Kathy and James' Story
The sound of the doorbell startled my steady hand causing a scribble on the letter ‘a’ I was writing. I let out a sigh, admiring my awkward checkmark looking symbol as I set the pen and black journal down on the table. My $20,000 contest-winning plan will have to wait until later. Rising from my chair and making my way to the front door I squint to see through the dark frosted glass. I could see the figure of a well-postured man, and it looked like he was wearing a uniform. Feeling my heart quicken, my steps increased to match the beat. Could it really be? But he’s home so early.
My clumsy fingers try their best to switch the lock to the unlock position, but my uncoordinated attempt takes a second try before the door opens. All at once the mid-day light comes pouring in and my eyes squint. Suddenly, I’m back in a memory, lying on the beach in Punta Cana with James attempting to set up a beach umbrella next to me.
“Are you going to help me or just admire the view?” He says with a sly grin.
I roll onto my side to face him and use one hand to shield my eyes from the sun, “The view is gorgeous, I can’t help but admire the hunk doing all my hard labor for me!”
James began to laugh that beautiful laugh. He finished positioning the umbrella deep enough into the sand and tilted it so we were both shaded from the intense light. “Anything for you, Miss Kathy Jenkins”, he replied as he moved closer to kiss me.
My cheeks flushed, and I couldn’t help but smile like a foolish schoolgirl in love. I watched as he reached for the blue backpack sitting next to him and admired the way the muscles in his arm flexed and relaxed as they responded to every move he made. His muscles had grown so much since he joined the Marine Corps. He finally found what he was looking for and his face lit up. “I guess I won’t be able to call you that for much longer.”
My eyebrows furrowed, “You can’t call me by my name anymore?”
His lips parted to flash his gorgeous smile, “Well no…” He pushed himself up with one hand and positioned himself on one knee, “Because your name will be Mrs. Kathy Peterson, if you will do me the honor of being my wife.”
The not-so-quiet shriek escaped my lips before I could close them, capturing the attention of another couple walking down the beach. The woman turned toward my sound and began ouu-ing and aww-ing and pointing in our direction to alert her companion. “Well now Miss Kathy, the suspense is killing me, and now everyone else on Bavaro beach. What do you say?”
I opened my mouth and closed it again, then pulled him into a deep kiss. As I moved my lips on his I could hear the sounds of clapping from the beach around us. I guess the on-lookers took my kiss as an acceptance, which of course it was.
As my eyes finished adjusting to the light, I focussed on the man standing with his back turned to the door holding a briefcase. I forced myself to stop and take a breath, then my eyes flicked down to focus on the uniform he was wearing. It was wrong. Why was he wearing a Service Alpha Uniform and not his Utility one? He turned around, and his face was wrong. Everything was wrong. I swallowed my heart back into my chest.
The man removed his hat to reveal a bald head and cleared his throat, “Good morning ma’am, are you Mrs. Kathy Peterson?”
I opened my mouth to repeat my name back to him, but all that came out was an inaudible squeak. I quickly closed my mouth and nodded instead.
The man bowed his head in respect, “I am Officer Yardley, may I come in?”
The sound of these words made the fluid in my stomach turn sour. I smoothed the untamed brown hairs escaping the confines of my ponytail and moved out of the way so Officer Yardley could enter. Closing the door behind him my eyes flicked to the photo framed on the wall close by.
It was a photo of James and I bundled in the back of his silver Ford pickup. It was taken the day he bought it, when he drove us into the middle-of-nowhere countryside so we could lie in the bed and watch the sunset. We chatted the whole night away bundled beneath blankets and stargazed until we both fell asleep. When we awoke to the light of the sunrise, we were covered in bug bites and I remember being itchy in every place imaginable.
Smiling at the memory I finally said, “Please take a seat, would you like a drink?” I motioned to the dining table which Officer Yardley was already standing next to.
“That’s quite alright, thank you,” he replied sitting in one of the armchairs. He nodded to the chair opposite him, and I forced my feet to move toward the table. The closer I got the heavier my lead pipe legs felt. Dragging my weight the rest of the way it was almost a relief to lower myself into the chair. I took a deep breath as I pushed my journal and pen to the side, but the lump in my throat was beginning to form.
Then Officer Yardley cleared his throat, “Mrs. Peterson…”
“Do you have a wife, Officer Yardley?” I felt bad for cutting him off, but I couldn’t help it. The look on poor Officer Yardley’s face was half shock half confusion, but I imagine he was used to these strange happenings during these visits.
“Do I have a wife..?” His expression turned from confusion to understanding. “I did, ma’am. She’s passed away now about ten years.”
“I’m so sorry, was she in the service as well?” I asked as I chewed on my thumbnail.
“She was, as a matter of fact. Her passing was what encouraged me to enlist myself. Helped me to find the beauty behind the madness.” A slight smile spread across his face and I nodded in response. He cleared his throat once again, “Mrs. Peterson…”
I could feel my heartbeat in my chest begin to pound harder.
“…the commandment of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to inform you…”
I hugged my arms around myself as if that could somehow shield me from what I didn’t want to hear.
“…that your husband has passed away…”
The beating of my heart became so loud I could no longer hear what Officer Yardley was saying. The movement of his lips became blurred from the water that screened my eyes. Why? Why?? He was supposed to be coming home in another few weeks. I gripped my chest to try and slow the pounding down so I could hear the rest of what he was saying.
“…On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, we extend to you and your family our deepest sympathy for your loss.”
I didn’t even bother to wipe the tears off my cheeks, instead I started tracing the lines of my wedding rings.
Officer Yardley had begun fishing through his briefcase for what sounded like multiple pieces of paper. He then presented a document on the table in front of me. “I just need you to sign this document confirming that you can be reached at this address and phone number. The Casualty Assistance Office will be contacting you within twenty-four hours.”
I searched myself to try and find something to make sense of this. I tried to find something to say. But there was nothing. Nothing but a heavy emptiness that was slowly consuming me. I moved one hand to my stomach and began moving it in a rhythmic pattern across the soft flannel. Picking up my pen with the other hand I searched the blurry page for the signature line. Officer Yardley pointed to the area I was looking for and then kept a steadying hand on the form so I could perform the shakiest signature I’ve ever made. I set the pen down and wiped the wetness from my eyes. Officer Yardley took the form back and placed it in the briefcase. Then he brought out a small white envelope. “We were able to retrieve his final correspondence, addressed to you." He said as he set the envelope on the table.
Then he stood. I knew I should get up and escort him to the door, but I wasn’t sure if my legs would support my weight. I looked up at him, “How…How did you cope?” I asked as my voice cracked.
His brow furrowed as he shifted the briefcase from one hand to the other, “I’m not sure I have an answer to that ma’am. Take it one day at a time…” He trailed off looking at the photograph of James and I in the bed of the pickup. Then he turned back to look at me, “…Just be sure to answer your phone when it rings.” He nodded, then he started toward the door. I turned my body to follow his movements, braced my hand on the armrest willing my body to rise from its seated position. Then he turned back, “It’s ok ma’am, I’ll let myself out.”
So I watched. Watched him open the door, let himself out, and close the door behind him. I twisted my body back to face forward and drew my legs up to meet my chin, trying to ease the queasiness that filled my stomach. Staring at the envelope on the table I watched as the sunlight coming in bounced off it, casting a shadow across the grained walnut wood. The shadow appeared very short at first, then slowly the dark rectangle grew taller. It grew slimmer and taller still. The shadow managed to grow the length of half the table when my phone rang.
I jumped finally blinking, then winced. Pulling my cell phone from my back pocket I gazed at the ID trying to make out who was calling. Blinking a few more times I took a deep breath, and finally pressed ‘Answer’.
“Is this Mrs. Kathy Peterson?” said a pleasant female voice.
I pulled the phone away from my ear and tried again to focus on the ID screen and made out ‘Doctor’s Office’. I put the phone back against my ear and replied, “Sorry, yes, this is she.”
“Hello Kathy, this is Dr. Tumbler’s Office, I wanted to call you with the good news about your test results. They came back positive! Congratulations! We’ll have to get you booked to come back in and we can go over next steps.”
Deciding on next Monday at noon I hung up the phone and set it on the table next to the envelope. Looking over at my journal I placed a hand on my stomach and started to giggle, realizing hopelessly that now all the plans I had journaled for my $20,000 win could never transpire.
Allowing the tears to stream down my cheeks once again, I picked up the envelope and turned it over to open the sealed edge. Inside was a single piece of writing paper with what appeared to be an unfinished letter.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about our potential little one cooking! The moment you find out for sure you have to let me know. This just makes this tour feel that much longer. I will count down the last 38 days until I am on that flight home to you and James Jr…just kidding…maybe!’
That was the end. I held the letter to my chest and closed my eyes.
“James Jr. is on their way my love,” I whispered to the page.