Upstate New York: 2002
I have known Jacob most of my life, but the first time I really noticed him was at a party when we were seventeen. My friend Eileen was throwing a party on her parent’s farm, and we were sitting around the bonfire just as the sun began to set. I looked up in the middle of Eileen telling a story about Mr. P in math class, and there he was. Just casually walking up the hill with his hands in his dark denim jeans and plain black t-shirt that hugged every hard muscle in his body. When did that happen? Maybe it was just the bright orange sky behind him, but something about him was different.
Jacob stopped his stride when he got to a group of his friends. I continued to stare in his direction, mesmerized by this new pull he had on me. As he laughed at something they were saying, he looked over and he caught me staring right at him. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but I still couldn’t look away from him. He continued to look at me, and I still tell people he looked so hard, he looked right into my heart. He smiled at me and the rest, as they say, is history.
The day Jacob turned 18, he walked in to the recruiter’s office and signed up for the army. He had known that was what he wanted to do since he was little. All the men in his family served their country, as well as, his mom. A sense of duty runs deep for him. His plan was to use his military benefits to go to college after serving to become a teacher. He knew he wanted to serve his country before serving his hometown. That was just the way he was. He always had a lot to give to everyone around him, including me. He was a very loving and compassionate man, and I loved him because of it.
My path was a little different. My parents encouraged me to go to college at a young age, and so I went off to college immediately after graduating high school. Although despite my parents being accountants, it was my dream to become a writer, so I chose a creative writing program at the state college. Everyone said that once I went off to college and he was shipped off, we would go our separate ways as most young love does, but it never crossed our minds. Even though Jacob and I were on different paths, our love continued to flourish. He always encouraged me even if that took us away from each other. He wanted me to be happy.
I started classes at Rutgers University the same day that Jacob started his training. He quickly surpassed the expectations of all his commanding officers and was shipped off to a country in the middle east. Our senior year of high school was the year that the Twin Towers in New York had been attacked, so we knew that he was serve a real tour when he enlisted.
Although it was hard being apart, the separation only brought us closer. We began writing letters, which sounds so old fashion, but played to my strengths. I would write love letters to practice my prose, but it turns out that Jacob had a set of writing skills all his own. He never failed to amaze me in his abilities. His words filled my heart and made me yearn to see him once again. A month before he was due to come home on a quick break, I received a very unexpected package from him. He had never sent gifts before. There was a card on top of the box. Inside it read:
My dearest Charlotte,
Every day I am in harm’s way, but remembering that you are home waiting for me helps me get through it all. I think about your piercing green eyes, a smile that makes the world around you a happy place, and every scintillating word we have shared since I left. I yearn to be near you. I am so proud of the person you are and who you want to be. With every word I write to you, I want to show you how much you mean to me. I love you! Will you make me the luckiest person in the world and marry me?
Love Forever Yours,
As I stood there with tears in my eyes, I was awestruck. This was very unexpected. I mean we had never even discussed this. My body vibrated with happiness. I didn’t want him to wait for my answer, but I was unsure how to reach him quickly. He was not always available when I tried to call him due to his missions. The only way I know I could reach him was through a mailed letter. My answer could take weeks to reach him.
Just then my doorbell rang. Still in a fog, I walk over to answer the door. Jacob was kneeling in front of me holding a ring that I recognized. It was a very beautiful ring that was an heirloom in my family.
“How did you…When did you…What?” I said looking down at him.
“Charlotte Jane Schmitt, will you marry me?” he said to me.
It turns out that Jacob had done this elaborate plan to coincide with a visit that he kept a secret from me. He had reached out to my parents to ask their permission, more so from tradition than actually asking, and they had given him the ring. I told him the story of the first woman in our family to wear it, and how she had escaped from an asylum she had been forced into to make a new life for her on her own. Her independence had affected all the woman in our family from then on to live life on our own terms. Smiling at me, he told me that the ring’s story fit my spirit perfectly.
If I said yes to his proposal, he planned on marrying me before having to leave again. Of course, I said yes, and we were married that week down at the town hall with our parents to witness. We enjoyed a short amount of marital bliss before he left, but I still felt like one of the happiest people alive. I married my best friend and the love of my life.
After he left, everything went pretty normal again. The only thing that changed was being married to the greatest man I had ever known. I was so happy. Because we were now married, I also received all the benefits from being a military wife. It made Jacob so happy to know I was being taken care of and didn’t have to worry about small things while working on my degree and starting my writing career. Just another way he was supporting me. I moved on to the military base to make a home for us, plus it was closer to my school making it easy for me to commute and not take on any more debt.
Our letters kept each other up to date on the everyday for one another. The last letter I received told me about a super dangerous mission his troop was about to begin. A small village needed medical supplies and they were tasked with taking the supplies to help them. Sounds easy, but they had to go through a valley that had earned its nickname as Deadman’s desert. Of course Jacob told me not to worry. Everyone had each other’s backs, and they would be fine. He would reach back out to me after the mission was over, which was supposed to take a few weeks.
Both the best and worst moments in my life happened with a knock on my front door. I mean you may have seen many movies where the man in military gear shows up at the unsuspecting wife’s door to deliver the news and it’s heart wrenching, but until that moment really happens, you don’t know true pain. The sound around me disappeared, deafening to a white noise. He couldn’t be dead. As quickly as the shock approached, I moved right into outrage.
“What do you mean ‘presumed dead?’ Why can’t you find him?” I screamed at the officer.
Looking back, I should have been kinder to him. He was just doing his job the way he was trained to, but then again screw it. He had just told me my husband was missing and presumed dead. That isn’t an easy thing to hear.
I am honestly not sure how I made it through the next few weeks. I wasn’t much use to anyone. His parents used every connection they had left inside to find out more information about Jacob’s disappearance. As far as they could determine, there was an attack on his platoon while they were traveling to the small village. The search and rescue team had found massive amounts of blood, but absolutely no sign of the vehicle, supplies or any of the people in Jacob’s troop. This was the reason that he was missing, and the reason he was presumed dead. There was no sign of any of them and hadn’t been for days before that day the officer showed up at my door.
After a week with no new news, everyone just began to believe he was dead too. They were all losing hope. I honestly do not know what I believed. I was a part of the whole thing, but I wasn’t really there. I couldn’t fathom any of it happening. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. Looking back I was too young to experience anything like this. I had never even had to face death at this point in my life and here I was having to grasp that my new husband was not only gone but killed in some grizzly action overseas somewhere never to be disclosed.
After losing him, it was the loneliness that got to me the most. Before the accident, he may not have been in the same room with me, but his presence was always there. I knew he was thinking about me the same way I was thinking of him. I could read it in his letters to me. But now all of that was gone. I was truly alone for the first time even though there were so many people around me.
After Jacob’s funeral, life was returning to normal, but this time it was much more forced. Every day I woke up and had to tell myself to breathe. He’s gone, and he isn’t coming back. With that being said, fate has an awful sense of humor. It was shortly after the funeral I found out I was pregnant. I was so shocked to say the least. I was also overwhelmed and confused. I was 19, still working on my degree, widowed and now pregnant. How did I get here?
At first I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t want to tell my friends and family because I didn’t want to see the pity in their eyes. I didn’t tell anyone else because I mean how am I supposed to tell a stranger that I am pregnant with my dead husband’s child. Talk about an awkward startup conversation. I knew I could get rid of the baby and no one would ever know, but I would be giving up the one chance I had to have Jacob in my life again. After a few days struggle, I knew I needed to seek advice from someone. Even considering having an abortion, I did not want to confide in my Moms. Their circumstance was far worse, and Mom still decided to have my older sister. I did not know how they would react if I told them I was thinking of getting rid of a child created with the man I was actually married and loved tremendously. Still unable to confide in those I was close to, I sought out professional help.
As I imagined it would be, telling someone who didn’t know me what had happened to me was, to say the least, quite uncomfortable. In the end, it turns out my new shrink knew what she was talking about. I actually had several issues that I really needed to talk through. I mean I was trying to accept that my husband is dead while now grasping the idea I was pregnant with his child. These things only happen in soap operas after all.
After several sessions with my doctor of discussing all my issues and my options, I decided that the only way I could move forward with my life was to get an abortion. I was so young after all, and knew there was no way I could provide a life for another living being in my current state. It was the hardest decision I ever made, but I made it for myself. I still hadn’t told anyone else about my current predicament, so I made the appointment at the clinic and went on my own. I alone had made this decision, and I alone would hold the burden of this knowledge.
As the doctor came in for the procedure, she saw that I was alone. “Before we begin, would you like to wait for anyone?” she asked while getting her supplies together.
Overwhelmed with so many emotions, I simply shook my head. That seemed to be all the acknowledgment she needed, because the next thing I knew, she asked me to put my legs up into the stirrups. She began to explain the steps that she would be performing, but the only thing I remember was the coldness from the speculum against my skin. I didn’t hear her say a word. I turned my head and closed my eyes as tears slid from behind my eyelids. And then it was over.
I have been seeing my shrink on a regular basis. It turns out that going through the things I have gone through is really hard to get over on your own. Everyone I know just assumes that I am having a hard time with Jacob’s death, which is true, but none of them are aware of the baby. It has been a month now, and that secret will forever be only mine to have.
With continual professional help and medication, I have been able to get back to a more normal type of life. I have gone back to school again. I have even started to write again. But completely normal may be out of the question. My shrink says I have distanced myself from everyone and keep myself from moving on because of it, but how can I ever truly share myself with anyone again. I lost everything in the same timespan it takes others to read a book.
Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if I had decided to keep the baby. How my life would be different. I know, even without being told, that it is not good to dwell on the what ifs. I turn myself back to the present not knowing what the future will hold for me. I only dream that the twinkle of hope I see now will continue to grow until it consumes my life, and that I can one day enjoy what I have earned yet still remember the things that I have lost. After all, what I lost was the catalyst for who I have become. That knowledge has taken me months to discover for myself.
Six months later
I wouldn’t say that time heals all wounds, but it does help shine perspective on the pain. I would say that life has gotten better for me, but in all honesty, I had hit rock bottom so there was nowhere to go but up. One way that I was getting through all my issues was burying myself into my school work. I was taking double loads and working through the summer. I was due to graduate in May due to all my hard work. I had put my personal life on hold to do this, but who am I kidding, I had no interest in having a personal life.
One day I received a letter in the mail. It was postmarked from the U.S. Government. I had been getting these on and off the past few months trying to straighten out all my benefits of being a widow of an active army vet, so it was nothing new for me. I let myself in to my dorm room, opening the letter as I threw down all my text books. I quickly skimmed the letter to see if there was anything that needed my attention immediately, after all, Veteran’s Affairs may be the slowest department in history, but if you miss your quick deadline, there were no second chances.
I stopped mid-read realizing this was not about my benefits at all. I sat down and began from the beginning.
Dear Charlotte Wild,
I am not sure if you remember me. My name is Jonathon Tyler. I served with your husband’s father. I have been keeping my ear close to the ground listening for any news on Jacob. I should not be passing this information to you before the proper authorities have a chance to come up with the cover story they will tell you, but I thought you and Jacob’s parents deserve to know the truth immediately. If you would be so kind as to not let anyone know that it was I who informed you, I would be truly grateful. I have asked Jacob’s parents to do the same.
It is my pleasure to inform you that Jacob Wild has been located within enemy territory. To our understanding, after the accident where he and his entire unit was presumed dead, he had received severe injuries. He was taken to an underground hospital where he has been in a coma since the time of the accident. He had lost all his credentials at the time, and the enemy had forced the hospital to keep his existence secret to keep the conflict between our countries from escalating.
Jacob has now recently woken up with his memory intact and demanded to be returned to U.S. soil immediately. To my understanding, he should be landing back in the country any day now. He may already be here when you receive this letter. From what I have been able to find out, most of his injuries have healed while he was in the coma. He may have a broken limb now, but everything else has healed. You should be officially hearing from someone soon, and you should be able to visit him shortly thereafter.
This is unbelievable! I will write you if I find out any other information before you have been told.
Sincerely a friend,
Two Weeks Later
The doctors asked to see his parents first, and so, here I am waiting alone outside his hospital room to see my not-so-dead husband. You can imagine the thoughts racing through my mind. The strongest emotion is guilt. Since I received that letter two weeks ago, we have discovered how extensive Jacob’s injuries were. Among them was a side-effect from one of his surgeries. We have been told that even though Jacob will completely recover from everything that would be detrimental to his day-to-day life, he is unlikely be able to produce children of his own. How can I ever tell him that for a brief moment in time, he had a child and that I took his only opportunity away from him.
The click of the door handle brings me out of my head and back in the moment. I look up and see the doctor and Jacob’s parents coming out of the room.
“Charlotte, you can see him now” the doctor says to me.
I nod and proceed slowly into the room.
“Hey” Jacob said with a small smile on his face.
“Hey” I say back without coming any closer.
His smile begins to fade and I can tell he sees the stress on my face. “The doctors explained it has been close to a year since I was reported missing, and that everyone thought I was dead. I know that a lot can change in that time, so if there is something you need to tell me, please just be honest with me.”
I continue to stay put and just stare at my shoes. How do I even have this conversation with him? I don’t know if I can put this on him. He has been through so much.
He says to me, “Don’t tell me you have already moved on and that I am going to have to fight someone to get you back. I don’t know if I could win just yet.”
“No! Jacob, I would never!” but as I look up at him, I can see he was only trying to relieve some of the tension. His eyes are lit up and I can tell he is laughing at me. Despite my stress, I smile back at him.
“Come here” he says stretching his arms out to me. When we finally connect, I feel safe and content. I haven’t felt this way since that dreaded knock on the door. He pulls me up into his arms and I lay with my head on his chest. For a few moments, we lay quietly as I listen to the calm, steadiness of his heartbeat, and if only for a moment, my concerns are forgotten. Jacob is alive. He is here with me, right now. I hear a sigh, and I realize it is from me.
Stroking my hair, Jacob finally breaks the silence. “You smell amazing,” giving me a gentle kiss on the top of the head. I can’t help myself, I actually giggle. “It seems we have a few months to catch up on.” And just like that all my guilt and pain resurfaces. What am I going to do now?
A few days later, I get to take Jacob home or at least back to his old bedroom at his parent’s house. He is already talking about apartment shopping, but I told him there is no rush. I have my dorm until I graduate in May. I haven’t spoken out loud my fear that once he discovers my secret, he may not want to get an apartment with me or even be married to me anymore.
“Besides,” I say to him, “you need to concentrate on healing the rest of the way before we add the stress of a home to the mix.”
I have been trying to keep my distance from him since that day in the hospital. It was not that hard as there were so many people requiring his attention at any point in the day. But now we were completely alone, and I needed to get out of the room before I ruined everything and he kicked me out of his life forever. Having him not know the truth was better than not having him. That happened before and I would not go back to that again. I do not know if I could survive losing him again.
Having no clue to why I was being elusive, he grabbed my wrist and tugged me down into the bed with him. “Hey, why does it seem like you are trying to get away from me? We are finally alone, and the doctors have cleared me on the important parts for normal duty,” he said waggling his brows at me. “I may have been asleep for months, but it seems my body was unaware of fulfilling its urges. Plus, seeing you is not helping the situation at all.”
He drags me up on to his chest and gently pulls my head up to look at him. “What is really wrong here Charlotte? You just don’t seem right.”
Not willing to go there I try to distract him from the question. I stroke his jaw up until my hand tangles into his hair. I pull him down to taste him for the first time in months. Somehow it is better than I remember, and he must think so too because the kiss intensifies and suddenly neither of us are in the mood to talk anymore. He proceeds to show how much he wants me, and I proceed to forget why I shouldn’t.
I manage avoiding one-on-one talks with him over the next few months. After all, I had a lot to do before graduation in May. When we were together, we were still rarely alone. He had reappeared from the dead, and that tends to make someone pretty popular. On the rare occasions we were alone, I distracted him by letting our bodies do the talking. He didn’t seem to mind very much, until the day he finally got his leg cast off.
“Let’s go for a walk Charlotte. The April weather is finally cooperating and I would love to finally stretch my legs, so to speak. Plus it would give us proper time to finally catch up, with our words this time,” he said teasingly. “Not that I mind the other catching up we have been doing, but you are a writer after all, and I miss your words. Our letters were the best time about my service.”
Truly nervous to be alone with him, I nodded. We decided a leisurely stroll through the park would be a good way to ease his leg back into commission. He still required a cane, but just like Jacob, he took life as it came and didn’t let it get him down. Maybe I could share my secret with him, and he would be able to understand and look past it. We could grow because of it, and it may help me finally move on from all the guilt I felt.
As if he could hear my thoughts he said “Tell me what went on with you while I was away. I know about school, but you had to of gotten into some kind of trouble other than that. It was months after all. You didn’t just sit in your room and avoid life because of me. Right?”
Hearing my sigh, he stopped walking and grabbed my shoulders to turn me to him. “Ok time to spill. Why do you look like you are so stressed out, you could just pop at any moment?”
Looking into his eyes I see the concern, and I know that I cannot hide this from him any longer. Nodding once again, because it seems that is all I can do anymore, I gesture to the bench behind him. Acknowledging my gesture, we move over and sit.
Knowing that I would not tell him if he spoke, he just waited patiently until I was ready. Forever the compassionate person, I could not keep myself from telling him anymore. So, I began.
“We haven’t really discussed the side effects of what happened to you,” I said.
“Charlotte, I have come to terms with the kid thing. As long as I have you, we will figure something out. We weren’t having kids anytime soon when I left. We don’t need to think about that yet now.”
“You don’t understand.” Deciding to wait me out once again. He sat quietly watching me deal with my whole life right in front of him. I begin again. “I had a really hard time dealing with your disappearance. I am still trying to grasp you being here with me now.” Jacob shakes his head trying to understand how I must have felt. “Shortly after your funeral, I found out I was pregnant.” Stopping to let that sink in, I watch the different emotions in his face.
“What happened to the baby Charlotte?” Apparently unable to grasp this new information, he broke his own silence.
“Well like I just said, I was having a lot of trouble dealing with your death. Trying to figure out who I was without you. It got so bad I had to seek out professional help. I have been on medication since.”
“Oh, Charlotte,” with such pity in his voice I look up at him again unsure of what I was seeing. “Did you have a miscarriage?”
Suddenly aware that he thought the pain and stress had taken its toll on our unborn child, I had to take a deep breath just to hold the impending tears from falling. Once again I fell to non-verbal cues to answer for me unsure how steady my voice would be and I shook my head.
Confused, he looked at me and his face became more stern. “What happened to our child Charlotte?”
“Jacob…” was the only word I could get out before the tears started to fall. Beginning to understand what had happened, Jacob moved his hands from me.
“Just say it. I need you to say it.”
With very little composure, I turned from him. In barely a whisper I said to him the four words I had a feeling would be the end of us forever. “I had an abortion.”
With no other word spoken, I sit and watch as he walks away. I wonder if I will once again be forced to go on alone without him. Will I be able to live knowing that I was the reason that he is no longer with me this time? He came back from the dead before. Maybe he will come back to me again this time too. This decision is not mine to make, and all I can do now is wait.