By Hayden Sidun
My dear Margaret,
Too much time has passed since you departed this world. I’m writing to you to apologize.
I only wish you understood the kind of stress I was under to make ends meet. I was fired from my job, Margaret, and they said it was because I threatened a coworker in a fit of shell shock. I kept that a secret from you—and, as a consequence, from everyone else—because the last thing I needed was the sight of your worrisome face and the deafening sound of the countless questions that would have stemmed from your fears. Why did you always have to ask so many questions? Not a day went by that I didn’t have to answer one or five or ten of your questions. It was endless, Margaret, but what made me fall in love with you was your innocent spirit and your crave for information and new knowledge. With that crave, of course, you always wondered, and you always asked questions.
I have never hated the sound of your voice, but I couldn’t take it that night. I was scrambling to come up with the answers to my own questions. You had no idea, and of all nights, you chose that foggy Tuesday evening to tell me you were carrying our child. How could I provide for a child? The distressed look on your face when I broke the news still haunts me, Margaret. You asked me over and over how we might be able to make ends meet. How was I supposed to truthfully answer your questions, let alone say those answers out loud? I’m a failure, Margaret, so much so that I couldn’t face reality like the man my father beat me into becoming, the man formed by a devastating war on the other side of the globe, the man you thought you married. I wasn’t strong enough to tell you our finances were bleaker than I allowed you to know. Maybe I wanted to man up and fix it myself. Maybe I wanted to tell myself the lies I told you. I wanted to believe we would be okay just as I let you believe it.
Your questions broke me. I was no longer a man, my dear. No decent person could describe me as anything more than a sentient being, cowering, fearing his own fuckups. You know now that I left the conversation to dig up that old Nazi knife. That was the last thing you’d ever learn. Your final sight was my face, devoid of tearful eyes and layers of sweat, and I know you watched any glimmer of hope or happiness left within me die as you did. A pool of anger within me drowned my love for you when the knife once given to a young Nazi soldier by a hardened general of the Wehrmacht, the same knife that was meant to kill men fighting for the same causes as me, pierced your throat and let out a river of blood. Even now, twelve years after your death, I can sometimes see your blood pooling on the concrete floor of my cell at night, just as it did on the linoleum floor of our kitchen that evening.
Why did I take that knife with me when I came home from France? I took it from that Nazi I shot outside the sandy beach of Normandy. What else could I do? He had somehow gotten away from the rest of those German bastards with whom he fought. Even now, I can feel the sheer glee I felt when I put a bullet in his stomach and watched him die on a pile of bricks outside the beach. When I was sure he was dead, I took that knife from his pocket and ran back to the beach to fight for my country. It’s never been anything more than a token to me, my love. But you’ve heard this story dozens of times.
Now I sit alone in a dirty prison cell on that desolate island in the San Francisco Bay. We used to walk down the Embarcadero on Saturday afternoons and view it from Fisherman’s Wharf, wondering what it must be like to be there. Do you remember that, Margaret? I tell you, it’s a living hell here. Seven years in Atlanta and a couple of escape plots were enough to send me to an indescribable mental hellscape, but I was at least a little bit hopeful when they shipped me here. At least I’d be back in my hometown, right? Let me tell you, Margaret, it’s worse here than we could have possibly speculated standing from Fisherman’s Wharf. All I want you to know now and all I’ve ever wanted you to know is that I love you now just as much as I did the night we first met. You remain the love of my life, Margaret, but alas, words cannot mend wounds.
I used to lay inches away from you as we slept in the night. The smell of lavender that exuded from your soft, luscious hair still stays with me. Sometimes I can smell it at night, and when I do, it cancels out the bird shit and the bay water salt that fills the air here day in and day out. It might please you to know that each time I go to the recreation yard, I stand at the top of the steps and look at the city over the giant wall separating us prisoners from freedom, thinking of the first place I’ll be going when I get out of here. I can leave this letter by your tombstone and think of it reaching you in the great beyond.
You will never read this letter on Earth, Margaret. That’s a fact I deeply regret. Perhaps we’ll meet again somewhere, and as I write this in the confines of a prison cell, I look forward to seeing you in wherever lies ahead.