You had promised me you would come home. Daddy, you promised. You stood in the driveway, held my face between your hands. Your calloused fingers felt rough against my skin. You looked into my eyes and you lied. You lied, Daddy. When you kissed me goodbye, your stubble itched against my nose. I was sad. I was not crying like Mommy was, though. I guess that is because I believed you. I guess Mommy had known something like this might happen.
You hugged me for a few seconds longer than a normal hug. I hugged you back and whispered into your ear: When you get home can we play fort? You laughed and squeezed me harder. Sure, Pumpkin. But for now will you promise me that you’ll hold down the fort with your brother? I glanced up at Charlie. Mommy was holding him, arms wrapped tightly around his little body, as if she was worried something might take him from her too. I looked back at you. I guess so, I said exasperatedly. That’s my girl, you said as you ruffled my hair. I giggled and reached up to ruffle your hair. Although there had not been much hair to ruffle since you had had to get a haircut the day before you left.
I waited in the fort for you, Daddy. Charlie tried to come into it, but I would not let him. It was our fort, our fort, Daddy. Then the fort disappeared for a while. Mommy had to take it down so people could come and sit in the living room. They would always talk about you. Mommy was always crying. Why did you have to make her sad, Daddy? You could have just come home and she would not have been sad. You should have come home, just like you promised.
But you did not. Now every month we have to come to this place and see lots of other people crying. We come to this “monument,” that is what Mommy calls it, and just sit. Mommy does not say much when we come. She just looks at the white marker. One time Mommy asked us what the marker reminded us of when we were with you. I said it reminded me of the clouds you and I used to watch in the backyard, except this one looked like a weirdly shaped gum-drop. Mommy said it reminded her of your shiny smile. Charlie said it reminded him of snow.
Charlie likes to stack the rocks next to your cloud, Daddy. I put some on the top of the cloud, but Charlie made lots of stacks around it. Mommy continues to stand there and look at your cloud. She does not cry. She stopped crying about twelve visits ago. I want to be more like Mommy, so I just stare at your cloud too. Charlie tries to be more like me and Mommy as well, but after a while he gets bored and starts to knock over the stacks of rocks.
A few months ago Mommy let me put the fort back up. I have to let Charlie play in it with me. Mommy said that since Charlie is the man of the house now, he has the right to play in the fort. I do not think Charlie is the man of the house, though. You are the man of the house. You always will be, Daddy. Charlie does not even understand what has happened. He asked yesterday when you were coming home. But I know what happened. I know what happened to you, Daddy, to us. And I miss you Daddy. I miss you.