by Debra Lobel
Another rough night, Maria. Will I ever get over knowing that you, the love of my life, is dead? Maria. My love. I know that life got hard for you somewhere along the road. But. Why you? Shot. Your death left a scar on my heart. I held you in my arms as the blood seeped from your body. Your heart stopped beating. Your lips, the ones I loved to kiss, formed their last words.
The sound of my little girl’s bare feet down the hall alerted me that she just woke from a nightmare.
“Papa, I saw Mama again when I was sleeping. Can I stay with you?”
“Sure, honey. Go get Binky.” Even at eight years old our daughter still clings to the stuffed elephant you bought her. She came running back and climbed into your side of the bed.
“Say something to Mama,” I tell her.
“I love the way you braided my hair. Papa doesn’t know how.” She smiles at me. “Now it’s your turn.”
“Maria. I started dating someone. Just thought you’d like to know.” I winked at the girl next to me who gave me a nod of approval.
“Tell me again, Papa, why Mama tried to hurt me.”
“She got sick, baby. Mama would never do that to you.”
“And then you saved me.”
“I couldn’t let anything happen to you,” I assure her. “Your mama loved you.”
“I know. I love her, too.”
“Lights out,” I said and kissed her on the nose. “Good night.”
She touches the scar on my face as if she is caressing you. “Good night, Papa.”
Four years have passed, but I remember that night as if it just happened. I drain the Jack Daniels from the glass next to me on the nightstand. No amount of alcohol can erase my wife from my memory. When I hear my little girl lightly snoring beside me, I get out of bed, walk over the dresser and pick up your portrait.
I can picture the first time our eyes met. My heart skipped a beat, seeing you sitting in the school cafeteria, with all those girls huddled together giggling about who knows what. Probably boys. You had been part of the clique, the popular crowd that every guy wanted to date. To me, you were the most beautiful; the best smile that showed perfect teeth; the longest, shiniest hair that flew in the air when shaking it back.
The closet door is slightly open. I take out my leather jacket and bury my face in it. You gave this to me as a graduation gift from the Academy. The smell of your perfume still lingers on it, but I’ve never been able to remove the stain from the sticky blood that oozed onto it when I held you that night. I wore that jacket when I knelt on one knee and proposed to you. I couldn’t believe the answer was yes. My beloved. No one was happier than me at that moment. Our wedding day was the pinnacle of my life. A few years later our daughter was born, the most precious gift of all. She was perfect, like her mama.
“Wake up, Papa. We have to hurry up, or we’ll be late.”
Through bleary eyes, the clock shows it’s 7 AM. When did I fall asleep? “Okay, honey. I’m going to make you a very special breakfast.” I jump out of bed and run into the kitchen. The sweet smell of waffles fills the air, as I envision your presence, Maria.
Having breakfast with our daughter takes me back to our mornings together; leaving you was unbearable. I longed to be in your arms all day and rushed home to your warmth every night. Family life was our cocoon. You fed us with a love that filled our bellies and our souls. Your tenderness made my heart flutter.
“Mmmmm,” My daughter said sitting down at the table. “Waffles. They smell delicious. Thanks, Papa.”
“This is the last time we’re going to make them here. I thought it would be special for you.” Sadness overcomes the two of us. My daughter goes to her room as I find my way into the living room to say my final farewell.
Standing in front of our wedding picture on the mantel, I dwell on the last few months of our marriage as I speak to my dead wife.
“Maria. I’m angry at you, at what you did to us, furious that you allowed him to come into your life; into our life. That guy from down the street with his charisma and luring ways. And with his presence, he destroyed you. He destroyed us. I would have understood if he had been your lover, but it was the drugs that were enticing.”
I started to feel lightheaded and sat down to continue talking to her. “The black circles under your eyes, the lies from your precious lips, your hands caressing us no more. When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I broke the pipe, seething that smoking crack had wrecked our home. We didn’t know you anymore. You disappeared, and a lost soul took your place.”
The tears well up in my eyes. “Do you know what pisses me off most? How you put our daughter in danger; leaving her alone to buy your drugs at the corner, passing out and letting our daughter go hungry; beating her when she cried. That last night, when our neighbors called the police after hearing her screaming for help. They tried to rescue her. The women banged on the door, and the men tried to break through it. And finally, the police showed up. Thankfully it was just in time.”
“Papa, who are you talking to?” I hear from her bedroom. “You need to get ready.”
“I will honey. Put on the dress that’s hanging on the back of your door.”
Speaking softer, I say, “Time is running out, Maria. I can’t talk to you again after we leave to go to the church today.” I kneel down by the coffee table and rub the carpeting. There are still some blood stains that I couldn’t get out. “Do you know, Maria, our daughter still talks about you? No other woman can replace you as the mother and wife we knew, but both of us who love you feel betrayed by your actions, your absence. I mean, how can we not?”
The ceremony starts in an hour, and I’m not ready yet. I go to the bathroom and turn on the water. The heat of the shower feels good. I let the water pour over me as I recall what I saw that last night.
I had just gotten off duty when my Sergeant came running to the car to tell me about the 911 call, having recognized the address as mine. He drove with me to our house after ordering the rest of the squad to wait for us to arrive.
The keys fell from my hand. I kicked in the door, gun in hand, not knowing what to expect. What I saw horrified me; you held a knife to our daughter’s throat as she pleaded for her life. You ignored my pleas when I begged you not to kill her. I aimed my weapon as you lifted the knife over her body.
The shot still resonates in my ear. You fell to the ground as you released our daughter. One of my buddies pulled her away as I ran to catch you. I looked in your eyes as their light faded. Your face softened as you realized you were dying. You tried to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand you. I didn’t know you still clutched the knife in your hand. With your last breath, you brought it to my face with more force than I thought possible. I felt the sting of the blade as you slit my check that left a deep scar that still haunts me to this day.
That scar. I see it every day when I look in the mirror. Our daughter traces the line as she hugs me. The scar that changed my life and ended the world I once knew. The one that reminds me how much I hate to love you.
I step out of the shower, dry off and put on my tux. Leaving the house, I straighten the For Sale sign that sits on the lawn. I watch my daughter skip to the car and say my last words to Maria. “Our daughter is growing up and is as beautiful as you were. Maria, we are beginning a new life without you, and I’m giving our little girl a new mother. You will not torment me anymore.” I drive to the church, looking forward to building a future with my new wife.