Asking me if I can remember the first time I laid eyes on Danny Walker is like asking me if I remember taking my first breath. I couldn't tell you anything of the exact second, but I know that I'm here now, because I did. Danny has always been a part of my life, part of the memories I love the most and the nightmares I still can't shake away, but there has never been a moment when he wasn't there. Even in all the years we were apart, there was still a connection, a bond that could never be broken and therefore he was always close to my heart. Distance had not been able to break that bond, but here, now, hours after the erection of the granite memorial in the backyard and his ashes has been scattered to the wind from the old crop duster, I sat on the porch swing I had sat on so many times before as a child and wondered if death would be the same.
I was twenty-four years old, moderately successful in my life, unmarried, perhaps even still retaining some the beauty I grew up with, but right now I felt little more than fifteen years old with gawkiness, immaturity and the uncomfortable feeling of not quite knowing my place in the world or where my life would lead me. I knew without even thinking, that my world was never going to be the same again.
The low murmur of mourners from inside the house was barely audible over my thoughts and the constant squeak of the swing as I swayed back and forth. There was a peace around me because of the unknown solitude I had found. I didn't think I would be missed. Every last person's attention was on Rafe, my brother and the woman he had brought back from Hawaii. Evelyn; a beautiful naval nurse, with a permanent frown and Danny's child growing in her womb. My heart had cried rivers when I had learned she was pregnant. Selfishly I immediately hated her, again resorting to my fifteen year old inner self, but after seeing her pain, so much like my own and yet so vastly different, I had found a way to open my own heart to her. A part of Danny was alive within her and if there was anything this world needed, it was a soul like his…especially now.
My eyes unconsciously moved out to the sunset beyond the barn, the western fields and I lost myself for a moment in its beauty. My left foot pushed me back and forth in the swing and I closed my eyes, hearing the voices of the past fall around me. Images soon followed and I saw three boys running out of the house, the screen clapping loudly behind them, a little girl with red gold ringlets pushing the door back open following the boys, demanding to be paid attention to. I smiled to myself, hearing my own voice in hers. I then years into the future and saw the barn and an eighteen year old Danny, gently brushing his fingers through the soft curls of a girl of seventeen, their eyes locked together taking them into a world where nothing existed except for the two of them.
My eyes opened as I wondered if I would ever know that feeling again; Innocence, Simplicity, Wholesomeness…from where I sat, even in the quiet, unblemished farmland of Tennessee, it seem quite unlikely. With the country at war, thousands of Americans already dead at the hands of the Japanese, and the German's tearing their way through Europe the thought of what once was seemed farther away than it should. I would give anything to have those days back. To be young, without knowing any sort of pain, here with my brothers, with Danny. When the world didn't seem quite so dark and the enchantments of sunsets and stars still captivated.
I continued to rock the swing and closed my eyes once more, wishing, praying to God to let me have a second chance, to make it all right, to make all the pain go away. If only I could travel back myself, there was so much I could change with just a single action. It wouldn't be hard…but, I thought, opening my eyes, what would I lose then? Could I stand to lose anymore? Brushing away a lone tear, I shook my head at the thought. No, I had lost so much, so many already, I wasn't sure my heart could take it again. In fact, I knew it couldn't.
Perhaps I was destined to be one of those women, who lived her life, alone, completely solitary, with only her memories to keep her company. From where I sat the idea didn't sound so horrible, I could already think of a thousand happy moments that I was sure could take me from here until the end…