I kneel before the headstone; it is plain, no intricate design, no ornate details, just as I expected. It reads:
David J. Silverman
Father, husband, veteran
There is a vase of wilted flowers that I'm sure Aunt Jane brought, knowing damn well if you were alive, you would tell her to take them back.
"You were a brute, old bastard," I sigh heavily, "you hated everyone and everything. All I ever wanted to hear, my whole life was, 'good job, David. I'm proud of you.' But you could never say those words. Why was it so hard for you?" I glance around momentarily, painfully aware of the fact that I am having a conversation with a headstone. However, I quickly realize that there is no one else here, considering the sun has only just begun to rise. I've adamantly avoided this place as if the plague shrouded it; despite how my wife has begged me to come here, hoping it would bring me some sort of closure. Even now, I couldn't explain what brought me here; I was jerked out of a sound sleep in the twilight hours of the morning. I couldn't fall back asleep as I had this gnawing feeling of having somewhere to be. I told myself there was absolutely nowhere for me to be other than my bed and yet I climbed into my car anyways. I had no destination in mind and I don't even remember how I came to arrive here.
I look at your headstone one final time. I even reach out and feel the grooves of the letters encasing your name. "Why did you have to hate me too?" I whisper, "I'm your son." My eyes begin to well up and I reflexively blink them away. "This was stupid," I think as I begin to get up. And as I do, I hear the softest whisper of a voice. Automatically, I turn to see the source and there is no one within my range of sight. I shrug and dismiss the thought. "I'm ready to get out of here." I pull my keys out of my pocket and begin to walk towards my car when I hear it again but a little closer now. I stop dead in my tracks as every hair on my body stands straight up. "I'm sleep deprived," I chuckle nervously and start nearly sprinting to my car, when I hear the voice again, this time, it surrounds me. The sound is so loud, I can feel the vibrations throughout my entire body. I cover my ears in an attempt to protect them, but I hear the words as clear as day:
"Davey-boy." I close my eyes and pray for this, whatever it may be to go away. I only reopen my eyes with the flash of a foreign light. When I open them, though I can't explain why, I immediately recognize where I am: I'm in my first childhood home. I glance around the room and notice birthday decor: blue banners that say: Happy birthday, Davey-boy!, streamers, gifts, a homemade birthday cake, etc. I don't remember this event but it seems to be a birthday celebration for me. I look around and see my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins and I can't remember everyone being as youthful as they appear now. Though I don't know what I would say, I open my mouth to speak, only to find out that I can't. When I try to articulate words, only gibberish comes out.
"It's time to sing happy birthday," my mother says cheerfully as she pulls a matchbook out of her apron pocket to light the candles. I look at her face and realize I hadn't ever seen her face without worry lines. My father walks over to me and picks up my heavy toddler body and sits me on his knee while everyone proceeds to sing happy birthday. And on they sang but I didn't hear a word; the room grew silent as I looked up at my fathers smiling face; something I could never recollect seeing.
When the song came to a close, my father lifted me up and said:
"Blow out the candles, Davey-boy!" For the first time in years, I can recall that that was his nickname for me when I was just a boy. And although he blows the candles out for me, he says good job. He places me back on his knee and gently bounces it up and down.
"Be careful with him, David!" My mother warns as she twists her delicate wedding band, around and around, a telltale sign of her anxious nature.
"He's fine, hon. Don't worry," my father laughs; a sound so unfamiliar to me. My mother begins to frantically clean the party mess and everyone else returns to their cheerful chatter. My father bends down so his lips are at my ear.
"I know you don't remember this, but this is my favorite memory. This is when things were still good," he sighs heavily; his voice too tired and troubled for the body it hosts, "listen, David because I don't have much time. There's a few things I need to tell you, things I couldn't bring myself to tell you before. I'm sorry that I couldn't, but I'm a stubborn and stupid man. I know, just as I've always known that I wasn't the father you needed me to be. And that was never your fault. It was mine, all mine," his voice breaks, "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you that I was proud of you. I'm sorry I could never express that I loved you but I did every day of your life. You were the best thing that ever happened to me," he pauses for a long moment.
"My father was the most ruthless bastard I'd ever met in my life and I hated him. I told myself that when I had my boy, he would never be afraid of me like I was of my father. I never understood why my father was so angry and I spent my life trying to understand. And then when I met your mother, that all just seemed to go away. You came along and that was the happiest time of my life. I couldn't have asked for anything more. But a few years later, my father passed away and it felt like he took me with him. Every morning I looked in the mirror, I saw that mans face; the face I'd spent my entire life hating. And every time I looked into your eyes, I saw my reflection and in it, I saw him. I-I just couldn't cope with that and I'm sorry, David.
"But what I really need to tell you, don't make the mistakes that I've made. Don't live your life in the shadow of your father as I did; it will never get you anywhere. Tonight, when you come home from work, your wife is going to tell you that she's pregnant and nine months from now, you're going to have a beautiful boy. He's going to look just like you and you're going to love him more than anything," I feel tear drops hit my face, "please don't let me take that away from you, Davey-boy."
"Davey-boy, look up!" My mother says, with a camera in her hands, to capture this moment. The bright flash goes off. When I open my eyes, I am kneeling in front of my fathers headstone, which reads:
David J. Silverman
Devoted father, husband and veteran