Copyright© 2018 by Kraken
I came out of the nightmare and into a tranquil domestic scene. Laura and I were sitting at the dining room table, sharing a pot of coffee much like we did every morning over the years when I wasn’t deployed somewhere.
“You’ve been busy, Paul. More importantly, you listened and started tearing down that wall around your heart. You’re not quite there yet but overall I’m very proud of you so far.”
“Thank you, Laura, I think. I don’t understand what you’re saying though. I’ve opened my heart like you wanted and I’ve torn down the wall so I’m not sure what else there is left to do,” I said and took a sip of coffee, content that I’d filled my promise to her at last.
Laura pulled the coffee cup back from her mouth and gave me her patented, don’t be an idiot, look I’d seen so often in the past. Usually, it was directed at someone other than me though so her throwing it my way really hit me hard.
“Paul, I love being with you, even if it’s just like this but sometimes you are the most exasperating man I’ve ever known.”
“What?” I asked in a surprised tone.
“Paul, you made me a promise. Actually, several promises all rolled into a single promise. Just in case you’ve forgotten what promise I’m talking about let me remind you.”
As she quit talking the scene shifted and I was sitting in that all too familiar and despised hospital room. My beautiful Laura, the love of my life, the rock I relied on so much, was lying in the hospital bed. I was sitting next to her holding her shriveled hand as she lay unconscious. I’d been thinking about the last thirty years and everything I’d hidden away from her, about what had happened out in the Iraqi desert. Well, more accurately, I was thinking about what hiding everything away from her had done to our relationship. We were still close, we still loved each other deeply, but I had walled a major part of myself off from her, afraid that I would lose her trust and more importantly her love if she ever found out what I’d done. Of the monster I had been that I knew I was still capable of becoming.
Now, as I faced losing her completely, it all came to the surface. My body heaved as tears welled in my eyes, and I started talking, unable to hold it in any longer. I told her about that week I’d spent in hell, about the monster I’d become, the death I’d dealt to all those in the compound, the shame and disgust I’d felt when it was all over and I was being called a hero. I told her everything. I told her I knew that if she ever found out what I’d done, what I was still capable of doing, she would never look at me the same again, and that added a deeper pain to my already heavy heart. When I was done talking I buried my face in her bed and sobbed.
Emotionally and physically drained by the long days of watching my wife waste away before my eyes and the confession I’d just made to her unconscious form my tears stopped as I felt her hand on the top on my head. As I raised my head her hand slid to my cheek and our eyes locked.
Laura had somehow changed. There was almost something ethereal about the light from her eyes shining in love and compassion. The same quality was in her voice when she started to talk softly. “Paul, my love. You have been everything I ever hoped to find in a man. I have never doubted your love for a single instant. Just as I never doubted, you should never have doubted, either. I’ve known something was bothering since you came back from that deployment almost thirty years ago. I’ve waited patiently for you to tell me what it was, and you finally have. You finally shed the shell you built up that kept me and everyone else in this world from getting close to you. That is a gift of trust I was beginning to lose hope of ever receiving.”
I could only look at her. First in horror that she had heard everything that I’d said, then in relief that it didn’t matter to her. I didn’t have the words to express myself at that moment, so I simply gave her hand a tender squeeze as she continued.
“Paul, you are first and foremost a protector and a defender. You always have been, and always will be. You always put others above yourself. Me and our kids without question. Your friends certainly. But you protect and defend even those you don’t know. You were put here to make this world a better place, and you did! But every person has a point beyond which they can’t be pushed. For you, that point was watching JT die, helpless to stop the injustice of it, as he asked you for justice. And justice is exactly what you delivered. Every single man that you killed that day was a member of that unit. A volunteer member. Each and every one of them knew exactly what the sadistic butchers leading them were doing to the prisoners, and yet they were still there. You weren’t judge, jury, and executioner. The action of those men against JT and the other prisoners had already been judged and the sentence was death. Death you provided, true, but it was necessary if you were to live with yourself, and still call yourself a human being.
She seemed to have become filled with new and stronger energy the more she talked. She smiled her beautiful smile, put her thin frail hand on mine, and locked her eyes on mine to make sure I didn’t look away.
“We both know I’m dying, Paul. You will grieve for a time but you will NOT go back behind that shell, ever again. You will tear down that wall you’ve put up, and never try to hide behind it again. Promise me Paul. Promise me that you will do everything in your power to live in the open again, to trust, to be that young man I fell so hopelessly in love with so many years ago. Promise me to always remember his strength of character, his compassion, his trust, and yes, his love. Promise me that, like the phoenix, you will rise from the fire of war, reborn as a stronger man filled with even more love, compassion, and strength to do the right thing for the right reasons, regardless of what others think. Promise me this, Paul.”
I couldn’t disappoint her again so I gave her my promise knowing even then it was going to be hard to keep, but also knowing that I would try my best to keep it.
The hospital room faded away and I was back in the RV sitting at the table drinking coffee with Laura again.
“That’s the promise I was talking about Paul. Do you remember it now?” Laura asked.
“I never forgot it, Laura. It has haunted me ever since I made it,” I said dejectedly.
“Then why haven’t you kept it? Why do you fight so hard to keep from fulfilling it?” She asked acerbically.
“Laura, I’ve tried. I think I have finally kept it. I opened my heart, I tore down the walls, I’ve resigned myself to being a protector! What more do you want?” I asked angrily.
Shaking her head sorrowfully, she said, “Paul, you haven’t kept the promise. You’ve come a long way as I said earlier. Yes, you opened your heart to love and compassion again. Yes, you’ve torn down much of the wall you built to keep people away from you. Yes, you are working on not letting being a protector destroy you through self-doubt. You’ve got a little further to go in that regard and you’re making progress with Anna’s help. But Paul, you haven’t done a thing to keep the last part of the promise.”
“I don’t understand Laura? What’s the last part of the promise you keep talking about?”
“To trust again, Paul. You haven’t told Anna and her grandparents the truth.”
I looked at her with horror. “Laura, you can’t be serious! I already plan on telling them much of it, but I can’t tell them everything, especially the part about being from the future. They’ll think I’m insane, mentally unstable, bat shit crazy! I’ll lose them if I tell them everything. Then where will I be?”
“That is a possibility, Paul. A very remote possibility. Love without trust, though, is a losing proposition, Paul. It’s not love at all. It’s not even friendship. At best, it’s nothing more than having a favorite acquaintance. Consider this. Can you go through the rest of your life lying to Anna and the Mendozas? Can you keep the cave, the RV, and your past a secret from them while living day in and day out professing your love to them? The answer to all those questions is ‘no,’ Paul, and you know it. You may not convince them immediately that you aren’t slightly insane but between the RV, the trailer, and what they both contain there is more than enough to prove what you tell them. And you must tell them, Paul. You must tell them when you were born, where you grew up, about your military service, about me and the kids, all of it Paul. You must show them you trust them fully. Only then will you have fulfilled your promise to me.”
The more Laura talked the more I saw how right she was. By the time she was done I had resigned myself to telling Anna and the Mendozas everything. I also knew I would have to tell them tonight since they were only going be here overnight. I needed them here to see the cave and what was inside it to prove to them I wasn’t as crazy as I sounded.
“You’re right Laura,” I said with a heavy sigh. “It’s not going to be easy though,” I said resignedly.
“Trust is never easy Paul but it must be done,” she said gently before giving me a big smile. “Now onto the other reason I’m visiting tonight. These visits take a lot out of me, and I can’t do them often. Talking to you without creating a vision for both of us to be in, is much easier. That’s usually how I will contact you from now on. You’ve done well since Jaime Garcia talked to you when you were wounded. Keep up the practice, and it will get even easier. That is how I will usually tell you things from now on. We will still meet from time to time in your dreams, as we have tonight, but I just don’t have the power to do that very often. Do you understand?”
“Look Laura, you’ve never lied to me in the past so I’ll just have to trust that you’re real, that it’s not my ears playing tricks on me, and that I’m not bat shit crazy when I hear your voice in my left ear. I’ll try to remember this as another promise but I have to tell you Laura it’s disconcerting as hell.”
The scene rapidly dissipated to the sound of Laura’s laugh in my left ear and suddenly I found myself awake.
A quick glance at the clock told me it was six A.M. I stretched and marveled at how realistic that dream was, as I tried to remember everything about it. I had just about decided that it was my subconscious anxiety about seeing Anna today, when I heard the faint sound of Laura’s laughter in my left ear.
Jumping up from the bed in a panic I looked around me for the source of the laughter. The laughter came again, stronger this time, followed by Laura’s voice in my left ear. “Remember your last promise, Paul.” And then it was quiet.