Tomorrow, the Sun will Rise

Submitted into Contest #234 in response to: Write a story about someone who wishes they could turn back time.... view prompt

13 comments

American Drama Sad

Journal 6, Entry 23, 6/13/2018

Today we stood in front of an open grave in black suits, black dresses, and with white handkerchiefs. Everyone huddled close under a ceiling of umbrellas as God’s tears poured down on us over the life of a courageous and thoughtless young man. I watched the stars and stripes soak up the drizzle as it lay there on the perfectly polished mahogany casket suspended above its final resting spot. Standing before the gravestone, the priest gave his benediction before the flag was folded up and presented to my wife and I, which I held as she replaced it with a single white rose upon the casket. Behind us, pristinely dressed young men, perfectly creased with polished shoes and shiny brass buttons on their coats, white flat top hats and military insignias shining proudly, began firing their arms as my son was lowered into the Earth, never to be seen again. I couldn’t help thinking back on the day my boy was born. He was shriveled and purple, suffocating until he cried his first breath. He was presented to me swaddled in a baby-blue blanket and a little ducky beanie placed on his head. His eyes were bright blue, and, in those eyes, I saw someone who would be in my life until my dying day. Yet, his dying day preceded my own.

The day he announced he was joining the marines he stood proud in his first adult decision. He wanted to serve his country like I had, learn responsibility and integrity, and then use the GI bill for college to study politics before earning his law degree. I was so proud of him. I encouraged him. His mother had concerns, none that I listened to, and I was steering him away from her advice. She and I fought. He and her fought. Ultimately, it came down to the three of us at the bus station, one of us sobbing as if she would never see her son again. He served almost two years before he was shot and killed trying to pull a wounded man to cover in Afghanistan.

People swiftly made their way to their cars to get out of the rain. Even my wife took the umbrella and left me gazing into the grave, or maybe it was a hole of despair, the rain dripping from the contours of my face, me motionless. The loss was crushing, but the guilt was agonizing. I watched as a bulldozer covered my son with dirt, forever sealing him in darkness beneath the soil. It gave me a chance to have a wholehearted cry, to tell him I was sorry, and to tell him I love him – God, I hope he knows how much I love him.

I got in my car soaked and wet. I removed my blazer, loosened my tie, and used my handkerchief to wipe off my face before leaving. Everyone went to my mother-in-law’s for lunch after the burial. Leaving the cemetery, I turned left towards town instead of right towards my in-law’s place. I felt I couldn’t show my face there. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to. Maybe I was just tired of everyone asking me how I was doing all the time. I mean, how did they think I was doing? I lost my son. I was doing horribly. I just didn’t know to what degree of horrible I was actually doing. The dreadful silence my wife imposed on me wasn’t a motivator to make an appearance anyway. I needed time to think. I needed time to remember. I needed time to mourn. I hadn’t felt like I had a moment to do any of those things since his death. I had to be strong for my wife, I had to take care of all the preparations and notifications, and I was assuming blame from more than just my wife on top of it all. I was worn thin, ready to snap, breakdown, crack.

I headed over to the old corner bar in town that has been there so long that the Coor’s sign hanging above the door has faded to a brownish yellow with barely visible lettering. The building has changed its proprietors so many times I no longer know the name of the place. Beyond the plain brick walls and the dirty metal awnings that cover the windows with their neon signs drawing drinkers to the doors like bugs to a zapper was a lowly lit room of browns and dark reds that smelled like ashtrays and urinal cakes. There was a jukebox on the far wall playing a heavy tune I didn’t recognize. It sat by the only booth in the place, occupying the corner. High tables with bar chairs were spread throughout. In the back there were a couple of pool tables and a dart board. The beer was served in cans and the scotch and soda I ordered showed up in a red Solo cup. I took that as a sign not to stay too long.

The bartender was a mountain of a man. I figured he served as the bouncer as well. He must have been six-five and nearly three-hundred pounds of muscle, long hair, piercings, tats. If I saw this guy standing in my driveway when I got home, I’d turn around and speed away. But looks are deceiving. He turned out to be a decent guy. We talked briefly and he provided a round of shots on the house in honor of my son’s bravery. The handful of fellow day-drinkers who were there gathered around the bar for their finger’s worth of whisky in a red Solo cup. We slammed them down and everyone gave me their condolences, saying I should be proud. In that moment I was proud. My son died saving a man's life during a war to protect us from terrorism. It was the type of man he was. The type of man I raised him to be. I didn’t get to revel in my pride long. The bartender advised that I finish my drink and find another watering hole before his regulars started pouring in in the next fifteen minutes or so. So, I finished my drink promptly and returned to my car.

As I plopped down heavily into the driver’s seat, I noticed my blazer beside me and realized that my phone had been in there the entire time. I retrieve it from the inner pocket and found that I had six missed calls and one text: “call me as soon as you get this.” I immediately called my wife.

“Where are you,” a frustrated and impatient voice asked.

“I took a little detour into town,” I said as I rummaged through my pockets looking for my keys. “I stopped at a bar to have a couple drinks. I wasn’t ready to face all the accusing looks and whispers,” I told her.

“You earned them,” she said coldly.

“Now that’s not fair.”

“Don’t talk to me about fair,” she says angrily, and with a sigh she says, “There are people here who are primarily here to comfort you. Your mom is worried sick.”

“Tell her I’m fine. I just need some time to myself to mourn for a little bit. I’ve been overwhelmed lately.”

“No. You are not doing this. You are not leaving me here alone making excuses for you any longer. Get here now, and mourn with your family,” and she hung up, ending that conversation.

I took the long way to my in-law’s. I was lost in memory of our last family vacation together. I wish I could turn back time to what was one of my fondest memories of my son and live it all over again. The girls wanted to explore the shops in Gatlinburg, so my son and I scheduled a low-grade whitewater rafting trip. It was a rush, what he called the experience of a lifetime, but it was after that when we found calmer waters to do some fishing that I cherish most. It was the summer before his freshman year in high school. We were set up on the riverbed enjoying sodas and chips, joking around and bonding. It seemed like a good time to have ‘The Talk.’ I was amazed by his maturity given the subject and the intelligence of his questions. ‘The Talk’ led to us discussing things that his mother wouldn’t have approved of, but it evolved into a discussion on love and family. From there, we talked about science, politics, religion, and issues of a philosophical nature. I could see in the boy who was my son the makings of the man who would be a lifelong friend that day. I quite often think that day was a turning point for him. That was the day he began to take a serious interest in the world around him and his part in it. It might have been the first step on the path to where we are today, but I wouldn’t give up that day for anything.

It was still crowded when I got to my in-laws. As I made my way in, I couldn’t help but notice the dirty looks from my wife’s family and friends. I could see into the kitchen where the food was laid out buffet style across the kitchen island. My daughter was there making a sandwich. I approached her to give her a kiss on the head and hug her, but she pulled away, shunning me, taking a place next to her mom who was talking to one of her girlfriends as she refreshed her tea. My wife gave me a dirty look and placed a protective arm around my daughter, approving of her behavior.

My mom saw me come in the door and followed me to the kitchen. She busied herself making me a plate as I explained to her where I was. She led me into the family room where my side of the family had gathered. There was palpable tension between the families, like nothing I had ever seen before. Three generations of veterans filled the room. All who were quick to defend my decision to support my son. They kept their opinions to themselves for the sake of peace, something I greatly appreciated.

Sitting by herself, looking out of place, was my son’s fiancé. They had only been engaged for four months, but she had been around so much over the years she was already like a daughter. She was his first real date. It was his junior prom. He really liked her and was scared he was going to mess things up. He called me into his room for advice. I remember him sitting on the edge of his twin sized, looking up at me scared and nervous. I looked around his room as he explained the situation to me. There were sports trophies on the dresser, car posters on the walls, video games around the TV, and dirty laundry scattered everywhere. He was taller than me, shaved, and drove a car, but he was an oversized child commencing on an adult relationship and I could relate to the anxiety he was feeling in the moment. I straightened his bowtie and took a knee in front of him. I told him to pay attention to her, to not get distracted by anyone or anything else. Listen to her and keep the conversation rolling. Make her laugh when the timing is right. Anticipate her needs. Offer things before she asks. Compliment her. Out of respect for her, always be patient, gentle, and kind. He came home that night elated because she let him kiss her. When I told her this story, she hugged me with tears in her eyes and kissed my cheek.

“I know what people are saying, that it’s your fault he’s dead. He would have joined with or without your blessing. But instead, he died knowing you believed in him, were proud of him, and loved him.”

As evening approached, the crowd thinned until it was just family. Mom decided it was time to get grandpa home, so they left, leaving me with my wife’s side of the family. I went to the kitchen to let my wife know I would see her at home. She pulled me aside and told me that tonight her and our daughter would be staying with her sister, but tomorrow I would need to check into a hotel. She warned me that she had already hired a lawyer and that I should be served papers any day now. I didn’t want to make a scene, but I pleaded with her to reconsider. I told her I loved her. We still had one child under our roof. We needed to consider her needs and that our son would not want this. She shook her head and walked off. My heart shattered. I knew there was a chasm between us since his death, that she blamed me, that she was angry I didn’t support her protest to his enlisting, but I thought it was something we would work through over time. I returned home defeated. The staircase to the bed broom was a mountain of memories lined with warm, happy pictures of us together over the years. For the first time, the home we built together felt like an empty shell of a house in the silence.

As I sit here and write, procrastinating, not wanting to pack a bag, I really do wish I could turn back time. I don’t know if I would do anything different, but I would go back and relive moments over and over again. Pictures and videos aren’t the same. I don’t want to just look at my family and rekindle memories. I want to relive the experiences with them again - the contact, the smells, the warmth of the day, the emotions of the moment. But even if I could turn back time, I wouldn’t live in the past. Whether I was wrong or right, actions have their repercussions. There is no sense in trying to run from them, hide from them, deny them. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and I will rise with it, conducting myself in a manner that would make my son proud to call me dad, and hopefully win my family back.

January 25, 2024 03:47

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

13 comments

Hannah Lynn
17:26 Jan 29, 2024

I feel for this dad. He did the right thing by supporting his son, he deserved better than the treatment he received.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
21:37 Jan 26, 2024

A very sad premise, to be sure. It's made all the worse by the wife's behaviour, which strikes me as malicious. A key part of this story seems to be a theme of growing up - namely, the son growing up. And a core part of that is, he will make his own decisions regardless of his parents desires. Like his fiancée said, he was going to enlist regardless. We can understand the mother being distraught, and saying or doing unfortunate things as part of grieving. But this reads like more than that. This is a grudge she's held in her heart for year...

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
23:57 Jan 26, 2024

Great analysis. Yes, we just get the husband's perspective, who is just starting to realize that he never really listens to his wife. However, he is back and forth between whether he would do it differently concerning supporting his son. The death of their son was the final straw for the wife, who has bottled up resentment over the years for being silenced in the relationship. Thanks for the like.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Stella Aurelius
16:13 Jan 26, 2024

Oh wow ! This definitely deserves recognition. So poignant. I feel so sad for the protagonist. Grief is tough. Sometimes, it consumes you so much that it makes your anger come out to the forefront. It's especially tough if your loved one died doing something you advised them not to do. I'm really sorry that the loss brought out their incompatible views and that's what led to the split. In a way, I understand both perspectives on joining the military. I'm the type of person who believes serving the country in other ways (other than the milit...

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
17:17 Jan 26, 2024

Thank you, Stella, for such high praise.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michelle Oliver
10:51 Jan 26, 2024

Such a sad, heart wrenching tale told with such sincerity, I had to go back and check the tags to make sure it wasn’t creative non-fiction. You captured grief so well and the related trauma that goes with it. The pride mingled with the pain. Wanting to go back in time and relive the good memories. The way each person processes grief, some as anger, some needing solitude and the solace of strangers, some needing to be with people they love. There is no one size fits all for human emotions. Well done

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
17:18 Jan 26, 2024

Thanks, Michelle.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Trudy Jas
00:15 Jan 26, 2024

Wonderful story. Tirning back time to relive and be in the present is a wish most of us have. The sadness / unfairness that one person may take out the anger of their loss on the one left behind was heartbreaking.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
22:55 Jan 25, 2024

I am bawling. Thank you very much. I have read several stories this week that I think should be winners. This one for sure or the judges don't understand their job. I believe this is exactly what these prompts were begging for this week. So excellently depicted. It was what I would have wanted to write. I have been all over the scope of ideas and still haven't settled on one...and it is Thursday. When I read entries like this I might as well not make my 5 dollar donation. I agree with Jonathan. You were so exact in your journal entry I hope...

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
23:16 Jan 25, 2024

Thank you for your words, Mary. No, it wasn't based on my truth, and I'm fortunate enough that all the people I know who served returned home safely. This story is based on a discussion my ex-wife and I had years ago when our son's were young. Would we support our children if the wanted to serve in the armed forces. I was a yes, she was a no. I created a scenario off that and went with it. What they did for the mayor's son was a beautiful thing. I think all sons and daughters should be honored in that. Our soldiers truly have the weight of ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Christy Morgan
22:49 Jan 25, 2024

Very moving story, Ty! My heart aches for the dad - to lose a child is the ultimate loss, but I think that the way he is reconciling it in the early stages will bode well for him. I lost my younger sister unexpectedly last year and so this passage really resonated: I really do wish I could turn back time. I don’t know if I would do anything different, but I would go back and relive moments over and over again. Pictures and videos aren’t the same. I don’t want to just look at my family and rekindle memories. I want to relive the experienc...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jonathan Page
04:34 Jan 25, 2024

Wow Ty! A stunning, emotional story. Incredibly well told.

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
06:55 Jan 25, 2024

Thanks John! That means a lot.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.