies and allies, battles and weapons, but there will never be escape, no healing of the wounds it sears. I suppose fate decides those very things for us."
Abigail lay silent, clearly thinking on the gruelling trial Abraham was facing alone, but also remembering how incredibly he had survived the last, a war, which hands he'd been born into. "Surely, he'll be alright," she said, reassuring herself and pulling closer against me. "Henry." My name was soft on her lips. Slowly, she placed a warm hand to my face and smiled to draw me out of my distractions.
I took a slow breath, folding up the letter again. I could hardly be more wrong; this war cried a contrasting red to any other treacherous fight I'd known because it carried now on every battle, our own son.
* * * * * * * * * *
There is a solace in silence, an unspoken expectation that nothing can pierce its indefinite captivity. Yet, silence has just as much power to destroy even the strongest of us-to slowly break apart the distorted reality we hide behind and leave doubt in the trails of our thoughts. Its graces cannot save us; but can only spare us temporarily of accepting or hearing what must be acknowledged. Words, how unwanted they may be or bitter they sound, bring truth, and in their power, the strength for us to face every trial and grievance without deception. Their weight can sometimes seem impossible to bear, but ignorance never offers an answer in their place.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Abigail sat on the edge of a chair in the dining room, her voice overwhelmed with panic and tears running down her face. Seeing her distress, I dropped my blue tie on the table beside her and knelt down, laying a hand on her shoulder.
"Abigail." I said her name simply, though she did not react. The floor was slipping from beneath my feet and a numbness left my skin cold in its wave of shock. There'd been a knock on the door while I dressed for work in the bedroom and I'd caught the straight, formal tone of a man briefly lingering before Abigail's cry filled the room with the slam of a door. Now listening as she caught a shaky breath, my own hands began to tremble when I realized that after nearly three months, a message had finally come. Abigail pinched the card tightly between her fingers, much like I had taken care not to lose any before. When she stayed silent, I slowly pried the squared yellowed paper from her hand- a typewritten telegram from the Western Union. The block letters blurred together as I read over them, fearing the words I would find.
The Secretary of War desires me to express his regret that your son, Abraham Morgan has been reported missing in action since nineteenth of January during an assault on Vietnam.
"When I saw him," Abigail said quietly, looking up to meet my anxious eyes and referring to the officer courteous enough to deliver the telegram himself, "I felt like I was caught in the war front once more; standing in its threshold. Like all the world was swallowed in screams and darkness, while I froze empty handed, looking at the running shadows, but finding no one."
Trapped in my own racing thoughts, I refused to let them consume me.
Abigail stretched the palm of her hand over the smooth fabric of her dress across her lap. "All those letters never came, did they?"
"No," I replied simply, looking her straight in the eyes. I expected her distrust, anger at my misleadings, but she squeezed my arm tightly, her glance unwavering.
"Oh, Henry," she said, tears wetting her lashes once more. "We can't even find him. He hasn't got anyone to save him."
"He doesn't need saving," I said, willing the spinning in my head to an abrupt stop when the memory of Abraham's wide, curious eyes looking up at me amidst the smokey air when Abigail first placed him in my arms came back to me. "He doesn't need saving," I repeated. "He'll save himself. We already taught him how."
* * * * * * * * * *
East 42nd was its usual summer commotion of enthusiastic and artistic youth rubbing shoulders with old, jazz musicians, playing their brass instruments obliviously on rusty benches in the park from one morning, until nearly the next. Their blaring music gave New York city all the more clamour in its brilliance of sound. The untamed streets soaked up the music and lights like a sponge, wringing it into an oddly timed, colourful masterpiece one could only admire for so long before its flair overwhelmed every one of your senses.
"Thank you," I nodded pleasantly to a stout, bearded man on the park corner, exchanging my change for a newspaper in the street and crossing the sidewalk to the entrance of the underground.
There were handfuls of soldiers everywhere-clothes tattered and faces worn by the tireless regime their days were measured by. Not every one's return from war was met with relief and joy.
I paused on the wide platform, looking down the dark, subway tunnel for the roar of the next train. Covering the front of the newspaper was an article on Vietnam's latest, violent attack; on the bottom, the weekly page number to a list of all the men lost, who's names gained only recognition in print.
A cold gust swirled through the station when the subway train halted to a sharp, precise stop and dozens of people poured into the row of already half full cars. Taking a corner seat at the doors, I unfolded my newspaper and buried my face in its pages, flipping through them slowly with an occasional rustle. A sharp jostle of the car, shook me in my seat and I looked up to freeze my empty gaze. A tall, figure of a young man, in the next subway car caught my attention. A yellow insignia was sewn onto the left shoulder of his stiff, green uniform and the low hat on his head sat sideways enough to reveal a few streaks of dark brown hair. Rising from my seat, I dropped the paper behind me, trying to better catch his face through the narrow windows of the rocking car.
'Lafayette Street' a voice announced the next stop. Barely loosing gaze of the soldier, I pressed to the exit amongst a group of eager others. My tightened grasp on the metal handle was hardly to brace myself for the brake, but to support my nerves as I awaited to jump from the car two stops early, in hopes of catching the soldier.
Five months had passed since Abraham's last letter. Not another telegram or knock at the door followed, except for the persistent enquiries Abigail and I made with the war office. I hadn't looked across the long list of names in the paper today, but I could see him standing in the next car.
When the subway doors flung open, I piled out with the crowd and pressed my way into the second car. Reaching towards him, I almost said his name, when the young soldier turned my way, his green eyes meeting mine for merely a moment before darting back ahead. Quietly, I sighed, reaching once more for the clutch bar by the door to steady my disillusion.
Claustrophobic in the winding tunnels, I emerged from the subway at the next early stop and strayed into the daylight. The city had lowered its tone, as if it too, if only for a moment had believed someone in its madness had been reunited. Slowly, I passed an open, stone paved square, where couples sat around the fountain and greedy pigeons pecked the ground for crumbs.
'Dad', an expectant voice suddenly called behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I watched a curly haired soldier race across the wide square, dropping his backpack in the excitment. My eyes followed him until a little girl threw herself into his arms as he called her name. "Josie." Catching up, an older man embraced him with a kiss on his head. I smiled at their uncontained happiness, despite the shadow perched over my own.
"Dad?" I heard the call again behind me as I looked ahead at the row of cars, jammed on the main avenue in a permanent block. "Dad!"
Heavy footsteps chased me, a cry repeatedly unanswered now loud behind me. Stopping sharply, I turned and faced the square. Wide eyes, filled with surprise stared back at me, while speechlessly, a wave of forgotten euphoria filled my veins with its life again. I needed my son like the first gasp of air I took re-emerging in the river after death.
"Abraham," I said his name quietly before a grin split across my face. The strong young man fell into my arms, which when once sheltering him as a child, offered the same comfort now.
"I'm home, dad," Abe said, when he felt a straying tear on his cheek and drew back to wipe his own. "You haven't aged a day," he remarked with a smile.
"I can hardly say the same for you," I looked proudly at the bold soldier standing before me. "Your mother and I always knew you'd be alright."
Abe took a few steps forward, eager to get home at the mention of his mother, but wavered in thought for a moment, "I never forgot you know, even when they faced me with their guns and armies." He watched the large fountain near us spurt water from its mouth before returning his gaze to me. "You and mom taking me. You know, on my last day with the battalion, I saw a little boy, wrapped in a blanket, standing in his half empty town, among the remnants of his life, which we helped destroy. It was so unfair that he had to suffer for a fight he played no part in. I just kept waiting for someone to come and save him and they did. Then I looked at that little boy and saw...that it was me."