I’m so so sorry. It’s been about a year since we last spoke, and though for close friends that’s no time at all, it’s a lifetime between you and me. And I still don’t know what to say to you. Part of me wants to tell you how pissed I am at you. How confused this entire situation makes me. The worst part is that I just don’t understand why it affects me so much still. Every time I think about it for too long or talk about it, I either become stiff as a board without a quiver in my lips or fingers, or I cry so much that I am unable to control the steadiness I am so accustomed to in my voice. In the company of others, I maintain some small composure, but alone, I weep bitterly, the sobs taking my breath for granted.
There is just so much I don’t understand. Maybe you were right to tell me I was in over my head. That I wouldn’t understand. That was the last conversation you and I had – the last words you spoke to me. Do you realize that? I don’t want you to feel any remorse or regret, it made me stronger. And weaker. More susceptible to introvertisms and less likely to break down my own walls. More likely to realize when I’m starting to open up, and as a result, freeze in place long enough to barricade my heart. Luckily I’ve always been pretty resilient, as required by my life’s circumstances, and open myself to complete strangers. Perhaps that’s how we got here in the first place. Ultimately, it is my fault that we don’t speak anymore. It was my fault that we started speaking, after all.
I have a few questions for you, Bob. I never expect to get an answer to any of these questions. In fact, I expect to die many years from now without any progress made or any deeper understanding of you or why. But I must ask anyways, if only to finally know I asked them.
What made you fall for Rose Ann? Was she so much to you that you’d find your exodus from Carol acceptable in any way? What is it that she said or did to you to hold you so tightly, so loyally? And when did you finally see how wrong you were? I know you knew you were wrong.
How were you even capable of walking away from all those who know and love you? I imagine I wasn’t terribly significant to you in your life, but that makes my intrusion and involvement that much more puzzling and damning. But how could you walk away from your son? Why didn’t you even attempt to make amends? At least enough to pacify the hatred I know he had. Did your hatred match his? And how could you hold your daughter at arm’s length?
When you spoke with my dad after ten years of absence, what gave you the audacity to ask him out to get drinks? What made you think that was not disgusting and rude, when you had no intention of seeing your word through again?
Fast forward an additional ten years… What went through your mind when you received that letter from me? I know you know that I shouldn’t have known your address. You probably assumed where I got it from, but you’re wrong. Your daughter had nothing to do with my acquisition of your personal information. Luckily, all information can be purchased for a price.
Why didn’t you come to my graduation? I thought you’d show up. You’ve been there before, and I know you’d be proud of me because you know how hard it is. In the end, it may have been for the best. It may very well have done in my broken relationship (though I’d count an early extermination of that a blessing), but I cannot say what my father’s reaction to your presence would have been. I thought that, at the very least, it would have given us both a spot of closure.
When I asked if you wanted to get drinks some time to help you keep at least some small portion of your word, why did you say it was even possible? We both know now it never could have happened. Rose Ann never would have allowed it, and we both know why. I am just so baffled… How did she keep you from us so successfully. Every story I hear about you, you were the badass lady’s man that could find his way around a car and a twelve pack as well as he could tenderness or other things that win women over so easily. Did you use this crap on Rose Ann, or did she use it on you? Did you know she would make you miss your grandson’s birth, countless birthdays, or wreck your princess’s heart? She’s doing fine, by the way. Her son is in the United States Army now. He ships out today. I know you’d have been proud. You’ve been there before, too. How many shots did you fire as a soldier? Did you have nightmares? Sometimes I have nightmares because I neglected that path in my life.
Bob… Robert… Mr. Cleland. I don’t even know how to address you. Perhaps sir is most fitting. It’s the last thing I called you, your final title from me. Do you remember that? Do you know I had utmost respect for you and your wishes? I’d have followed you into war. I knew I’d be able to rely on you… Well, I did believe that, once.
Sir, do you believe what you told me? Do you really believe I wouldn’t have understood? Is telling someone you love them grounds for dismissal? I don’t recall it being a damnable offense in any context, not the way I said it. And my intention was clear, I know that for certain.
Did you know you’d never see me again? Did you know I had an envelope prepared for you? A third piece of paper, a final attempt to reach out. Did you know that I’d regret not sending it to you? Did you know I’d blame myself for your death? Did you know I blamed myself for the deaths of two of my friends? I’m only 24. The only people I know my age that blame themselves for deaths are soldiers and some vein of terrorist. Maybe there is, in fact, no difference but a few blurred lines.
Did you know how much I wanted to meet you? Did you even have any inkling how much meeting you meant to me? I don’t even remember the last time I saw your face, though I hear you did. I was four, you were rolling around on the ground, entertaining me. I hear you loved me once, too. With such distant non-memories, I’m not sure I can see it. I’ll believe it if your daughter tells me you talked about me at all.
Uncle Bob, when you left my family twenty years ago, I know that must have been tumultuous hell for you. I know because everyone else in your family have hearts the size of Texas that cry at even the mention of bagpipes. I know you love your daughter, my cousin. I know because I saw the picture of you two together. One of the last photos of you. You both looked so happy together, despite the hospital bed. Thank God there’s photo evidence, otherwise I’m not sure I’d trust anyone if they told me, even if they all told the same exact story. I know your brother, my father, was strong once, and that he earned some of that strength through your presence in his life. I only hope I may inherit a fraction of your strength. A man with cancer that still has the strength to smile is an admirable and honorable sort of man.
Did you know it would take you before I ever got to see you in the span of my memory? I don’t remember you at four. I wish at twenty-three I’d have known you. Twenty-three was supposed to be a big year for me. Twenty-four so far is full of stumbling, reminiscing, regretting, and attempting to pick myself up enough to move forward one step at a time. That letter I was supposed to send to you before leaving the country for a month could have been a better final conversation between us. Do you remember our final conversation?
“Chris, we got your letter in the mail… You’re in way over your head. This is twenty-some years in the making, and you can’t possibly understand it. Please don’t try to contact me again, and don’t even think about seeing me in the hospital.”
“I don’t want to hear from you again. Goodbye.”
“Yes, sir. Bye.”
That wasn’t supposed to be our last conversation. I was bringing you back to the family in a way no one else could. I was supposed to see you. I earned my right to see you. I’m the reason you got to spend time with your brother, his wife and daughter, and your own daughter at the end of your life. I’m the reason you talked to your two sisters and second brother on the phone. I’m the reason you got to speak to your son in a civil way for the first time in ten years. I hear it was actually a good conversation, too. I’m the reason you had two days of freedom with your family at the end of your life. I hope you know I do love you. I’m just sorry I never sent that letter.
Maybe it’s because you said please.