Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Over, Over Here

It’s Over, Over Here
by William J. Brazill

The man who should have been my grandfather died during World War I in some pointless skirmish in the Argonne Forest in 1918. His name was Dwyer Christie, and he was nineteen years old. I found out only afterwards, after my grandmother’s death, that he was the love of her life and she lived for sixty-eight years with nothing more than the memory of that love.

She did, of course, marry, as women brought up in the social confines of Virginia’s Culpeper County were expected to in those days. The man I knew as Grandfather Travis. Her family said it was a successful marriage, meaning that he had a steady job, provided a good home, and treated his wife and children with respect. But even as I boy I detected something was wrong without being able to give a name to the feeling or identify an emotion. It was as if there were an absence, an elusive sense of void, a shadow on every sunlit moment. I now know that a marriage that did not begin with love never developed it, that Grandfather Travis grew ever more estranged in his bewilderment and increasing anger, that Grandmother turned more and more inward. She had settled for what life had offered, and she sensed that was not enough, that in some profound way she had been deprived of what she treasured the most. When Grandfather Justin died, after fifty years of marriage, there was no sense of parting, for they were strangers at the end as they had been at the beginning.

From my earliest days I was aware of a ritual Grandmother followed every night. When she went up to bed, she opened the cedar chest that stood in her room and removed some objects to hold for a few moments before retiring. Years later, after she died and bequeathed the cedar chest to me in her will, I learned what the ritual was and discovered the identity of Dwyer Christie.

In a leather frame was an aging photograph, formally posed in a studio, of a handsome young man, scarcely more than a boy dressed in a man’s khaki uniform. Grandmother must have stared at this portrait so often and for so long that I sensed her eyes staring back at me from its glass covering. Even as I saw Dwyer Christie looking at me in what I wanted to believe was a welcoming greeting. There were also letters enclosed in envelopes which bore her name and address written in a fine cursive penmanship. I did not read the letters, and, though years have passed, I still have not. I had heard family stories about Grandmother and Dwyer Christie, and I felt that the privacy of love and the immortality of its embrace should not suffer intrusion. Staring at the portrait and feeling the letters in my hand gave me an intense feeling of what the absence I had felt all those years meant. It also gave me a sudden sense of presence, of life fulfilled. I did wonder, however, when they met again, would she be eighty-seven and he nineteen? Or would they both be forever nineteen?

Reflecting on my grandmother’s bequeathment, I have long wondered why she entrusted her cedar chest with its precious contents to me. Maybe it was a sign that I was her favorite. Maybe she felt I could be trusted to do what was right with the contents. But I like to think instead that she believed I was truly his grandson in spirit, his living presence in the world. And I have taken it as evidence that, despite all the doubts I have felt, I was – and am – loved.

The bequeathment turned absence into presence. A cycle has been completed.

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William Brazill lives on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia. He has previously published stories in Amsterdam Scriptum, LitBits, Electric Acorn, FlashShot, Powderburn Flash, and Long Story Short.

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