Staring out my bedroom window, the cool spring air lightly tickling my cheeks, I watched the sun finally begin peeking its head from behind the horizon, welcoming the first light of morning. Just out of sight, I could hear a mourning dove cooing from the old oak that grew in our yard; its branches stretching out so far I could almost reach out my window and touch them. I remember as a little kid, dreaming of the oak growing right into my bedroom, reaching out a hand to finally take me away to a faraway land; a land unknown where my life could finally begin. Once, when I was a younger lad, I even tried meeting the oak halfway, hopping out my window to grab hold of its branch; unfortunately gravity seemed much more eager to meet me, and after three days in the hospital and a cast wrapped tightly around my right forearm, I had learned my lesson. The scolding I got from my mother, even through her tears, was one I will never forget. “Why did you do something like that?” “Were you trying to kill yourself?” “What would you have done if no one was home?” “If you EVER do something like this again, I’ll kill you myself.” I’m impressed she was able to get all of that out, the tears running down her face so. My father was much more solemn about the whole affair, but he made his feelings quite clear when I was finally out of the hospital and back at home healing; I wasn’t able to properly sit down for at least a week, despite that being the only thing I was allowed to do as I recovered.
With summer having just begun, all I could do was stare out my window longingly, listening to the gleeful squeals of my younger brother playing along the street with his friends. Jonah is five years younger than me, but he’s always been the athlete of the family. When I was just old enough to walk, I remember my dad handing me a baseball and saying “You’re going to be the next Babe Ruth!” Of course I had no idea who that was at the time, but over the years I became acutely aware of the player, my father’s voice echoing throughout the house- “That was a foul!” “C’mon McNally hit the goddamn ball.” Of course my father got real quiet about Babe Ruth and the Red Sox when Ruth got traded to “those damn Yankees”, but that never stopped him from pushing forward his dream of having one of his sons become a pro-baseball player. “You’re gonna be better than Ruth ever was.” Despite my father continuously pushing me to improve at the sport, I just never had the knack for it. I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t strong- the only thing I did seem to be good at was being a magnet for the ball. Somehow the games would always end with me getting nailed by a stray ball, causing the ref to call a timeout, my coaches rushing to my aid, and my father left in the stands, face in his hands.
After two seasons of this he gave up on me, probably after the time I was in the dugout and got hit so hard in the head by a foul ball that I was in the hospital for two weeks with a concussion. I never heard my parents fight as fiercely as they did the night I got back from the hospital. “The boy’s done, Howard. My heart can’t take much more of this!” “Katherine, the season’s just begun! He’s finally starting to make improvements, too!” This went on and on for hours, and though they thought I was sleeping, I heard it all; right through the floorboards. As I listened to their argument rage on, I stared quietly out my window and toward the tree, wishing upon the stars that a branch would find its way into my room and whisk me away to the unknown land of my dreams. Ultimately I was given the decision whether I would like to continue or not, and with that, Jonah was given my father’s complete attention as he began down the same path I did. I was left to my own devices, which usually meant me being stuck in my room doing homework, with my father practicing with Jonah outside as my mother prepared us all dinner. Jonah was undeniably much better at the sport than I was, picking up baseball with relative ease and becoming the shining star of our town’s little league team. You should’ve seen my dad coming home from Jonah’s first game, Jonah high on his shoulders, both of them beaming from ear to ear. “You should’ve seen it. Jonah had the other team in tatters by the end of the game! Not only did he hit a home run, he even stole base in the last inning to score the winning point.” My father raved on and on about Jonah’s game as we sat around the table for dinner. My mother, though not caring much for sports, told Jonah how proud of him she was, as I was left silent, pushing my peas and mashed potatoes around my plate, losing all appetite as I stared out the window towards that oak tree.
Looking back, I guess I was jealous of the affection my father showed towards Jonah, knowing that I would never be good enough to attain that level of love I pined for. And it makes sense, of course; my brother was the athlete of the family, and with my father’s love for baseball, it was easy for them to bond and become close. But I have never had that kind of connection with him- Not for lack of trying of course. As a child, I searched for some way to bond with my father; even after I left the team, I would still sit in the kitchen with him, leaning in close to the radio as the latest games played. Still not quite sure how the game was played- I was benched much more than I was actually on the field- I would ask him question after question, until it became overwhelming and he would send me to my room so he could listen to the game in peace. Those nights I would just lie in my bed crying and crying, feeling completely dejected. I remember once or twice just packing up my things, ready to just run away, but I would chicken out right when I got to my window; too scared to make that jump and leave. After a little while, my mother would give a light knock on my door, quietly coming in and sitting on the edge of my bed; bringing me in close and just holding me as I sobbed into her shirt, saying nothing. I remember her warmth and how wonderful she smelled during those nights- she smelled of our garden where she’d been planting daisies and daffodils all afternoon- and how for a moment, I knew I was loved. As I finally began to calm down, she would lower me back down into my bed, flipping the tear soaked pillow and pulling the sheets up and over my tiny frame; giving me one long kiss on the forehead before walking out the room. As she reached the door, I remember she would pause, turn back to me to say “I love you- sweet dreams my little dandelion” and close the door softly behind her. I would listen closely to the soft sound of my mother’s footsteps as she tiptoed across the hallway back to her and my father’s room, shutting the door behind her as I found myself drifting off towards sleep at last.
My father was a man of few words; he was not abusive, besides the occasional spanking of course, he was never cruel. I remember that every so often he would bring home flowers to my mother, awkwardly handing them to her as if he wanted to say something but just couldn’t figure out the right words, and he would try, in his own way, to make my brother and I smile, too. I think it all stemmed back to when he was enlisted in the army, during the war. I remember when I was 10 there was a knock on our door, and when I came downstairs to see what was going on I saw a man in uniform standing in our living room, talking with my father and mother. My mother stood there, hands to her mouth with tears ready to overflow, as my father silently nodded. The officer noticed me and Jonah, who was five at the time, peeking from the stairs, and my mother quickly ushered us back to our rooms. “Boys stay in your rooms. Your father is having a very important meeting right now.” I tried asking what was going on, but she would have none of it. Sitting in my room, I listened through the floorboards as the conversation ground to a halt, and the officer left at long last. Once the gentleman was gone, my mother broke down sobbing, as my father tried to reassure her. “It’s my duty Katherine. I should only be gone for a year. Take care of the kids.” And that was that. The next day Jonah and I were woken up early in the morning by our mother, who rushed us to get dressed. I remember sleepily putting on the pants, before my mother dragged both Jonah and I out the door and to the main road by our house. As we stood there, I remember turning to Jonah to find him teetering back and forth, barely able to keep his eyes open. Poor kid must’ve been exhausted. As we stood there, more and more people started gathering around, all dressed up like they were going to church. After finally building up the courage- and energy; goodness I was tired- I asked my mother why we were standing outside in the cold as the break of dawn. “You’ll see,” she said. I studied her face, looking for any context as to what the occasion could be, but just as I started cracking the puzzle, I began hearing everyone around us cheering. I looked down the road and there it was- army trucks with men piled in the back, heading off to war. My father was in the third truck, right in the middle, surrounded by quite a few younger men- no older than 21 or 22- and quietly waved at the three of us as the truck continued down the street towards god knows where. My mother was smiling as she was waving, but I could tell her eyes were filled with sorrow.
My father had been in war once before, back before I was born, but after it had ended he chose to leave the army to settle down with my mother, working at a local grocery store as a manager. Not a fancy job, but it’s always been enough. I remember there were many nights where my mother would just stay up into the late hours, staring at the radio as she sipped some herbal tea, listening to any news coming from the Philippines. Any time a letter arrived, or there was a knock at the door, I could tell there was a moment of panic from her, expecting to be told her husband had been shot and killed in the line of duty. Thankfully that day never came, and within a year or so my father was back home with us, a bit tattered, but not too worse for wear. I remember the day he got home, he opened the door and my mother practically leaped into his arms, sobbing as he held her tight. Jonah and I were called down, and when we saw he had come back, we rushed down the stairs, hugging him as tight as we could. He picked us up, one after the other, and gave us a tight squeeze before setting us down and telling Jonah and I to wash up for dinner; he was starving. That was actually the first time my father had ever hugged me that tightly before, and it truly felt wonderful. Now as Jonah and I were sent off to bed, I remember hearing my mother clearly through the floorboards, breaking down as she talked to my father, and made him promise to never leave us like that again; her heart couldn’t take it. I think that’s when my father realized just how much my mother cared for him, and began trying to show he cared in whatever way he knew how. Maybe that’s why he started surprising my mother with flowers, and why he became so invested in Jonah’s little league baseball career. my father never talked about the war, but he seemed to have a new lease when it came to what he was thankful for in this life because of it. Yet despite all of this, I just couldn’t find that bond with him.
Now that summer I had broken my arm was also the summer I met my first love. I was only 15 at the time, but to me it didn’t matter; Her name was Susanne. She was one year my junior, but I had known her ever since we were little ones. Her and my mothers have been part of the same book club for as long as I remember, and I recall many nights having Susanne and some other children brought over to my house to play as the mothers read and gossiped about the others in town. Susanne was always very strong-willed and stubborn, and was never afraid to stand up for herself; Boys knew not to tease her, or else they’d be tasting grass faster than you could blink. Though us being around one another started out as an obligation, over time a friendship began to blossom, and before too long we became great friends. And it stayed that way for quite a few years. But as we got older, our friend groups changed, and before too long it was almost as if she was once again, a stranger. She began attending an all girls school, and I of course went to an all boys school. Now Susanne’s mother actually works as a nurse in the local hospital, so when I was taken in after my fall, she happened to be the one checking up on me to make sure I wasn’t in any pain. I remember so clearly the third day I arrived back from the hospital, lying in my bed counting the blades of the fan above my head as it spun around and around endlessly, working diligently as to avoid the impending boredom, when I heard a call from outside my window. I thought it might be Jonah or one of his friends, trying to pull a prank on me, but after the voice called again, my curiosity peaked and I got up, heading to my window and poking my head outside.
“It IS you! My mother told me you had broken your arm, but I didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to jump out of their window! Were you trying to kill yourself? Because you did a pretty bad job if you only broke your forearm.” It was Susanne; what a pleasure. ‘Ha ha very funny Susanne; did you just come over here to mock me?’ “Oh don’t flatter yourself, Peter Pan. My mother just wanted me to bring you some soup she made to help you feel better. Want me to throw it up to you?” ‘You want me to get third degree burns on top of my broken arm? I’m not that much of a sucker for pain, you know.’ “Fine fine, I’ll bring it up to you.” I watched as Susanne walked around to the front of my house, politely asking to be let inside before heading up to my bedroom. As she started up the stairs, I realized something: I had never had anyone in my room before, let alone a girl. I felt my heart beating faster and faster, my eyes darting around my room to figure out what was out of place. I noticed that I had left a pair of underwear hanging on my chair, and in a panic as to avoid the embarrassment of Susanne spotting them, I scurried out from my bed as to dispose of the undergarment. As luck would have it however, Susanne arrived just in time to watch me fall face first onto the floor, my sheets and the ground fighting for control of who shall embarrass me more. I watched in horror as Susanne opened the door to find me entangled in my sheets, face down on the ground. She immediately burst out in a fit of laughter, and after the initial embarrassment subsided, I couldn’t help but join in with her, recognizing the ridiculousness of the situation at present.
Helping me up, Susanne handed me a bowl with her mother’s homemade chicken noodle soup- for which she raves is the best in the neighborhood, though no competition has ever been held- and I graciously accepted it and gulped it down. I wasn’t sure what else to do; I hadn’t seen her in such a long time, what would we even discuss? After a few minutes soaking in the silence, she cleared her throat. “I guess I should be leaving then. It was nice seeing you again.” She quickly rose and began to leave when I felt a sudden urge to stand up. Just as she passed through my door, I felt my body lurch out of my bed- the bowl of soup having been sat at my nightstand a few minutes prior- and I blurted out ‘Won’t you come see me again?’ Susanne turned around, a slight smile peeking out from her from her confused expression, and responded- “Parden?” ‘Would you please come see me again; I would love to catch up some time. It’s been too long.’ I watched the smile disappear from her face once more, and I could feel the embarrassment seep through every inch of my being. My face turned a scarlet red and I turned around, unable to face her, when I heard her begin to laugh once more- “Of course I’ll come visit you again. Took you long enough to ask.” As I turned around, speechless, I saw a bright, beautiful smile had formed on her face. That is a moment I don’t think I will ever forget, for as long as I live. Her teeth shined a beautiful white; I remember the twinkle in your deep green eyes, shining as if emeralds, nestled in her kind face. I remember staring at her, and having her turn a bright red, her smile fading into an expression that I couldn’t quite define, quickly turning away and rushing down the stairs. “I’ll come back soon with more food for you!”
And thus my eight weeks of entrapment turned into eight weeks of pure bliss; I wished those times could carry on for eternity. At first Susanne would just visit me with things her mother made; whether it was her famous apple pie, or leftover lasagna from the night before. But then one day, I would say four weeks after she started visiting me, she appeared with a small tin wrapped in a bow. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. She appeared quite shy about it, but thrust it in my hands nevertheless. “I made them for you; let me know what you think.” Her eyes were squeezed shut, unwilling to open them as I untied the box, slow and steady. Opening up the tin at long last, I find that nestled in some colorful decorative paper, there sits a homemade slice of peach cobbler. ‘You made this?’ I said, my mouth agasp, my stomach already yearning for me to take a bite. “Well, my father just fetched some peaches from the farmer’s market, and I figured I’d make a go at it.” I could tell that though she was trying to keep composed in front of me, she was incredibly nervous. I watched as her hands would fidget as she played with her hair. She quickly handed me a fork that she had been carrying with her, and as I began going to take my first bite, she immediately turned around, unwilling to watch. I remember tasting the cobbler for the first time, the fresh peach delighting my taste-buds, as the pastry provided a wonderful flaky finisher to the fruit. I was in awe; I never knew she could cook, and especially not like this. “Well… what do you think?” She said, hands still covering her eyes. Without thinking, I set the tin down, immediately stood up, and spun Susanne around, kissing the surprised lady on the lips. I stared into her beautiful emerald eyes and replied “It’s delicious”. She stared back at me blushing, in shock of what I just did, and I immediately began backpedaling. ‘Oh my goodness I’m so sorry; I don’t know what came over me. Forgive me I didn’t mean to do that I didn’t even ask…’ Susanne burst out laughing, tears forming in her eyes as her white teeth gleamed in the sunlight. “It’s okay! Stop worrying so much; I’m glad you liked it.” Just before she turned to leave, she leaned in close and gave me a quick kiss on my lips, saying “I needed to steal one back myself. See you soon.” As she walked down the steps, almost skipping, I fell back onto my bed, staring up at the ceiling with a smile so wide that it was almost painful. Sitting up, I continued eating the cobbler, each bite tasting better than the one before.
The rest of summer felt as if it were a dream; a dream I wished never to wake up from. My days were spent almost entirely with Susanne, with us relaxing in my room telling stories. As my arm finally finished healing and the cast could be removed, we would go out under the oak tree to have picnics, soaking in the warmth of the summer sun. Susanne did practically all of the cooking for our little dates under the oak, mostly because the one time I tried preparing something, my “cornbread” just ended up being burnt bread, which even the neighborhood dogs wouldn’t eat. I tried cutting off the charred pieces, in an attempt to salvage the dish, but it was no use. Just as I was about to break down in frustration, Susanne poked her head into my house to see how the process was going, only to find my kitchen a mess, with me on the brink of cracking. She couldn’t hold in her laughter, and gently grabbed my face as she kissed me, comforting me by saying that she would do all the cooking from here on out. “I don’t feel like catching food poisoning.” As the summer came to a close and school began once more, we spent one final day together before we had to head off to our respective schools. As she got up, tears in her eyes, I pulled her around and promised to write her a letter every week. “If you don’t, I will be quite cross with you.” She exclaimed. ‘Don’t you worry, I will. I mean I love you after all.’ As those words left my mouth, I realized we hadn’t said that to one another yet. “What was that?” ‘I said… um… that I will write to you of course! Because… um…’ Any excuse that I could’ve come up with was lost in that moment, and I was completely speechless. Susanne stared at me deeply for a moment, before leaning in, giving me a quick kiss, and saying “I love you too. Now you’d better write me those letters!”
And I did. Once a week, I would sit down at the desk in my dorm and write her how my week was going, before sending it off to her. This continued for two years, where I began realizing my passion for journalism. I started small, writing for the local newspaper during the summer before my senior year, but after graduating, I knew I needed to leave my small town and make something of myself. Susanne still had a year left of schooling, but I promised to keep writing to her if she promised she’d still have me. With tears in her eyes she agreed, and with that I left to live in Boston, where I soon began working at the Boston American. I lived in a small room and had to walk a few miles to work every day, but I was happy enough. I was doing important journalism, or what I thought to be important journalism, and I never stopped writing Susanne letters. After she graduated from school, I paid for a bus ticket for her to come and visit me in the city. I wanted to ask her to move in with me, with all my heart, but I knew that this wasn’t the life for her. The room I was living in barely could house me, and I didn’t want to do that to her. I decided that day to save up all my earnings and eventually move the two of us out to a beautiful house in the countryside to finally begin a family. I knew from the bottom of my heart that she was the one that I was going to marry. She only stayed for the day, and we avoided my cramped little room, opting instead to explore the city, as I treated her to whatever she would like. As she stepped onto the final bus back home, I held her close one more time and asked ‘Will you wait for me, my love?’ “Of course. Just don’t make me wait too long, okay?” And with that, she was on the bus and gone.
My life now filled with new ambition, I began working harder than ever before. Every paycheck I would continue putting more and more away, knowing one day I would finally be able to be with my love once more. After working at the Boston American for nearly three years, my first article was published on the front page; I just couldn’t believe it! It was a story that I had been following for a couple months, with a string of store robberies, and when the culprit was finally caught, my headline was front and center on the paper. I immediately bought a newspaper and cut out the article, sealing it with my letter to Susanne for the week and sending it off to her, beaming with pride in what I managed to accomplish. As the years passed I got promoted to Section Editor, and then Managing Editor at the newspaper, working more hours in the office, but with a nice pay raise to compensate. I became good friends with the Editor in Chief at the time, who became like a second father figure to me. He was a tough shell to crack, but beneath it all he was quite the softy. I remember the day he offered me the Managing Editor position, he seemed to be beaming with pride with how far I had come. By this point I had been at the paper for just over 12 years, and after I had accepted the position the two of us left the office to grab a drink, reminiscing where the time had gone. The letters to Susanne never stopped of course. She would visit me once a year, just for the weekend, with my editor in chief whistling at me as I headed off to fetch her from the bus stop. I yearned for that weekend every year, because despite the letters, there was nothing like seeing my love face to face. We had this little bakery we would always stop at, and she would fill me in on everything she couldn’t put into her letters. After graduating from school, she decided to begin working at the local bakery, and very soon became famous for her amazing cobblers. She told me that I should see the lines that form once people catch a whiff of her fresh peach cobblers leaving the oven. Men pined for her hand of course, but she always turned them down, saying that her heart was already given to someone else. By the time I became Managing Editor, she was practically running the store, baking almost all the food people came in every day to buy- from cakes to pies to cobblers, the lady to make it all.
I decided that instead of her coming up to meet me again next year, I would head on back home not only to surprise her, but to propose as well at long last. That next year on the 14th of July, I took off two weeks from the paper, heading to a local jewelers to pick out the perfect ring, before hopping on the bus and heading back to my hometown at long last. Susanne knew none of this of course, but with the ring resting secure in my pocket, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear with excitement. Arriving home, I greeted my mother and father warmly, before being let inside. They told me that Jonah had actually gone to New York to play with the New York Yankees, and though my father still despised the Yankees, he was so incredibly proud of his boy. That night I told my mother that I would at last be proposing to Susanne, and asked if she could help me cook something for her. After buying the ingredients needed, I headed upstairs to fetch this little tin box Susanne had given me so many years ago, and we got to work. It took a few tries, but thankfully, with my mother’s help in the kitchen it was perfect. The next day, I headed to Susanne’s bakery towards the end of the day, grabbing her flowers from the local florist and heading inside. It looked like it was just her closing up, with the sign reading “Closed” as she did some final cleaning before heading home for the day. I stepped inside, and without looking up she said “I’m so sorry, but we’re actually closed for the day. Please come back tomorrow!” ‘I’m so sorry to be a bother, but there was something really important that I needed to pick up, do you mind helping me?’ The instant she heard my voice, she turned out, the broom clattering to the ground. “What.. what are you doing here!” She was so flustered, unsure of what to do. ‘Hi yes, I was hoping to pick up Susanne and take her on a date, would that be alright?’ “I… I would have to say so, yes. Just give her five minutes to finish up, okay?” I smiled sweetly, giving her a wink as she quickly finished sweeping, hung up her apron, and walked over to me at last. “What… what are you… how did you…?” ‘Don’t worry about that, come here.’ I said, pulling her in close and giving her a warm kiss before handing her the flowers and walking out the door with her. After locking up, I led my speechless love back to my house, where I had a lovely picnic set up for us under the oak. “Wait, at least let me get ready! I’ve been working all day and I…” ‘You look absolutely stunning, now please sit down with me?’ She nodded silently, and with that we began our impromptu date under the stars. I of course brought out some properly cooked cornbread, to which she burst out laughing before cautiously taking a bite. “It’s delicious! You didn’t make this, did you?” Then of course we enjoyed a wonderful lasagna before I disappeared inside for a moment. Taking out the ring from my pocket, I place it precariously on top of the cobbler, sealing the tin box back up and heading outside, my mother sitting quietly in the kitchen, beaming. Reappearing with the tin box in hand, I handed it to Susanne, completely shocked. ‘Open it.’ “You… you kept it, all this time?” Cautiously opening it, Susanne popped the lid off to find the sparkling ring that I had bought just a day prior, and let out a small squeal from excitement. ‘Ever since that day you gave me that cobbler, I have been so deeply in love with you. Susanne, will you make me the happiest man alive, and marry me?’ “Of course I will, Peter Pan. I love you so much.”
We shared that peach cobbler together as the stars sparkled so brightly in the moonlight, and for a moment, the world seemed so right. However tragedy struck the family. However, the day before I was to return to Boston, my father suddenly passed away. He had been having health problems for a few years now, but even after being in remission for a year or two, his heart suddenly gave out one night and he died in his sleep. Sending a letter to my Editor in Chief, I informed him that I would be taking a leave of absence to take care of my mother during this time. The funeral occurred two weeks later, with Jonah coming back home in time to mourn with us. We grieved in our own way, our father being buried in the local cemetery with all his honors for war. Jonah had to get back to New York, but Susanne and I stayed with my mother, taking care of her and the house until she was feeling better. I knew that I would be away for a long period of time, so I requested my Editor in Chief find someone else to become the next Managing Editor; they needed one desperately and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fulfill that role. I did write articles for the paper every so often, but my main tasks were taking care of my mother and the house while Susanne was working in the bakery. With so much free time on my hands, I eventually began writing a novel, telling the story of a young gentleman surviving on the streets of Boston on his own; it was gritty and real, and I became real proud of it.
My eyes flickered open, turning over and seeing my lovely soon to be bride laying next to me in my childhood bed, and I groggily got up, unable to get back to sleep. Walking over to my bedroom window, I leaned my shoulders on the frame of the window, staring into the outside world; the cool spring air lightly tickled my cheeks, and I watched as the sun finally began peeking its head from behind the horizon, welcoming the first light of morning. Just out of sight, I could hear a mourning dove cooing from the old oak that grew in our yard; its branches stretching out so far I could almost reach out my window and touch them. However, just past the oak, I watched as a car filled with two men in uniform pulled up to my house. Getting dressed, I woke up Susanne before heading downstairs to greet them. My mother was in the kitchen at the time, making some coffee to start the day, when the men knocked on the door. I answered, and as the two men were let inside, they simply said “Your country needs you, son.” I remember my mother dropping her coffee cup on the ground, gasping as the mug shattered on the floor, and Susanne nearly collapsed on the stairwell, knowing what was to come. Numb, I listened to the officers, signing the draft that had been instituted by the government. Before I knew it, I was called off to war, meaning that I had to leave Susanne once more, at least for a little while. The day came and as I walked outside, I headed over to the oak tree that had watched over me all these years, put my hand on it, closed my eyes, and prayed, before going back inside to grab my things. Susanne and my mother saw me off, and after giving a hug to my mother, who whispered “Come back safe, ya hear me?”, I turned towards Susanne, tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked at me, attempting to keep a brave face.
‘Will you wait for me, my love?’ “Of course. Just don’t make me wait too long, okay?”