As he stood gazing out over the River Chaska, his fingers slid slowly up to his lapel and he absently touched the Medal of Honor that lay against his chest. He felt a rush of love toward this river, this river that was so small yet so strong. He could smell the dampness in the air and hear the rushing of the current. The gentle breeze blew his fine, dark hair from his forehead. Finally, he tore his eyes away from the hypnotic view and walked back through the great sliding glass doors into The Room.
The entire rectangular room was sunken by three steps on all four walls. At each corner, a thick marble column stretched high, disappearing from view. The centerpiece
was a large marble table flanked by two marble benches. The room, and everything in it, shone white.
The Major found that his footsteps had a pleasant echo as he descended the steps and approached the large table. He couldn’t help but run his fingers across the smooth, cool bench. There, in front of him laid a book: Darby O’Gill and the Little People, inspired by classic Irish folktales, as retold by Hermine Templeton.
He lifted the book and opened it to the title page. Laughter welled up in his chest and he laughed aloud. Happiness surrounded him. This feeling was familiar, yet he was not able to grasp the memory of the source of his joy. As a matter of fact, he was unable to grasp any memory at all. His hand slid up and touched the medal on his lapel. The whiteness of the room grew brighter and the Major closed his eyes.
He moved to his favorite chair and sank into the soft fabric, allowing it to swallow him. He leaned his head against the cool white satin of the chair. When he finally reached up and pulled the chain on the Tiffany lamp, a circle of soft white light flooded the table next to him. He admired the multi-colored pattern of the lampshade and wondered how the light was so clean. He got lost in the intricacies of the shade. It was simple yet complicated. It gave him a calm feeling: light, airy, and sweet.
“I’ll have it ready for you in about an hour,” the man said in his deep voice. His blue chambray work shirt stated simply, in fancy script, his name: James.
“Thank you for your help,” the Major said.
“You in a hurry?” James asked.
“It won’t be long.” James’ ice blue eyes lingered on the Major’s for a moment.
The Major felt a familiarity in that look but couldn’t place it. Why did he feel proud of this young mechanic? The pride was so strong that it almost overwhelmed him.
“What are you late for?” James smiled at him, an easy grin.
What was he late for, the Major wondered. He looked around and took in the dusty road, the wavy shimmer of heat in the distance. He saw beads of sweat on James’ forehead. The Major’s hand slipped up toward the medal on his lapel and, once again, his fingertips brushed the cool inscription.
The Major unglued himself from the park bench and trudged through the gate. He hesitated, the sidewalk burning through the soles of his thin shoes. He shaded his eyes against the stinging bright light and studied the distance to the store at the top of the hill. He sighed and began to walk.
The air was thick, like breathing molasses. His clothes, light as they were, clung heavily to his sticky body. Onward he walked, through the silent atmosphere, keeping his eyes on the door of the store. He could just see it, shimmering through the distorted air. His skin felt baked, his brain simmered.
Still, he pushed up the last hundred feet of the hill, reaching out for the door handle even before he got there. And when his hand fell on the burning steel, it was relief. He tugged the door open and the manufactured air rushed blessedly over him, instantly rejuvenating his lungs, drying his brow. The Major’s damp hair clung coldly to his neck and forehead. He shivered.
He made his way to the coolers and chose a bottle of water, the plastic instantly beading up with condensation when he removed it. He moseyed to the front of the store and placed the bottle of water on the counter.
The cashier shoved back a lock of her fiery red hair. Etched into the silver nameplate she wore was her name, Kay. It reflected the sun and dappled the counter with dots of light. The Major thought she looked like an angel. She was so bright that he almost had to shade his eyes. A familiar rush washed through him. A connection without beginning or end.
“Some weather, huh?” Kay asked, bringing him from his own thoughts.
“Yeah,” the Major managed. His fingers slipped up to his lapel and touched the medal there.
“That’ll be fifty-three cents,” Kay smiled.
The Major reached into his pocket and laid a wrinkled, damp dollar bill on the counter-top. Kay counted out the change and dropped it into the Major’s open hand.
“Thanks,” the Major mumbled.
“Sure. You stay cool out there,” she winked one green eye at him.
The Major chuckled at her comment, stuffed the change in his front pocket, grabbed his bottle of water and moved toward the door with a sigh. He felt compelled to look back over his shoulder. Just one more look at Kay’s beautiful green eyes. And the moment that passed between them seemed like a lifetime.
As he stepped through that big glass barrier into the elements, the heat felt good again. The warmth of the day just right. He opened the bottle and lifted it to his lips. The water was tasteless but cool. He closed his eyes.
The water trickled down his chin and spilled back into the sink of the fountain. The Major wondered momentarily if the water was recycled. The thought struck him as gross and he released the lever. The water stopped pummeling his mouth. The Major stood up and wiped his chin with his sleeve. He looked to his right. The hallway was empty, all the students in their classrooms.
It felt good to be alone in the school halls. He loved the “smell of knowledge”, the mustiness of well-worn pages, the unique scent of glue in the book-bindings, a smell he associated with learning.
The Major walked to his left, made a second left turn and pushed through the doors of the gym. In the middle of the large warm room sat a long folding table with a red chair pushed under it. Curious, he approached the table, the squeak of his tennis shoes echoing through the bleachers. He pulled the chair out, cringing at the unpleasant noise the legs of the chair made as they scraped along the floor. He looked around and, seeing no one, sat down. He pulled himself forward to the table.
The thin blue book stared up at him. The Major reached for the cover and opened the book. Several pages turned with the hard cover as he dropped it open. There, on the page, was a picture. The Major looked at the boy who grinned back at him. The boy, perhaps only twelve, had deep brown eyes and shoulder-length black hair that had a clean shine to it. The boy looked comfortable but his eyes held secrets.
“In Memory of…” the title read above the picture. The Major reached up and took the medal on his lapel into his fingers. It felt cold. He searched the boy’s eyes and the Major felt an overwhelming wave of loss. He took in the striped t-shirt and the blue jacket with the gold trim that the boy was wearing. His memory tugged, then stopped short of recognition.
He read the caption at the top of the page again: In Memory of… His eyes scanned the picture then dropped to the bottom of the page. The words there didn’t register. It was like a foreign language. The Major squinted, trying to read it but to no avail. He touched the page. It was slick, heavy. He rubbed the page between his thumb and forefinger and found there were two pages. His heart skipped and he closed his eyes as the pages fell apart.
The stack of pages was thick and sat neatly beside the old green typewriter. The Major didn’t read the words but flipped through a few of the pages. His eyes moved to the page rolled in the bar. He turned the wheel to reveal the words that were typed.
Suddenly, a fresh breeze ruffled the sheer curtains and floated through the room. It caught hold and lifted the pages from the neat pile. Like snow falling, the pages floated, slowly, lazily making their way to the floor. The Major bent down on one knee, caught one of the pages in mid-air and read what was written:
December 27th, 2008
Christmas was beautiful this year. You would have really enjoyed all the anticipation and excitement around our house. Remember the time, when we were kids, you woke me up and we set all the clocks ahead about three hours so we could get Mom up to have Christmas early? Boy, did we get off easy that time!
This Christmas, Mom was here with me. We rented your favorite movie (well, one of them anyway), “Jesus Christ, Superstar”. I see, now, why you liked it so much then. But, you have to admit that it is kind of, well, hokey. We watched that, laughed, talked a lot about you, ate, opened wonderful presents and ate some more. Most of all, it was full of love and magic, just like Christmas should be. But we missed you.
It’s kind of strange, I guess. It doesn’t seem like it’s been 31 years since I watched you go under the water of the Brazos River for the last time that early summer day in 1977. It seems like just yesterday, yet, sometimes, it seems like it’s been several lifetimes ago since I knew you.
Well, I just wanted to say Happy Birthday, Major. I’m sure that you must be having an awesome one already, wherever you are. I just want you to know that I’m thinking about you. I love you. I guess I always will.
The Major sucked in his breath. His hands began to tremble and his heart pounded. His head swam and recognition rushed through him. He remembered! Why did it take him so long? How could he have not known?
Chaska, his sweet baby sister named after a Russian river. She is small yet so strong. Her life revolving around helping others, her tiny hands painting huge pictures.
Tiffany, his playful and beautiful sister. So complicated, yet so simple; her passion expressed through painting, through faith and through helping animals.
Darby, his “be happy” sister. The one with such a sweet voice when she sings, always searching to make someone smile. A hurt girl beneath the thin veneer of smiley faces.
James, his baby brother, now so tall and handsome and smart. Deep inside the heart of this man is the sorrow of alienation, his own father being the dealer of terror in a time so long ago. A genius, a hard worker, and now, excellent father of three. So his little brother grew into a man who cares for all around him.
And here, printed on this page, a letter from his sister, Kelsie. The one who changed her name to hide her pain, who never grieved completely for him but, instead, took on the role of the oldest in his place. Now she is healing, writing and searching for a way to help others heal.
And Kay! That shining light, his mother. How could he have missed that? She, so bright and guiding. Now, giving everything she has to help her children grow and heal. Being there to lend her hand in her later days.
And even himself on the pages of the Junior High School yearbook. The whole page dedicated to him. The words he couldn’t make out before suddenly leapt into his mind: Major Fielden. “In Memory of… Major Fielden”. How could he have not understood those words?
A moment of great sadness and realization washed over him. All the pain his family endured after he left his life. Why did he leave them to go through those things without him? Would it have been different had he stayed? Had he not moved to the light instead of to the hands held out to save him? The sadness left and the truth bloomed inside of him. Knowledge flowed through his soul and satisfaction settled in his heart.
He reached up and wrapped his hand around the medal on his lapel. The same medal that came from his grandfather, placed in his hands because it had meant so much to him in life. He remembered his blue jacket with gold trim laid over the edge of the casket. That jacket that he loved so much. He remembered how the chapel was so full that the people were standing against the walls. He remembered the long line of those who filed by his casket to say goodbye. He remembered feeling loved and then… then there was nothing. Nothing until he stood gazing out over the River Chaska…
How could he have wasted so much time here in the quiet when he could go to watch over them?
“But you have,” said the man who glowed.
“I miss them,” Major said.
“And they miss you too, Major. But you have inspired them. They create… they paint, they draw, they sing, they write. And you are their inspiration,” the man wrapped in light said.
“They will always remember me, won’t they?” Major asked.
“They will. And you will always remember them. Come,” the bright man said, “we have work to do.”
Major felt whole. His body grew so weightless that he could no longer feel the confines of the flesh. A million points of light flashed around then through him. Divine music filled him. The angels’ song reached a crescendo which surrounded his very being and his anticipation grew. He followed the man who radiated love. Then the man put an arm around Major, pulling him into the glow.
Every second, memories and knowledge wrapped him in clear and complete enlightenment. Good always wins. Every moment has a reason. And the plan is absolutely perfect. The Truth became him.
Spirit stood by the sliding glass doors, watching Chaska. She dabbed some pink paint onto the canvas and pulled it across, blending it into a sunrise. He looked over at Tiffany who stood at her own easel beside Chaska. Spirit grinned. He effortlessly crossed the room and rested between them. He spread threads of love. He laughed when he saw Tiffany plunge her hands into the paint on her canvas. Such passion these two have, he thought.
Spirit watched Darby and his mother, Kay. The connection between the two of them was strong although the visit held some awkwardness. He dispersed between them, projecting love, and they caught a fit of laughter. The awkwardness melted away and joy replaced it.
Spirit watched James pick his youngest son up and swing him in the air.
“Do me, do me!” Ashley cried out to her daddy. James swept her up in his free arm and swung both children around while his oldest laughed at the sight. Spirit moved closer and whispered love in James’ ear.
“I love you,” James told his children. The children wrapped their little arms around their daddy’s neck and hugged him with all their strength.
Spirit stood behind the high backed chair and scrutinized the words on the monitor. Kelsie’s fingers flew across the keyboard and the page filled. Spirit moved forward and flowed through her hands.
“Remember me,” he whispered lovingly, “for without that, I am ephemeral.”
And she typed his words.