This story is by Gerri Sainte and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Scars of fall
Brooklyn in September was a feast for the senses. The rustling of leaves as they danced down the street mingled with the last strings of Mr. Softee in the late afternoons. Kids in their crisp new clothing running to the bus stop, laughing and excited for the new school year. The changing colors, sounds and smells helped the mind and spirit accept the end of another summer.
I loved taking long walks in this weather: not too cold so I could venture out without a heavy coat, but cool enough so I did not sweat to death. I headed towards Flatbush Avenue. A smile tugging at the corners of my mouth, I rounded the corner and jogged across the busy intersection just as the light turned green.
I could travel this route with my eyes closed. Fifth house from the corner on the right. As always, the neighbor’s children were congregated on the front steps. I maneuvered past the group and headed into the house. Walking into the main bedroom, I subconsciously adjusted my necklace, covering the scar across my collar bone.
He was in his usual seat, by the window. Which means he had watched me walk up the block and into the house. Something about that was…exciting? I had no idea why. I could not explain most of my feelings for Marcus. I just knew the mere sight of him or sound of his voice sent a warm rush through me.
He was still staring out the window, but he knew I was there.
“Hey”. Marcus was broad-shouldered, tall and dark, with piercing eyes. He was intimidating until you struck up a conversation. Once he opened his mouth that voice, his charm and genuine attention to what you had to say immediately won you over. Marcus slowly turned towards me, and the heat started. I felt my face flush as I made my way to him, crawled into his lap and buried my face in his neck.
“Hey yourself.” He smelled of cologne, his body warm as always. I wrapped my arms around him, let him overwhelm me with his world-famous hugs. He was THE best hugger. We sat like that for a while, enjoying a comfortable silence. It was rare that you found that person you could chat with forever, or sit perfectly still with and just enjoy their presence. Marcus was that rare find.
At some point, my hands found their way to that most private space and before I could react Marcus had picked me up and carried me to the bed. We spent the next hour pleasuring one another, and only stopped when a crack of thunder shook the room and startled us out of our zone.
We sat in the dark, listening to the rain fall, lulled in and out of sleep by the breeze blowing through the open window. I lay in his arms, listening to his heartbeat. I rubbed his chest and traced the imprint on his dog tags. I knew without looking what was listed on the medal: his name, blood type, social security number, religion. I shuddered a little at what it stood for.
“What?” he turned my face towards him so he could read my reaction.
“Why do you wear that? You’re not out there anymore, why remind yourself of that time?” I hated the reminder of how close he had come to being identified just by this piece of jewelry. I would never understand why he hadn’t flung it into the nearest body of water upon return to the states.
“You would have to have been there to get it. I don’t think I could ever take this off” he answered. He was back there even as he spoke to me, his thoughts back in that hot desert, wounded and bleeding. He was right; I could never understand. Just as he could never understand the feeling of getting that phone call, that my oldest friend was missing thousands of miles away and all I could do was wait and pray. The days of praying and crying, shaking off the worst thoughts. The final relief of the call notifying us that he was safe and would be sent home to recover. Almost two years to the day, here we were. He had reflexively tugged on the tag. I placed my hand on top of his.
I hated every second he had been overseas. And I was dreading him returning. But I knew nothing I could say would stop him from going back to serve his country. He had made it clear he would go back as soon as he was able. I had to respect his decision, even if it was breaking my heart.
“When do you go back?” I said a silent prayer that the answer would be never. A girl could dream, right?
“First of the month.” One sentence had sucked the life out of the room. That left us three weeks to enjoy each other. Less than a month to pour all the love I could into him. The weather would be cooling down and days getting shorter by the time he was ready to leave. I sighed and resigned myself to the fact that we had no choice but to make the most of this time.
Marcus was tracing a tear down my cheek, past my chin and unto my neck. When he reached my scar he hesitated and then began to rub it softly.
“Does that hurt?’
I shook my head no. Souvenirs from a previous relationship; my personal medal for surviving a horrific night. “I forget it’s there most of the time.”
“I wish I could erase it from your skin. And take away all the memories associated with it.”
I had to laugh. It was the same way I felt about his dog tags. Marcus and I both had painful experiences to leave behind. Truth was there was no erasing anyone’s past. Just like there was no predicting what tomorrow held. All we could do is move forward and live the best life we could today.
We spent the next weeks living for the day. Huddled up in his room looking into one another’s eyes and confessing our thoughts and fears. We shared secrets that had never been spoken aloud before. We made love as often as our bodies craved it. We went out at night when no one was around and sat under the inky sky, the cool air a welcome relief from the sticky summer we had just endured. The falling leaves served as a bed underneath us as we whispered in each other’s ears and kissed each other under a full low-hanging moon. Nature was setting the perfect scene for us, even though the weather changes became a reminder of what was coming. I found myself watching Marcus sleep, reading his tags and memorizing every crack, every groove.
The night before Marcus was scheduled to leave, the weather took a dramatic turn. A sudden cold snap had forced New Yorkers scrambling for winter jackets weeks in advance. My usual walk to Marcus became a light jog in my short-sleeve top and skirt. His window was as always open, curtains dancing about to the tune of the chilly breeze.
There was no need for much talking. We had said all that we needed to say, and the mood for tonight was to cherish being in each other’s space. Making love to him that night had a different meaning and feeling for me. I closed my eyes tightly and felt him completely. I heard his every breath. I touched every part of him, and him of me. When we were done, we whispered ‘I love you’ to each other over and over to each other. And then we held each other as the sun began to lighten the sky.
It was true what they say about pain. The worst type of pain is quickly forgotten. You can describe it, but you really can’t feel it again. Your body mercifully forgets. I think that’s a survival mechanism. Who would endure childbirth ever again if your body could recall that agony? Who could ever love again if your heart could recall the pain of loss?
I remember thinking I’d never live past that night the officers called to tell me Marcus was gone. One month later, I did not think I’d survive giving birth. I know the pain was unbearable. But I can’t recall the feeling. And looking into our son’s eyes makes it all seem like a million years ago.
He has his father’s eyes. His calm, pensive demeanor assures me Marcus is here and always will be. I rock my son to sleep, then place him carefully in his cradle. I find his father’s tags around my neck, it brushes past my scar. One day I will hand this tag to our son and tell him all about his dad and that last fall night.