The world seems to be a little bit darker nowadays. Even with the aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends that filled my childhood home, nothing could fix the void that had overtaken my heart. Everything was chaotic and quiet at the same time. Whispered condolences were shared throughout the afternoon. Distant relatives and friendly strangers patted my arms and gave me bony hugs.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Let me know what I can do for you.”
“They were both wonderful people.”
The kitchen constantly poured out the beverages of a rushed funeral. Paper plates with handheld appetizers circulated from room to room. I wandered back and forth, trying to forget the reason for the solemn gathering. I glanced at my watch and could not hold back a groan. “Two more hours,” I muttered. I can’t take two more seconds! I scanned the room, looking for an escape. A few people mingled in the living room. Uncle Amado caught my eye and waved me over with a small smile. I nodded to him but moved into the hallway. Maybe I could run upstairs, pretend I had forgotten something, and disappear for a while. As I started up the stairs, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“You know, your parents were great friends of mine.”
I turned to see a middle-aged man a few inches shorter than me with white teeth and a wide smile. He smelled strongly of aftershave and peppermint. I squinted at him, trying to place where I had seen him before.
“You knew my parents?”
“Of course I did! We went to college together. I was the one who introduced Héctor to your mother. It only took Savannah a couple of months to start dating him!” Despite the man’s kind eyes, his words only made my heart drop more. He had known my parents longer than I had.
“That’s nice,” I said, moving on to the next step.
“Your parents were very much in love. And they loved you. I just wanted you to know that.” The man patted my arm and left, leaving me feeling more confused than sad. My parents were both polite to each other, and I knew they loved me, but in love? I had never heard the words, “I love you” leave either of my parents' mouths to each other.
I ascended the stairs two at a time, hoping to leave the uneasy feeling behind me. The second floor was not open to the funeral luncheon but that had not stopped my aunt from slipping into my old room and taking a nap. Retreating to my parent’s bedroom was not an option. The thought of entering their room alone made me feel nauseous. I doubt I’ll ever be able to walk in there without feeling sick again.
Desperately needing time to myself, I impulsively pulled down the stairs to the attic. The steps creaked as I climbed up into the dust. I hadn’t been in the attic for years. It had become off-limits after I had helped my father move some boxes. I nearly gave my mother a heart attack when my foot suddenly broke through the ceiling right in the middle of her afternoon nap. I felt a smile play on my lips at the memory. The attic looked the exact same as it had the last time I had been inside.
Careful to step only on the beams, I slipped further into the hazy loft. Boxes lined the walls, filled to the brim with holiday decorations, food storage, and my mother’s sewing projects. A small cardboard box lay overturned next to the hatch, light from downstairs spilling onto its contents. A few photo albums were scattered among my parents' college belongings. I smiled at my father’s threadbare university sweatshirt. My mother had told me how he would give it to her on cold days. She had loved how it had always smelled like him. Even now, my father would give her his suit coats and jackets when she asked. I picked up one of the photo albums and flipped through its pages. I recognized my blue eyes and sharp nose in my mother and my caramel skin and dark hair in my father. Before I flipped to another page, I noticed something peeking out from inside the box. It was a heart shaped chocolate box. I blinked, neither of my parents ate much chocolate. This must be back from when they were in school together. I carefully reached inside and pulled the box towards me. The heart shape looked slightly wilted and the writing was faded. I could make out my father’s course handwriting. “To Savannah, From Héctor.”
I smiled, carefully pulling off the lid. Instead of empty chocolate wrappers like I expected, carefully folded notes filled the inside of the box. I let out a small sigh, the notes were from my father. I sunk onto the floor and opened the first note, my hands shaking as I unfolded the faded paper.
March 2, 1985
I am so glad we met yesterday. Diego was so good to introduce us. I am excited that you will be studying abroad this semester, even if it means we won’t see each other. Since you will be studying in Spain, I thought you might want some Spanish lessons! I am happy to help. The first lesson, Tienes mi corazón. That means you have my heart. I hope to hear from you soon!
I reread the words over and over again, scanning the page for anything that would indicate the note wasn’t from my father. Tienes mi corazón. Had he really said that to my mother? I hungrily unfolded the next few notes, eager to discover more about my parents’ seemingly sincere relationship.
March 15, 1985
Spain sounds like such a fun country. I’m glad that my Spanish lesson helped you, although I hope you didn’t feel the need to repeat that sentence to anyone else! I may or may not have looked at traveling to Spain later this semester. It is very expensive. I wouldn’t get your hopes up about a surprise visit. It’s too bad they aren’t taking late applicants for the study abroad program. Nothing new here, just going to class and work every day. My philosophy class is a beast. I wish you were here to help.
Savannah, your description of the city sounds so beautiful. I can almost imagine walking those streets with your hand in mine! Can we make that happen someday?
Looking forward to your next letter,
P.S. I almost forgot our Spanish lesson! Eres bonita. You are beautiful.
March 27, 1985
The craziest thing has happened since your last letter. My brother Amado and Diego plotted against me and tricked me into asking this girl to the Spring dance. I was so angry with them! The girl was very nice, but I spent the entire night wishing I were with you. I think you owe me a dance when you get back!
Tortilla de patatas sounds delicious. I think I’ll find a recipe and try to make my own here. Although I’m sure it won’t be as good as the one you tried! It sounds like you are having a lovely time. I am happy to hear that you are getting better at the language. I guess that means you don't need my lessons anymore. I’ll help you out anyways, mi vida. That means, my life. You are mi vida, Savannah. Am I yours?
April 6, 1985
Savannah, my love,
I love you too! I love you! When I read your letter, I jumped for joy! You fill my heart with so much happiness. I can’t wait for you to come home in almost one month! I love all of the pictures you are sending me but I can’t wait to see you in person.
I’m happy that your study is going well. It sounds like you are working hard. By the time you come home, you’ll be an architecture expert! My classes are ok. I’ve been working more than ever, which makes it hard to study. But I especially love my history of art class. My papa may say that a humanities degree is useless but I sure love it!
Te amo, I love you,
I stared at the last letter. “I love you.” They had told each other “I love you?” And my mother had said it first! I reread the words over and over. If only I could have heard them say it to each other in person. When I thought about it, I knew that my parents cared for each other. My father would always cook my mother breakfast. And Mother was always doing little things for her husband. I remember one day she mowed the entire backyard after my father came home from work worn out. I wonder what had happened to Father’s humanities degree to land him a job as the manager of our local grocery store.
The rest of the letters counted down the days to my parents’ reunion. My father had sent Mother a picture of him with a small puppy. The photo brought tears to my eyes. I remembered Ryder, a loyal terrier that had been my childhood best friend. I had never seen Father cry until we had to put poor Ryder down when I was nine years old.
I sorted through the letters again, cherishing my father’s words. The man from downstairs must have been Diego. He was right, my parents did love each other. I dried my tears and steeled myself to reenter the luncheon when I noticed one more letter that had dropped to the ground. I held my breath, carefully unfolding the note.
June 30, 1997
My dearest Savannah,
Today was the best day of my entire life. I never thought that anything could replace our wedding day but something did. Today, you became a mother. Today, our beautiful nina entered the world. Seeing you become a mother filled my heart with so much joy. You have been preparing for this day for so long. Longer than I have even imagined being a father. Motherhood was always your biggest dream. It has been a long time waiting, and these last nine months have not been easy, but you have finally achieved your dream. And now, I know you will be the perfect mother to our Isabella.
Sav, she is perfect. Just like you. She reminds me of you. The way she wrinkles her nose when she sneezes and the electricity of her eyes are all from you. She is her mother’s daughter. Even just thinking about her makes me smile. I know that she will bring us so much joy. When I watched you hold Isabella for the first time, you have never been more beautiful. Nothing has ever made me happier than knowing that you and I were able to bring such a perfect baby into our lives. I hope she has your patience and love for learning. I hope she grows to be as tall, talented, and intelligent as you. I hope she inherits your kindness and empathy. And your ability to make anyone smile. Even on the cloudiest of days, our daughter will be the sunshine.
Te amo, mi vida.
The tears flowed freely down my cheeks. That’s why my father called me sunshine. I would give anything to hear him say it to me one more time. I placed the notes back in the time weathered box, fitting the lid on tightly, and held it to my chest. Clambering down the attic stairs as quickly as I could, I followed my feet into the living room. My eyes searched from face to face until I found who I was looking for. Without a word, I crossed the room and wrapped my arms around Diego.