“I’m going to strive to write at least once per week in here, now don’t hold me to that, I have this odd tendency to not make true on promises these days but I will do my best. As always, I hope you enjoy!”
Kevin tossed a stone into the water and watched as the rings swam outward eventually dissolving into the ripples stirred up by the soft wind across the surface. He stared out across the lake toward the far shoreline scanning the rust colored forest floor for any evidence of the deer he’d seen the day before. The high sun created shadows through the sparse trees that lined the ridge, leaves floated carelessly through the air bringing their fervent yellows and oranges to the black surface of the lake water.
There was the sound of dry leaves rustling behind him and he half turned staring down the long narrow dock toward the near shore. A small chipmunk appeared on a nearby beaver fall and chirped incessantly at him as if to warn him from this spot. He smiled at it and tossed a stone that arced and plopped noisily into the water directly in front of the animal. Startled the chipmunk disappeared swiftly into the underbrush, his high pitched squeak hung in the late summer air. Kevin smiled again as he stood staring unconsciously at the spot, lost in wonder. Oh what it would be like to live a simple life like this chipmunk. Your only worry being what to eat and where to wander through the day.
In the distance a fish popped from the water turning over with a splash of it’s tail. Kevin’s head snapped around, his eyes searching the surface while his mind tried to reassure his body that it was just a fish, nothing dangerous. His heart thudded against his ribs and his knees were bent ready to carry him away. “Jesus!” He thought, “Just a fish, relax. What? Were you thinking it was a sea monster?” He laughed at himself, dug another small stone from his cupped hand and flung it out toward the area the fish had jumped from, “Here, take that!” He shouted after the stone as it sailed against the winds and broke the surface with a gentle splash.
He’d been up here to the cabin on so many occasions over the years but this was the first he’d been here since he’d come home. Three years. He’d wanted to be alone so many times but couldn’t find the courage to do it. Instead he’d disappeared, allowing his wife to take the lead in their life, bringing home the bacon, driving the kids to school, to soccer, early mornings for hockey, birthday parties, summers at the cabin, while he’d retreated into his own head trying to figure out where his life was going. Eventually she just drove away with the kids disappearing into the background of his life.
A tear formed at the corner of his eye and his heart welled up in pain. He shifted his weight in an agitated fashion attempting to fight back the tears, his chest tightened up and he swallowed hard. Soca, his yellow lab, glanced up and quickly moved from her comfortable spot on the warm dock to nudge his leg. He looked down and began petting her head, “Good girl.” He whispered. He tossed the last of the stones from his hand into the black water beside the dock and re-attached the leash to her collar. She strode proudly alongside him as he made his way back to the cabin and took her spot near his feet as he unleashed her and hopped up onto the railing to look out over the lake.
It had been eight months since his wife had left. She was living with her sister in Cambridge until she could find a place. Her last words to him were, “I know you need to go through this, but its too hard for me. I’ve got the kids, I can’t carry you anymore, Kev, I just can’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means you have to find something to live for because sitting around here afraid to leave is no way to live…you can’t shut down. You’re barely alive and I’d rather not watch you die.” There was no talk of divorce. She called at least once a night to see how he was doing. Repeatedly if he refused to answer. The talking they’d done in the last eight months had been the deepest of conversations they’d had in a long time, somehow it was easier for him to open up to her when he wasn’t looking in her eyes. There were nights he’d answer and simply cry the entire time while she comforted him with soft hushing and humming of the lullaby she used to sing to her babies. She didn’t know what he’d been through over there, she didn’t want to know, all she knew is that it took the man she’d known and loved and turned him into this stranger who wandered from room to room in their house, hiding, crying, and searching for danger under every speck of dust.
Kevin dropped his hand and let it hang down. Soca stood up and began to lick it, then hopped up placing her head in his lap and allowed him to pet her vigorously. He looked down at her and said, “You’re a lifesaver, you know that?” Soca whined and perked her ears as she twisted her head, looking at him questioningly. He simply smiled and leaned down to kiss her.
He’d been discharged. Abandoned. He didn’t know why really, some trumped up charge against him after he’d asked for help. He’d never felt right after he came home, something was wrong. He was angry, screaming at his wife for leaving the garage door open, screaming at the kids for having too much fun and being loud…drinking. He’d done a lot of drinking. He woke up crying at night. He woke up screaming at night. Sometimes he just chose not to sleep and he’d pluck away on the computer lost in a fantasy game. He’d heard whisper of guys saying he’d “lost it” or “wasn’t the same anymore.” He was impatient now, he knew that. Guys got on his nerves a lot. He was agitated, afraid, crying and mostly for no real reason. A car alarm. A diesel engine. All of these noises set his teeth on edge and that’s not good when you’re surrounded by them all the time. Firing range. He’d asked for accommodation saying he needed time to re-adjust, that he didn’t feel comfortable around his weapon anymore, so they put him on range duty. He spent the first twenty minutes curled in a ball screaming and then fought with the two MPs who were called to escort him home. Jail. He’d never been there before that night but he felt safer surrounded by bars than he had in the months since coming home. He remembered hugging his knees to his chest, crying and rocking back and forth until the psychologist showed up to talk to him. He’d been sedated, moved to the infirmary and within a month found himself on the couch at home staring out the window in shock, dishonorably discharged.
He stayed in this lost state for the past few years – until she left. If she hadn’t left, they’d have never spoken to one another, instead life would have gone on around him as he played on his computer and pushed them away. He didn’t think he’d have ever gotten the nerve to live again had she still been there taking care of things for him while he fought unseen demons and wandered through his days. She showed him how lost he was by walking away and saying that life went on around him, despite him and he had to fight to come back to it. She left a number for a counselling service. Her sister suggested Soca but only if he’d get counselling. Her company sponsored his therapy as a payback for serving his country. He grudgingly started working his way back toward life.
Eight months of hard work and it was far from over. Oceans could be replenished by his tears. His therapist coupled his treatment with meditation, suggested he try yoga and helped to fast track his application for a service animal. Soca had been with him two months now, the difference she’d made in his coping was astounding. He smiled. He laughed. They walked together. She comforted him. She protected him in public spaces. He felt like a person again.
He’d come to the cabin two days ago. He relished how calming it was here. No noise, no traffic, no neighbors, just the lapping of the water, the breeze through the trees and the occasional angry chipmunk. He’d sat listening to the pop and crackle of the fireplace as Soca curled up against him. He’d felt the warm rays of the sun on his skin as he’d sat, Soca by his side, on the dock watching the water bounce and sparkle. She was named Soca because her trainer had a love of Latin dance and she’d told him, what better way to wade through life than to dance. He and Soca danced every day now. He smiled down at her and rubbed her head.
In the distance he heard the crunch of gravel. Soca’s ears perked up and she jumped down from his side waiting for her leash. He quickly attached her leash and she stood waiting for his next cue. They walked toward the edge of the deck and Kevin peered over the edge toward the driveway. He could only see the very edge of the gravel path. There were two thumping sounds. For a split second his body went on alert, his breathing halted in his chest and he froze, then suddenly two small figures ran out from behind the house squealing, they stopped when they spotted him and cried in unison, “Daddy!!!” His wife appeared just behind them, smiling. It was the most beautiful smile he’d seen in his life.